The Business of Government Hour

 

About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

William D. Hansen interview

Friday, August 22nd, 2003 - 20:00
Phrase: 
William D. Hansen
Radio show date: 
Sat, 08/23/2003
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs; leadership; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships; organizational transformation...

Missions and Programs; leadership; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships; organizational transformation

Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour . I'm Paul Lawrence, the co-chairman of The IBM Endowment for the Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about The Endowment by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Bill Hansen, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Good morning, Bill.

Mr. Hansen: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.

Good morning, Debra.

Ms. Cammer: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Bill, perhaps we could just start by finding out more about the Department of Education. Could you talk to us about its mission and its activities?

Mr. Hansen: Absolutely. The Department is actually a pretty young federal agency. It's the 13th in terms of when departments were created. It was created in 1979 by Congress. It used to be housed as part of the old HEW up until 1979, so now we have HHS and the Department of Education. But I think the simplest way to think of the Department -- we have a twofold mission. One is to improve access to education and to also improve the quality of education in this country, and that's in our organizational statute, and that's really what drives the Department of Education.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you give us a sense of the budget and the number of employees and even the skills of the employees?

Mr. Hansen: Yeah, we are also the smallest Cabinet agency in terms of numbers of employees. We are about 4700 employees. We do have 6000 or 7000 contract employees that help administer our student aid programs, in particular our student loan programs, but all told, it's less than 5000 in-house and about 6000 contract employees. But on the budget side of things, we are one of the largest agencies. Our budget is over $50 billion in discretionary spending, and about another $40+ billion in student loans that we either make directly or guarantee through the private sector.

So if you take into account some of the tax benefits that we have to work with the Treasury Department on, with the HOPE Scholarship and the Lifelong Learning and other types of tax issues, our total budget is about $100 billion in what we are in charge of administering.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, you've talked about administering programs, technology, and education. What are the skills of the workforce?

Mr. Hansen: It's actually pretty diverse. We have a very diverse menu of programs that we are in charge of administering. We administer about 250 what I would call categorical grant programs, evenly distributed between the K-12 education system and the higher education system, and it does require different skill sets in terms of people's expertise in working with states and local school districts, or at the university level. We also have programs that affect special education. It's a big $10 billion piece of our budget.

And we also have a very big research component, and our research office is very different than administering grants. It really requires a different set of skill sets from people. I would probably say about half of our employees are more on the management side of things, because what we do is deliver aid to the 50 states, the 100,000 school districts, the 8000 colleges and universities, and 3000 banks. We have an awfully big network of partners that we work with in the education enterprise, and it really does require, from a business standpoint, that we have a very sophisticated CIO function, a very sophisticated CFO function.

We are probably, I'd say, one of the most complicated federal agencies when it comes to managing the funds. We just don't give out grants like in the student loan programs, for example. We have to administer about $280 billion of student loans either that we hold directly or that we guarantee in the private sector, and these are loans that are given to 18-year-old non-creditworthy kids when they're going to college and, you know, may not be paid back until they're 40 years old.

So there is an awful long lifespan to some of our programs, but it does require a very different set of skills at the -- you know, we're kind of a bank on the one hand but we're also kind of a large school district on the other. So it really requires us to have a diverse pool of employees to help get the job done.

Ms. Cammer: Well, tell us about your career leading up to this point. How did you get prepared for this position?

Mr. Hansen: I had actually worked at the Department for about 10 years back in the 1980s and early 1990s, and when the previous President Bush was exiting office, at that time, I was at the number three position at the Department. At the time, it was called the Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget, and then the Chief Financial Officer at the Department, so I'd had 10 years at the Department.

I had also worked at the Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, in different positions in both of those agencies. Between 1993 and before coming back into government service, I was the president and CEO of an organization called the Education Finance Council, and I think most people recognize it more as a trade association, but we represented the organizations in a student loan enterprise on the not-for-profit side of things, totaling about $50 billion worth of organizations that make student loans and scholarships at the higher education level.

