Wednesday, August 3, 2005
Mr. Morales: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the center by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.
The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Thomas Cooley, Chief Financial Officer and Director of the Office of Budget Finance and Award Management at the National Science Foundation. Good morning, Tom.
Mr. Cooley: Good morning, Al.
Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Steve Watson. Good morning Steve.
Mr. Watson: Good morning Al and good morning Tom. Thank you for joining us.
Mr. Cooley: Thank you Steve.
Mr. Morales: Tom, can you begin by telling us the history and the mission of the National Science Foundation, and more specifically, the Office of Budget Finance and Award Management.
Mr. Cooley: Sure, but I don't want to take a whole lot of time. I could spend an hour just talking about that. The National Science Foundation is a branch and arm of the federal government. It was created in 1950 after World War II, after they found out how important science was -- research and development was to the mission of carrying out that war effort. Our fundamental mission is to support basic science and engineering research and education, primarily through colleges and universities, but we also have activities that are engaging the profits and non-profits as well. We currently have a budget of about $5.8 billion each year. We are waiting to get our fiscal year 2006 budget through Congress right now. What that translates to is roughly thirty-five thousand active awards every year. We get about forty-four thousand proposals from principal investigators at universities and colleges throughout the country. We put them through a rigorous external merit review process. Each year we make about eleven or twelve thousand awards. The typical duration of an award is about three years. Hence we have an active award portfolio in the neighborhood of thirty-four to thirty-six thousand awards each year.
Mr. Morales: Can you tell us about some of NSF's research priority areas?
Mr. Cooley: Well, fundamentally you have to understand that research covers everything from anthropology through zoology, and fundamentally, that is our role, that is our mission, and we do do that. So we have a directorate for biological sciences, we have a director for math and physical science, there's a director for engineering sciences, for example. But there are priorities in any era, and right now some of those priorities are in areas such as nanoscale science and engineering. The public tends to think of that as nanotechnology, and how that may help manufacturing processes in the future, how it may help the healthcare industry in the future, for example. We also have a very interesting research priority in social and dynamic behavior of people and organizations. How do we get things done? How do we get them done more effectively? How do people interact with technology, and what impact is technology having on our lives? There's also a very -- there are some broad national kinds of things going on right now, we call them administration priorities. One is in the National Information Technology Research and Development Program called NITRD. One is in the Nanoscale Science Initiative, that's called NNI. There is also a very broad research program across the federal government in global climate change supported by the administration. It's important for policy to be set by the best science that we can get, and so in order to understand what is really happening with global climate change, it's important to get the research done. These are integrated government-wide programs where the National Science Foundation, NOAA, NASA, Department of Energy, the United States Department of Agriculture, they all collaborate and coordinate and carve out a unique piece that fits their mission and then put an integrated program together.
Mr. Morales: Tom you mentioned some of these other organizations, how does the research in science supported by NSF complement the research supported by organizations such as NASA or NOAA and the National Institutes of Health, and how does NSF work together with these science organizations?
Mr. Cooley: I think the answer is actually a fairly simple one. When one thinks of NASA or NOAA, one thinks of the mission that they have. NASA, space, to put it very distinctly, NOAA is oceans and atmospheres. So in carrying out their missions, they have specific things that they're interested in looking in to. Our mission is about basic research, so we don't have a mission that's directed to a particular component of the environment, the world, the population. What we try to do, and a very fundamental part of our mantra, so to speak, is the training of the future generation of scientists and engineers, so that we're not only helping to fulfill other agency's missions by training people that are going to be the scientists or engineers that work for those agencies, but we also do the kind of basic research that those mission agencies draw upon in order to carry out their own missions. So, for example, one of our partnerships is at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. We collaborate with them. We are interested in generally, you know, what is causing climates to change, how do you map weather, how can you use super computers to model weather changes and predict and forecast weather at a microscale, which is going to be very difficult, but that's ultimately where people want to go. And so, when storms are coming up, I'm not interested in what's happening in the general D.C. area, I want to know exactly what's going on in Columbia, Maryland where I live, and I think a lot of people feel like that. So many of the National Weather Service activities that are carried out and for which NCAR in part participates -- NCAR, as I said, is the National Center for Atmospheric Research is through a collaborative set of activities that we have working with this center out in Boulder, and with the National Weather Service, with NOAA, whatever.
