Collaboration

 

Collaboration

Nuala O'Conner Kelly interview

Friday, September 23rd, 2005 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"Our operation is to include privacy in all major decisions and to make sure that privacy is considered and is codified. It is built into programs, taught, and brought to our personnel in meaningful ways."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 09/24/2005
Intro text: 
Nuala O'Conner Kelly
Complete transcript: 

Monday, August 29, 2005

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Morales: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host and 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 Nuala O'Connor Kelly, chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. Good morning, Nuala.

Ms. Kelly: Good morning, Al. Pleasure to be here.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Paul Hempstead. Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Hempstead: Morning.

Mr. Morales: Nuala, please tell us about the mission of the Department of Homeland Security and the mission of your office within DHS.

Ms. Kelly: I think many people -- although not everyone in the country -- knows right now that the Department of Homeland Security is largely a protective agency. I think -- obviously, we were created in the aftermath of September 11th and the tragedy that occurred around the country, and people think of us as an antiterrorism agency, but that's -- I would consider it a part of the larger mission of the department, which includes everyone from FEMA, as well as the Secret Service and the Coast Guard and the border protection services, and all of the parts of our former immigration services.

So we are a service agency, we are about protecting the homeland, but we are also about making an accessible and protective and safe space for citizens and visitors to this country. And I think that recent events that -- and recent changes Secretary Chertoff has made to the department really reflect that, with the appointment of chief medical officer, for example, to counteract medical threats, bioterrorist threats, and also to look for biohazards across the country, patterns and emerging trends. We're dealing, you know, with everything from local outbreaks of the flu, really, to kind of national and international epidemics that might be a threat to our homeland as well. So it's not just the terror cells that we -- you know, we think about and we hear about on television, but it's man-made and natural disasters, it is medical threats, it's bio threats, it's every kind of imaginable thing that we want to prepare for and be aware of and hopefully both act to prevent but also act to mitigate. So it's a very -- it's a wonderful mission, and I'm incredibly honored to be a part of it. I've been here since, really, almost day one. I was appointed two weeks after the department opened its doors under Secretary Ridge and the team that was in place at that point, and I've just been incredibly honored to be a part of that team and the current team as well.

The mission of the Privacy Office within the department is a unique one. Again, I'm honored to have been chosen to be the first statutorily required and appointed chief privacy officer for any federal agency. And that's not to say there aren't incredibly talented and excellent privacy and Freedom of Information Act specialists and personnel and leaders across the federal service because they already are. This is just a unique amalgamation of those responsibilities and those requirements in one office, and I can just tell you a few minutes about the office and what it does. First, our statute has five main components, and they include everything from overseeing all Privacy Act -- privacy impact assessment requirements, the Freedom of Information Act compliance across the entire department, legislative and regulatory proposals that might impact personal privacy, and interestingly enough, a reporting relationship, which is fairly clear, that we must report on complaints and concerns to Congress and to the public, which gives us a little bit of an outside kind of ombudsman feel to the office. But it is really largely -- and obviously it is intended to be a helpmate of the department. I hear people define us as what we are not. We're not the general counsel. We're not the inspector general. We're not a number of things. And all those things are true -- we don't pretend to be any of those things.

We are operational, and our operation is to include privacy in all major decisions and to make sure that privacy is considered and is codified, is built into programs, and is educated, is brought to our personnel in meaningful ways. We have done everything from videotaped learning modules to on-site classes for all of our new employees at headquarters. You know, any way we can reach our employees, we'll do it. And privacy, of course, means a lot of things to a lot of people. It means not just personal data -- what information the government knows about you and when and why, but also what kind of pat-downs are you getting at the airport and who's looking through your baggage and all the different ways that the department comes into contact with people. So we try to instill a sense of respect, a sense of dignity for the individual. So our role is a little bit of everything; it's policy, it's technology, it's legal, but every person -- including me -- that works in our office wants to be at the Department of Homeland Security to help our overall mission, which is to keep our country safe.

Mr. Hempstead: Nuala, that is certainly a broad set of issues. Could you provide some context for our listeners and describe the size and budget of your office?

Ms. Kelly: Our headquarters office right now numbers probably around 30 professionals, and we have a headquarters budget that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 or $6 million. We also oversee and have kind of a dotted-line reporting relationship -- or policy oversight over an additional 400-some personnel who practice Privacy Act, privacy impact assessment, and the Freedom of Information Act work across the department with a combined budget there of -- I want to say over 35 million. So those sound like big numbers, of course; when you think about the context of homeland security, that's actually a fairly small office. But I think we have a big impact considering our size. Not only, obviously, do I report directly to the secretary, but we're involved in management and decision-making and policy and program decision-making at all levels, at the very lowest level right on the front lines of what Homeland does, at the border and at airports and the like, and at the highest levels as well, about where we're going to put our resources and what directions we're taking major programs.

Mr. Hempstead: We understand your appointment was announced in April of 2003. You've been over there for over two years. You say you have a staff of 30. Do you do any investigative kind of work? And as being Congressionally mandated, do you also report to Congress from time and again?

Ms. Kelly: Thanks for that question. I know people at the department shudder when the word "investigation" is used in association with my office. I would say we review programs. We've certainly said publicly we had some concerns about a number of programs and have worked successfully with those programs to talk about what the right of privacy frameworks are and what the best practices are for personal information. So yes, we do review when the public raises concerns or when Congress raises concerns, or when, you know, concerns are raised even within the department. We'll go to various programs, and we'll say, listen, we're going to sit with you side-by-side. And it probably feels from the receiving end a little bit like an inspector general audit, although we like to be a little friendlier and a little more in-house. And we do report the results publicly; we've issued a number of public reports on the status of, say, for example, the use of personal information in the airline context, which is of great concern publicly, but also has a great validity in our homeland security work.

We are -- I think in the Fall, you'll see reports on the Matrix program, which, again, was incredibly worthwhile program about law enforcement sharing of information across state lines. Again, I think most people think that happens already, so -- but there were concerns about who was going to have access to the information, for what purposes, where it was going to be housed, and most importantly, the security of information. Something you've seen over and over again in the private sector in the last year, people are, I think, going to be increasingly concerned about their government having and being able to secure their personal information as well. We've got to demonstrate that we respect personal information; if we're going to require it for use for -- even the most valid purposes in the government space -- which I think are for homeland security -- let's just show that we can do this right, we can do this thoughtfully.

We do report to Congress at least annually and we've actually been asked to report more frequently than that through specific legislative direction and through coming in for hearings and testimony and the like. So again, this was a Congressionally mandated and created office, and a number of our godfathers and godmothers are still in Congress; a number actually have left and are still looking over us with great pride from the private sector as well. But we do go up to meet with both members and staff frequently, and we've been very grateful for their support. You know, I probably sound like an incredibly na�ve Washingtonian, but I really do believe that the support is very bipartisan. There isn't anyone I can think of walking down the street who'd say I don't really like privacy. You know, I think that's something everyone can get behind, and it's just a question of doing it right and thoughtfully and again, not impeding the mission of the Department of Homeland Security, but really strengthening it.

Mr. Hempstead: You described your role as being partly within, partly without or outside the department. Given this duality of roles, how do you ensure collaboration with your colleagues across DHS?

Ms. Kelly: I think by showing, first of all, a fundamental respect for what the mission is. You know, I was just -- I was doing some research online for a personal trip this weekend, and I came across some of the coverage of some of the folks on airplanes on 9/11 -- and I have a little girl named Nora, and one of the women who died had a one-year-old daughter named Nora. And these stories, again -- I mean, even four years later, still resonated with me, and I actually had family members and friends -- I'm from New York, I had just moved down a couple weeks before 9/11 -- who were in the World Trade Center, some of whom were injured and lost their lives. And so, you know, we all at this department support this mission and remember why it is we came and what it is we're about doing. I'm sure there are people at the department who sometimes think we're making their lives harder -- and that's probably true, we are probably making a few more steps to their getting their program out the door -- but again, it's with the thought that we are doing the tough scrub inside the department to make sure we have made the right choices about the use of personal information and about the impact on the individual because, you know, what we're about, again, is not only preserving our safety and our security, but preserving our way of life with a minimal intrusion by our government. And so when I say I'm partly within-without, I mean within, we are a helpmate, we are an educator, we are, again, assisting the operations; outside the department, we're a listener, we're there to hear the concerns of the public, we're there to bring them in and again, to operationalize them, to make them real, to make them hearable to departmental leadership. I think so many times the discourse in this country becomes so intolerant of the other side, and I really see our role as a translator, someone to say, you know, we have respect, we are privacy professionals. Every person I've hired, they are profoundly someone who cares about personal privacy and is educated in fair information and principles, not only domestically, but internationally as well.

So we come from that framework, but we're also Americans, and we also care about this country, and we also care about this department. So I think we sit on the fence, we sit on the line between, you know, those who would criticize the department and those who would defend it at all -- you know, with no ability to hear criticism. So I hope we've done that, and I think we've done it to greater and lesser, you know, success depending on the day.

Mr. Morales: How is DHS building Privacy Office? We will ask DHS Chief Privacy Officer Nuala O'Connor Kelly to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales and this morning's conversation is with Nuala O'Connor Kelly, chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. Also joining us in our conversation is Paul Hempstead.

Nuala, we understand that you file an annual report directly to Congress. Can you tell us more about this reporting relationship?

Ms. Kelly: It's an unusually drafted provision, our statutory authority, in that most reports issued by the department, obviously, are issued by the secretary. So it's a little quirk of drafting, but I think it was intended to be, frankly, actually, much more than that, and I've talked to some of the staffers, and they intended for this office to have, as I was saying a little earlier, kind of an ombudsman-like quality and ability to report in a kind of an unconstrained manner about concerns and about their -- the response of the department to public concern and outcry about privacy invasion or privacy complaints. We've reported a number of times, not just in our annual report, but in specific instances, we've been asked to investigate or analyze, really, the use of the no-fly list in the airline context. We've been asked to review the use of commercial data by the department to make sure that it's meeting public expectations. And we see these, really, as constructive ways to tell the public what the department's doing, but also to tell folks at the department here's the right way to be doing these things, and you know, here's the way to succeed with our programs, but also keeping privacy in mind at all times. And so we've been lucky to have just a really good relationship with the members of Congress who oversee our office and who've expressed concerns about these issues at the department. And again, they fall on both sides of the aisle. I think privacy is a universal issue, really, more than a Republican or Democrat one.

Mr. Morales: Nuala, many of the organizations within DHS have very long histories and well-formed cultures. How is your office contributing to the culture at DHS?

Ms. Kelly: I am fascinated -- absolutely fascinated -- by organization culture because I came from a high-tech company that was five years old, and it was run by -- I think at the time, a 37-year-old billionaire, and at 32, I was probably the second-oldest person in the company, so you know, it was really a fun, fun job, and a great place to work and a great entrepreneurial environment. That's a very different culture from any government organization, almost. There are parts of the Department of Homeland Security that date back to several centuries ago. It is hard to make change in cultures that are that old and that well-established. And we have other parts of the department that are brand new, that were created in the department's enabling statutes, so we've got two-year-old departments and 200-year-old departments within the Department of Homeland Security.

I think the challenge for all of us is to create a unified culture, and I'm so incredibly impressed by some of the language that Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson has used about creating one DHS where employees understand that their career trajectory is tied to the department, that they can succeed, you know, as a Coast Guard agent who does a -- or a member who goes to do a detail in the Secret Service or in the Customs and Border section, or in enforcement agencies, that there is respect for professionalism and growth and opportunity across the department that isn't tied to any one subset of the department. I have a lot of respect for the organizations like the Customs Service, for example, that date back, I think to the Constitution. I think people have mentioned that a number of times. But they have developed a career personnel track that is among the most professional, I would say, in the federal service. It attracts a terrifically high caliber of employee and promotes employees for their best work. I think we want to look across the department and build on what's already working and build those structures out and then also take this opportunity as a brand new two-year-old agency to be a little entrepreneurial, to be a little more open to new ways of doing things.

You know, I think people have been talking about -- for decades now -- bringing a private-sector kind of ethos into the government space. There are terrifically talented people; I think I've been more than impressed by the folks I've been able to hire and that I work with at DHS and across the service. Let's train and manage and promote them in a way and with the speed and with the benefits that you can see in the private sector. There are certainly benefits to being a government employee, but there are downsides in some of the inflexibilities as well, so let's kind of clean those weeds out of the way of the good folks who are trying to get work done.

Mr. Morales: Nuala, you touched a little bit upon collaboration. What are some of the other critical success factors or challenges in working across an organization the size of DHS?

Ms. Kelly: I think translating, making sure that our mission is explained within the department in a way that people understand that it's part of supporting the overall DHS mission. You know, we're not just there to put a rubber stamp on a program, to say, yeah, it's great, it's super, it's a terrific idea. We are going to ask the hard questions, but in asking the hard question, it's to get to the endgame, which is to get a worthwhile valid idea out the door and in a manageable timeframe and in a manageable way that respects the individual, respects the citizen. Often, folks are so focused -- and sometimes, I'm sure that the same criticism could be levied of my office -- we're so focused on our own mission, we can't necessarily conceive of how important others' missions are as well. And so just making sure we all understand it's really -- it really is one team, one fight, as Husband said, that we all have our part to play in the larger drama of DHS, but that it's about getting to the finish line.

Mr. Hempstead: Nuala, DHS interfaces with several different federal agencies. Many of them do not have chief privacy officers. How do you ensure that privacy issues are handled according to DHS standards and other applicable laws to people like the intelligence community and other civil agencies?

Ms. Kelly: Well, thanks for making me sound so important that I get to tell everybody else what to do, but that's not exactly the case. But in fact, there are more and more chief privacy officers that are statutorily required. We've had statutory mandates for a number of other federal agencies that have exactly followed our statutory language and in fact, enhanced it and expanded on it. We've got a great new person over at the National Intelligence Director, a privacy and civil liberties officer. We've got statutory language that encourages or, in fact, requires every federal agency to name a senior government official who is the overseeing person for privacy policy for each federal agency. I think you're seeing federal agencies come to that view that you need a senior person with a lens on privacy, and you know, I'm joking when I say that it was because of our office. It's really largely mirroring or imitating the private sector, which has had great success. Really, one of the leading chief privacy officers in the country is Harriet Pearson at IBM, who I think actually has a much bigger title, but she was one of the early leaders of the viewpoint that you can have a successful privacy practice within an organization.

I don't know if you guys want to get into international, but our way of looking at privacy is a little different in structure, but not necessarily in principle, to the rest of the world in that we have embedded privacy officers within our federal agencies and within our companies. You know, other parts of the world have free-standing offices that are separate and apart from their federal agencies -- you know, there are different ways to do it, but I think the proof is in the pudding -- you know, what's the outcome, do we see good and thoughtful programs and policies and new business products coming out of these institutions, and I think the answer is yes. I think you've seen great success with privacy officers in the private sector, and I think that the federal government is really following that lead and realizing, also, that the use of personal information has become one of the most compelling concerns about any organization that has information and that needs information to do its job, whether it's a bank, a hospital, or a federal agency.

Mr. Hempstead: Well, you mentioned international partner agencies. What about other partnerships? What are critical to the privacy office where you are? Perhaps private sector, advocacy groups, individual citizens?

Ms. Kelly: Absolutely. And let me run down the list with -- starting with our own agency first, actually. We work every single day with our Office of General Counsel and our various other leadership offices, our policy office, our international shop, you know, the program officers across the department. So partnering with the leadership, but also partnering at kind of a mid and lower and all throughout the levels of our agencies are the right way to do the job and to make sure the job's getting done across the federal service, obviously, with privacy offices, but also with our partner agencies, Justice and Defense and the intelligence community as kind of one, you know, operational force. And I think the idea, really, after 9/11 is to break down the walls, make sure that the information is going where it's supposed to be going and not where it's not supposed to be going. Our mission is to make sure that information is used legitimately and thoughtfully and in a limited fashion, but not that no information is used because information really is one of the lifebloods of our War on Terror.

I think we're forgetting our state and local partners here in this conversation, that they are our crucial -- and you see that again in any number of front-line activities, any kind of natural or man-made disaster is going to require our state and local, our first responders, and they are, you know, the people who are on the front lines of this, and we need to make sure that they have timely information in a manner that can save lives. So, you know, good and thoughtful and fast and effective information-flow is going to be essential to making sure people are moved to the right parts of the country or deployed in a way that's going to be helpful. So we are very much in favor of technologies that can both assist, but also constrain the flow of information. With good thoughtful rules at the outset, we can do that.

Mr. Morales: Nuala, you mentioned earlier that education is core to the mission of your office. Can you describe the steps that the Privacy Office is taking to educate others on the privacy concerns?

Ms. Kelly: Within the department, we have education programs, really, almost in every part of the federal service already. There are requirements under the Privacy Act and FSMA and a number of other laws to make sure our employees have been trained in Privacy Act requirements and, really, privacy policy. We've undertaken a particularly robust training program at headquarters, where we sit, to make sure that every new employee has gotten a class from a member of the Privacy Office. We're really looking at what's being done already. Again, Customs has a terrific online privacy training program, INS has some terrific technologies about limiting information flow and access to certain kinds of information, and what we're trying to do from our standpoint is really be the champion of the programs that are working well and to say, hey, here's a really good idea, you guys might want to copy that. Or if a division comes to us and says, you know, we really want to implement this, we say we don't necessarily need to reinvent the wheel, although you're welcome to go out an look at what's being offered in the private sector and get people to compete for, you know, terrific resources, but let's build on what's already there, let's not be reinventing the wheel.

So within the department, we're both the champion, but also the actual teacher. And then outside the department, again -- you know, I didn't talk enough about our relationship not only domestically and internationally, but also with the advocacy community and the public. I mean, we really see ourselves as bringing in and making real the concerns of individuals and of organized advocacy groups and being ourselves educated and then turning around and educating others in the department about these concerns and why they're valid, and in a way that can be heard.

Mr. Morales: How are privacy concerns impacting investigative technology? We will ask DHS Chief Privacy Officer Nuala O'Connor Kelly to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales and this morning's conversation is with Nuala O'Connor Kelly, chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. Also joining us in our conversation is Paul Hempstead.

Nuala, you've described yourself -- and please take this term lightly - as a geek at heart. What is the promise of technology in the privacy arena?

Ms. Kelly: Oh, no worries. I'm the one that said it, and I remember distinctly having said it. I came from a high-tech company, so I am a geek to a certain extent, and I do believe that there is tremendous potential in a number of the technologies the Department is considering using and is already using, both to strengthen identification and identity management, but also to put limits on the use of personal information by this department and other parts of the federal service. The promise of technology, I think, is greater accuracy. For example, many of the watch lists really seem to run off name and date of birth, and our airline tickets obviously are named, and so everyone who's got that name is going to match that individual. So, you know, that's just one kind of data management tool that people are considering is, what's the limited amount of information that's necessary to prevent those kind of mismatches and misidentifications?