I'd also served on a number of boards and commissions in the state of Virginia with Governor Allen and Governor Gilmore. I was on Governor Allen's Champion Schools Commission, and was also his commissioner on the Commission for the Future of Public Education, and for Governor Gilmore, I was on his Business Education Partnership Commission, as well as his School to Work Commission, and so I was involved at the state level with the K-12 issues, but my predominant job for the last eight years was, I worked in the higher education financing business.

I also was the transition director for the Department in coming into the Department for President-elect Bush after about -- oh, exactly two years ago, that was the hat I was wearing in helping the transition of administrations, and that led to what we've been doing here for the last two years.

Ms. Cammer: How did your earlier experience at the Department shape your entry this time?

Mr. Hansen: I think a couple of things. One is I think my experience at the Department both -- we really do recognize the experience and the importance of people that work in the bureaucracy. We have some of the best experts in their fields inside the Department of Education and just a very deep talent pool, and I think having that respect and appreciation by coming in for the experts that are there and being able to rely on their expertise was very important.

But also when I'd worked for the government before, I'd say one thing that helped me was the eight years of private sector experience, because when I had worked in the government, before it was kind of right out of college and 12 straight years of government experience and those eight years in the private sector, both at the state level and working in the nonprofit arena, helped me better understand how the Department of Education impacts states and impacts the private sector. And so having that perspective coming back into the Department I hope and think makes me a much more valuable manager this time around than I was before.

Ms. Cammer: Describe your roles and responsibilities. What would a typical day look like for you?

Mr. Hansen: Well, as the Deputy Secretary governmentwide, President Bush has asked for each of us to be the chief operating officers of our respective departments, so that really is what we do, and we run the day-to-day operations of the Department. I'm in charge of budget for the Department, the strategic planning, frankly, all the program operations. We have a very important Under Secretary that is in charge of policy operations, but pretty much the Deputy Secretary is responsible for all of the day-to-day operations of the Department, from management to budget to program policy, and so it really is -- you know, I come to work every day with a set schedule, but by the end of the day, it's probably half of it happened and the other half is all putting out fires and responding to, you know, the changing needs, both whether it's, you know, political issues up on Capitol Hill or at the White House or internally within the Department. But it's a fun job and it's a challenging one.

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier, you talked about the years you were away from the federal government in terms of the value it brought being in the private sector and the nonprofits in understanding how the programs worked. Could you also contrast, maybe, or tell us your perspective on, were there differences in the management skills you used or the management styles you saw in the different sectors?

Mr. Hansen: Yeah, I think -- obviously at the federal level, we don't have the same simplicities or efficiencies of the private sector and the pliability not quite as nimble and able to move as quickly, but I also think working in the program before, you -- I think some people could come in new to government and could be very overwhelmed by sometimes the inability for government to move quickly.

But actually there's, you know, one example. Secretary Paige, who's the Secretary of Education and came from the Houston Independent School District as the superintendent there, had never worked for the federal government before, but when we first got here, we had a very steep mountain to climb with some management challenges at the Department, and that no-nonsense private sector attitude, though, really I think made a very big difference to, you know, taking the good and making it better but also attacking on some of the challenges and that, you know, can-do attitude but also coupled with -- you know, an understanding of sometimes turning systems around in the federal government isn't as easy as it is in the private sector, knowing what barriers you have but also what opportunities you have is very important coming in.

And so I would say that private sector experience -- I think it helps you be a little more demanding, a little bit more cutting edge in expecting government to operate more like a private company, and I think all of us should have those expectations. And there are federal rules and regulations and other things that get in the way, but we need to -- I think bringing that private sector experience has been very, very helpful in making sure we've got very high expectations and demanding the results that we need.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point because we've got to go to a break. Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our discussion with Bill Hansen of the Department of Education.

What does it mean to leave no child behind? We'll ask Bill when The Business of Government Hour returns. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour . I'm Paul Lawrence, and today's conversation is with Bill Hansen, the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

And joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.

Ms. Cammer: Bill, it's been about a year since the President signed the legislation for No Child Left Behind. Could you tell us about the major elements and the goals of that legislation?