Mr. Morales: Tom, thank you. That's a fascinating and certainly a broad set of issues, and I would certainly be interested in understanding the weather patterns just around my block. You talked about the budget of $5.8 billion dollars, can you describe a little bit just the overall size of NSF and the skill set of the employees there?
Mr. Cooley: Sure. I think the audience would be surprised to find out how small we actually are. We're about twelve hundred federal employees with about three hundred fifty contractors who help us. Those contractors assist us in classification for our position descriptions. The bulk of our contractors actually assist us in the development of our hardware, software, and maintain those electronics systems for us, and then they do other things, such as the mailroom, delivery into buildings, support services of various kinds. So, within the building over there at 4201 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, we've got roughly fifteen hundred people, about 75 to 80 percent are full-time federal government employees. The mix of that staff, you know, you've got it all the way down from a GS-4, 5, 6, 7 kind of secretary, program assistant. Usually, traditionally, there are people who are born raised right in this area here. And then at the top end of the system, you have got PhDs, scientists, and engineers working in NSF from Harvard, Yale, MIT, Cornell, the University of Maryland of College Park, Wisconsin, Madison, Charlottesville, University of Virginia, we draw them in from all over. We have a mix right now of about 50 percent full-time program managers and about 50 percent rotaters, and that ensures that about every two to three years those rotaters turn over. These are people who are actually bench scientists. They are out there at the universities, they're on the cutting edge, and they really know what's going on. So that when we get proposals in from the principal investigators, the people who are looking at those proposals, evaluating them and trying to find people to review them, other scientists and engineers in the community. Our staff is really plugged into that community, they know what the hot topics are, and they who are the best and most highly qualified reviewers are. From my perspective as the chief financial officer, that means I can tell the American public the proposals that we fund have undergone the most rigorous external merit review process that we can envision. Many people on the hill refer to it as the gold standard. So that when we make an award with American taxpayer's dollars, my confidence that this is going for something that's really cutting edge, that could really impact our lives, ten, twenty, thirty years from now is really great. I mean, when we look at the fact that research on transistors was done fifty years before transistors were ever used. Sometimes the concept doesn't lead to a product for a very long period of time. And some concepts don't lead to any products at all. They're dead ends. I mean there's value in finding out that there's a dead end out there. It saves other people time and effort from pursuing what ultimately would be a dead end, and then go in a different direction.
Mr. Watson: Tom, you're the chief financial officer, and also the Director of the Office of Budget Finance and Award Management. Can you tell us a little bit about the roles and responsibilities of that position?
Mr. Cooley: Sure, Steve. First of all, I think it's important to understand what it means to be the Director of the Office of Budget Finance and Award Management. I have five divisions that report to me. One is the budget division, so we work with the administration and the Congress to propose a budget and then implement a budget once the Congress has passed it. We have the Division of Financial Management that oversees the internal controls and the financial practices that we use to ensure that every dollar that goes out the door goes to the right person for the right reason. The third division is the Division of Grants and Agreements. They're the division that does the bulk of the business at NSF because we are predominantly a grant making entity. The fourth division is our Acquisition Procurement Division, the division of contracts, and they have the very complex agreements, things where we have a much more hands on relationship with the entity that we've made the award to. And then, the fifth and the newest division is the Division of Institution in Awards Support, and its focus primarily is on audit resolution where we have issues that have been raised through the audit process and we have to find out how much money does the government get back because you didn't spend it all appropriately, or maybe even misused it. And then our largest and newest activity, which is post-award monitoring and oversight. The focus of that is to ensure that if you get an award to do X, that you've actually done X, and that the money that you spent on X was relevant to X. It's important for the accountability of the taxpayer's dollars. I think it's also important to the accountability of the Merit Review System.
Mr. Watson: Tom, that's a lot in one position. What was your experience and what path did you take to prepare yourself for that?