But in a more robust way, the use of technology like biometrics and RFID and other kinds of identity management tools, I know they strike fear in the hearts of many who say, oh, I don't want my picture taken, I don't want my fingerprint taken -- and I understand the cultural concerns not only in this country, but in many other parts of the world. We do want to be sensitive and thoughtful about not only the concerns of our own citizens, but really the impact we're having internationally as well in programs like, for example, US-VISIT that is engaging in and meeting visitors to this country at the border. But we also do want a greater strengthening at our border of who's coming in and out, and I think the VISIT program, for example, is a tremendous success story in not only the use of technology, but in building in privacy principles and privacy practices into its foundation.

So I think the answer, really, is there are ways to do the things we need to do to make our country safer, but in a way that is thoughtful and respectful of individual privacy, and that technology can be one of the tools. I think the promise of technology, particularly biometrics, is greater accuracy and therefore cutting down on mismatches and misidentifications at the airport, at the border, wherever, but also through that, allowing our employees to focus on the issues that are really of concern, the people who really might be a correct match with a watch list or some other law enforcement activity, and really focus those resources. And again, I go back to VISIT just because it's a great real-life case study, but they've been able to arrest felons and folks who are wanted domestically and internationally on very, very serious violent crimes, as well as visa and border infractions. And so, you know, I think this is a powerful example of technology done right and our ability to protect ourselves and to create a strong border.

Mr. Morales: We understand that your office drafted a policy notice that covers access and redress opportunities for all persons, regardless of their country of origin. Can you tell us more about this notice and how your office is implementing this policy?

Ms. Kelly: As a principle, we in our office have very much tried to model our thinking on really universal fair information principles. And when you look at privacy law elsewhere in the world, you'll see that those privacy laws cover you when you're visiting that country or having any interaction with the Italian government or the French government or the like. And so to the extent that we have many international agreements that are reciprocal, we have tried very hard where we can to encourage the department to allow for and create access and redress programs that allow any individual, regardless of their citizenship or country of origin to access their information and correct it.

Now, let me be perfectly candid that I'm not inventing something new here. Our CIS -- our Citizen Immigration Service -- has had a fairly similar policy for some time, and that is really because the Freedom of Information Act allows for a person of any country of origin to see their own data through a FOIA request and access it and see what is known about them. This is really a practical principle because so many of our files of citizens and non-citizens become commingled in the process of folks becoming citizens that it just makes sense, it's more practical, it's more doable to cover the systems as they're known by -- systems of records notice under the Privacy Act or through FOIA protections. And we've just tried to encourage the department to think about those protections as really linked.

In a recent negotiation we had with the European Union on release of passenger name records, again, we relied heavily on the strength of our Freedom of Information Act, which I will argue is really second to none internationally. I think folks don't realize that we're constantly getting calls in our office from privacy and information commissioners from other countries saying, how do you do it and what do you do and, you know, what are the principles that you engage on. And I think you're seeing a growing trend of accountability and concern, and it's a way that citizens can -- in our country can petition our own government for correction and in the most minute sense, a correction of their own record. So it is a policy that combines the strength of Privacy Act and FOIA and really just says there's not practical difference between what we're doing for our own citizens and what we're doing for citizens of other worlds -- other countries. It's something we haven't gotten credit for enough internationally, and we should.

Mr. Hempstead: Let's see: you mentioned before your interaction with -- and, in fact, your impact upon -- the US-VISIT program. I did want to ask you about another program because we understand that your office recently completed a privacy assessment review of TSA's registered traveler pilot program. Could you tell us about the review process and some of the privacy issues that you evaluated?

Ms. Kelly: Certainly. And, of course, the review process for RT -- or registered travelers -- no different than the same PIA -- Privacy Impact Assessment -- process that every major program -- really, every program that has personal information in the department goes through very routinely now, and I give, you know, all the credit in the world to our staff that works on PIAs in our office, led by Becky Richards, our chief compliance officer in the Privacy Office, who came from a terrific organization called TRUSTe, the online seal program that really did compliance and auditing and training of online companies, and I'm just tremendously delighted that we're able to bring that kind of lens of operational efficiency and really just routine analysis of privacy and fair information principles to the DHS framework. Any program -- RT and any other program that's a new idea, a new pilot, has to do a PIA by law, and the idea behind a PIA is simply -- like an environmental impact assessment or any other paperwork reduction notice -- to consider what the impact is of this new program on the individual and on that individual's personal information. The PIAs -- we've really drilled down on the program folks that they are responsible for drafting the initial PIA and that's because they understand better than anyone else what the program does, and it makes sense for the program folks who take ownership of privacy as a principle and a practice for their own program. It's not something that we from headquarters, down from above, say you must do it this way; it's got to be something that's really learned and lived by the program personnel.

Now, that's not to say that the first year, we weren't sitting there side-by-side helping them write every single word because we sure were, but it's the old adage, teach a man to fish -- you know, I think this year we've had a smoother program, and next year, again, you're going to see more completed and more fully fleshed-out PIAs coming into our office at a later time in the evolution because the folks writing them will have done them before and be more comfortable doing them. So it's really a bottom-up division of labor, really, where the folks running the program, this is part of their tool kit, it's part of their to-do list, really, they're -- the PIAs are scrubbed by the CIOs for the various divisions because, obviously, it's a technology-heavy requirement. The E-gov Act requirement is particular to the new uses of technology or new technologies that impact personal information. The DHS-wide PIA requirement's a little bit broader for new programs, generally, and new use of personal information.

You know, in a perfect world, they come to our office a little further baked, you know, and closer to being done, and are reviewed by our office. And what we're looking for, really, is have you considered what the impact is on the individual. When you're asking for, you know, name and date of birth, do you really need it? Is that all you need? Do you need more, are you going to come back to us six months from now and ask for more? You know, if you're asking for 16 different things, is that all really, really necessary, or could you do with less? And sometimes the answer is, we really need all 16 things, and that's okay if you can really show a demonstrable law-enforcement or counterterrorism reason. Or, you know, have you considered other technologies that might work better.

A perfect case -- and we get a lot of press about the use of various technologies for screening at the airports or for screening for drugs or contraband or weapons, and what we're asking in those cases -- and again, I have not personally looked at that technology in a little while -- but the analysis I went through with both CBP -- Customs and Border -- and TSA when they first started looking at them was, what is the functionality you need, what do you need to look for, metal or plastics or explosives or -- you know, what are you looking for, and then what's the least invasive version of that that you can look for. And you know, by simply asking those questions, I think we've seen a great evolution both because of the great ingenuity in the private sector responding to those concerns, but also because of our folks saying, you know, guys, we really need to go back to the drawing board and look at something that's not going to show people's personal parts when they're walking through some screening, you know, program at the airport, but really just finds the bad stuff. And we've -- you know, we've seen great movement in the technology sector to say, okay, there are ways to look at this technology that will find the metal or the explosives or the this or the that but not be so kind of personally revealing about someone's physique. You know, just by asking the questions, I think we've started a very good conversation, a very good dialogue that's been very much responded to by the private sector as well as our employees.

Mr. Hempstead: Many of these programs use biometrics. Perhaps you take a minute to explain what biometric technology is, how it's playing a role at DHS, and what are the privacy concerns, and how DHS is approaching those concerns.

Ms. Kelly: Biometrics is a big word that people use to mean a lot of things, but kind of in a nutshell, it's any unique identifier that is kind of attached to your person. Whether it would be a picture or a fingerprint or a retinal scan or iris scan or even -- some people have seen the hand geometry access controls to various buildings which will measure the shape or the size of your hands or your relationship of your various body parts. There are facial geometry as well that shows the relationship of your various kind of -- you know your cheekbone to your chin, that sort of thing. So there are lots of different biometrics. And I know, again, they really -- to use a technical term -- they creep people out, and so we need to really dial down the dialogue, is what I keep saying. Let's talk practically what are we talking about, what are people's fears, and how do we resolve them. And -- case in point -- and we're not the lead agency on this, obviously, the State Department is -- but the use of biometrics in passports really has increased not only in this country, but elsewhere as well, and I'd like to say, you know, guys, listen, we have two biometrics already on your passport. You've got a photograph, and you got your signature. So we've had biometrics in this country for a long, long time.

Now, this is not to be na�ve or, you know, or disingenuous about the fact that the ability to store, to transmit, to translate, and to amalgamate biometrics has certainly changed profoundly. You know, your signature and your photograph were not heretofore storable in some, you, know, distant computer somewhere that you didn't know about. And so we need to be concerned and vigilant about those changes, but the reality is biometrics have historically always been used to identify you. I mean, signatures have been around for I don't know how many centuries now, but you know, before that, it was mark your X here. So this is not unusual and nor should it be considered a terrible, terrible development; if anything, it can be a very, very positive development, as I was saying before, and a way to correctly identify that you're you, that somebody else hasn't stolen your identity, that someone else hasn't appropriated your passport, and that you are the legitimate holder of these travel documents, and you have the right to move about this country or some other country. You know, I think this is a great strengthening of our -- not only our ability to have our own border, but to allow people across it for legitimate means, which is every country's right, really, but also to facilitate travel, to make things faster and easier and better at the airport, and I think we're all in favor of shorter lines. But part of what my office is concerned about is not only saying when things are going wrong, but also when things are going right. Let's talk about the good technologies and the good uses of them. Let's not jump on every bandwagon for every brilliant new idea, but you know, let's evaluate and be thoughtful about them. But we can be a champion, I think, for good and responsible use of technologies in the private sector and the government space as well.

We do need to be vigilant, as I was saying, about the amalgamation and the creation of the -- you know, what people call the big brother databases and these kinds of things. By creating good rules -- and you know, the Privacy Act, I think, is one of the most overlooked statutes in the federal government. It requires every federal agency to say upfront what it's going to do with information, where it's going to store it, and how it's going to secure it, and all sorts of things that I think the federal -- the government should be explaining to its citizens. And by having those conversations again early on, by simply enforcing the law as it's written, we are able to really have the dialogue at the front end about, okay, we've got now a fairly good-sized database, US-VISIT, with finger scans and biometric -- digital photographs. How are we planning on using these, what are the legitimate public policy purposes for which we are using them, and thinking very seriously about -- you know, there are concerns and issues always about once you've got the data, you're going to turn around and use it for something else, and I think we -- our office needs to be vigilant, as does the public, about those concerns. But it is not, again, the technology itself that is the concern, it is the public policy and the forces driving change that we need to, you know, have the dialogue with. No technology by itself is good or bad, but many of them can be very, very helpful to strengthening our identity management and our ability to know who's crossing our borders and who's coming in and out of the country.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the DHS Privacy Office? We will ask Chief Privacy Officer Nuala O'Connor Kelly to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales and this morning's conversation is with Nuala O'Connor Kelly, chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security. Also joining us in our conversation is Paul Hempstead.

Nuala, what are some of the biggest challenges for privacy that you will face in the near future, and how do you plan on overcoming these challenges?

Ms. Kelly: I think that the increased need and the increased speed of information flow. The increased need, again, very legitimate for our information-sharing efforts with not only the private sector, but within the intelligence community and with our state and local partners. With that, I think, comes an increasing need for rules and frameworks to constrain that data and to make sure it's only used for legitimate purposes. And again, I think there are good rules we can build on already; for example, some of our agencies have auditing mechanisms where they can see what employees have accessed what data and who's gotten into what database -- incredibly important and strong. But we've got to create, I think, a level playing field where everybody kind of knows what the rules are, that -- and there are agencies have done this already -- IRS has a great culture, they've had a privacy advocate for a long time. Folks know that, you know, your IRS files are sacred, and they shouldn't be looked at by anyone but the agents working on those cases. We've got to make sure we've got that same kind of environment and culture at DHS.

Mr. Hempstead: Nuala, we are focusing on the future here, so we can't let you get away without talking some about Secretary Chertoff's reorganization, what the impacts are, the Chief Privacy Office, and any good or bad points that you want to say about him.

Ms. Kelly: Everyone at the department -- at least, you know, the folks that I've worked with closely and have talked to about this -- are really delighted and all the major developments are very positive, including the new personnel that have come into the department. We are delighted with the support that we've gotten from Secretary Chertoff and Deputy Secretary Jackson. We also have a great working relationship with Stewart Baker, who's the new assistant secretary for Policy Designate, who I think we will be working incredibly closely with in the coming years and have in the past already. So from my office's standpoint, we're delighted by the support, we're delighted by, you know, all the public and private statements we've gotten from our leadership on the privacy office, but also speaking, you know, on a more global basis, all of the changes that were made, I think, largely were incredibly welcomed, not only by folks in the department, but members of Congress who were supportive -- you know, I thought, gosh, if there's anyone who's going to be offended, it might be members of Congress because they created the department and the structure that it was. But it was incredibly appropriate after two years to take a look, take a step back, and say, what's working, what can we do better. You know, nothing had been too set in stone, so two years into it was a good time to take on that review and say what might work a little better, what might streamline some, you know, reporting relationships and make this department achieve its mission even more fully. I am thrilled with the time I've spent at the department, and, you know, I don't know what the future holds, I don't know if more change is in the works, but we've been very grateful so far for the support we've gotten.

Mr. Hempstead: And what are some of the lessons learned from your first two years as chief privacy officer? What would you share with a new counterpart in another agency?

Ms. Kelly: Hire the best people -- of course, you can't have any of mine -- but go out and find some really stellar people because they will A, make you look really good, but also the work is hard, but it's incredibly enriching, incredibly rewarding. And I wake up in the morning, and I'm astounded by the quality of people and the caliber of people I've been able to attract to this office, and it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the work and the mission of the overall department. We have begged, borrowed, and stolen the best people from the federal service -- I mean, just name a -- I shouldn't name a few names because I will not be able to name all 30 of them, but my chief of staff, the number two person in our office, Maureen Cooney, who came from the Federal Trade Commission, who was really one of the number one international privacy specialists in the federal service. And Toby Levine, who followed her, our senior policy advisor from FTC. As I mentioned, Becky came from TRUSTe. Peter Sand from a state agency in technology and privacy -- this list could go on and on.

That was just a few examples of folks from other federal agencies, folks from the private sector, and folks from state and local agencies, and folks from within the department who we've lifted up and brought to headquarters as well. So we've looked to where the talent is and brought together a team that I think really works, and then everybody's got their slice of the pie, and they are in charge of it, and that has worked really tremendously well. It's not all lawyers, it's not all technologists, it's not all government people, it's people who bring a variety of different viewpoints, but who are willing to, you know, to do the hard work and to also sell internally. I think -- and the number one -- the number two issue is really don't underestimate how many times you're going to have to explain what a privacy officer is and does because I still seem to be doing it even today, two years later, and that's just because it's something new, and we need to -- you know, the onus is on us to demonstrate that we have some added value for the department. And I think we have demonstrated that.

Mr. Morales: Nuala, you've had just a fantastic career, and I'd love to hear a little bit more about it and also what advice could you give a person who's interested in a career in public service?

Ms. Kelly: I was lucky to get into public service, as I mentioned, right around 9/11, and that really has shaped my career as a New Yorker, and, you know, as someone who really believes in creating a safe space. But I can't underestimate the opportunity that I think public service, particularly DHS, holds. You know, it really gets you up in the morning to know that you're helping and that you're helping make the country safer and that you're helping make the department better in its treatment of privacy and the protection of the individual. So, you know, that can take you a long way in your energy level.

I think it's hard to break into the government. I think -- you know, I see people trying to apply from the outside, and it's an onerous process, but it's well worth getting into. You know, I've kind of accidentally found my niche, but finding something you love to do and -- whether it's public or private sector -- has been lucky for me and hopefully will work for others as well.

Mr. Morales: Well, Nuala, your energy and enthusiasm certainly shows.

We've reached the end of our time, and that will have to be our last question. First, I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule today. Second, Paul and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the public and our country, starting with your work at the Department of Commerce and now at the Department of Homeland Security.

Ms. Kelly: Well, thank you both so very much for your time. I'm delighted to be here. And if people have other questions for me or want to learn more about the office, we do have our own little slice of the DHS website; it's www.dhs.gov/privacy.

Mr. Morales: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Nuala O'Connor Kelly, chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security. Be sure and 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.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Dr. Linda M. Combs interview

Thursday, August 25th, 2005 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"In the financial management line of business, one of the things I've learned is whether you're using procurement vehicles, systems implementation, or schedules, make it clear, make it consistent, keep it simple."
Radio show date: 
Fri, 08/26/2005
Intro text: 
Dr. Linda M. Combs
 
Complete transcript: 

Friday, August 26, 2005

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Morales: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host and 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 Linda Combs, controller of the Office of Federal Finance Management at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Good morning, Linda.

Ms. Combs: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Debra Cammer. Good morning, Debra.

Ms. Cammer: Good morning, Al.

Mr. Morales: Linda, please begin by telling us about the history and mission of the Office of Management and Budget.

Ms. Combs: The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 actually created the Bureau of the Budget in the Department of the Treasury. The Bureau of the Budget later moved to the Executive Office of the President in 1939. And the Bureau of the Budget was actually reorganized into OMB in 1970. It serves, actually, a couple of primary roles, Al: the budget itself and management. The budget responsibility of OMB is to assist the president in overseeing the preparation of the federal budget and actually to supervise its administration in the executive branch agencies. And the "M," or the management part, of OMB, is responsible for helping to improve administrative management, such as coordinating many of the administration's procurement, financial management, information systems, and various regulatory policies.

Mr. Morales: Linda, would you tell us about your office within OMB, specifically the Office of Federal Finance Management?

Ms. Combs: The Office of Federal Financial Management, as we call it, OFFM, was created by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990. We are responsible for implementing the financial management improvement priorities of the President, carrying out financial management functions of the CFO Act, and overseeing federal financial management policies such as taxpayer dollars not being wasted, making sure that the government books are in order, and making sure that our government decision-makers have access to accurate financial information.

Ms. Cammer: And Linda, you were recently appointed controller. Congratulations.

Ms. Combs: Thank you, Debra.

Ms. Cammer: What are you responsibilities as controller at OMB?

Ms. Combs: I'm actually head of the Office of Federal Financial Management, and the responsibilities entail providing government-wide leadership for strengthening financial management in the federal agencies and programs government-wide. In December of '04, for example, we issued some revised internal control financial reporting requirements relating to the Circular A-123. Now, those are requirements that are similar to requirements of internal controls that many of us have heard about that private or publicly traded companies are required to do through the Sarbanes-Oxley requirements. We also require management to implement a strengthened process for assessing the effectiveness of their own internal controls throughout government over financial reporting. And these are based on widely recognized internal control standards. We also lead the improved financial performance criteria. We have, as our responsibility, an initiative for eliminating improper payments, and a federal real property initiative that's part of the President's management agenda as well.