Mr. Hansen: Absolutely. In fact, going back to the earlier discussion about the transition, when we were working on the transition for President Bush coming in to office, one of the things he challenged us with was that he wanted to have the No Child Left Behind piece of legislation be the first one introduced up on Capitol Hill, and it was two days after he was inaugurated on January 20th of 2001. And he worked from very much of a focus that this was going to be a bipartisan bill coming out from day one and worked very hard for the entire year of 2001.

Had a lot of major challenges. We had Congress changing control over in the Senate; we had the 9/11 tragedy occur; and then we've had the anthrax issues up on Capitol Hill. And all of that being said, all those obstacles, still got an incredible landmark piece of legislation through Congress. It took about a year to get it done. He just signed that to law on January 8th of last year.

This law really was founded on four pillars such that it changed really the way that the Department of Education was operated over the years. The four pillars are really accountability for results; more flexibility at the state and local levels; more choice for parents; and only having our programs be operated under the principles of scientifically proven research. And, frankly, all four of those things haven't occurred in the last 35 years since these programs were created in 1965 as part of the Great Society programs when Congress first created them.

And I think it's really important to note, too, the President put out there an incredible amount of new money. You know, his simple equation was "More resources plus the reforms will get us the results that we're looking for," and since 1965, we've spent $320 billion at the federal level on our elementary and secondary education programs, all of them with the philosophy of trying to help end the war on poverty, and I don't think any independent, objective person could suggest that that $320 billion has achieved its goal.

In fact, I think when two-thirds of our nation's fourth-graders are not reading at grade level, I think especially these programs are targeted to the disadvantaged and lower-income students. I think, in fact, it's pretty easy to see that they've been a failure, and that was why it was so important to change the very nature of the way that these programs are administered, but also put the resources with them.

I think it's important to note as well that just over the last two years, we've had a 49 percent increase in our budget for the No Child Left Behind programs, and the President's budget again, as he talked about in his Saturday radio address about a week ago, committing another billion dollars to the Title I program, which is the flagship program for educating the educationally and economically disadvantage student population, as well as another 7 percent increase on our reading programs. But it's not just about money. It's about getting change and leveraging change with those dollars and making sure that we're getting the student achievement that we're looking for.

And one last point, too. The President -- and there are a lot of clich�s and a lot of campaign things out there, but when we talk about leaving no child behind, we mean it seriously and we mean it literally, and we just have, you know, gone on far too long in the last couple of decades where people tolerate failure, they tolerate systems failure, and this is not about systems and protecting systems; it is about protecting the children and making sure that the children can learn. I mean, our systems are about adults, learning is about students, and we need to make sure that our systems are aligned properly to make sure that the children are learning, and that's really what this is all about.

Mr. Lawrence: How will you measure the success of the program?

Mr. Hansen: We are working very closely with the states right now on a new data management system. We are also working very closely with the states to make sure that they have their testing and accountability provisions in place. And this new law does require that there be testing for all students in grades 3 through 8 on an annual basis in both math and reading, and this is a way in which -- these are not federal tests, these are state tests, but this will be an opportunity for us to ensure that there is accountability at the state and local levels.

We also, in terms of measuring, are going to be making sure that there is what is called AYP - it's annual yearly progress -- mechanisms put in place so that we can actually -- so that states every year can have a tracking of schools to see if schools are performing well or not.

And there was quite a bit of chatter last summer when finally after the 1994 Act was passed with the previous reauthorization, it took seven years for the Department to get out working with the states a list of schools that weren't performing where they should be. There was a list of about 8000 schools. What's going to come out this year is based on the new law, and those schools that are not adequately performing -- called low-performing schools -- these are the ones where more resources, more attention will need to be directed to, but it is also important for parents to have this information so that they can -- this law allows them to go and get mentoring services or tutoring services or to transfer their student to another public school or to a charter school if their child is in a low-performing school. And so these measurements are real, and there's also implications and consequences for -- if a school is deemed low-performing, there will be opportunities for people to come in and try to help improve that school, but also to get parents that information so they can make a choice that best suits their children's needs.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you think about the delivery of education? I'd be interested in your perspective. I've heard it described, you know, the Department does policy but the execution is at the state and local, so I'm curious how you think about that, and then I'm -- how do you manage those relationships to yield the results you're describing?