Mr. Cooley: Well, there is a long story. When I was a young man, many years ago, I read a couple of books by some fairly famous authors who were doctors and physicians at the time. It got me very interested in a field called microbiology. And I was more interested at that time on potential for microbiology to help me understand how I might help humankind. As I got older, I discovered that microbiology touched all fields, plants, animals, human beings, soils, et cetera, so I majored in microbiology at the University of Maryland, College Park, came out, went into a job and told myself, oh my goodness, what have I done to myself. I didn't enjoy the work experience. I really did not. I was very fortunate, as I have been at three or four critical times in my career, to have a mentor at that time. He was not my immediate boss, but he was a partner with my boss. And my mentor came to me and said, you know, there's something that's not gelling here for you, I can tell. And he encouraged me to go back to graduate school, which I did. I pursued the field of botany. I got married. Things change when you get married. We had a little girl. And I had an opportunity presented to me, it was a career choice. I had one path or another. I could go to a post-doc at the University of Montana, or work part-time for the summer at a place called the National Science Foundation in 1979 to write an environmental impact statement for what at that time was envisioned as the Ocean Margin Drilling Program. My family is here, my wife's family is here, and our daughter was six months old, and the pay here was twice as much as the pay in Bozeman, Montana. So I thought, well let me go with this and see where it goes. They extended it two more times for a year and a half, after which they hired me full time as a GS-11. I worked for some great people. I worked for Sandra Toy, Al Shin, Joe Cull, all of whom had great influences on my career development, basically gave me some advice, pointed me in a direction, and then left me alone to see if I could really do it or not. And a couple of years ago, the Director of the National Science Foundation, at that time Dr. Rita Colwell, turned to me and said, how would you like to be the CFO, and I said, only if I can dot, dot, dot. And she said, fine. So I've been there for five years in this role. There are days when it's a lot of fun, and there are days when I'm glad to get home. But I think all of our jobs are like that.
Mr. Morales: Tom, that's just a fascinating start to just a wonderful career. How is NSF working on the President's management agenda's five government-wide initiatives? We'll ask NSF CFO Tom Cooley to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Tom Cooley, Chief Financial Officer of the National Science Foundation. Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson. Tom, can you give us a brief overview as to how NSF is working on the President's management agenda's five government-wide initiatives?
Mr. Cooley: This is not an easy question, and may actually end up being probably one of the most difficult questions you will ask me. First of all, I have answer with a very honest and straightforward one that my staff will recognize, and that is a lot of very hard work. This is not easy. It's one thing when you set your own agenda, it's one thing when someone else sets it for me, and then continually raises the bar so that you do better and better and better. I buy into that philosophy, it's basically a philosophy of continuous feedback, you do something, you do it well, you get feedback for improvement, and then you go off and make improvements based on that feedback. And then I think it's fundamentally the tenant that underlies the President's management agenda. We were very fortunate in that the President's management agenda had two key areas where we had already invested a lot of time and effort -- financial management and e-gov. And it was actually division of my predecessors and now I have to go back to the 1980s to talk about this. My predecessors had thought that it would be good if as many of our paper systems were electronic as is possible. And there were two key vision statements back in the '80s. One by Al Muellbower, who was the Division Director for Financial Management, and he wanted a financial management system that was totally electronic, where on a day to day basis, he knew exactly how much money was left in the bank. On the other hand, Connie -- oh, and I can't think of her name, she was the head of the Division of Information Systems, and her vision was one of how to enable our PIs, or principal investigators, to submit proposals to the foundation electronically rather than in paper copies. When you used to send a paper copy proposal, each proposal was about a half inch thick, and you were required to send twenty of them. So we had stacks of paper in the mailroom. The vision was, if you do this electronically, you can flip them out to your reviewers electronically, you can handle the paperwork electronically, and make your awards electronically. Those visions were put in place in the 1980s, and we were totally electronic by the end of the 1990s. So when the President's management agenda came along, in these two particular areas, it was very natural for us to go over and talk with the President's people in the White House and say we think we're green in financial management because, and we think we're green in e-government because. So when the very first scorecard came out, we in fact were green in financial management. They gave us a yellow in e-gov, because they had some questions for us that we needed to resolve and finish answering. So the next quarter, I believe it was, we did go to green in e-gov. The very interesting thing about the process though, is that they're -- those two do tend to be integrated, and the key integrating function is the other third PMA initiative, the integration of