Now, these specific initiatives set out to improve financial management practices across government, and we're trying to ensure that managers have all the accurate and timely information they need for appropriate decision making. We're setting out to see if we can't reduce the number of improper payments. We actually have $45 billion a year that the federal government makes in improper payments. We hope that we can reduce that by more than half -- by $25 billion -- by 2009. And the real property initiative -- we're trying to see if we can't dispose of excess property that's no longer needed and that would be, of course, costly to maintain. Our projections indicate currently that the size of the federal real property inventory could certainly be decreased by 5 percent, or $15 billion by 2009, so you can see we have some long-term goals that we're shooting for that we believe are very realistic and very doable.

Ms. Cammer: What were your previous positions before becoming a controller?

Ms. Combs: Immediately before becoming controller, I was the assistant secretary for budget and programs, and chief financial officer, at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Prior to that, from 2001 to 2003, I was the chief financial officer at the Environmental Protection Agency. During the first Bush administration, I was the assistant secretary for management at the Department of the Treasury, and in the Reagan administration, I was deputy undersecretary for management at the Department of Education. Before I actually came to the federal government, I was manager of the National Direct Student Loan Division for Wachovia Corporation. Before coming back into government in 2001, my husband and I owned our own company, and I served on some corporate boards and have actually been an elected official back in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which has been our home for about 30 years.

Mr. Morales: Linda, I noticed in your background that you spent approximately 10 years working at the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School District. Can you share with us your experiences in that role with what you currently do today?

Ms. Combs: You know, I think in every single position that I've been involved in, somehow financial management in one shape or form has come to play in those various positions. And in the school system, while I was beginning as a teacher, when I moved into the administrative roles of assistant principal in the various schools in which I served, it seemed to me that budgets seemed to come my way, or helping to streamline things seemed to fall into my bailiwick. And I truly enjoyed my experience with the school system. And even though that was a very long time ago, I think one of the things that I learned from that experience was that if you can manage a classroom with 26 students, you probably can manage just about any other management role anybody throws at you.

Mr. Morales: Do you find yourself still using some of the techniques from back then?

Ms. Combs: Oh, absolutely. They come in quite handy.

Mr. Morales: That's great. How are shared services changing government operations? We will ask OMB Controller Linda Combs to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Linda Combs, controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management at OMB. Also joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.

Linda, in March 2004, OMB initiated a government-wide analysis of the five lines of business supporting the president's management agenda to expand e-government. Can you give us an overview of the five lines of business and the reasons for undertaking this analysis?

Ms. Combs: I think that the Lines of Business Initiative is a perfect complement to the president's management agenda. This administration certainly sees cost savings in standardization and consolidation of government business processes, and that is the way we feel like it's the most productive way to conduct the people's business. And it's similar to creating a draftsman's blueprint, as I would say, in the way that we are adjusting the blueprint right now to reflect these particular improvements. But the line of business concept is basically built around three premises: all agencies will use common solutions; the solutions focus not just on standardizing business processes -- although that's a huge part of it -- but in making them more efficient, more effective, and of course, more cost-effective as well; and that all of these solutions, the business processes, and the systems, will be developed using common architectural tools. The five distinct lines of business are: human resource management, grants management, federal health architecture, case management, and the one that I'm directly responsible for, financial management.

Mr. Morales: With respect to financial management line of business, what are the specific goals for this LOB?

Ms. Combs: The primary goal is, of course, to assist the agencies in getting to green on the President's management agenda, and of course, what that really means is that the financial management line of business is going to help come into the agencies the standardizing processes, improving those internal controls so that there won't be any negative findings as a result of the annual financial statement audit. I think the other goals would be things like reducing the likelihood that internal control weaknesses exist, because when we start consolidating and using common systems, that makes everybody more sure of what they're doing and being in more control. It also -- one of the goals is making sure that we can compare data across agencies, you know, common business processes, solutions, and common systems. Certainly creating cost savings opportunities for agencies is a primary goal for making it easier for agencies to take advantage of specific common solutions in financial management. We also think a goal is simplifying the procurement process. That, too, reduces the risk that agencies have and allows for greater contractor oversight. But the one primary goal that I think we will also see is the momentum that we're going to create as we continue to standardize and consolidate.

Ms. Cammer: Linda, you often hear people talk about shared services in the same breath with the financial management line of business. Would you define what you think shared services is for our listeners, and then also describe the concept and the history and the benefits of it?

Ms. Combs: You know, I think shared service, to me, means exactly what we've been talking about, where agencies share common systems and common business processes. The ones that we have found to be most effective in the financial management community are based on the concept of economies of scale. I think you go back to the model that's been demonstrated in industry over and over again of gaining process efficiencies through either mass production or through common procedures. That's a proven concept; it's one we need to continue to embrace in the federal government. If that means consolidating services, consolidating productions, and the kinds of work we do -- applying often a heavy dose of technology is important, but a business process that can be done faster and cheaper, regardless of whether it includes hardware, software, or supporting infrastructure, or whether it merely is just a tweaking of a process that somebody has found to be effective from one agency to another -- I think those are the very important things that we have to look forward to. We intend to gain many similar process efficiencies by this standardizing that we're embarking upon in our financial business processes.

Ms. Cammer: Do you reference this coming from private industry as a best practice? In private industry, you understand, the shareholders are motivating it, so for you, what's the big driver in government improving their financial management in this way?

Ms. Combs: Just as the private sector is interested in the motivators, we, too, are interested in getting the best we can for our shareholders, who are the taxpayers -- you and I -- as well as our audience today. We think they deserve these economies of scale. They deserve a situation where, in essence, we can buy once and use many times over, in federal government. Whether we were in our previous private sector enterprises, or whether we're here doing the work that needs to be done for our taxpayer-shareholders, the interests are the same: economies of scale, business processes changes that are productive for the entire enterprise, and our entire enterprise happens to be the entire federal government. We intend to gain these process efficiencies and standardizations for our shareholders as well.

Ms. Cammer: Now, I've also heard about this COE, or centers of excellence, concept in relationship to the financial management line of business. Can you describe that and how it relates, for our listeners?

Ms. Combs: The center of excellence concept allows our government agencies to meet some of the goals that we've set forward in the financial management line of business concept that we've put out. It emphasizes these common business practices, it emphasizes common systems solutions, and it emphasizes what I think is becoming somewhat of a term called "economies of skills" as opposed to, and in conjunction with, I should say, economies of scales. We have some very well trained experience systems accountants, for example, software and hardware technicians, and program managers in specific places in the federal government, but they may not be in the place that we need them to be at all times. So if we look at this shared service concept, we can take better advantage, I believe, of where these skills, these economies of skills, are located. I think we've often looked at hardware service centers or software in terms of economies of scale, we continue to look at the specialization of running one of the CFO council-approved financial systems, and how that is going to work for other departments. But it allows agencies not only to outsource, when they need to, their hardware and software, but I think it opens an opportunity for the centers of excellence to perform agencies' accounting operations. If they do a very, very good job of that, and they're approved as a center of excellence, we need to take full advantage of that and take the competition aspect into each and every department that needs to embark upon changes in their financial management systems.

For example, we have over 50 of our smaller non-CFO -- non-Chief Financial Officer -- Act agencies, of which there are 24 of the largest departments and agencies. But there are 50 smaller non-CFO Act agencies that are currently using centers of excellence. There are four government-managed centers of excellence currently within the CFO Act agencies, and that's the Department of Transportation, General Services Administration, Department of Interior's National Business Center, and the Department of Treasury's Bureau of Public Debt.

Mr. Morales: Linda, you made reference to the CFO council. Can you describe what this is and what the goals of the council are?

Ms. Combs: Well, I'm happy to talk about the CFO council because that gives me a great opportunity to brag on my fellow CFOs and deputy CFOs of the council, which are really the largest 24 federal agencies; they're actually named in the CFO Act of 1990, which I talked about earlier. But these are the senior officials of the financial community throughout the federal government and the career deputies who are very, very instrumental in working collaboratively with their fellow CFOs and with those of us in the Office of Management and Budget. And we're looking at improving financial management across the federal U.S. government enterprise. And the council has several committees, and these committees are led by chief financial officers or sometimes deputy chief financial officers. And the priorities that we currently have reflected in our subcommittees of the CFO council are a Best Practices Committee, an Erroneous Payments Committee, Financial Management Policies and Practices Committee, Financial Statement Acceleration Committee, Grants Governance, Performance Management, and Financial Systems Integration.

Mr. Morales: Linda, you mentioned Best Practices Committee. Is that best practices within government or do you also look to the private sector?

Ms. Combs: We actually do both. We have made it a point at all of our chief financial officer meetings, which we have probably seven or eight of those a year. We don't meet every single month, but we make it a point to share best practices, whether it's a dashboard, for example, that one agency has had good success with, or whether it's a best practice that people have embarked upon in internal controls or a best practice of looking at ways to improve our erroneous payments. It could be anything. We actually looked at some best practices early in -- when I was actually a sitting CFO in terms of whether or not we could have economies of scale and economies of skill. We've done a lot of searching within the CFO community to determine which CFOs have good best practices in many areas that they're working on. And we bring those to the council, and it's a good chance for the CFOs to showcase what many of their opportunities have been, and how they've successfully implemented good business practices.

Mr. Morales: What are the challenges of implementing government-wide financial systems? We will ask OMB Controller Linda Combs to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I am your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Linda Combs, controller of the Office of Federal Finance Management at OMB. Also joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.

Linda, what are the concerns of agencies while converting to government-wide financial systems from previous agency-wide applications, and how is OMB addressing those concerns?

Ms. Combs: There are some concerns about changing the way agencies do business. I think there're also some concerns about continuing to have a flow of reliable and timely financial data that is needed to carry on day-to-day operations. One of the things we're doing at OMB to help ensure the flow of reliable data is that we are actually requiring the use of only those financial systems that are hosted by a government Center of Excellence or a private sector Center of Excellence that have been approved by the CFO council. Placing a larger share of implementation responsibility on contractors has also been a must, as we've implemented new systems, and we've increased the use of fixed-price and cost-sharing contracts as well. I think the real key here, though, is that we have continually tried and will continually make it our approach to work very, very closely with each and every agency and department as it moves through the entire implementation process by reviewing these strategies that are so important and ensuring adequate communication between us and all of the stakeholders that are involved in making these significant changes.

Mr. Morales: Linda, implementing government-wide financial systems across all agencies sounds like a monumental task. How do you address the competing priorities and agendas to achieve true collaboration towards a common goal?

Ms. Combs: You know, I think one of the things that we talked about earlier in terms of the CFO community coming together to address government-wide issues -- we've been able to create a number of partnerships between the CFO agencies in the CFO community. I think it's been important that we've involved other functional communities as well, such as the CIO community, the acquisition community, property managers, supply and inventory managers. It's been important for us to address the issues that the Hill has seen fit to be involved in, and these functional communities and their leaders are extremely important to all of our efforts. I think the processes that we have used and have been created throughout the CFO community to support the President's management agenda addresses a number of issues, and many of these issues overlap, and particularly in the areas of e-gov and financial management. We will continue to use our greater community to bring the necessary measures into focus that we need to focus on, that we need to address, and that we need to make sure not only we have collaboration in, but that we also have success in.

Ms. Cammer: Now, as you move more towards a shared services approach in the federal government, there's likely to be a lot of concern amongst the agencies, and I'm wondering what steps OMB is taking to address change management?

Ms. Combs: You know, I think those of us who've been in change management for a number of years have one word to say about change management, and that's communication, communication, communication. I don't think we can over-communicate, and we're constantly looking for ways to communicate, not only our vision, but our actual strategy in moving this forward. We work through a number of forums from time to time to ensure that government mangers can understand everyone's role and everyone's responsibility. And I can't say enough about our partners in the CIO and the acquisition communities, the meetings, the briefings, and the other discussion forums that many of our private sector partners bring to play, bring us all to the table, and serve a most useful purpose, along with things like what we're doing right now is a great way to communicate with our federal partners and people who are involved in our federal CFO community.

The president's management agenda, because it incorporates systems and business process initiatives -- we have various requirements of the PMA, but our policies and our guidance that modify and support and consolidate these standardized approaches probably have an awfully lot to do with making these changes happen, and making them happen in a positive way. But we do need to always continue to find forums, find better ways to communicate what kind of changes are expected, but we also need to find ways to make sure that people understand our vision, and where we're going to be when we finish. And we will finish some of these things during our tenure, and I want us to be able to look back and say, here's where we were in 2005, here's what we've accomplished by 2009, and say we've made a tremendous difference because we were all willing to embrace this change.

Ms. Cammer: That's great. You can obviously see that this work requires a great deal of partnership with shared services providers and customers and agency heads and the private sector and -- what are these types of partnerships important and how are you encouraging the federal government agencies to build them?

Ms. Combs: Because financial management touches almost every business and every business process in the federal government and outside the federal government, it is extremely important to get this right. And financial data, I think that is used by our outside accounting organizations, whether it's a human resource, property management, supply inventory management, or whether it's used by managers on a day-to-day basis to make better financial decisions -- all of those things are so important because I think the small amount of actual financial data that is used in the financial community is small compared to the huge amounts that mission area managers need in order to effectively manage their program. And I think it's really important to help mission managers understand that their mission is part financial management as well; it's just as much a part of their mission, and I know they want to embrace it that way. I think it's up to us as federal financial managers to help these mission managers accomplish their missions in a more productive way.

Ms. Cammer: We've talked about the challenges of transition leading to new systems and the change management involved in the challenges of a partnership. Could you talk about what other major challenges that agencies could encounter as they integrate their financial systems, and what are they doing to overcome those challenges?

Ms. Combs: I think some of the tenets that we're advocating to reduce implementation risk actually address significant challenges that agencies encounter when they're implementing new systems. And having done this as a sitting CFO myself, I know how important it is to develop the right simple strategy, and a strategy that actually supports and fits in well with the department's or the agency's overall approach to financial management. I think it's important to minimize the changes to the business process that is already certified; in fact, I would say don't change it. I think it's important to use phasing of projects; in other words, don't try to do too much too quickly. Implement one functionality at a time. If you're going to implement multiple functionalities, such as core financials, procurement, and asset management, I'm not sure I could have done all of those at one time myself, so we tended to concentrate first on the core financials. But using a simple contractual vehicle, introducing competition when you're selecting the right host -- agencies, I think, continue to have to take implementation risk, but we need to be very, very careful that we are simplifying our approach as much as possible, both from a technical and a procurement perspective, and we need to work very, very closely up front and all the way through with the end users of the data in our agencies and departments. It's really, really important to find out what managers actually need, but to focus them on the fact that we've got to have standardized business processes, and we have to change our processes rather than changing the product. That's where I think we have, in the past, had some difficulties, and I hope that my mantra of change the process, not the product, will become a standard throughout government.

Mr. Morales: Linda, we talked a lot about change management and collaboration, but I would imagine that another major component of these types of transitions is employee training and retraining. What can you tell us about the plans or implementation of training for government-wide systems implementations?

Ms. Combs: Training is extremely important. Hiring and retention of specific skill sets is extremely important, as well. And I think, as I talked earlier about the advantages of these economies of skills as we've embarked on the Centers of Excellence approach, that will continue to become an even more important element within our financial management component. Training cannot be overemphasized any more than communication can be overemphasized when you are changing processes particularly. That's why I think it's so important to optimize the skills we have within the Centers of Excellence because these are people who have not only gone through this already, they have the right skills in place, and we just need to be able to replicate and duplicate what has gone on there to take advantage of the skill sets that are already there with these specific communities.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the OMB's Office of Federal Finance Management? We will ask Controller Linda Combs to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Linda Combs, controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management at OMB. Also joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.

Linda, what are some of the lessons learned in the government-wide analysis of the five lines of business?

Ms. Combs: You know, particularly in the financial management line of business, one of the things I've learned from personal experience that I hope to continue to pass on to my fellow CFOs and people in the CFO community is start simple and keep things simple. Whether you're using procurement vehicles, systems implementation, schedules and timeframes, make it clear, make it consistent, keep it simple. And the huge systems implementations that have been attempted, particularly in the financial line of business, I think a lot of people have learned some very valuable lessons from those, and it goes back to keep it simple and don't attempt to do too much at one time. Also, I think it's important for timing to be considered. If you're implementing a new financial line of business or a new financial system, you have to continue to keep control of your financial systems all during the year, regardless of whether you're changing systems or not. So developing a very good, viable, long-term strategy, and shorter tactical methods to know when you succeed, is an extremely important thing to keep in mind. I think you have to constantly reevaluate your strategy as you go along and make sure it's still being relevant to the community you're doing this for, communicate with the various leaders that touch your area, and certainly involving these end users in the design, the testing, and the awareness of making sure when we finish an implementation that we're going to be giving people what they feel like they need to manage better on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Morales: Keeping it simple is certainly a well-learned lesson and often one of the most difficult ones for all of us to keep in mind. But specifically, what advice would you give a government executive today who will be implementing government-wide financial systems?

Ms. Combs: I think one of the things that I just talked about -- avoiding mid-year financial conversions -- is pretty important. We would hope that we could have our long-term strategy and even our short-term strategies to the point that we would be able to bring up financial systems early in the year rather than waiting longer and later in the year. We talked about simplicity already and developing a long term strategy and -- not just developing a long-term strategy, but keeping in mind what are we going to have when we finish, making sure that this design and the strategy that we've embarked upon is not just a simple strategy, but it's also a strategy that's going to help us to implement all of the financial management systems later on that we will need to add to that. I would say start with your core financial system and make sure that's tweaked to the point you want it and operating well, make sure you've got the processes worked out -- make sure you change the processes, not the products.

Ms. Cammer: How do you envision the use of shared services and its implementation in five to ten years?

Ms. Combs: I think if we look out five to ten years from now, we'll be closer to the end of the journey, whereas now we're probably closer to the beginning of this journey. I think that the shared services concept is being embraced. It's being embraced in the corporate world, and it continues to be embraced in the federal sector as well. But the applicability of the economies of scale and the economies of skill will drive us and help to drive us through technology, through training, and toward becoming as practical as we possibly can in the world of the service industry, as we are in heavy industry. We have a lot of guidance out there; we have a lot of best practices to look at in the private sector, and my hope is, as we go through this journey, continue to use the best practices that we possibly can and optimize utilizing the skills of our good federal employees to make these come about.

Ms. Cammer: We've been talking a lot about shared services as an operational change. Could you talk about how you see the future of government financial management and their statements being generated different in the future?

Ms. Combs: You know, one of the things that continues to drive people to better financial management is the indicators that we have, and our financial statements are really indicators of our ability to show that we have things under control. So achieving a clean opinion on our financial statements and using them fruitfully depends, in large part, I believe, on using common accounting standards throughout government, standardizing our business processes, and consolidating the systems that we need to help us bring this about. I think those are the things that we need to continue to look at, we need to continue to do anything we can to improve our processes, our internal controls, and all those things will help us build and publish our financial statements in a more timely and effective way.

Ms. Cammer: How do you plan to further expand the PMA's e-government initiative for the future?