Mr. Hansen: That's a great question. In fact, in our organizing statute, we are prohibited from establishing curriculum, and there's also a very respectable federal role in education. We provide -- before this law was passed it was about 7 percent of the funding nationwide for education, but most of the funding for elementary and secondary education comes at the state and local levels, and so we are very much a minority partner, and our programs -- our primary programs at the K-12 level -- are the programs to help the disadvantaged and to help the special education handicapped children. That's where -- both of those are over $10 billion programs, and that's where the real priorities are given, so that is our focus, to help level the playing field and to ensure an appropriate education for all those children.

But this new law really does kind of, really, for the first time pit the Department of Education in that policy mode of helping shape the direction in which we're going as a country. But it is very important, to where Secretary Paige in Houston will give the statistic that at the beginning of the school year until the end of the school year, he had 40 percent of his student body population change addresses, either in or out of school or moving within the district, and it's just we are in a very transient environment right now in this country, as well as, obviously, in our global economic ongoing competitive battles. We've got to make sure that we've got a citizenry that is educated and prepared for the world of work, and so we, again, are very respectful at the federal level.

Education is a state and local responsibility, and nobody understands that better than Governor Bush. He comes with a state governor's perspective, as does Secretary Paige. He was the superintendent at one of the largest urban school districts in the country. But, at the same time, we need to make sure -- we just can't keep tolerating, you know, being 19th in the world in math and science test scores against our industrialized countries -- being able to tolerate two out of three students, again, the fourth-grade level not reading at grade level.

We've got to do things differently. We've got to do things in a better way, and that's really what this is all about. It's still relying on state and local control and responsibility, but trying to set -- again, if you're going to take this $35 billion of federal monies at the K-12 system, there's going to have to be accountability and results for it, and that's what this has really been about.

Ms. Cammer: Now, we know the Department's created these two new offices. Can you describe the thought process behind that and what the roles of those offices are to meet some of those challenges you're talking about?

Mr. Hansen: Very much so. One of the first things Secretary Paige did when he came in was to personally write our strategic plan, and our strategic plan has six goals in it. And the first four goals are the ones that we talked about that are the four pillars of the President's No Child Left Behind plan in terms of accountability and choice and scientifically proven research and innovation and flexibility. Goal 5 is related to higher education; and goal 6 is the President's management agenda, and that's our strategic plan.

One of the important pieces I haven't talked about is having a safe and drug-free environment for learning, and that was -- we pulled those programs out of the old elementary and secondary education office and created a new Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. This also is going to be the office that's working with the Homeland Security office in our school safety issues at the K-12 level, as well as higher education, so that was a very important priority.

Also, the Office of Innovation and Improvement is going to focus on our school choice initiatives but also on our improvement activities. The old Office of Education Research and Improvement used to be kind of a conglomerate of research activities, but also managing a billion dollars of grant programs. Congress just passed the research reauthorization bill at the end of this last year -- also a big push by the President to get that done -- and what this bill does is it creates a new institute for education sciences. That's kind of going to be akin to the National Institutes of Health at HHS, so that we can really have a laboratory for our education research activities. Part of our reorganization was to pull all the grant-making components away from that, so this can really be a research-based component focused on research and not on running programs. So that was the thrust behind the creation of these two new offices -- was to really get them aligned to achieving our strategic goals.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. Come back with us in a few minutes as we continue talking about management with Bill Hansen of the Department of Education.

How is education faring with the President's management agenda? We'll ask Bill when The Business of Government Hour returns. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour . I'm Paul Lawrence, and today's conversation is with Bill Hansen, the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.