budget and performance. If you're going to integrate your financial system's data with your budget request, your justifications, what we call the budget execution plan, and you want to be able to tell the American public exactly what we are doing with that money and how you're doing, i.e., performance, then these three initiatives are all integrated. What we had not had a vision for was the integration of budget and performance. This agenda item caused us to really think in terms of a vision, we got working on that. My Division Director, Marty Rubenstein, really pulled a great vision together and pulled it off and we've got green and BPI, I believe, three cycles ago, something like that. The other two though were the more difficult ones. We at the National Science Foundation, frankly did not have a vision for human capital. We bought into the system that existed. It seemed to work very well for us. When you look at human capital as the fourth item and competitive sourcing as the fifth item, we were able to take advantage of a concern that we had had about four years ago that we really didn't have a vision for human capital, and we didn't have a vision for how all of the processes of the foundation needed to be integrated to get the most bank for the buck. And we had hired a contractor at that time to do an in depth, integrated assessment of absolutely everything that we do, and everything that we touch at the National Science Foundation, including this very critical piece. The staging of that meant that we needed to understand our human capital needs before we went down the road of trying to figure out what we needed to competitively source. Now part of the background here is that things that the other agencies are competitively sourcing today, we outsourced in the 1980s. I was around, we outsourced mailroom functions, we outsourced all of our IT support functions, we outsourced many, many different things. So where agencies today are looking to outsource those things, we've done other things. So we're on the cutting edge of what do you do after you've done that. Having just gotten to green -- yay, on human capital this last quarter, it allowed us to also integrate our vision for getting to green in human capital with the first steps of competitive sourcing. So we have our first competitive sourcing out on the street. Now we've moved from red to yellow in progress, not in status, so that we now have four greens and a yellow on the progress report card. We're very pleased with that, and I think that in general, while the PMA does take a lot of hard work, if you don't integrate your team across your agency, and you can't be successful if you buy in and set your own vision for yourself, because doing that means that you've got that community integrated within your agency. They see it as part of their vision, and therefore, it's the right thing to do.
Mr. Morales: In the fiscal year 2002, the National Science Foundation established the advisory committee or GPRA performance assessment that is structured internally to report PMA activities to the director of NSF. Who is part of this committee, and how does the committee evaluate NSF's progress on the PMA initiatives?
Mr. Cooley: Well, let me go to ground zero on this question. I think the audience that may by listening in could not necessarily know that the Government Performance and Results Act requires every agency to do its own self-assessment. There's a bit of a conflict of interest in my view with that self-assessment. It means, you know, if I think I'm doing a good job and my staff who work for me tell me that, because they're afraid to tell me otherwise, you know, for whatever reasons, you don't have some independent benchmark. So, a couple of years ago, the foundation agreed, you know, reporting performance was important to the community at large, whether it's a taxpayer, whether it's our principal investigators, whether it's the reviewers that are out there, whether it's the scientific community at large. In order for us to satisfy ourselves, because we have this independent review process that we rely upon to tell us how good a proposal is. The vision that I had was we need an independent group to come in and tell us how good we really think we are. We'll give them all the data, all the information, we won't preload it, we won't prejudge it, or prejudice it. And when they look at that, they have to give us feedback. If they think that we've prejudiced something, or have been lacking and providing them with information in a particular area, then the next time around we'll do better there. So, we came up with this advisory committee for GPRA performance assessment. They do want you here because they review our programs on an annual basis. What we do is we bring in experts in all the fields that we support, they all sit on this, they look at the portfolio of awards that we make, they look at annual reports, they look at collections of reports, they look at our Committee of Visitors reports, they look at National Academy of Science's reports, workshop reports, they look at everything, and they write a report to us and say this is good, or they say this is not so good. We've been very fortunate the last -- at least the last three years that I can remember, they have said that everything that they have seen indicates that the investments that we make to support our mission have been very good and satisfactory, we're making satisfactory progress, they support the mission of the agency, they support the strategic vision and the strategic plan and more importantly, in each annual plan, they support each annual plan in trying to get from point A to point B.
Mr. Watson: Tom, you mentioned you're green already in four of the five key PMA areas. What is your plan for staying there? Is it as difficult to stay there as it is to get there, or do you have processes in place that carry it to this point forward?