Ms. Combs: You know, the federal financial e-gov proposal -- our financial line of business -- is very important in our CFO council work. The CFO council is committed to making positive experiences work for each one of our federal partners. Our agencies talk to one another, we continue to figure out ways to help agencies talk to one another even better, and I think working together with our CIO partners, working together with many of our other partners, is a very, very important element to bringing this about. I think we're definitely aware of what agencies have done and are doing. Having been a sitting CFO, even a couple of times already in this administration, I know what my fellow CFOs are going through, and having been through many of the things that some of them are just now going through and setting up a financial management system, it's very, very important to make sure that we now in OMB are great partners. Hopefully, we can be even better helpers in making agencies aware of what has been done and what other agencies and departments are doing to support the financial management line of business. We look for any and all ways that we can actively participate across the financial management community to generally and specifically support agencies as they go through changing their financial management systems.

Mr. Morales: Linda, you've had a fantastic career, and I wish we had another hour to talk about all the different jobs that you've held in government and the experiences we've had. But what advice could you give a person who's interested in a career in public service, especially in financial management?

Ms. Combs: I would say to anyone who's interested in public service to consider it strongly. It's an avenue that you cannot find anywhere else. The scope and responsibility of the decisions that are made on a day-to-day basis, whether you're in a department, or whether you're in OMB, are significant. And so significant that one would never have the opportunity to do that in any other place except in public service. Public service is definitely a public trust and added to the overall scope of responsibility, the public trust aspect of what we all do in public service is a leadership role that one can have and embark upon and have a wonderful career if they choose to stay there their entire career. But I would say to any person who's interested in a career in public service that they should prepare themselves and prepare themselves well for a leadership role, prepare themselves in financial skills in any way they possibly can because whether they're going to be working in a program area or in a financial area, these financial skills are going to become more and more important as we move through the next few years. But I would say work hard, be bold, and think big.

Mr. Morales: Linda, that's great advice.

We've reached the end of our time. That'll have to be our last question. First, I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule this morning. Second, Debra and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the public and our country with your experiences at the county school district, at EPA, and now at the Office of Management and Budget, and all of the other organizations you've served at in between.

Ms. Combs: Thank you so much. It's been a great pleasure to be with you today. We appreciate this opportunity to get our message out there. And if people would like to know more about the things we've talked about today, I invite you to go to whitehouse.gov/omb or to another website called results.gov and learn more about financial management in the federal sector.

Mr. Morales: Linda, thank you.

This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Linda Combs, controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management at OMB. 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.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Marion Blakey interview

Friday, July 1st, 2005 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"The FAA is providing an important customer service and we have to match the demand. As air traffic increases and as aviation is an enormous driver on our economy, we must invest smartly in infrastructure, technology and the service to match the demand."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 07/02/2005
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs; Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Innovation; Financial Management; Market-Based Government...
Missions and Programs; Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Innovation; Financial Management; Market-Based Government
Complete transcript: 

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge 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 learn more by visiting us on the Web at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Show Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Good morning, Mary.

Ms. Blakey: Good morning. Nice to be with you, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you. And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Dave Abel.

Good morning, Dave.

Mr. Abel: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Marion, let's start by filling our listeners in on the FAA. Could you talk to us about its mission?

Ms. Blakey: Well, the FAA's mission is to ensure that the traveling public, when they're flying, can be assured it's safe and efficient. We run the largest, most complex aviation system in the world. Of course, Air Traffic Control is a big part of that. But we also do a great deal in terms of setting the regulatory standards for what aircraft operators must meet; new aircraft coming into the system, and we also work, of course, to make sure those operations day-in and day-out are inspected and overseen in a way that, again, ensures safety.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you describe the size of the FAA; the network, the people, the budget. How would you describe it?

Ms. Blakey: Well, it's an agency of about 48,000 people scattered all over the country and around the world, really, because, as you can imagine, aviation is a global business, and that's the business we're in. The budget right now is around $14 billion, so again, one that both ensures the ongoing operation of the system and makes investment in the modernizing of the system and the future generation of the system.

Mr. Lawrence: 48,000 people. Can you give us a little bit about the range, the skills these people have? I immediately think of sort of heavy technical engineers, and the aircraft and the like, but I suspect it's much broader.

Ms. Blakey: It is broader. You know, we have a wide variety of professions involved. Everything from highly technical people who are pilots and engineers; people who can go on board an aircraft and inspect for all the right things; people who know how to control traffic and who are able, in fact, to look at the most efficient ways to design our air space. And then we have people who are policy folks, who are out there looking at issues of congestion management; what should we do in the future in terms of designing the revenue streams for a system like the one we have. Obviously, people who are in international fields, working with our counterparts in other countries around the world so that we have a seamless global system that works. A lot of different things. If you're an economist, if you're in policy, lawyers, all those are part of the FAA's workforce.

Mr. Abel: Marion, when you were describing the mission of the FAA, there's a vast number of stakeholders, and they fit into a number of different groups. What's the relationship with a couple of these groups? Let's start first with the airlines. What's the nature of the relationship between the FAA and the airlines?

Ms. Blakey: We look at the airlines as our customers. I think it's fair to say that because they provide the service to the vast majority of the American public that flies, we want to make sure that the service we're providing, both in terms of air traffic control and the overall approach we're taking in terms of operations in the system, meets their needs. At the same time, of course, we also regulate their work. We oversee safe operations, and so we place requirements on our customers as well. So it's a combination of things, but I think it's important to stress that it has to be a strong partnership, because after all, they're out there every day on the front lines and we're trying to ensure that they do the best possible job for the flying public.

Mr. Abel: How about some other organizations within the federal government, say the Department of Defense. I know there's a strong relationship between FAA and DoD. What's the nature of that relationship as well?

Ms. Blakey: Glad you mentioned it, because, you know, when you really look at the domestic air space, a lot of it is also devoted to military operations. Needs to be -- particularly in these days after 9/11, when the safety and security and surveillance missions are all caught up together. So we work very closely, particularly with the Air Force, as you can appreciate. We have military controllers out there who control some of the airspace as well as our own federal employees. And we try very hard to make sure that all of the regulations we do and requirements also meet the needs of our military. And in some cases like commercial space, we also work on commercial space launches, whether they take place from a federal Air Force facility or a private sector facility now.

Mr. Abel: I would imagine there needs to be a relationship with the Department of Homeland Security as well?

Ms. Blakey: A very close one, as you can appreciate. A large part of the work force that initially went over to the Department of Homeland Security came from the Department of Transportation. That's our parent agency. And, in fact, a number of them were involved with security on the aviation front at the FAA. So we've worked very closely, because they're the ones who have to assess what the threats are; they obviously do all of the surveillance in the airports of passengers as people get on the planes, but we're the ones who control the airspace. So we work very hard to make sure that when operational changes need to occur -- when there are, for example, areas where flights are restricted -- as you can appreciate, we've had a number of those with big events that go on, certainly during the Presidential election, we had to be certain when there were areas where we really didn't want to have flights at a low level over those areas, we work very closely with Homeland Security to figure out how to do that well.

Mr. Abel: Let's talk a little bit about your role. Can you tell us a little bit about the job and the responsibilities as Administrator?

Ms. Blakey: Well, I would like to say that this job involves sort of both being a pitcher and a catcher. I think the pitcher part, of course, is that you do try to look at the needs of the aviation system over the long haul. And a part of what I've spent a lot of time on is developing a strong business plan for the agency that looks strategically at where the system is going to go. I'm very proud to say that we are in fact developing a plan now that will be going to Congress in December for the next generation system of our aviation system here in this country. So there's a lot of that that's involved. But, certainly, day-to-day manager, and being, as I say, a catcher of the issues that you never expect and come your way; all of that's a part of it. I think most important, fundamentally, it is strong management skills that are required for the job.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's take a little look at your experiences before becoming Administrator of the FAA. Can you tell us about some of the previous positions that you held before this role?

Ms. Blakey: Well, I can. Certainly recently, they were all involved with transportation in various stripes. But, I'll tell you, I'm also very proud of having been a civil servant for many years. I started as a GS-3 clerk. Wasn't even a clerk-typist, because I couldn't type. So you can imagine I was pretty far down the totem pole. But liked government for many reasons including the broad scope of issues, the feeling that you really do have an impact on the lives of people all over this country. So I worked in a number of departments and agencies and had some great opportunities. Worked in the White House, Department of Commerce, Department of Education many years ago. But became fascinated by Transportation, and had the opportunity to head the agency that regulates the automobile industry.

I had a firm in the private sector that was all focused on transportation issues, a communications and public affairs firm that I'm proud to say flourishes to this day: Blakey and Agnew. It was Blakey and Associates then. But worked on a number of public policy issues with a number of corporations, all focused on transportation. And then came back into government as the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board that investigates accidents. It gives you a very fine appreciation, of course, as you can imagine, for the safety issues of our system. And I was very surprised but delighted to be tapped by President Bush to be head of the FAA. So I guess that's the quick version.

Mr. Abel: You mentioned that one of the responsibilities and one of the areas that you need to manage now is reacting to things that happen on a daily basis. How have those roles prepared you for the responsibility in FAA of management, of reacting to events on a daily basis?

Ms. Blakey: You know, you have to again try to look at the broad picture, and every day, frankly, go in and say, how am I going to move the agenda that I believe is important on the two, three, four things that you really set in front of yourself as goals and objectives in that job? It's very easy to get caught up in all of the pressures of the issues, concerns, problems that everyone brings to you. And so I do think you really have to start out, as I say, with trying to see if during that day and that week -- I can't say I accomplish it every day -- but at least during that week, you feel like you have actually moved toward the goals that you're setting and at the same time, trying to be responsive and nimble. One of the things that I certainly found in my years in the private sector is you have an appreciation for how important it is to be able to react quickly, to size something up, to make decisions.

Government doesn't always engender the kind of culture that prompts good, strong and efficient decision-making. And so you try, I think, in the kind of role that I play as Administrator, to try to make those decisions on a basis that then people below you can be responsive and react in a way that's timely.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's continue along that path. You were just contrasting the public sector and the private sector, and having been in both those sectors. How about some other comparisons in terms of management approaches from all your experiences.

Ms. Blakey: In terms of management in the private sector, of course, you do have the feeling of being much more nimble, much more able to react to forces quickly, and frankly, decisions are not ones that you have to look at a variety of overseers before you can make them in a way that holds. That is all very refreshing. I will also say that many of us in the private sector look at ourselves fundamentally as salesmen, as people who are advocates, as people who are promoting an agenda in a very direct way. It doesn't hold true for all jobs, but certainly ones that I have had. And I have prized that.

I have to tell you that I've enjoyed the opportunities to really set a marker out there and go for it in a way that -- sometimes within government, it's much more of a process. So those are the things that I would say from a private sector standpoint you can appreciate and try to employ as you move in to the public sector and to public policy. But of course, public policy, as I say, the opportunity to work with a variety of organizations, whether it's the Congress, OMB, the Administration, more broadly, other agencies, is a genuine challenge that also is very reinforcing, because again, the impact and scope of what you can accomplish that way is enormous. And that's something that I think many of us who have enjoyed our tenure during our life in government, it is all about that kind of scope and impact.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting point, especially about the contrast.

Air travel is up significantly in the last couple of years, returning to the point where many airports are close to their pre-9/11 volumes. What does this mean for FAA operations?

We'll ask Marion Blakey, the FAA's Administrator 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 Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Marion, in the last segment, we talked a little bit about the size of FAA. I'd like to ask a little bit about the size of the FAA's mission. About how many people fly in commercial and private air carriers each year?

Ms. Blakey: Well, if you look at it basically in the area of commercial, because private is sometimes hard to know because a lot of those folks are out there flying VFR, and we don't tally them up each time they leave a small air field. But if we're talking about commercial passengers it is somewhat under 700 million. 689 million was the last figure that I had for the last year we were counting, which was, you know, pretty accurate.

Mr. Abel: Over the past two years since September 11th, we've started to see a significant increase again in the volume of people who are flying commercial aviation. What type of impact does that increase of volume or demand have on the FAA?

Ms. Blakey: Well, certainly, we have to stay up with demand, and since we are an operational agency, the more folks up there flying, typically, the more services we have to provide, the more people it requires to do it, et cetera. One of the interesting things that's a phenomena now in aviation is we have seen very different patterns of traffic since 9/11: much more point-to-point flying, much more use of regional jets. And so what that means from our standpoint is we have a high number of operations that we have to provide the air traffic control for, the services on the ground for, and yet they are not carrying as many passengers as they might have with the widebody's bigger aircraft that you saw more of before 9/11.

So there's a shift in the fleet. And as we're looking at some of the things that are coming at us, we're going to be seeing even more of that with what are called Microjets, the very small aircraft that are coming online in the next few years. And of course, then there's UAVs. So there's a lot out there coming at us.

Mr. Abel: So what are some of the things that -- in your strategy, what are some of the things that you're looking to be able to do over the course of the next couple of years to address this increase in demand of operations, in addition to the increase in passengers?

Ms. Blakey: It is to have the FAA be a very flexible agency in the sense of where we assign our work force, how we allocate our resources, because obviously, as there's a dynamic in the airline business and in aviation that's changing, we really have to stay up with it. As I say, we see ourselves as providing an important customer service, if you will, and so that means we have to match the demand. At the same time, we've also got to invest in the system, and a fair amount of time that I spend, of course, is looking at the way that we are investing in technology; are we getting a good return on that investment; are we modernizing our system. So that in fact, it's going to anticipate the requirements in the future, and frankly, use our air space and our airports and ground infrastructure ever more efficiently, because as traffic continues to increase, which it will, and as aviation is an enormous driver on our economy nationally and it will be internationally, we had better provide the infrastructure and the service that will match it, and that means we are going to have to invest smartly.

Mr. Abel: So if you think about it from a very simple perspective, in order to be able to manage the demand for air transportation, we have to look at flight delays and capacity. What are some of the things that the FAA is doing to be able to increase capacity at airports. Is it as simple as building more runways?

Ms. Blakey: Well, runways are a lot of it. I'll tell you, there's no substitute for pavement. And in fact, I am very pleased with the way our country is really stepping up and recognizing that, because it takes a lot of on the part of city fathers and communities to make the political headway and then the investment that's required to put in new runways. But we're seeing a lot of that. Over the course of the last five years, we've had eight major runways go in, and that's a big thing. You know, places like Houston, Orlando, Miami. We've got them coming in, you know, in places like St. Louis. It's a great thing.

And of course, Chicago O'Hare, one of the real challenges in our system, because so many of our flights go through Chicago -- they're planning a major modernization of O'Hare as well. So there's a lot of pavement that is involved in ensuring that we're going to have the infrastructure there to support the passengers that are coming through. At the same time, technology is a great part of it. We also need to really have a system that has new technologies there so that we can use the air space more efficiently. And we've worked pretty hard on that as well.

Mr. Abel: What are some examples of some of the potential new technologies that may help to be able to more efficiently manage the air space?

Ms. Blakey: One of the big things, basic. We have a change out going on on what we call the host, if you will, the central nervous system of our air traffic control system. This is a major thing. And as you can appreciate, over many years, that system was developed, the software was written. The software right now is still written in a language called Jovial. There aren't many people out there who write Jovial anymore. So we are changing all of that, and that is a big multi-billion dollar investment.

Another thing that we're doing is in the terminal air space. I'm sure some of our listeners have seen those round scopes; you know, the old air traffic control radar. You don't see that now. What you're seeing more and more is new, very impressive screens that look a lot like the big computer screens at home, full color; where we are not only able to fuse radar coming in from as many as 16 different sources, but we also are able to infuse weather information for the controllers. Other kinds of very critical information so that they're able to sequence flights and with greater and greater precision, control them.

Another thing that's going on which our listeners will begin to have the benefit of in January of this coming year is that we're reducing the vertical separation between flights in the air space. Now, I'm sure that might cause some concern for some folks. You know, lots of space is good, but the more efficiently we use the air space, obviously, the more we're going to be able to handle increased traffic without delays, with the kind of reliability people want. And the air space, the upper air space is now going to be used in thousand mile vertical separation rather than two thousand mile. It's done around the world. The United States is moving to that. And again, that's going to offer some real efficiencies.

Mr. Abel: You describe for us the increase in demand and the increased requirements on the FAA to be able to manage that demand. And the listeners may assume that that means that there's a lot more money to be able to manage the organization, but we certainly know that not to be the case. You've focused a lot recently on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Air Traffic Organization, or ATO. What is the ATO?

Ms. Blakey: The ATO is a new performance-based organization within the FDA that brings together several of our major, what were formerly lines of business, in an integrated streamlined way. The concept, of course, is to develop a organization that has layers, that is very service-oriented, and that operates to specific performance metrics. We have targets that we are setting for our organization that go to issues that reduce delay, on-time performance, using the infrastructure to the best possible capability there, and, of course, indications of safety and the kind of performance that we'll always require from that standpoint.

But we do believe that having those kinds of targets, and frankly, cost efficient measures. We are looking at cost accounting, being able to understand, really, for the first time, what it costs to undertake air traffic control of a given airplane. How much does it cost to control over an hour in upper air space the flight of an airplane? Because, obviously, as you're thinking about service and how you provide it and what things cost, you really do need to be able to get it down to unit cost. That's what the private sector does. And we can do it in government as well. It makes us much more accountable and transparent as to how we're using our resources. All of that is part of the air traffic organization.

Mr. Abel: What has been the impact of the implementation of the ATO so far. It's a relatively new organization. How's it going so far?

Ms. Blakey: Well, it's going well. We have been working very hard, for example, to streamline our operation at the top tier of management and in headquarters, dropping the number of layers from around 11 down to 5 or 6. We're doing a number of things to align the question of how you invest in new capital improvements in the system, with also the people who have to operate the system. It used to be that the FAA made research, acquisition investments in one part of the FAA and the folks who are operating the system were off in another part. When these new improvements, technologies, were then handed over to the operational folks, sometimes we found that they didn't align too well. Sometimes we found that the issues of how much it costs to maintain over time, how much it costs to really operate it, we did not have a good integration between those two sides of sound decision-making. So the Air Traffic Organization has now put those decisions again in the hands of people who have to both operate the system and have to think long-term about the return on investment. And by integrating that, I think we're going to get a much more efficient system.

Mr Lawrence: The FAA has several initiatives underway to better regulate and enforce safety standards, to include improving customer satisfaction. Could you tell us about these?

Ms. Blakey: Yeah, we have found all along that we needed to be more consistent in the way we provided interpretations of our regulations, the way we provided guidance on how those who are out there both developing aircraft, modifying aircraft, doing the kind of maintenance that's involved, what those standards and certification requirements were. And there has been the impression; certainly, that I think has been real in some cases that different parts of the FAA in different parts of the country operated differently.

The guidance was not always consistent, wasn't always as reliable as it needed to be. So what we've done is, we've provided to all of our organizations out there a required code that says these are the kinds of things that to be responsive to our customers, you need to do. And if someone comes in and believes that the guidance that they've been given, the decision they were given on a given issue problem, aircraft, they want to appeal it, it also provides the information to our customers on how you take it up to the next level, and guarantees a hearing, so that if there are issues of consistency from one place or another, as it moves up, we are able to address those and understand that they're there. That kind of accountability, I think, we're having good reactions from all those out there that the FAA touches and affects.