Well, Bill, I'm curious in terms of just kind of bringing us up to date. Could you tell us about the Office of Student Financial Assistance, or FSA? They were PBO a while back. I'm sort of curious, how are they doing and how is that all working out?

Mr. Hansen: Actually, there were a number of troubles in the Student Aid Office over the years. The General Accounting Office had had the Student Aid programs on their high-risk list pretty much since the General Accounting Office started the list, and this has been one of our top priorities, to get that taken care of and to get the student aid programs off the GAO high-risk list.

There were also a number of management breakdowns in the mid and later '90s that prompted Congress, when they reauthorized the Higher Education Act in 1998, to transform the Student Aid Office into the first PBO in government, and so Congress statutorily changed the formation of the office and made it the first PBO.

I would say over the last two or three years before we got to town, there was a lot of work to do to get it off the ground and to get it running, and there are some very important principles that -- you know, Congress gave some hiring flexibility, some contracting flexibilities to the PBO for important management needs that it had to really be a more pliable organization. The one thing, though, that I think is important that Congress did not do is to set it up as an independent agency out there outside of the Department, and, frankly, there was a bit of an issue with that over the last couple of years where the Department of Education is one department and it is a very important ingredient within the Department. In fact, our new initiative, that we'll get to when we talk about the President's management agenda, is called One Ed, and it is to make sure that all of our operations are totally integrated.

We have two different, very complicated financial management systems. For example, one is the $50 billion in grant aid at the K-12 and higher level, then all of the loan and other operations at the higher ed level in the hundreds of billions of dollars. And for many, many years there were two different financial management systems, two different CIO systems, and it's inefficient, it's duplicative, and so that's really been what we've been about the couple of years -- is to integrate the PBO into the Department in a very aggressive way.

But all in all, I must say that over the last two years, we've made some incredible changes. We have a new head of the PBO, a new leadership team, default rates -- which is the most important indicator for the General Accounting Office when it's on the high-risk list --we were at 22 percent default rates back in the early 1990s. For the last two years, default rates for the first two times in history have been under 6 percent, and they've been in the 5-1/2 percent range for student loan defaults.

This is a very complicated program. A lot of work has to be done with our lending partners, with the guarantee agencies, with our contractors, with the schools, and with the students themselves in terms of counseling them and making sure they know this is a loan and not a grant; that we give out about eight million student loans every year, about four to five million Pell grants every year, and four or five other million awards at the campus-based level, and it's a very sophisticated sort of tracking system to track all of these people and the award that they're getting to make sure that we also are tracking the taxpayers' dollars appropriately, because with this many venues, there is always opportunity for mismanagement or for some bad activity to be going on.

So, we've been very aggressive in getting these programs off the high-risk list, to get the fault rates down, and to make sure we've got the management activities that need to be put in place over there to ensure smooth operations.

Ms. Cammer: I want to follow-up with your comment about the President's management agenda and the Department's initiatives to address it. The GAO has given you a lot of recognition for your approach, and so could you describe it more for the listeners?

Mr. Hansen: Absolutely. In fact, in going back to pretty much day one about two years ago this time, Secretary Paige took it upon himself to -- first thing he did inside the Department was to create a SWAT team, or what he called a management improvement team, where he pulled about a dozen of the top senior career executives into the Secretary's office and took them away from their day-to-day responsibilities, but we kept hearing about all these horror stories of $800 million of missing money and duplicate payments and we haven't had a clean audit in a half dozen years, and all these different issues that were confronting him when he first hit the office.

But he took these folks and had them get into kind of a war room, and they threw up on the wall over 800 recommendations that either the IG had, our auditors had, GAO had, other audit reports had, of issues that were troubling the Department. We went through and put them into three Categories, and went after and addressed them and got them all diagnosed and action steps in place to get them all fixed.