Mr. Cooley: The answer is yes, it's as difficult to stay there, and as I had mentioned earlier, it is as difficult to stay there because once you pass a bar, what the government is saying to itself is we need to move that bar higher. If we really want to be an effective and efficient organization, and I think most organizations buy into this concept, you need to do everything that you can through some process of continuous feedback loops, to figure out where you can still improve. It does take a lot of hard work, it does take a lot of effort, and people do pull their hair out, I'll be the first to admit that. But fundamentally, the only way that I, as the CFO of the agency can do it, is to set up a system of trust and integrity, and I think most of us in the government have tried to do that, let your people who are in charge with these activities run with them, get reports periodically on how they're doing, hold them accountable, but fundamentally trust them to do their jobs. Once in a while I find that I have to set a due date to make sure something continues to move along and it doesn't languish. But I think that if you trust your staff, and realizing that they trust you, whatever job you're asking them to do, they'll do their darndest to accomplish for you. And I have seen that time and time again. I've got a -- oh, I guess it's about one hundred twenty-eight or one hundred thirty people that work for me right now, small by most departmental standards, but nonetheless, I know most all of them by their first name. I know something about their history, their family, what their interests are. When I pass them in the hall, I always say hello to them. They always say hello to me. There's a sense of camaraderie, but I think fundamentally underlying that, we each share core values. For the Office of Budget Finance and Award Management, and that's posted on our BFA website. We talk about it at all of retreats to make sure that it's still the appropriate kind of core value and vision for us. And the last phrase in there is have fun. And as long as we don't lose our sense of humor, and we try to find ways to have fun in doing our job, then I think everybody has that little blowout patch available to them on a daily basis.
Mr. Morales: I think I'd certainly like to see that as one of the new initiatives on the PMA having fun. How has NSF successfully linked financial data and performance data? We will ask NSF CFO, Tom Cooley to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Tom Cooley, Chief Financial Officer of the National Science Foundation. Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson. Tom, I understand that NSF is one of the agencies that excel in the performance assessment report, which links financial data to program performance. What are some of the factors that have lead NSF to successfully articulate and link financial data to performance data.
Mr. Cooley: Well, I think that one of the most fundamental successful factors is the integrity of the science process itself. It starts with the person, man or woman, who has an idea, wants to put it forward, and hopes to get it funded by the federal government. What they want is an excelling research project that is going to make into the scientific literature because after all, these people are -- have the ability to become a tenured faculty member at a university or college, and I think that's part of their own career path. In establishing their research record, while at the same time they're establishing the fact that they teach well at a university or college. That helps them move up the ranks from an assistant to an associate professor, ultimately to a fully tenured faculty member. They have a vested interest themselves in making sure that the results of their research, their education project -- we fund things in informal science education at museums, for example, is known nationally. It's name recognition. You know, they want to become a recognized name in the field. So they want to publish their results. That's an effective way of measuring their performance out there with the taxpayer's funds. If they've got a successful project and it's been successfully published, then taxpayer funded information is now in the public domain for other scientists, engineers, and educators to use around the country to influence not only their own teaching and what information they impart to their undergraduate and graduate students, but their own personal venues of research. Then there's the internal piece of performance, how are we, as members of the federal government, performing with the taxpayer's funds. And in that regard, I think we do a very, very good job. We have one of those systems that, at the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, you fundamentally load up whatever your appropriation is, and then we start ticking it down. Our system enables every program manager who has a slice of that pie, they can start ticking down from whatever their amount is throughout the fiscal year. Every morning you can log on, you see how much you've got at the beginning of the day, and at the end of day, if you've made some award recommendations, those funds get committed, and you see how much money you have left at the end of the day. The other thing that we have, are online progress reports. PIs are required to submit an annual progress report so you can review it and see how it's doing. They tell us how many graduates students they've got, how many they've trained, did any of them get their Master's, did any of them get their PHD, have they submitted any publications, what's going on in your lab, have you had any kids in, did you talk to them, all of that kind of information is embedded in these so that you get a real picture on an annual basis of what's actually happening out there in the lab. That helps you as the program manager assess whether this project is performing well, and the person who writes it up, generally speaking, the principal investigator at the other end, goes through this thought process once a year. Yeah, I'm doing this and this and this and this and this and stop some things, but I'm not doing so good over here. I need to reach out more to let people know what I'm doing, and you know, some of the area high schools maybe reach out to them, offer field trips for people to come in where you can talk to them about your research and a lot of these PIs do that kind of thing, they tend to get really plugged in to the community around the university.