I'm also very proud of the fact that the customer satisfaction survey that we do has been consistently going up. We're getting good grades from pilots out there as to how well our Air Traffic Control is working, how we're touching a number of our customers now. And that matters to us.

Mr. Lawrence: Most FAA employees are in a pay for performance situation. What does this mean to the employees and its leaders?

We'll ask Marion Blakey of the FAA for her thoughts when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Marion, in our first segment, you talked about the need for you to balance between strategic planning and operations. We talked a lot in the last segment about the operations of the FAA and the increase in demand. Let's flip back and talk a little bit about strategic planning. How in the organization do you do strategic planning?

Ms. Blakey: Well, you know, it's pretty challenging in an organization that is really required to keep up with transactions, millions of them a day. In other words, unlike a lot of agencies of government, the FAA really operates a system, and both achievements and occasional mistakes are very public, so it's hard to pull back and then to say, nope, we're going to take a longer view, and we're going to set goals and then attach not only metrics to those goals so we can tell whether we are meeting them or not, but we're going to tie our budget to those goals and see what it's costing us, and see whether we can afford to do this and continue to keep up on it on a week-in week-out, month-in month-out basis.

The way we tackled it was that we decided that we would construct a flight plan for the FAA, a rolling five-year plan that was going to, as I say, be tied to performance measures and tied to our budget. That does, believe me, get the attention of all your executives in a hurry, because that means that everything is going to be run by a strategic plan, a business plan. As many of us know in government, I think there are probably strategic plans all over town that are gathering dust on shelves. You have one, you post it on your web site and that's the end of that.

Ours is one that we developed over the course of about six months. It was a very arduous process of really trying to determine what the kind of goals and initiatives were that would genuinely improve our system, that would genuinely advance safety, and how you would measure that; how you would measure our achievements internationally, because we wanted the FAA to be much more proactive internationally -- frankly, set the standards globally for aviation -- and how we were going to set standards of organizational excellence that really would put us first in government. That's the goal there, and we're not shy about saying so. But we work very hard internally, and then we had the plan in draft put out there for comment by all of our stakeholders, we hold town hall meetings, we encourage comments from our employees, and then we posted the plan on our web site and said we are going to be measured by this.

I hold meetings every month where all of our executive team comes together. We spend a full day together going over all of those metrics. Are we hitting it or we not? Are we making our numbers or are we not? And we are then accountable on a quarterly basis just like a corporation, for whether we're doing it or not. We use a simple system: red, yellow, green. For people who want to click into it, we have a good software-based system called PB Views that allows people to go as deeply as they want to into the specific initiatives and performance measures of the FAA, and see specifically how we're doing on those.

And because we do tie our pay at the FAA, the annual awards and bonuses that frankly are automatic just about everywhere else in government, in ours, we have to make our numbers. Last year, we didn't make all of our numbers, and as a result, we only awarded 85 percent of what is usually the annual increases, the quality step increases, all of that, which we combined for our organizational success increase. We only awarded 85 percent, because that was really what we made on our numbers. This year, for '04, I'm just doing the assessment right now with our executive team. We're going to do better than that. But we're still not hitting every goal, and that's because they're strict goals. But we intend it to be that way.

We have just published our new draft plan, we'll be rolling it out soon, and at this point, I'm pleased to say we've had over a thousand comments and suggestions on it. That's good, because that means both our stakeholders and, very significantly, our employees, 85 percent of the comments came from my employees; they've got ownership in it, and that makes a huge difference.

Mr. Lawrence: Who participated in the initial development of the plan?

Ms. Blakey: You know, it started out with executive-led teams. But then we worked it out through our facilities, and then we asked our customer base to come in and meet. The FAA is not short on having advisory groups and people we can count on to help us with good advice, and frankly, it really was a big group effort. I don't take any personal ownership in this. It's something that needed to be developed organically, and I think that's one reason why it's working.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you provide us with a couple of examples of things that you measure? What would be some example measurements that are in the plan?

Ms. Blakey: Well, I certainly can. One of them, for example, is to reduce the risk of runway incursions, two planes getting too close together on a runway, vehicles getting out there, and I'm proud to tell you that we set specific numbers that we were trying to drive down the numbers of those incidents, because we believe it has very fundamental affect on safety. Reduce the number of Alaska accidents. You might say why Alaska? Well, because, frankly, that was where we saw the greatest incidence of accidents and fatalities. Being a pilot in Alaska used to be a high-risk profession, largely because of terrain and weather. But we knew we could take on some of those issues with new technologies, and we did.

When I look at questions of how we operate the system, we looked at things like on-time performance; how are we doing from the standpoint of actually being within 15 minutes of the time passengers expect to arrive at the gate? We don't control it entirely. That's also a part of weather and the way the airline is scheduled. But we've got specific metrics. Frankly, that was one last year we didn't make. So I could go on, but that gives you some idea, you know. These are not soft goals.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned that a number of the employees; in fact, a large percentage of the employees, are rewarded based on being able to meet these metrics. Are they rewarded on meeting all of the metrics, or ones that apply to their specific job?

Ms. Blakey: We do it on two levels, if you will. I am proud of the fact that 75 percent of the FAA's workforce, and this includes our unionized work force to a very significant degree, is on a pay for performance system. We have what we call an organizational success increase, which means that out of the 30 goals that we have for the FAA, we're expected to meet 90 percent of those if in fact people are going to get the full OSI, as we call it. Then there are specific also awards that go for the more-detailed duties that each individual employee has. And those increases also are really tailored to their responsibility, so they vary from one part of the FAA to another.

Mr. Lawrence: As long as we're talking about the employees of the FAA, can you tell us a little bit about some of the human resources challenges you face in the organization today?

Ms. Blakey: Well, you know, I bet like much of government, from what I understand, we're dealing with an aging workforce, and that's not surprising, particularly for the FAA, because of two things. One is that when you think about the folks you want out there inspecting airplanes and providing oversight from the standpoint of certifying aircraft and all of that, needless to say, you draw on very experienced people. A lot of them come out of the industry. They're highly trained, but that means it is an older work force on the whole.

Another phenomenon was that for our air traffic controllers, the PATCO strike meant that large numbers were hired in the early '80s, because President Reagan fired over 10,000 air traffic controllers, and the need to replace those all happened within a few years. Those folks are reaching the maximum retirement age, which is 56, as the system is set up. So we're going to see large numbers mustering out over the next ten years. And that means we're going to be hiring lots of people, and we have to figure out a plan that both figures out how to begin to step that up, and how we can train highly efficiently so that you move people into the system well.

Mr. Lawrence: How long does it take -- when someone decides to become an air traffic controller, how long does it take before they can actually work in the system? Is it a long lead cycle or is it relatively short?

Ms. Blakey: It depends, of course, on the experience base that they bring. We recruit from the military, where they've been controlling live traffic; we recruit from schools around the country where they may have spent four years in an undergraduate degree learning a lot. But we also recruit people straight in. Average is three to five years to be a fully certified controller, particularly at the more complex facilities. Now, fully certified means that you can work all positions in some of our most complex facilities out there.

We think probably, as we need to step up the pace on this, we're going to use simulators, for example, which is something that has been highly successful, as you know, in the training of airline pilots. The FAA hasn't relied on it as much. We believe in simulating all sorts of circumstances that hopefully controllers will never see in their actual air space that they're going to control. We'll be able to bring people through the system more quickly, and that would be a good thing.

Mr. Lawrence: In 2002, the FAA won an award for the most improved government agency. I'd be curious about some other awards you've won as well, and I guess, sort of even, how you continue to improve to win these awards.

Ms. Blakey: Well, you know, we do focus on that a lot. I really do believe that it is important to have people recognize the excellent performance and the real steps that we're taking to be a performance-driven organization. For example, we were very pleased that we were, with the Department of Transportation, top agency of government in terms of the President's Management Agenda. Four out of five of the key scores, we were green on. So we were right up there in the very top tier, and the FAA drove a lot of that because we're a big part of the Department of Transportation.

The Association of Government Accountants, in this last year, gave us award for our performance in financial report. We're very proud of that. We're proud of the fact that we have had clean audits for the last three years, and believe me, we're working very hard to get another one this year. Customer satisfaction index, as I say, this continues to go up, and we're looking at expanding that so that we have the real measure of how people feel we are doing in terms of being responsive to their needs.

So all of these are the kinds of things that, you know, as I look at it, we're working very hard, I'll tell you this, to get off the GAO's high risk list. I'm sure there are folks out there who know government agencies are often targeted there. The FAA's financial performance has been there for a while, and I'm very hopeful that we're going to move off of that as a result.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting.

What are the implications for the FAA of things such as commercial space travel? We'll ask Marion Blakey from the FAA for her thoughts on what the future holds for the FAA when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Over the past ten years, most businesses have gone global, but none more than commercial aviation. What is some of the impact now of the international nature of air transportation on operations of the FAA?

Ms. Blakey: Well, you know, it is a global system, and it is very much in the interest of the American flying public that we encourage open skies, the ability of not only of our carriers to fly routes all over the globe, but also to co-chair with foreign carriers so that in fact, you know, you don't have to have expensive service everywhere, because you could link up with a lot of others. That drives the price of tickets down, but at the same time, we have to be sure that it is not only a seamless system out there, but a very safe system. And parts of the world, as you know, safety challenges in aviation are much greater than they are in the United States. So we're trying to raise the bar on safety in a number of places.

We're also very convinced that American technology, American safety, is something we should be exporting. It's one of the great aspects of the fact that the United States has been a leader in aviation since the Wright Brothers. So in markets like China, for example, we're working very hard on both air traffic control systems and procedures, satellite-based systems. We have a satellite-based system now that we believe uses our GPS system, that will extend all the way from India through, we hope, China. Certainly Japan has already committed to it, and around the globe into the United States. It's going to be a great boon for aviation.

So we're working hard to expand those benefits, and frankly, that also benefits the United States economy in a variety of ways, our companies and our passengers. It's a big part of our goal these days.

Mr. Lawrence: Does the FAA have a single counterpart in Europe, or are there multiple organizations?

Ms. Blakey: I'm glad to say that with the European Union's advent, they have now developed an agency that's brand new called EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, that actually is going to be officially opening its doors in Cologne before the end of this year. So that's a good thing, because that brings all those countries together for us to work with on a joint basis. We are also encouraging safety on a regional basis in a number of parts of the world. Because, especially less developed countries with fewer resources, if they combine forces and we can provide them technical assistance across national boundaries that will work well in Latin America, in Africa and other parts of the globe. So that's another thing that we're doing. But we work very closely with our European counterparts

Mr. Lawrence: Now a bit earlier, you talked about some of the things that are coming in the future of commercial transportation, and just to pick out a couple of fun ones, you were present as Spaceship 1 completed its second trip into space earlier this year. What was it like to witness that?

Ms. Blakey: Wow, I'll tell you, that was the longest period of sustained goose bumps I've ever had in my life. No, it was fabulous standing out there in the Mohave in the early morning, freezing cold, watching that flight. When Mike Melville took it up, really into space, really expanded what has happened in terms of a privately developed, privately piloted aircraft that all of a sudden can go, not only into space, but come back, and has the capability to carry passengers. I was there with Richard Branson, who has decided that Virgin Galactic is going to begin carrying passengers into space in the next couple of years. So you can imagine, from the FAA standpoint, I see a lot of challenges coming together. I believe, of course this is very exciting in the future of aviation and aerospace, and we need to enable it. But there are issues of risks to passengers, issues, of course that we have to protect the safety of folks on the ground. So it's a challenge.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you have an organization today that's focused on space travel within FAA?

Ms. Blakey: Absolutely, our commercial space organization within our organization actually has ensured the safe launch of 167 commercial launches already. Now that we're getting into the reusable vehicle area, of course, that's got new challenges. But we're very proud of that track record.

Mr. Abel: You also mentioned a bit earlier a new type of travel called Microjets. What is a Microjet?

Ms. Blakey: It's a small, high performance aircraft. There aren't any out there on the market, but there are two companies, Eclipse and Adam, and there are several others coming along, which are using composite materials and very high performance small jet engines, to provide transportation for four to six people typically, that can be right up there with commercial jets. Glass cockpits, all of the kind of safety and navigation features that you really see, you know, in a Boeing 777. And what that's going to do is it's going to allow air taxis to flourish. Service to a lot of smaller airports, because a small number of people on a cost efficient basis can go on a non-scheduled basis point to point. Over time, it is really going to infuse transportation in this country with a lot more flexibility and cost efficiency than you have right now, when you're restricted just to the large commercial jets.

Mr. Abel: So if we put a couple of these together: we have microjets, space travel, increased demand for commercial aviation today, even just based on these regional jets versus larger jets we were saying before, how long can the FAA continue to operate as it is today, or are there plans for a new way of being able to business in the future.

Ms. Blakey: Well, Dave, I'm glad you asked that, because it's one of the things I've really spent a lot of time thinking about with some smart people. The system is not infinitely scaleable. In fact, we're getting to the limits of it. When you think about the fact that we use active ground to air control, voice communications, you can appreciate, as the traffic gets more and more dense -- UAVs coming into the system, a lot of things -- we're really going to have to change this.

The next generation system, we are bringing out a plan, in fact, again, before the end of this year, that I think is going to address what a next generation aviation system, both in terms of air traffic control, much more emphasis on satellite-based, satellite to aircraft, aircraft to aircraft separation; much more on automation; much more in terms of controlling traffic as managing exceptions with automation; looking to ensure the safety routinely, and in point of fact, we are also going to have to see a much better use of our infrastructure in terms of airport infrastructure, where do we need them for the years to come?

You know, it's not all going to be where it is right now. And so, the "build it and they will come," we've got to build it and anticipate where it's going to be. And so we're working very hard on those kinds of things, as well as what will a really stepped-up safety system be all about. The Europeans have already developed such a plan. So we're going to be moving out on this because, again, we believe that the leadership of the United States overall, both for our domestic health as well as internationally, depends on it.

Mr. Abel: What is the timing of a plan like that? What type of horizon would you look at as far as the time that it would cover?

Ms. Blakey: It covers out to 2025. That sounds like a long way away, but remember that the aircraft that are rolling off the assembly line right now will be flying in 2025. It typically can take as long as seven to twelve years to build a runway, so this kind of planning, it's not so far out there. And what I will also tell you is that this is an inter-agency process, which we rarely see in government. We are doing this with the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce, because, of course, they have the Weather Service, and weather's a big factor in aviation, along with the White House, in terms of our science and policy shop over there, so we've got really a lot of folks who are working with the Department of Transportation and the FAA on this. And NASA is a big part, of course, of that partnership as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Is there participation of commercial entities as well, airlines or cargo carriers, or other users of transportation as well?

Ms. Blakey: Absolutely. Our stakeholders really have to be involved and say, yes, we see the system serving us in the future, and that's going to be a big part of it, and frankly, such a plan will be governing our federal investments. One of the things that I think is exciting in this is, as we all know, the tremendous advances that have occurred in the Department of Defense in terms of the use of satellite-based navigation, air control systems that can translate into the civil side and benefit all of us. So this kind of joint effort together for surveillance, navigation, communication -- it's going to yield real dividends, and it will begin to govern our investments, not only looking at 2025, but in the near years, because you've got to have a smooth transition.

Mr. Lawrence: Marion, in our first segment you talked about your career beginning as a GS-3 and now working up to the Administrator, and cutting across both the public and private sector. What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in public service?

Ms. Blakey: Well, I would certainly say that I've found it tremendously personally rewarding. The mission orientation of the opportunities that you often have in government service; the ability to get up in the morning and know that you genuinely make a difference in people's lives. That's a tremendous engine, I think psychically for all of us in terms of -- do you like to come to work, do you care about what you do? Do you feel like you're making a difference? I can tell you that my career in government has really given me the ability to answer that affirmatively every time, but never more so than at the FAA, because we obviously have a mission that touches everyone's lives.

Anyone thinking about careers broadly, but certainly in terms of public service, I think it's also important to be open to opportunity. I would never have projected that my career would have taken the turns it has. I could not have anticipated some of the opportunities that one career in one agency would then lead to another. And it's been very exciting to realize that sometimes, the way that mentors, the way people see you that are above you in government, may not be the way you see yourself. But in fact, that opens opportunities; that opens challenges that you rise to.

And I have found government to be a wonderfully supportive environment from that standpoint, of being able to move into arenas, that as I say, I wouldn't have anticipated, but it's been tremendously rewarding. I would also say this: that I would encourage anyone who is interested in public service to look at the FAA. I'd like to see them go to www.faa.gov, because there, they'll be able to see what we're doing. Look at our flight plan. See how we're doing on our performance. But they can also look at the careers we have at the FAA. I think they're terrific.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much for joining us this morning, Marion. I'm afraid we're out of time. That will have to be our last question.

Do you want to mention the web site once again?

Ms. Blakey: The web site is www.faa.gov. And I'd love to have people go there. You can even get good information about how the system is doing on a given date. You can even access it from your wireless, from a PDA, to see how your airports out there are doing, if you want to know if there are delays in the system. It's a great site.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Johnnie Burton interview

Friday, June 3rd, 2005 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"Deep water production of the Gulf of Mexico has been fantastic. It has surpassed the volume of oil that's produced in traditional shallower parts of the gulf. This shows that oil and gas reserves exist in areas where we never thought about going before."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/04/2005
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...
Missions and Programs
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Friday, April 8, 2005

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge 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 Johnnie Burton, Director of Mineral Management Service of the US Department of Interior. Good morning, Johnnie.

Ms. Burton: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation also from IBM is Steve Sieke. Good morning, Steve.

Mr. Sieke: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Johnnie, not many of our listeners might have heard of MMS or the Mineral Management Services. Could you tell us about its history and its mission and how it fits into the Department of Interior?

Ms. Burton: The Department of the Interior is really the department charged with being the steward of all public lands. So starting from that you can see how that department is going to have different bureaus that will specialize in different aspects of public lands.

The Minerals Management Service, as the name indicates, is charged basically with managing public lands off shore which sounds strange when you talk about lands off shore. They're submerged lands but nonetheless they are federal territory so we manage the submerged lands only in view of production of energy; that is, oil and gas production but there could be other minerals. We also handle sand and gravel, these kinds of things.

We also have a second mission which some people will argue with me is the main mission of the agency which is to collect for the American public the revenue that come from those lands and specifically the revenue that comes from minerals. So we collect rent, we collect royalties on all minerals produced on shore and minerals produced off shore.

This amounts to quite a bit of money, as you might imagine. We're one of the top agencies bringing money to the federal Treasury. Last year I think we brought in about a little over $8 billion to the Treasury from different revenue from minerals.