Last fall, in October, after about 15 months into that, we were able to announce that we had every one of those problems fixed or addressed, and the long story short is in many ways, we kind of were out there probably five months before the President's management agenda was even unveiled and were already very hard at work in getting this taken care of. I will say that the President's management agenda, though, totally dovetails with everything we've been doing, and as a result, I think you'll see the results that have already been out over the last year and will be coming out of the President's budget in February acknowledging the fact that the Department of Education is at the head of the class in what we are accomplishing and across the board in all areas both in terms of the plans we've put in place, where I think we're going to be green -- for people that know the green, yellow, and red light system -- across the board, but also that we're, in terms of our actual implementation and progress as well, are just very proud of the work that's been going on inside the Department with our senior management team. So we're taking it very seriously, and each and every one of the components is achieving great success. Very proud of it.

Ms. Cammer: Can you describe the success or the progress in each of those areas?

Mr. Hansen: Sure. First, in the human capital area and also in the competitive source scenario, this is the One Ed process that I mentioned earlier. Our Assistant Secretary, Bill Lattinger, is shepherding this through for us. And we really are using this process for just about every program in the Department, but we've got to do it in a phased-in sequencing, but we're really looking at every single one of our functions.

And this isn't for outsourcing. This is for how we do our job better. If outsourcing becomes the way it looks like we should be after going through this very vigorous process, so be it, but it is really about how do we change the way we're doing our business and look at every business process in the Department.

On the financial management side of the equation, we have implemented this last year a new Oracle, Federal Financials, for both our student aid piece as well as the Department of Education as a whole, and we're tying those two together. We're right now at the 1 yardline in working with our auditors about our audit opinion for this year. Again, we haven't had a clean opinion for many, many years. I feel very confident this year of where we're going, that we last year made great strides in getting down to one material weakness. This year, I think we made even greater strides. The results are still yet to be seen, but we're hopeful that they will very positive and be a good indicator of what we've accomplished.

And then also on the budget being linked to performance and accountability, I've actually been chairing this process for OMB governmentwide with all of the Deputy Secretaries in trying to make sure that this program assessment rating tools, this part tool that we're using for all of our programs, is an effective tool. And this will also be coming out with the President's budget in February in kind of a pilot way, where many programs in all the agencies will be assessed with this tool for accountability purposes.

Lastly, on e-government, there are about two dozen governmentwide initiatives. We are working on most of these hit in the areas of e-benefits and e-grants, and we're actually chairing the e-loans process for OMB.

Again, I think that the Department of Education -- just one indicator of success is -- our student aid applications is, I think, a good one to look at. We send out over 35 million applications to high schools and colleges for people to apply for student aid. We get about 15 million applications every year from students and families for student aid. We make, again, eight million loans, five million grants, and other aid that flows out as well.

For the first time ever this year, more than half of those applications came electronically, and we've had this thing called Electronic FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and just, again, many kudos go to our folks in the Student Aid Office that have made this a reality -- that it is so much easier. You get approved quicker when it's on-time errors instead of having kind of like when you send something in to the IRS and you have to wait two or three weeks and if there's an error made, they will prompt you automatically on time to make whatever changes you need to make, but again, this is affecting millions and millions of Americans. And this application is about the size of an IRS tax form, so it's a complicated form for eligibility purposes, but making this available electronically is a cut-down on, you know, wait time for parents and students to know how much money they're going to be eligible for and the type of school they can attend as a result, so it really is affecting people in a very real way.

We also have two other issues that are specific to us. One is the implementation of the faith-based activities, which, again, I think we're being championed as the leader in the government in making sure that those types of organizations are built into our grant-making processes. Then, also, we have a specific one for getting off the General Accounting Office high-risk list for student aid. So we have the five governmentwide President's management initiatives plus these other two, and, again, I hope that when folks take a look at the President's budget the first week in February when it comes out, we'll have some very good news across the board on all of those seven initiatives in what we're doing.

Mr. Lawrence: This is a good stopping point. Join us in a few minutes as we continue talking about management with Bill Hansen of the Department of Education.

What does the future hold for the Department? We'll ask Bill for his thoughts when The Business of Government Hour returns. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour . I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Bill Hansen, the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

And joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.

Well, Bill, I'm curious, what role does the Department, or will the Department play in homeland security?