Mr. Morales: Tom, to dabble a little bit more into the secret sauce over at NSF, how is NSF moving to adopt new technologies in business processes and maintain financial integrity in internal controls?
Mr. Cooley: Well, I would like to think of it as driving business processes rather than moving business processes. We are a homegrown e-system, so what we have are legacy systems that are our contractors built and maintained for us. That comes with a heavy cost in terms of maintenance and operations and upgrades. And I think in the area of financial management there are commercially off the shelf software technologies that are getting better to address the federal needs, but they were built to address private sector needs, and they need some refinement, quite frankly, but I can see those refinements coming. So, where the federal agencies are beginning to go into cuts packages and work with those providers, the providers are learning how to improve the cuts packages. That's fine from my perspective. But in the grant making world, there are no such cuts packages. In order for us to do electronic grants administration, we had to build our own legacy system, that's what we've got. In terms of driving the future, what I would like to see is the government through this new grants management line of business, send a signal to the private sector that if we're really going to do this, we're going to need cuts packages. The grants business alone is something like $560 billion a year that go out in grants. So if the private sector starts building some of those cuts packages and offering them up to the government agencies, then there should become a point in time when we don't have to worry about legacy systems, where we can have integrated systems for grants management across the federal government, some of which may be a legacy system at a huge agency, such as HHS, might be. Or they may have cuts packages that are shared by multiple agencies. So I would like to see the government act a little bit more like the private sector in terms of trying to drive improvement by laying it out there to the private sector, you know, $560 billion a year is a big chunk of change, and if we really want to see if we can do some cost savings government wide by using cuts packages, you guys need to start building those and offering them to us.
Mr. Watson: Tom, you touched on the line of business concept, which is a current push in government and a number of areas. How is that impacting the National Science Foundation?
Mr. Cooley: It's really impacting all government agencies, not just NSF. But if I use NSF as the example, it's forcing us to make key decisions about, do we provide a service or do we go find a service provider? I think it's a key fundamental issue for the government. In the old days, one used to think -- and I'm talking fifty, eighty years ago, the Office of Personnel Management provided all of the personnel functions for the federal government, and everything you did went through OPM. That was disbursed -- probably for very good reasons at that point in time. What they're looking at now is rather than every single agency, and within major departments, every separate bureau having its own system, you name it, classification system for personnel, financial management system, procurement, contracts. Rather than having everybody have to duplicate that everywhere, you can get economy of scale and efficiency of operations by offering that service at a key few touch points. So that ultimately, like we did with the payroll, NSF had its own separate payroll system. The government went from something like twenty-six major providers for payroll to four. And the intent eventually is to get down to two. That created some streamlining, and there were good benefits that came out of that. Were there bumps along the way? Of course, there were bumps along the way. You don't bring any system up without bumps along the way, nothing goes absolutely smoothly. But in terms of trying to turn the government into a much more efficient and streamlined operation, there are shared operations across federal government, grants is one of them, where we need to start thinking strategically about how to do the front end, which we're already out in the front on with the grants.gov find and mechanisms, and how to do the back end, which is, you know, grants management within the federal government, and how to streamline that, make it more effective, make it more useful. One of the criticisms that we hear from -- well, let's say the governor's office. There is a lot of federal money funneling into the states, but there isn't any single portal where anybody in that state can figure out, well, how much is coming in on an annual basis and where is it going. How much is going to our Department of Transportation, how much is going to our public universities and colleges that we support in the state, and for what reasons? So, what's lacking and what is the value added here is the possibility that in the future that information allows you as the governor or as the state legislator, or as a single PI in the university to start to begin to integrate those efforts to get even greater value added our of the integration of those efforts. I've got an award over here and this guy over in the Department of Transportation has an award over here, I got to talk to him about what he's doing and let him know what I'm doing because maybe we have great information to share that may be of value to both of us.