We also collect money, and I'm going to use a term here that may not mean the same to everyone so I'll define it quickly, from bonuses; that is, that on shore as well as off shore some of the public lands are put up for auction, if you will, for the right to exploit a mineral and that auction brings in a certain amount of money on the very front end. For example, we have several lease sales on the off shore per year and depending on which part of the off shore we are putting up for auction the money can vary.

The last sale we had was in Alaska in the Beaufort Sea off the north slope and it was somewhere around $46-47 million in bonuses alone. But then you compare that to the central Gulf of Mexico where the bonus is running to 3-400 million depending on the year, depending on the sale. So this is a considerable amount of money. Then we collect on those leases and then we collect royalty if the leases produce.

If I want to tell you how this agency came about because it really is by federal standard a very new agency, about 22-23 years old, it was created by an executive order. The people who did the jobs were scattered in different parts of the Interior Department, the USGS, the Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Mines. There were different bureaus.

In 1982 or so all these people were put together into one agency which is now the Minerals Management Service. It was created by executive order which means that it is the only bureau in Interior that does not have its own organic act, its own congressional statutes, if you will, legislative statutes, so it's a little bit different. But this is what we do. We're a small agency. We're a new agency. We have a very narrow focus.

Mr. Lawrence: Even though you have a narrow focus how would you describe the skills sets of the employees on your team as you were describing and I imagine engineers and geologists and then when you began to speak about the money I thought about such a wide range of skills.

Ms. Burton: You're correct. We have a narrow focus but we have a very broad set of skills that are required. Obviously in managing the offshore land we need a lot of scientists because besides just managing the land itself and the leases and the rights to drill and then the drilling operation and so on we do a fair amount of research and we do a fair amount of study of the marine environment.

So we have oceanographers, we have marine biologists, we have geophysicists, we have geologists, obviously. We have a whole slew of scientists at various levels that have very specific skill sets in some areas. We also have obviously lots of engineers because when a company wants to drill and later on if they find petroleum and they will have a production facility, a platform, we need folks that are capable of telling whether this is safely done and that means different kinds of engineers.

So we have people that watch what industry does, that set the standards, which help write the rules that industry will have to follow with the over-arching goal of keeping the environment safe, keeping the people safe. That's really a very important part of what we do. So we do have a lot of engineers.

And then when it comes to collecting the money we obviously have to check on what industry reports to us which means we have lots of auditors. We need to not only check that they reported what they really produced but we need to check that they reported the fair market value of what they produced and that in itself is a whole different area. We have to check on markets, we have to check on indices, we have to make sure that industry has deducted from its proceeds what it was allowed by rule or statute to deduct and that they paid the fair amount.

So we do a lot of valuation of minerals and a lot of auditing, obviously. Then we have to process all this data so we have a fairly good size IT-type group of people. Then we have to distribute that to the various recipients of that money and if it is on shore a lot of the money that comes from onshore mineral is split with the state.

In fact the states receive 50 percent of anything that is produced within their borders from federal lands except for Alaska, which gets about 90 percent. So we do have to keep books that are fairly complex. We also put money in various accounts within Treasury and we have to make sure this is properly done.

In order to make sure that we are doing our job correctly we ourselves are audited every year. We have a financial audit within the department and each bureau is audited and we have to reconcile all the accounts. So we have a fairly good financial group plus a technical group.

Mr. Sieke: Johnnie, speaking of employee skill sets, could you describe your own role and responsibilities as the director of the Mineral Management Service?

Ms. Burton: Well, you need to somebody to blame when things go wrong. That's what the boss is for. Each bureau at the Department of the Interior is led by a director who is an appointed person. It is a political appointment. We serve at the pleasure of the Secretary, the President, the Senate, whatever the setup is. Typically people that head bureaus have demonstrated some good administrative skills, not necessarily technical skills, although I can tell you from my personal experience that in this particular position it helps a lot to understand how that particular industry that we regulate functions and it's nice to have had some background in that industry. But basically what I must make sure of is that everything is done according to statutes, according to regulation, that the staff does what it's supposed to do, and that the train runs on time, so to speak.

I also have to make sure I have a good interface with industry. We regulate an industry but we're also very dependent on that industry to produce the energy this nation needs; therefore, we need to talk to them. We need to understand their needs as well as they need to understand how we expect them to do their job. So it's really a people's job. It's leading an organization in the direction the President wants it to be led, which in this case is produce more energy but do it extremely safely and be very sensitive to the environment and to the safety of the people. So that's what I do.

Mr. Sieke: You've had a really interesting career. I was wondering if you could share some of your past positions with us before you were appointed as the director back in March of 2002.

Ms. Burton: Well, before I was appointed to this position I served the governor of my home State of Wyoming. I was a member of his cabinet and was asked to run a department for the state. The department was the revenue department, which in Wyoming is the department that handles state taxes, sales tax certainly, which is a big part of the state. Now, the State of Wyoming does not have an income tax so it's a much smaller department than you would have in any state that has an income tax but we handled sales tax. We valued the property for property taxes and the major part of the job was mineral taxes which gave me a wonderful preparation for the job I do now. Although royalty and taxes are not the same thing I had to deal with valuation of mineral, with relationship with a company, with making sure everything was done correctly, with auditing companies to make sure they were paying their severance tax as well as their property tax on minerals, and that's what I did for seven years for the governor.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a very interesting background. What is deep-shelf gas and why is it important? We'll ask MMS Director Johnnie Burton to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversation is with Johnnie Burton, Director of the Mineral Management Service in the US Department of Interior, and joining us in our conversation is Steve Sieke. Well, Johnnie, could you describe to us the strategic goals of MMS?

Ms. Burton: The goals of the agency obviously have to be in sync with the goals of the department which are the goals of the President. The overwhelming goal of MMS is really to help production of energy for the nation and make sure that the public, since they are public lands, receive a fair return on its asset, which in this case happens to be oil, gas, and on shore there are other minerals, obviously coal, et cetera. So the strategic goal is to make sure fair market value is attained by those minerals and that the royalty on those minerals is the correct amount as decided by Congress and we need to produce as much energy domestically as we can.

Obviously we would like to hold the line on imports. This country has been importing more and more of its oil. It's a very difficult thing to do because we are a very mature province in terms of producing oil and gas and mature provinces decline. You exhaust your capabilities after a while; however, this is not entirely the case here. This country has lots of resources not being exploited; by choice at this point, but the areas that are open to exploration MMS is trying very hard to facilitate the work industry does so they can produce as much as possible.

There is a conservation, and the word is often misunderstood, component to what we do, conservation meaning managing the reservoir so they produce as much as they can. Sometimes if you produce a reservoir very fast you get a lot of production but you damage the reservoir and a lot will stay in the ground. We need to guide industry so they produce it at a level that will produce the most from what's available.

Mr. Lawrence: I understand that MMS' goals focus on two programs, the offshore mineral management program and the royalty management program. What are the goals of these programs?

Ms. Burton: Well, we call it the management revenue. The management of the revenue has to be done in such a way that we can assure the public that the minerals have been valued correctly, that the amount of royalty and the amount of rent, the amount of bonus received whenever we lease some area, is a fair market value amount and that the public receives its fair share. That's really the overwhelming goal of the Minerals Revenue Management Group.

The Offshore Minerals Management Group, their goal is to manage offshore land and we have submerged ocean land. Around the United States you have roughly 1.76 billion acres. Now, we're supposed to manage all of that but in fact most of that is off limits; we don't do anything there. So in fact we manage less than 10 percent of that total amount but that's still a very sizable amount, as you can imagine.

Right now I think in the Gulf of Mexico we have about 40 million acres that are under lease, active leases, and so our goal there is to manage the submerged land so that we will get good production if there is production to be had but at the same time we protect the marine environment we don't do any damage, the companies don't do any damage, so we have rules and regulations they have to follow. We make sure that the safety of the people is a consideration and safety in terms of the ruggedness, if you will, of the material they put off shore.

You get a hurricane like Ivan that we just had. We have to try very hard to make sure the standards of building that industry is going to follow are strong enough to stand that kind of a storm. That particular storm was like the 500-year storm. It did a lot of damage but it didn't do that much damage to the facilities. It did damage to pipeline mostly because we think there was a bottom wave that actually caused some super mud slides when it got to the mouth of the Mississippi and those mud slides literally dragged pipelines and buried them and disconnected them but because of the standards we set and the rules companies follow and the technology that they've come up with when something like that happens there are so many valves that automatically shut that even if the pipeline disconnects there's a little bit of oil coming out, what was in that segment of pipe, but there's no more oil coming from anywhere because the valves are shut. All the valves held beautifully. All of this is what we do and what we feel is the critical part of our job.

Mr. Sieke: Johnnie, there are several interesting initiatives going on now at MMS. For instance, one is the deep water gas and oil exploration being done in the Gulf of Mexico. Can you describe for our listeners what deep water oil production is and how it's done?

Ms. Burton: Deep water production is relatively new and by relatively they've been drilling in deeper and deeper water for the last 10-15 years but certainly the last four, five, six years have seen some tremendous progress in how they handle deep water. You have to sink.

Remember, drilling a well on shore, for example, you put the bit in the ground and you turn it until you get down to a certain level. You run into problems, certainly hard rock, pressures, temperatures, et cetera. You have all of those things when you drill off shore but you have one added component which is enormous. It's the water column that you have to go through.

All you need to do is go swim in the ocean to know there are lots of currents. They're not always in the same direction and they're not the same at all depths. So when you put a drill pipe into the water you're going to have to think on how to keep it straight to go where you want to go with all of the motion that you have to subject your equipment to.

When you drill in 20 feet of water it's not that big a deal; 200 feet, 400 feet, the deeper you go the worse it gets. Well, this last year, I think, or the year before we saw the record of water depths worldwide was obtained in the Gulf of Mexico. A company drilled a well going through first 10,000 feet of water. When they can do that and stay on target and drill another maybe 15-20,000 feet into the ocean floor, then you realize what technology has done in the last 10 to 15 years.

What that has shown us is that not only can they do fantastic things but it also has shown us that the reserves of oil and gas exist in areas where we never thought about going before. The deep water production of the Gulf of Mexico has been fantastic. It has now surpassed the volume of oil that's produced in the traditional part of the gulf, which is the shallower water part of the gulf. We think that the deep water production is going to really become almost three-quarters of all the gulf production and the gulf production is very substantial.

So this is a very important province and it shows that the Gulf of Mexico is not a dead area. A lot of companies had thought we need to move away from here; we've produced everything it's going to produce. Well, not so. Now that they have the capability of going deeper and deeper and further out we now have rigs drilling almost 200 miles from the coast.

Mr. Sieke: Another area of development is deep-shelf gas. Can you describe what deep-shelf gas is and what's the difference between that kind of production and deep water production?

Ms. Burton: Right, as I was saying a little bit ago, you drill certain depths in the earth but you have to worry about the column of water. In the deep gas that you're talking about it's the reverse. This is on the shallow shelf, shallow meaning shallow water, under 400 feet of water, but they never had drilled very, very deep in the floor of the ocean.

Now we think that there will be some substantive gas reserves in the very deep part of the shelf, and so that's where they are looking for natural gas. We've put in some incentive for them to do it. Since 2001 we've had an incentive to give them some royalty-free volume if they drilled below 15,000 feet in the shallow shelf. We think that our tally tells us that since then they've drilled about 26 wells; 20 of them are producing, which is a tremendous success, and the interest there is that there is all the infrastructure they need to take that gas to market because along side that shelf that has been developing for 50 years you have about 36,000 miles of pipeline so you can tie into a pipeline fairly quickly.

Mr. Lawrence: Interesting. How is MMS measuring the performance of its programs? We'll ask its director, Johnnie Burton, for her perspective 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 Johnnie Burton, Director of the Mineral Management Service at the US Department of Interior, and joining us in our conversation is Steve Sieke.

Mr. Sieke: Thanks, Paul. Johnnie, with the deep water and deep shelf initiatives there are certain risks involved. How are you ensuring the safety of your workers while at the same time reducing oil spill risks?

Ms. Burton: You are hitting here on a key goal of MMS, which is obviously safety. Safety of the environment, first, we have a fair amount of rules. The industry will tell you we have too many we have to be very concerned with the marine environment, the life in the marine environment. We do a lot of research and a lot of study in areas before we put the area up for sale to begin with.

Once an area is leased and a company intends to explore we really stay in very close touch with them. We have established a lot of standards that they have to follow and industry itself works together to establish some standards for safety. It costs them a lot of money if they don't do things safely anyway so they are concerned with safety.

So are we. We watch what they do. We give standards where we feel they don't have some that are sufficient. We have a lot of inspection. We have inspectors that are all along the Gulf Coast, for example, since the Gulf of Mexico is really where the offshore activity primarily occurs. We contract with a helicopter company and every day we have inspectors going off shore watching what companies are doing.

If they are in the midst of drilling we inspect their drilling activities once a month. If they are already producing and have simply a producing facility obviously we won't inspect as often. I believe last year we had probably something like 26,000 inspections off shore so that's one of the ways we ensure that it's as safe as it can be.

Before a company can drill they have to submit their plan in great detail. We spend several weeks, months, reviewing those plans, making sure that what they will do is safe. We look at the coastal state that is adjacent to the area and we make sure that what the company plans to do is in sync with the coastal management of that state and that it's consistent with their rules and regs. So we go to great lengths to make sure that everything will be done safely.

We have unannounced drills. The companies have to have planned for spills in case there is a spill but the fact is the record is fantastic. I think that the Academy of Sciences has done some research and in the last 15 years found that there was never a spill of more than 1,000 barrels from any place in the ocean. Although that may sound like a big number to you the natural seeps, earth has area where the oil and gas is really close to the surface and it seeps in the ocean all the time. This is particularly true of the California coast, for example. The seeps are about 10 times more than anything that has been spilled from exploration.

Another area that is more difficult is the tankers. There are more spills from tankers and more pollution in the water than there is from exploration and production domestically. We study all of those. We keep track of all of those. Whenever there is any kind of spill and I mean a gallon of diesel fuel on the platform, that's reported and that's counted. We think the record is really stellar.

Mr. Sieke: That's really outstanding. We're at a time now where I think everybody has the high cost of energy in this country on their minds. I'm just wondering what MMS plans to do to try to secure as much energy as possible for the United States and how you balance that with protecting the natural environment.

Ms. Burton: It's a difficult balance, as you can imagine, Steve. What the Interior Department and the Secretary are trying to do is to give enough incentive for industry to invest in this country rather than go to West Africa, Russia, or somewhere else, although they go to those places, obviously, but we're trying to give them an incentive to stay here and produce here. I don't think we'll ever be self-sufficient. We're consuming way too much to become self-sufficient but our goal is to hold the line so we don't import more and more and more every year.

We are now close to 60 percent imports on oil which puts this country in a very precarious position, as you know. We need to try and hold the line and decrease that import quota, if you will, if we can. So we give incentives. We talked a little bit ago about incentives to drilling deep water. We give them a certain amount of royalty-free products. We do the same for gas but we also try to have a regime of regulation that is certain, that is well-defined, so industry knows what it's going to cost them to drill here, they know what they're going to have to do to live with our standards and with our regulations, and I think that has helped a lot with keeping industry here.

The last sale we had in the gulf was a very good one. The sale we just had in Alaska was the best one in 17 years. Now, having said all of that, the primary driver for industry to drill is price of the commodity. With the price of oil and natural gas lately we have seen a renewed interest in drilling and producing.

Mr. Sieke: Johnnie, MMS is involved in many important programs. I'm just curious how you measure whether goals of those programs are being met.

Ms. Burton: Well, we are setting metrics. It goes through our whole MMS organization but then it goes through the department and they are approved by a lot of people. We try to keep measurement on everything we do and at the end of the year the department looks at the results and OMB looks at the result, and, as you know, the President has a management agenda that he's been very, very strict in enforcing with these agencies so we live by the red light, the green light, and the yellow light and we all try to get to the green light, obviously.

So we do measure our performance. We have studied metrics for every one of our objectives recently and I don't know whether you're familiar with it but the government takes in kind some of its royalties. Instead of taking money from the company it actually takes the barrels of oil or the MCF of gas and sells it on the open market.

We had questions about is this a good way to do business, do we make as much money as we would if industry would just give us a check, and for that we didn't have very good metrics. Two years ago, a little after I arrived at MMS, I asked that we do a study and that the study be done by an outside entity. I didn't want us to be accused of being biased in looking at what we do so we hired an entity that does that for the private sector and asked them to come in, look at what we do, and then help us develop that will tell us how we're doing.

That has been very profitable, very good. In fact this last year we found that the royalty in kind program, as we call it, what we sold on the market, we made about $18 million more than we would have had we followed the other method which is getting a check from the companies. That's simply because, frankly, when you get 12 or 16 percent as a share of what's produced you become one of the big owners. When you do that you can get better deals on the transportation, for example, on the processing of the product. So we essentially cut the middle man off and so we do a better job but we have to prove it. The General Accounting Administration needed some proof so we just put in some metrics in place that seem to be working quite well. That's how we measure.

Mr. Lawrence: You've talked about working with industry in a very unique way. You simultaneously partner and regulate. Could you tell us about some of the management challenges of this unique relationship?

Ms. Burton: It is a difficult balance at times. Let me give you an example. About a year ago some companies came to us and said your leases are five-year leases or eight or ten-year leases depending on how deep the water is. We give them more time when they are in very difficult terrain, obviously. They said that sounds well and good but we now have the technology to drill down to 30,000 feet; however, we have to go through salt sheets. The Gulf of Mexico has a very different kind of geology. It has some salt sheets that make it very difficult for seismic wave, if you will, to come back clearly. They can't quite see what's below the salt.

They said we run all kinds of programs but we have to really know what's below there before we're going to invest millions. A well down there can cost $80 million. They said it sounds like 10 years is a lot of time but in fact they gave us a time line and they said we barely make it. If we're going to go that deep we need to have time to run all the different tests, analyze them, write the computer program that can interpret what we get, the raw data, then we need to drill. That needs a special ship. It needs special equipment, special metallurgy, for example. We need more time.

And we said as government we lease, we get money. We don't want to tie up a lease for 20 years and nothing happens so it's in our interest to get them back on the market very quickly but on the other hand we need the production. So we said okay, give us all the information of why you need more time and we're going to try under certain conditions to extend the lease.

That's the kind of partnership that we want. We make the rules. They're tough but there are times when you need to look at your rule and say in the long-term interests of the nation maybe we need to tweak that, and we do it.

But none of that would happen if we didn't have and didn't keep a fairly good relationship with the industry we regulate. They need to trust us enough to come and lay it on the table. They need to trust that we will consider what they give us and that we will make a fair decision. Now, sometimes they don't like the decision but they know they're going to get a fair hearing. And that's really a difficult balance to keep but that's the one I aim to keep and that's what I've been trying to do for the three and a half years I've been there.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting example. What does the future hold for MMS, especially as it continues to explore for ocean energy? We'll ask its director, Johnnie Burton, for her perspective 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 Johnnie Burton, the Director of the Mineral Management Service at the U.S. Department of Interior, and joining us in our conversation is Steve Sieke.