Mr. Hansen: We'll play not specifically a role, but we have some very important working relationships with the new department. Probably the most important one is our working with the Immigration and Naturalization Service on the student visa issue at the higher education/collegiate level, and this has been a very important issue that we've been working on with them. This really is an INS issue, but because of the reporting requirements with the universities and our relationship with them, we have had many, many ongoing activities and meetings with them to try to get that done correctly.

We also have, obviously, in the whole issue of school safety, some very important work to do. There's no specific program per se at the Homeland Security Office, but within the Department of Education, our Safe and Drug-Free Schools Office is very much working along these lines, and I think Secretary Paige has said time and time again that school safety is really our first and foremost responsibility. And we are very fortunate that terrorist acts have not hit our colleges or our schools but, you know, we have these issues confronting us day-in and day-out. When the sniper attacks were going on here in Virginia, we were working very closely with the school systems in this region, and even with some local ones where there were threats made, and even one the shootings took place on a school setting. So we do have some very important activities where we are coordinating with the Homeland Security Office as well as the other agencies that are involved in safety for our school systems. But that is what we are working at first and foremost.

Ms. Cammer: You talked about safety and security. What are some additional challenges you see the Department facing?

Mr. Hansen: I do think that the -- we've also been working very diligently on the whole issue of making sure that students understand that because somebody has a last name or comes from a certain part of the world, that they need to have an appreciation for who that person is based on that person and not because of cultural or other issues. And we've been working very closely with the First Lady and others to make sure that students, again, understand that we're all different and that we all come from different backgrounds, but that children should not look at other children in a way just, again, because of where they might come from or what their religion might be or what background they might come from. And so this has also been a very important effort.

Another one we have, too, is the whole issue of our international educational activities. We are rejoining UNESCO, as the President announced not too far back. The education component has been out of UNESCO since 1983, and this is a very important international effort for us. We've had some very important workings with Afghanistan and the school children there very early on, and so, again, we've got some very important challenges on the international front as well to make sure that the United States has a very important role at that table to help make sure that our values and our culture is also very widely understood around the world.

Ms. Cammer: What's your vision for addressing this?

Mr. Hansen: I think that there are people around the world that look to America with a very different set of lenses on, and I think it's very important for us to do everything we can to let them know that this is the most wonderful country on the earth, and that the freedoms we enjoy here and the way in which we have our arms open to all countries and all societies is something that needs to be understood worldwide. So this is a very important challenge for us as we work with our international partners.

Mr. Lawrence: As you look out to the future in terms of the Department, how do you see technology changing what goes on?

Mr. Hansen: I think it's going to change in a very big way, and we're already seeing it both at the K-12 and at the higher education levels, and at the K-12 level, one of the issues that we have in this No Child Left Behind bill is to ensure that we have a qualified teacher in every classroom. And in some rural areas or some inner city areas, that's going to be a very heavy challenge. You may not be able to get a foreign language teacher or a science expert in some of these venues, and the whole issue of virtual learning and being able to pipe in these types of teachers for that type of expertise, I think is going to be very important for us.

We've had some incredibly innovative activities going on with virtual charter schools around the country and some of the curriculums being used here. The methods of teaching are just incredible. At the higher education level as well, the largest university out there right now is the University of Phoenix, Apollo University, which has over 100,000 students being taught in a virtual way. The University of Maryland here locally has just a wonderful school as well that's a virtual school, and there are many other schools here in the metro area in Virginia as well that are using these technologies to help deliver education services to our citizenry.

And I think -- you know, our country changed dramatically in the 1960s and '70s, which created the onslaught of the four-year public colleges, the community college advances in the 1970s, and I think that the changes we'll see in the future, especially in both higher education and K-12, are -- I think we'll look back 10 years from now and see a very different landscape, and it's going to be because of technology and how students learn. And I just think the old ways of teaching people are no longer good enough, and we have so many different challenges in our society; that people learn at different rates, at different speeds, but we need to make sure that they all have access to the same quality education, so we'll need to use technology to make that happen.