Mr. Watson: Tom, you have mentioned using some of these lines of business, payroll for example. Any areas where you envision the National Science Foundation becoming a center of excellence providing a line of business?
Mr. Cooley: I would like to see us be able to do it for the grants management line of business, but we have a legacy system. It was not built with the intention of having a lot of capacity to it. We're not stretched right now in receiving forty-five thousand proposals a year, but on the other hand, we certainly couldn't handle the volume of proposals that comes in to the National Institutes of Health. If we did want to pursue becoming a center of excellence for the grants management line of business, we would have to bite off a discreet chunk that we felt that we could handle appropriately. Small bureaus, small departments, people in the federal government that already operate similarly to us, so if a portion of USDA, maybe EPA, maybe the National Endowment of the Humanities -- if I were to just take three random organizations, my guess is those three just about fill up our capacity. So then our concern would be what do we do if all of a sudden state funding dries up, and even more proposals -- say our proposal load goes from forty-five thousand per year to sixty thousand per year, that would saturate our capacity, we wouldn't be able to provide the service that we're supposed to be providing to the other agencies and the whole system could come crashing down. So, you know, we still got some homework to do, but I think that there would be value in pursuing that. The government is right now asking agencies to consider if they want to be a service provider, do a business case for yourself, and at the end of the business case, make a decision. So what I'd like to do is do the business case and see what it tells me.
Mr. Morales: Certainly a challenge, but an opportunity. What does the future hold for NSF? We will ask NSF CFO, Tom Cooley to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Tom Cooley, Chief Financial Officer of the National Science Foundation. Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson. Tom, how is NSF promoting partnership with academia, government industry, and international stakeholders?
Mr. Cooley: That's an easy one. Person to person contact. Without that personal contact, things just aren't going to get done. This is one area that I would say NSF has excelled in the past fifty-five years of our existence. The very nature of research is global in scope. That caused the agency when it was first forming itself to worry about how do you touch all the bases, how do we touch the Office of Naval Research, how do we touch the United States Department of Agriculture and their research programs? So many of our program managers that reside at the National Science Foundation know the other program managers that work at the Office of Naval Research, or the Defense Advance Research Agency, DARPA, or the USDA. So there's that inside the government natural connection that already exists, and we frequently invite them to be reviewers on our panels and they invite us to be reviewers on their panels. In terms of working with academia, that is the fundamental tenant of the Principle of Operation at the National Science Foundation. The relationship between the foundation as an arm of the federal government and academia is one of partnership. We expect them to put something in, you know, they turn on the lights everyday for the PIs, and they make sure the water is running. The PIs give something back to the institution, sure they're being paid a salary, but they're expected to teach and do research, find time to mentor students, graduate students, post-docs, find time to talk with undergraduates, bring undergraduate students into the laboratory and have an undergraduate research experience those students who are thinking about a science or engineering career, reach out to the community, visit high schools, that is just a nature of our business. Even our own program managers in NSF do science fairs, participate in research at nearby universities, keep their ongoing research programs going. Industry has been a bit more of a sticky wicket, and I think that our real outreach to industry started about in the 1970s, but really solidified under our director for six years from -- I think it was about '84 to '90, Dr. Erich Bloch promoted a lot more partnerships. He envisioned a couple of very key programs that required industrial participation. That has. We have some centers -- I remember one that's up in Rochester, New York, where for a long time, I believe it's still in existence, Kodak was a partner because it was research on -- in the whole field of photography. And then international, well, we have several ways to do that. First of all, government-wide, you've got the State Department. So you'll always need to be concerned with working through the State Department, particularly in some sensitive countries, but we have our own Office of International Science and Engineering, and they have their own connections to their counterparts in -- out in the other countries. So, for example, my boss at the time who was the Chief Operating Officer, Joe Bordogna and I were invited to go to Beijing about a year and a half ago because the National Science Foundation's counterpart in the Chinese government located in Beijing was undergoing a strategic planning and envisioning exercise, and they wanted to know how NSF did it, and how NSF implemented it, and sold it to their own administration. Well, we found out about that because there was a very natural relationship between the people in those -- in that office in Beijing, and our people, here at NSF and the Office of International Science and Engineering who are always going back and forth and touching base and finding out what's going on in each other's countries, so we do that with virtually every country on every continent, and of course with cell phones now, it's instantaneous, call up, dial up, email, whatever. Then there are some research communities which by their very nature are international in scope. The astronomy community comes to mind, the ocean sciences community comes to mind. But you see more and more of this internationalization of research, biosciences is probably the hottest topic right now, and that's the sharing of information across borders about what's going on with the human genome and plant genomes, and how to worry about getting better crops that are drought resistant, or other kinds of things, that's very important on a world-wide basis.