Mr. Sieke: Johnnie, how do you envision MMS in the next 5 to 10 years?

Ms. Burton: I think MMS will have to continue to work with industry to produce oil and gas where we can but I think it needs to also go in a slightly different direction and it has begun the process of looking at how to encourage alternative sources of energy. The Secretary of the Interior is very, very interested in alternative sources of energy to try and shift the burden away from the petroleum into, let's say, biomass, wind energy, wave energy, and certainly MMS would play a part because off shore might be an ideal place to have wind farms, to have wave energy.

The technology is almost there. It certainly is for wind and for wave there are several mechanisms that can produce energy. I think that an agency of the federal government is going to have to be the lead agency to look at new sources. One of the sources that may be fantastic but it's not there yet is methane hydrates which exist in the Gulf of Mexico and in the permafrost of Alaska.

It's really natural gas, methane, which is trapped in frozen molecules of water. It's like big mountains of ice but if you let that ice melt the rest is gas. It compresses the gas so much that when it releases it's 600 times the volume it had in that crystal.

This is being studied by the Department of Energy, certainly, and by the Geological Survey, which is a bureau of Interior, and MMS also participates. All of these new sources of energy will have to be investigated and we need to figure out how to regulate that production when it occurs, again, for safety reasons mostly, safety of the environment and safety of the people.

I think that MMS is going to have to go more and more in that direction. Right now we don't have the authority to do that. We're hoping that Congress will take a good look at it and give Interior the authority to manage, to lead, that development because right now if you want to put a wind farm off shore you have to go probably first to the Corps of Engineers to get a license for traffic in the sea but there are lots of other things.

Who is studying the impact on the environment? Who is deciding how that's going to be decommissioned when it doesn't work any more? Who is watching over the safety of the people that work there? There are no answers right now so we're hoping that the Department of the Interior can make a good enough case with Congress that we would be given this authority.

If that occurs I suspect MMS is going to have to grow a bit. I know this is an anathema when you talk about growing a federal agency but we actually do what we do today with a fairly small number of people considering the way the federal system works and what we have to do. I think we're going to need more resources to do alternative resource management. I think in another 5-10 years I'll see a third program, if you will, because we need to do that, and we need to prepare for it now.

Mr. Sieke: Johnnie, you've talked about a lot of different promising technologies, things that might be surfacing in the near future. What are your thoughts around how you support new technologies? Do you place your bets on all those things? Do you go through a process to say no, we've got to pick a few of the most promising and invest our resources there? How do you see that unfolding?

Ms. Burton: The technology development is really done by industry. We do not invest in it. We do not choose. We let industry do the development, do the research, and come to us. Now, what we need at MMS are the tools to evaluate what they bring to us. For example, there's been tremendous progress in seismic survey but in order to really interpret what you see you need very special computer programs, et cetera. We need to have our people trained to do that and to have the tools, the computer systems, et cetera, that can look at what industry's bringing to us and say yes, that sounds safe enough or that sounds good enough.

But we don't choose. We have to be able to pass judgment on all the things that come to us which means we need to have a lot of training, a lot of specific skills. We constantly have to know what industry's doing and we stay on point with them. But essentially industry is going to make the decision of what is the most economical and most efficient and we have then to look at it and we look at the down side, this technology, what is the danger of it. We try to give them some guidelines about you could do it this way but we're worried about this, you might want to work a little more on that, et cetera.

Mr. Lawrence: Johnnie, you've spent a significant portion of your career in government service as a public servant. What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in public service?

Ms. Burton: First of all let me say that the last not even 15 years I've been involved in state government and then in federal government and prior to that I was in the private sector so I've had a feel for both. There is certainly some real rewarding aspect to serving the public. I think you need to want to serve the public. It is truly a service.

Having said that, I also can tell you that there are some really interesting things happening that government has to know about and to do -- such as all the technology, for example, which MMS employees are exposed to. For somebody who's a scientist it's real exciting. Somebody who's an engineer and sees those things coming at him, where else would he have the ability to see such a spectrum of different things? If you work in the private sector you tend to be focused on one particular type of technology, for example. Here you see it all so it's very exciting, I think.

Now, working for the government has its advantages. One of them is really a certain amount of safety and security. Chances are the MMS is not going to be dissolved tomorrow but when you work for a private company you never know how the stockholders are going to react or how the market is going to react and then you could be working for Enron. So I think there are lots of positive things working for government and I would encourage anybody who wants a fairly steady path to their career to start.

You shouldn't be afraid of starting at the bottom. There are many, many opportunities of promotions in government. I think that most staff we have at MMS are very, very knowledgeable people that seem to be happy with what they do which brings me to saying that we need to encourage people to come and work in government.

We seem to have an aging work force right now and I am concerned on how we're going to replace them when they retire. We have internships. We like people to come and detail with us, spend some time, see what you like, and then hopefully when you come out of school you come and serve an internship and we can interest you enough that you can stay with us. We'd like to do a lot of recruiting. We're trying.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Johnnie that will have to be our last question. Steve and I want to thank you for fitting us in your busy schedule and joining us this morning.

Ms. Burton: You are quite welcome. I enjoyed it. Thank you very much.

Mr. Sieke: Thank you, Johnnie.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Johnnie Burton, the Director of the Mineral Management Service at the US Department of Interior. Be sure to visit us on the Web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org. For The Business of Government Hour I'm Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

LTG James R. Clapper interview

Friday, May 13th, 2005 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"Both the National Security Agency and NGA have put great emphasis on bringing together geospatial intelligence and signal intelligence. It’s been particularly applicable and successful in the global war on terrorism. This is a great success story."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 05/14/2005
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs; Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Innovation; Technology and E-Government...
Missions and Programs; Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Innovation; Technology and E-Government
Complete transcript: 

Friday, March 29, 2005

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge 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 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 Lieutenant General James Clapper, Air Force (Ret.), Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Good morning, General Clapper.

Mr. Clapper: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is John Kamensky.

Good morning, John.

Mr. Kamensky: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, General Clapper, let's start by getting our audience grounded in the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. Can you tell us about its history and its mission?

Mr. Clapper: The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, or NGA, was originally founded in 1996, and was then called the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. And it is the most recently formed part of the national intelligence community, and probably the least known. We are both a combat support agency within the Department of Defense and a component of the national intelligence community, and our basic mission is geospatial intelligence. What's that? It's basically what can be learned from studying the Earth, either natural or manmade activities and objects which have national security implications.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you give us a sense of the size of the organization and the skill set of the folks who work on your team?

Mr. Clapper: The agency is about between 14,000, 15,000 people; roughly half are government employees, and the other half are contractor full-time equivalents. And basically the operational, if I can call them that, skill sets which revolve around our analysis and production mission devolve from expertise on the Earth, and so we have what we call imagery analysts who look at photographs of the Earth and derive intelligence or information from that. And it isn't just a bold reading of the picture, it is looking at the picture in the context of what did it look like yesterday, the same scene yesterday, last week, last month, or last year, so it's put in context. So subtleties of change can be detected, from which you can glean important intelligence information.

We also have a mission we inherited from one of our predecessor organizations, the old Defense Mapping Agency, a navigational safety mission, so we provide aids to navigation for both aviators as well as the maritime community. We operate, for example, a 7 x 24 broadcast capability to warn anyone at sea of hazards to navigation. We have to account for every location of every drill rig in the world as a hazard of navigation. So again, the theme here in our skill sets devolve around expertise and knowledge of the Earth, starting with under the Earth, and that is an understanding of gravity, and we have people that specialize in that. And then our mission extends to both the terrestrial and maritime regimes.

Mr. Kamensky: What is your role and responsibilities as Director of NGA?

Mr. Clapper: Well, John, it would roughly equate to that of a CEO of a comparably sized company, and so my responsibly is the overall direction of the agency -- and of course, I have a cadr� of senior managers who work for me, assist me in carrying out the functions of the agency. So our largest organization is, as you'd expect, is our analysis and production organization. We also have, of course, a Chief Financial Officer, an Inspector General; we have a General Counsel; we have a large and capable human capital management organization which sort of does, bad metaphor, cradle to grave, from recruiting all the way to retirement, training education and all that.

So it is comparable, I think, to a large corporation, an international corporation, since we are deployed globally. We have people in virtually every time zone on the Earth. And I have an extended deployed force both overseas and elsewhere in the United States. So it is very comparable, I think, to a large company.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you tell us about your previous roles? How does one become Director of NGA?

Mr. Clapper: Well, I served for 32 years in the Air Force on active duty, and I retired in 1995, and my last assignment was as director of another intelligence agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency. And I have spent my entire career in intelligence; in fact, my whole family tree is in that business. I followed my father's footsteps, who was an Army intelligence officer, and my career was spent pretty much exclusively in the intelligence business, so I was fortunate enough to have a series or sort of career-building assignments that culminated in the assignment as Director of Defense Intelligence Agency.

And then I went to industry for six years, which I've worked for three companies, and then when I was asked to come back, I found that experience was invaluable in my current duties, particularly in light of the fact we're so heavily dependent on contractors.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let me ask you about the contrast between the two sectors. I'd be curious in terms of sort of the management skills required to run an intelligence agency. You talked about being in a couple, and then to have you elaborate then on the skills required in the private sector and how those have been applicable.

Mr. Clapper: Well in the private sector, of course, the bottom line is the main thing, so you're always driven by revenue considerations and bringing in more business to the company and making a profit. We in the intelligence business are not in a profit-making context, and basically what we do is largely a free good. We support our many users -- consumers, customers, whatever you want to call them. But what we do is a free good. So there is a major difference in my mind when you do not have that common denominator incentive of the financial bottom line, and what you're trying to do is provide support for endeavors that often are attended to people in harms way. So, not to be melodramatic about it, but it can be a lifesaving proposition; that is what we do in intelligence. So that is a huge difference from the private sector.

Mr. Lawrence: How about in terms of just comparing things like speed of decision-making, in terms of -- I think a lot of people who have spent much more time in the private sector who come to government for the first time reflect on that, you know, surprise and then understanding of the difference in speed.

Mr. Clapper: Well, actually for my part, I think there are some parallels and similarities between the private sector and my experience with the government. This being the intelligence business, where there is a premium often placed on agility, and I think that's true as well in successful companies. And the companies I was with, all three of whom were good companies, were able when the time called for it to be agile. And I think that is certainly true in the case of intelligence. We're often accused of, being in the government, of being bureaucratic and all that sort of thing, but what we have found, particularly since September 11, is there is a very high premium being placed on agility and nimbleness and responsiveness, much more so than the 42 years I've been doing intelligence that I'd never seen before.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, you talked about going to the private sector; what drew you back to government service?

Mr. Clapper: Well, it was kind of a surprise. In August of 2001, I got a phone call from the Department of Defense, and I was asked to come in to interview to see whether I would consider coming back to serve as an intelligence agency director, and for me, frankly, it was kind of a no-brainer. I certainly enjoyed my time in industry, and the three companies that I worked for were great to me, but I never really got the psychic income that I got when I was in private service. And so when I had the opportunity to come back, and had the honor of being asked to come back, I jumped at it. And of course, this was about a month before September 11. In fact, I began my tenure at NGA ten days after 9/11, and it's been a pretty fast train ever since.

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier in this part of the conversation, you talked about changing the name from NIMA to NGA. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Mr. Clapper: Right. The name NIMA, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, was somewhat of a compromise at the time because -- well, you may not appreciate this, but it was basically involved the marriage of two very disparate cultures; that is, imagery intelligence, imagery analysis on one hand, and mapping, charting, and geodesy on the other. And they had been organizationally and functionally separate for many, many, many, many years. So the notion of putting them together was somewhat of a radical thing at the time. And the vision of the founding fathers and mothers of the agency in the mid '90s was to amalgamate or synthesize these two previously disparate endeavors.

The name National Imagery and Mapping Agency really served to continue that separateness; that imagery analysis and mapping/charting geodesy is two separate endeavors. We, the leadership, had an off-site in January 2002, which was a fairly profound thing for us, and we decided we'd been singing "Amazing Grace" at the wake long enough, and that it was time to get on with what the intended vision of the agency was -- which was the melding of the two into what we call geospatial intelligence. Ergo, we need to change the name, so the name itself would not perpetuate that separateness, if you will.

So we prepared a legislative package which went through both houses of Congress, and amazingly enough, they both agreed, and so President Bush signed our name change into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2004, which thus renamed the agency.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, that's interesting. I didn't realize there was so much thought behind it.

What are the top priorities for NGA in 2005? We'll ask General Clapper, NGA's Director, to explain this to us when our conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Lieutenant James Clapper, Air Force (Ret.), Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Joining us in our conversation is John Kamensky.

Mr. Kamensky: General Clapper, can you give us an overview of NGA's top priorities for this coming year?

Mr. Clapper: Well, I guess the first priority would be to continue to and instantiate -- a 25-cent word there for "institutionalizing" -- the idea or the concept of geospatial intelligence. That's kind of priority one. We have put a lot of emphasis on what we call a performance-based culture, since in NGA we have had a pay-for-performance system for about six years now, which is a growing trend in the government. And this is quite a radical departure from the classic way that the civil service officers have been compensated in the past, where we attempt to make differentiation among employee performance, and then award them financially accordingly. So we will continue to refine that process.

When NIMA, as the agency was then called, was stood up in 1996, it inherited a pretty sick infrastructure, in that the antecedent infrastructures which were separate -- and by that I mean the communications and the computer capabilities, which were not compatible and all that sort of thing -- and we have spent a lot of time, energy, and money on rectifying that infrastructure so that we can cope with the volumes of data that we have to cope with. So that clearly is another instance. There's what we call convergence, which is meant to capture the notion of building a very robust, as we call it, TPED capability, which is an acronym for Tasking, Processing, Exploitation, Dissemination.

And what we are being confronted with is a rather substantial deluge of data that comes to us from many sources: satellites, be they government or commercial; airborne, and other sources of data, and that is going to increase exponentially. So we must absolutely, positively build ourselves a very robust, modernized infrastructure to accommodate and ingest all that material, and most importantly, convey it, do something with it so that users can make use of it. So those are I think big-hitters as we approach 2005.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask again about convergence, because I know you wrote a letter to the entire workforce, talking about its importance. I was hoping you could elaborate later a little bit more about that. And also, what's the role of the employees in convergence?

Mr. Clapper: Well, I have tried to convey the importance of this to not only the employees internally, but of course our Executive Branch overseers, as well as the Congress, so they understand why this is important. Typically and historically, the way we've approached this in the past has been, if we field a collection system; say, a satellite system or an airborne system, then somewhat as an afterthought, we will also then attend to the ground structure that has to accommodate or ingest the material that's collected from the collection platform, whatever it is. And then we do this, classically, on a one-off basis, so as our collection systems multiply, we just cannot continue this inefficient approach to having a TEPD structure that is done on a one-off basis, one per collection system.

The technology is such today that we can converge all these separate ground structures into one robust system, and then make it easier both for our analysts internally to use it, to ingest, and look at, and analyze this material, and also for our users to extract from the data, from our databases, what they need. So to us, to me personally, convergence is crucial to our future.

If we're going to keep up with what I call the four Vs: which are the volume, velocity, variety, and veracity, meaning the accuracies that are being expected of us; and if we're going to keep up with that, we have to build this robust TEPD, or Tasking Processing Exploitation Dissemination System. Employees have a huge role in this, because they're the ones that are going to make it work. So it's obviously important; it's crucial that I enlist their understanding of what convergence means, and their participation to make it work.

Mr. Lawrence: Along the lines of convergence, could you tell us about the National System for Geospatial Intelligence, NSG, as I understand it. Why is this important?

Mr. Clapper: The National System for Geospatial Intelligence is the compilation of, or the amalgam, I guess, of the people, the systems, the technology, the policies, and doctrine that comprise the enterprise of National Geospatial Intelligence. What that implies is not only the agency that I'm director of, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, but the larger community that we serve, since we of course engage with the military departments, the services, the warfighters, as well as partnerships that we have with the civil agencies, since we serve other Cabinet departments besides DoD. So it is the totality of this system, since we provide the workstations and the like, that support people who also draw on our products and services. So it is the stewardship of this larger system that it's kind of a second hat that I wear, in addition to that as Director.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about Geospatial Intelligence, or GEOINT, if I've said that right. Could you tell us about this?

Mr. Clapper: Well, Geospatial Intelligence is, as I say, represents this amalgam of imagery and imagery intelligence, so it is a picture on the ground in a geospatial or geographical context, and it is from that then you derive information of national security, that has national security implications. So for example, if the military is very interested in such questions as where are the bad guys, where could they move, and what it is the road network that might support their movement or mine, where are the bridges, where are the key infrastructures. So if all that data on the ground, on the terrestrial dimension, over which other forms of intelligence-oriented information can be overlaid, it gives, say, a military commander in the field the picture of the environment in which he or she is going to operate.

Mr. Lawrence: I know that NGA is also leading the way in terms of standardizing the sharing of geospatial information and I've been reading about the standards technical working group. Why is this important?

Mr. Clapper: Well as we try to serve as the leader; the steward, if you will, for this larger system, it's important that we and people looking to us to do this that we sort of prescribe the building codes, if you will, and that you've done that under a laboratory kind of seal of approval. So if you're going to buy a piece of equipment, a computer, whatever it is, that it's got to be compatible with the larger national system for geospatial intelligence. So that then implies sort of endorsement, or actually the description and prescription of standards. Now, this gets to be very complex, because we deal internationally, since we have many, many agreements with foreign countries or foreign counterparts. So there's a set of international standards; there are, of course, a set of commercial standards. And our approach, frankly, is if there's a capability hardware/software that can be procured off the shelf that will satisfy our need, that's what we should do. So you have the commercial standards, and then you have the military spec standards, and what we are attempting to do is to sort of compile those into a single directive, so that we've got all these geospatial intelligence standards in one place. Again, it's kind of the building codes, in order to promote collaboration and interoperability.

Mr. Kamensky: In addition to Geospatial Intelligence, NGA has had a role in supporting recovery from national disasters, like the World Trade Center, the Space Shuttle, the hurricanes in Florida. I understand that NGA is also helping the relief efforts in the Tsunami-impacted regions. How is NGA providing support there?

Mr. Clapper: John, it's a growth business for us, if I could use that term. It goes back actually to before the Agency was formed. And the predecessor elements of the Agency have always had a disaster relief mission, so if you have some natural disaster; say, flood, hurricane, earthquake, whatever it is, just domestically, the Agency and its predecessors would bring to bear either the national means, or more recently, commercial means to enable planners and responders to look at -- literally, no pun intended, the big picture. So you can look at a large area and see the extent of damage, you can see the impacts; for example, on road networks. You can see where you have to concentrate your relief efforts first; you can see what the impact has been on the infrastructure. So that FEMA at the national level, and in a domestic context, at the State level as well, we can provide them with these views or pictures that show the larger area of damage that's been affected, so they can use that as a planning aid, as well.