Mr. Lawrence: Will there be technological changes in terms of the way people get student aid? Will that one day be like an ATM-like process perhaps?

Mr. Hansen: Yeah, it very likely could be like that at some point in time, and I think Congress, when they reauthorize the higher education programs this time around, will be able to take a look at that. You know, students are -- there are very different eligibility criteria for student aid for the different types of programs, and there will at some point need to be -- I think to really use those technologies efficiently to -- the eligibility criteria will also have to be synthesized with that, because right now, it's a very cumbersome process and there are different people eligible for different types of things, and it's not really sometimes technology-friendly the way the programs are structured. And that's, frankly, what we're trying to get at, to get off the GAO's high-risk list as well, to just -- you know, the design of these programs. Nobody's fault per se, but they just kind of get band-aided over time or kind of laid on top of one another over time and there's not a real sense of taking a step back and seeing if we can really design these programs to where they could also be delivered much more efficiently and more effectively.

Mr. Lawrence: I picked up a popular weekly magazine a while back and I saw an interesting thing. It was a -- covered the Department's headquarters with, I guess I'd call it a red school house entrance. I'm sort of curious -- you know, will you tell us the story behind that?

Mr. Hansen: Yes. It's actually -- we were having some of our facade falling off the building, and big concrete slabs were falling off, so GSA had come over to make the repairs and they had to build these little ugly gray shelters over all of our entrances around the building, and we took a look at them one day and just said, you know, if we throw a coat a red paint on them and spruce them up just a little bit -- and this was done just literally for just a couple thousand dollars. It wasn't -- you know, because GSA already had to build them anyway for protection for people to walk in, but they've actually been a tourist hit. The Air and Space Museum is right across the street, and, you know, people -- we now see families coming over weekends, you know, getting their pictures taken in front of them.

And it is important, though. I mean, you know, we have a lot of very stale federal buildings in Washington, and just, you know, sometimes for just, you know, a bucket of paint, to be able to put out an image of what that faceless bureaucracy is actually doing, and what it's working on I think is an incredible -- it was just, you know, really just a, you know, almost a little thought that I think has actually turned into quite a change in the way people look at the Department. So we're actually very pleased with it.

Ms. Cammer: So does that mean you'll leave them up after GSA's finished?

Mr. Hansen: Well, GSA is finished, and so we're trying to decide whether we need to leave them up or not. And I think right now, we're leaving them up, so.

Mr. Lawrence: As you reflect upon your career, what advice would you give to, say, a young person interested in a public service career?

Mr. Hansen: I think to take the opportunity very seriously. I think there are all kinds of opportunities, very rewarding opportunities -- whether it's in the world of medicine, the world of education, the world of finance -- and as we said earlier, I think there are some incredible opportunities just even at the Department of Education for people with either an education background, a finance background, or a policy background who want to come into government.

I've now hit my 15th year in government off and on, and the opportunity to serve the public and to help make a difference is, I think, an incredible one that nobody ought not take a serious look at. So I think, especially in this area, we're going to have new opportunities, you know, moving forward with all of these technology issues and these other things we talked about, and we really need to continue to recruit the brightest minds to the Department to make sure we're able to accomplish all the goals we've been talking about.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good ending point, because we out of time.

Bill, Debra and I want to thank you for being with us this morning.

Mr. Hansen: Paul, Debra, thank you.

If anybody wants to find out more about the Department, while we're at it, too, we've got I think a wonderful website. It's been highlighted as one of the best in government, another plug for it, but it's www.ed.gov, and there's a No Child Left Behind section there. There is a section there for financial aid, and you can also get to it through the White House's website as well, but you can learn much more about the No Child Left Behind initiatives and what we're doing, as well as the student aid opportunities through our website.

Mr. Lawrence: Great, thank you very much.

This has been The Business of Government Hour , featuring a conversation with Bill Hansen, the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our program, and you can also get a transcript of today's very interesting conversation. Again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

William D. Hansen interview
08/23/2003
William D. Hansen

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