Mr. Watson: Tom, looking into the future, what are the major challenges you see for the National Science Foundation, generally, and then more specifically, for your office?
Mr. Cooley: Making sure that people can actually go home at the end of a very busy, hard day. We all work more than eight hours, we know that now. Email has made it -- you work virtually twenty-four/seven. I get home, I take off my tie, and in the summer time put on shorts and go around in flip-flips because of the heat, but after dinner I logon. Do I have any important messages, did somebody need to give me a heads up about things the next day, is there something I didn't get to today because I had meetings all day long and I didn't have time to actually sit back and think? I think that in my own opinion right now, the biggest problem that we, as a nation are facing is that there is so little time left to be proactive or reacting to everything because it's information coming at you twenty-four/seven, whether it's TV, radio, email, people in the halls, and having that quiet time to stop and think strategically about where you should go right now is lacking. So, I guess the answer to the question is, the biggest significant challenge is carving out a piece of time to yourself, and letting your employees carve out a similar piece of time to themselves. One of the ways I do that, I refuse to have an iPod or a Blackberry or a cell phone. If you want to reach me, I log on to email, you can leave me a message. If it's really that important, you have that venue, but I don't want you calling me on my cell phone at 11 p.m. at night, nothing's that urgent, I'll deal with it in the morning when I get in. And I think that as long as people wherever they work feel like they still have that little safe spot they can go to, you know, you can keep pushing yourself along, you can bring home the paycheck, you can do what you need to do for the family, but we all need that little safe spot.
Mr. Watson: Tom, earlier in the program you told us a wonderful story about how you got started. What advice can you give a person who is interested in a career in public service?
Mr. Cooley: Understand what you're getting into. I think that was the real wakeup call for me when I got into my first real job. Like many of us, we had part-time jobs in high school and college. I worked my way through college. But, you know, you see multiple career paths, and sometimes you have to actually get on that path and find out for yourself whether you're going to be happy or not. In terms of the basics, I think most people who are worried about any kind of future career need to be thinking about to what extent am I going to be happy, and to what extent is my earning power going to support my family if I'm the kind of person that wants to have a family, big or small. So, good high school education, certainly go to college, because I think having a college degree opens up your earning potential as you get older. If you really love college, stay in college, get a Master's, get an MBA, go on for a PhD if you're interested in pursuing education, if you're interested in pursuing science or engineering. I'll tell you one thing about having a well-rounded, educated background, whether it's just a Bachelor's or a Master's, is I do think it prepares you to take advantage of the opportunities. As we all know in life, doors close and it's up to you to find out where that window is open, and trust me, based on my own personal experience, when a door closes somewhere, there's always a window open somewhere, but you've got to find it. And then when you find it, you have to have confidence in yourself that your background, your education, your experience, your training allows you to leap through that window. And frankly, if you're not sure, leap anyway, take the chance. You can always go to the supervisor and say, you know, I thought I really understood this, I need some more training in this area. And if you've got a good supervisor, they're going to say, absolutely, go do it. I'll pay for it.
Mr. Morales: Tom, that is just great advice. Unfortunately, that will have to be our last question. Steve and I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule and joining us this morning. And we also want to especially thank you for your service to our country, both first at the Department of Agriculture, and now at the National Science Foundation.
Mr. Cooley: Well, that's great. I really do appreciate that. I'm third generation in service to this country, so over the past one hundred years, I've loved living in Washington, D.C., all of my life. If anybody wants to find anything else about the National Science Foundation, a very simple website, www.nsf.gov. Thank you.
Mr. Morales: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Tom Cooley, Chief Financial Officer of the National Science Foundation. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's www.businessofgovernment.org.
For The Business of Government Hour, I am Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.