Now, this mission easily translates or transforms into support to Homeland Security. So we have an extensive effort to support our Homeland Security efforts, and all we've done here is apply the same tactics, techniques, and procedures; the same products, services, solutions, that we have long done in an overseas context, and just overlay them into a domestic context as well. So every special event in the United States: Super Bowl, political conventions, inauguration, whatever it is, we are there with a deployed team, and we provide that common operating picture on which the other agencies, federal, state, local, and regional, can all share, so they're all looking at the same map, if you will, the same geospatial depiction.

Similarly, in the Tsunami disaster, we were able to do the same thing, only overseas; for the eleven countries that were affected in the Indian Ocean littoral was -- an unbelievable magnitude of this disaster. And of course, it has had profound impact on the littoral environment around the Indian Ocean. So we will have to be redoing all the geospatial depictions, the maps and the like because of the change to the littoral; both maritime conditions, as well as terrestrial.

Mr. Kamensky: Littoral being coastline?

Mr. Clapper: Yes, right.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting; I didn't realize you had to redo the maps.

Many are talking these days about the need for intelligence agencies to collaborate and work more closely. What are the management challenges that need to be addressed to make this happen?

We'll ask General Clapper, NGA Director, about these when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Lieutenant General James Clapper, Air Force (Ret.), Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

And also joining us in our conversation is John Kamensky.

Well, General, President Bush signed the U.S. Intelligence Reform Bill into law into December 2004. Could you tell us about what some of the key provisions are, and how this bill affects NGA?

Mr. Clapper: Well, this is, no question, the most profound piece of legislation affecting the intelligence community since the National Security Act of 1947, and I think the most profound feature of it, frankly, is the separation of what had been the Director of Central Intelligence from being dual-headed as both the DCI as well the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; the DNI, as he will be called, assuming Ambassador Negroponte is confirmed, will be presiding over all the agencies, to include the CIA. So the implications of that I think are quite profound, and we're not actually going to know until we actually start doing this.

There's a lot of analysis going on right now of the legislation, which I personally think is interesting, but it isn't going to be terribly informative. I think the real test here is going to be the first acts of the DNI; that is, what he does and says the first hour, first day, first week, first month, first year, because that will be huge in terms of the precedents that will be set on how this position is actually going to perform and what it's actually going to do. So I think we're going to watch this space mode, frankly, as to how this all turns out and how this evolves, and of course, it's going to be very interesting.

As far as our agency is concerned, what I have told the work force is that it's my belief that what we do is so vital, so important to our users, our consumers, that I don't see, at least initially, a whole lot of change as a direct result of the onset of the DNI. I'm sure there will be changes, but I think the basic mission that we perform will continue.

Mr. Kamensky: Some say that a small revolution is underway in the intelligence service. For the first time, National Security Agency experts are working with analysts at NGA. What were the drivers for these two agencies to join forces now, and how are the National Security Agency and NGA working closer together than any intelligence organizations in history?

Mr. Clapper: Well, John, that's a great question, and I appreciate getting it because I think this has been a good news story. It's not been heralded too much. Obviously, all the intelligence community has been impelled by the tragedy of 9/11. There have been, even before the legislation, a lot of changes, for the good, in the intelligence community. General Hayden, who is the Director of the National Security Agency, and is the nominee to be the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, and I are long associates and colleagues and have known each other for many years.

I served on the NSA Advisory Board for four years while I was retired, and I basically grew up in the NSA system. I had a couple of assignments there and I'm pretty familiar with NSA. So when I came to NIMA, now NGA, I was frankly struck by the parallels and similarities between the two agencies. We basically operate in the same time zone, yet we don't compete. We are very complementary in what we do. And so it's almost a natural fit for the two agencies to get together and collaborate. So we've done a lot in terms of exchanging hostages, if you will. We are on each other's footprint big-time. We have senior executives that we have exchanged in each agency, which is a tremendous experience for them and both the agencies. I can't go into the details here because of the classification, but suffice to say that we have put a lot of the emphasis on bringing together our two disciplines, geospatial intelligence and signal intelligence, at the pointy end of the stick, if you will. It's been particularly applicable and particularly successful in the global war on terrorism, but to me, this is a great success story.

Mr. Kamensky: You and former CIA Director George Tenet and former NSA Director Michael Hayden commented together that speed and agility is the key to the war on terrorism, not more levels of bureaucracy in Washington. How are intelligence agencies speeding up this work flow?

Mr. Clapper: One thing we are doing, both -- everyone as an intelligence community, but particularly NSA and NGA is pretty representative -- experts from each of our agencies in the field, with the forces pursuing the terrorists in the global war on terrorism. This has been I think a tremendous success as well. There's no substitute for having our experts right there with the operators, with the warfighters, enduring the same privations, the same challenges, and most importantly, understanding the exact mission. And there is a time sensitivity involved here, and so we empower our folks who are forward-deployed with the warfighters to draw on or reach back to the home agency for whatever support is needed. So we've had to build up a cadr� of deployers to sustain this presence.

But there really isn't any substitute for having them out there embedded in a decision loop which can't come back to the Beltway and then back out there. They have to be a part of that process. And all the intelligence community members, all the agencies, are involved in rendering that sort of direct support up close and personal.

Mr. Kamensky: What are some of the challenges and what's being done to overcome them?

Mr. Clapper: Well, one of the challenges that we have is, of course, sustaining these deployments. It's one thing when, you know, the first emergency happens, but then when you get into a regime of sustaining these deployments for months and months, now years at a time, what we've done is raise a cadr� of deployers that we train and equip, and they're all civilians who volunteered to do this. And of course, we compensate them extra for that. But, you know, teach them how to fire an M-16 and drive a Humvee and all these other things that military people need to do, because that's then environment they need to operate in, so they get their shots up to date, and their wills up to date, and all of that, and then we deploy them, and that's a challenge.

There is the challenge of communications; staying connected, particularly in the business for imagery, which is widely known as a voracious bandwidth eater of communication. It takes a lot of communications capacity to move imagery around. So that's always a challenge, a connectivity for the people -- we have people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other garden spots like that, and staying connected with them in such a way that we can respond to their needs, keep them equipped, keep them supported, is a big challenge. And then of course, having to do that in a secure mode, and complying with security policies and the like. So those are all some challenges that we're working, and by and large, I think pretty successfully overcoming.

Mr. Kamensky: Many intelligence agencies have expressed a need for more intelligence analysts. How's NGA approaching its planning on recruiting, training, and retaining?

Mr. Clapper: We, like the rest of the Intelligence community, are on the upslope. We were on down slope, personnel-wise, prior to 9/11. And of course, that has occasioned a growth spurt for us. And so all of us are out recruiting -- and I think it speaks well of the patriotism of our citizenry, and particularly our young people, because all of us collectively have thousands of r�sum�s of applicants who want to come work for us, which of course is good, because we can be selective. The mode we're in right now is, of course, one of the problems we have is there is a clearance requirement, background investigations and that sort of thing, and so we have people in the pipeline. And sometimes these clearances can take a long time, so we have the challenge of staying connected with our applicants, hopefully keeping them interested in what we offer to them.

So we are bringing in hundreds of people right now, which poses a real strain on our pipeline, particularly training. And what we've had to do is set up a mentoring system, where every new employee, particularly new analyst, is assigned a more experienced member of the analytic cadr� to sort of show them the ropes. And so we're having to do this. And of course, we have to continue our day-to-day mission, so that is a daunting challenge. But I've been on the obverse of that, where you're trying to reduce the workforce, and frankly, I'd rather be in the mode we're in today.

Mr. Lawrence: In the first segment when you were describing your team, you talked about the significant contribution of contractors. How is NGA working with contractors and making that link between business and government?

Mr. Clapper: Well, this is something that affected me. The six years that I was out of the government and in the industry, I worked as a contractor for the intelligence community, so I had that dimension, and I learned a lot from that experience. And that frankly has influenced me and the Agency accordingly. So we like to think that we're very contractor-friendly. My definition of what is what I would call the sacred trust of the government has actually gotten much smaller since I was a contractor, because there's a lot of work that contractors can and do do for us. In fact, if all the contractors didn't come to work tomorrow, we would be out of business. We are that dependent on them. They are a part of us.

I have tried to promote as much teamwork between and among government and contractor as possible, acknowledging though that we the government has a fiduciary and contractual oversight responsibility to ensure that what the contractors do meets the specifications of the contract. One of the processes I've established is what we call an industry interaction program, which is rather formalized, but what it is designed to do is to offer a contractor who has something to offer, something they want to show, they want to demonstrate, they want to brief us on, so we have a dedicated staff to systematically bring these people in and ensure they are exposed to the right parts of the NGA staff, and then we'll help them, to the extent that we can, ply what they might have to offer, if it is something that we need. So since half our workforce are contractor full-time equivalents, this is a hugely important segment of our workforce.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting about that formal interaction.

What does the future hold for NGA? We'll ask General Clapper, its Director, for his prospective as our conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Lieutenant General James Clapper, Air Force (Ret.), Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

And joining us in our conversation is John Kamensky.

Well, General Clapper, can you tell us about the future of imagery and satellite technology, and the challenges NGA may face in the future?

Mr. Clapper: Well, the future for us, I think, is very bright. I think the idea, the concept, of geospatial intelligence, which I feel is quite compelling, is catching on. It is growing; I think people appreciate it. It can serve many customers, be they in the Department of Defense, which of course is our major customer, but, other Cabinet departments. We support the Department of State, Department of Justice, Department of Energy, and of course the Department of Homeland Security, with this notion of geospatial intelligence. What we're faced with in the future is greater and greater volumes of data as we acquire more collection capabilities, be they from satellites or from aircrafts or from terrestrial sources, so the challenge for us is going to be coping with the volume of data that we will ingest, the variety of sources and sensors that it will come from, and ensuring the veracity of what we produce.

The example I would cite is the ever-more exacting demands of precision-guided munitions. Today, the military places a very high premium on precision and accuracy. If they use a kinetic weapon on the ground, it must go where it was intended to go. So that places a very high premium on knowing the exact spot on the Earth where you're going to put that weapon. And as it turns out, NGA is the steward or reservoir for the master database to support this effort. So our challenge is going to be coping with this volume, the variety, and the velocity, the intervals during the day at which we will be taking a drink out of that fire hydrant, so to speak, and coping with it, so that's going to be our challenge in the future. Now, it's a challenge, but it's also a good news story, because I think that what that represents is the instantiation of the importance of geospatial intelligence.

Mr. Kamensky: How do you envision NGA in the next 5 to 10 years?

Mr. Clapper: Well, I think that, assuming we can continue with our program to converge and modernize, a lot of things that are done today kind of manually, we are still very much in the paper products mode. We produce millions and million of map products, for which there will always be a demand, but ultimately, we want to get to doing business with us the way you do business on the internet, in that you would come to use through our webpage, or whatever, and through a series of a few clicks -- not too many -- you'd be able to extract the layers of data that will support your particular mission, and that you can use that, manipulate it and tailor it to suit your own needs, you as a user, and so that we're not producing reams and reams of paper. So that I think is going to be our major transformation over the next five years, the modernization and automation of our processes.

Mr.Kamensky: And what advice can you give to government executives who face similar tasks of collaborating with other agencies and departments?

Mr. Clapper: Well, I think I'd look for the sweet spots. The approach that General Hayden and I took with the collaboration between our two agencies was basically to encourage those in each agency that this is something we wanted to see happen, and to look for good ideas on how we can collaborate, and the result has been where the sum is greater that the parts. And so I think looking for where there are complementary opportunities, and if there are policy barriers, or the like, that can be overcome through, in our case, the direction of the two agency directors, and then we do that.

The pattern that General Hayden and I have worked into is about once a quarter, we have a fairly formal meeting between the two of us, and we have our senior staff, and we alternate home and away, at his agency or ours, and we use the Huntley-Brinkley approach, where an agency senior from each of the agencies have to get up and brief together what they're doing in their particular area to promote collaboration, and it seems to work pretty well. There's always a flurry of activity two weeks before the next quarterly.

Mr. Lawrence: As I think about your description of your career at the beginning of our show, it's clear you've had a long and distinguished career as a public servant. What advice would you give to someone, perhaps a young person, interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Clapper: Well, go for it. I have done both, and in all, I spent the lion's share of my life and career in public service, and it is the what I call psychic income that I derive from the public service. To me, it's somewhat an ethereal or spiritual thing. It has not to do with making a lot of money, because you're not going to do that in the government. The government pays well, comfortably, you can make a comfortable living, but you're not going to be rich just working in the government. But there are certain satisfactions that come from the discharge of what I consider a sacred trust, particularly these days, because of the vital importance of intelligence in the war on terrorism. So I think it's a great place to be. It's very rewarding and satisfying to be a part of this national effort.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, I'm afraid that will have to be our last question.

General Clapper, John, and I want to thank you for squeezing us into your very, very busy schedule in joining us this morning.

Mr. Clapper: Well, John and Paul, I've enjoyed it. Thank you very much.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you again, General.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Lieutenant General James Clapper, Air Force (Ret.), Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and research and get a copy of today's transcript of this fascinating interview. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

For The Business of Government Radio Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Ron DeHaven interview

Friday, December 10th, 2004 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"Agricultural trade is critical to our economy. Our role is to ensure that agricultural exports and products imported abroad are safe and not a risk to trade partners. Potential health and pest risks are becoming the limiting issues within trade."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 12/11/2004
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...
Missions and Programs
Complete transcript: 

Monday, November 1, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created The Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new ways to improving government performance. Learn more about The Center by visiting us at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Show Hour features a conversation with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Good morning, Dr. DeHaven.

Dr. DeHaven: Good morning. Thank you for having me on your show.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Mike Wasson.

Good morning, Mike.

Mr. Wasson: Good morning, Paul. Thank you for being here.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Dr. DeHaven, let's start by learning more about APHIS. Could you tell us about the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and its role within USDA?

Dr. DeHaven: Certainly. Our motto within APHIS is "Safeguarding American Agriculture," which I think really speaks to what we do. We're responsible for ensuring safe and healthy agricultural products, both on the plant and animal side. Indeed, Secretary Veneman at one point had made reference that if she were starting to rebuild the USDA all over again, she would start with the foundation, that being APHIS. We have several program units within the agency -- veterinary services, plant protection quarantine, biotechnology regulatory services, wildlife services, international services, and animal care -- all of which speak to the specific roles we have in a very broad mission area.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you describe the size? I mean, you've gone through a wide range of programs. Could you tell us about the budget, and even the skills of the people on your team?

Dr. DeHaven: In terms of the budget, it's actually grown quite dramatically. In Fiscal Year '01, we had an appropriation, or appropriated budget, of $445 million. The President's budget for Fiscal Year '05 is $828 million. That, taken along with the frequent apportionment of monies for emergency purposes, which in the last few years have averaged at about $250 million a year, we're basically a billion-dollar agency.

In terms of numbers of people, there again, the numbers vary depending on what you're looking at. In terms of full-time permanent employees, we're somewhere in excess of 4,000 employees, but when also including Foreign Service national employees around the world and temporary employees that we hire, we're in excess of 7,000 people.

Mr. Lawrence: And the skills of these folks?

Dr. DeHaven: Wide variety, as you might guess, given the program units that we have in the agency. On the plant side, we have plant pathologists and botanists. On the animal health side, veterinarians and epidemiologists. We employ wildlife biologists, biotechnologists, program analysts, economists. We have a public affairs staff with several public affairs specialists and writer/editors, and then also, because of the monies that we involve, contracting specialists and financial managers.

Mr. Wasson: Well, Dr. DeHaven, can you share with us your roles and responsibilities as administrator for APHIS?

Dr. DeHaven: I look at my job as providing the vision and leadership for this agency; ensuring that we have the resources, both human and financial, to carry out our mission; and then represent the agency in a variety of situations, both internally and externally.

Mr. Wasson: In April of 2004, you became administrator of APHIS. Can you tell us a little bit about the background before you became administrator?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, I graduated from veterinary school, Purdue University, in 1975, and actually went to school with the intent of being a small animal, dog and cat practitioner. I did four years with the Army Veterinary Corps, which I found very rewarding, and during that period also gained some clinical practice experience. But at the end of my tenure in the Army, I was intrigued by government service, and actually then took my first job with the government in APHIS in 1979. I spent the first six years of my career, which I think was very valuable, in the field as a field veterinary medical officer dealing with primarily livestock disease issues.

From there, I moved into a middle management position as the assistant area veterinarian in charge in our state of Mississippi. And then, four years after that, started a 12-year stint in our animal care program, overseeing administration of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. It was then about four years ago that I came back to our veterinary services unit as the deputy administrator of that organization and, of course, have been the administrator now for two years.

So I think what I find most interesting is that I went to veterinary school with the intent of being a dog and cat practitioner, now find myself as a Washington bureaucrat with far more reaching implications and responsibilities when it comes to both animal and plant health, and enjoying myself as a Washington bureaucrat, something that back in 1975, I would never have imagined happening.

Mr. Wasson: You have an interesting background, where you have both a doctor of veterinary medicine and an MBA. How did you combine your two degrees for maximum effectiveness in the work environment?

Dr. DeHaven: As I mentioned with my veterinary degree, I think that degree has opened up a wide array of opportunities, both from clinical medicine to being a Washington bureaucrat. The master's in business administration came at a time when I had made the career decision that I wanted to stay with government and focus on management of programs and people. I realized at the time, and actually fully came to realize during the course of obtaining that degree, that we need to market ourselves and run our government agencies like business runs itself. And so I think through both degrees, the doctor of veterinary medicine and the MBA, I've had the technical background, the technical experience, but also now the management experience to provide oversight and leadership for a government agency and focus on running government like a business.

Mr. Lawrence: I'd like to pick up on that point where you talked about getting an MBA, when you began to understand the importance of management. What was it like as you were transitioning from a doer, when you were describing, you know, providing services to animals as a veterinarian, and to becoming a manager? Could you take us through that?

Dr. DeHaven: I think before that, Paul, I even realized that while the private veterinary practitioner certainly has some strong and influential impact on families and individual animals, by working with a government agency, we actually have tremendous impacts on population of animals. And so that's where I wanted to take my career was in veterinary medicine, but looking at a broader picture, recognizing that animal agriculture has tremendous implications for our economy and for the health and well-being of a large number of animals as well as the basis for employment of many people in this country. So I recognized the potential there; had also had a taste as a middle management of managing people and managing programs and enjoyed that as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, tell us about some of the differences in terms of your training as a veterinarian and then what you began doing as a manager. One of the things I'm drawn to is sort of the size of the groups of people you dealt with. I imagine, from having animals, that a veterinarian experiences one-on-one, and generally, the customers don't complain very much, I imagine, and now you're with much broader teams of people that you have to influence. Tell us about some of the differences in the training.

Dr. DeHaven: You know, ultimately, Paul, it comes down to dealing with people one-on-one and having interpersonal skills, whether you're dealing with that pet owner or a herd owner whose herd of cattle has just been recently diagnosed with brucellosis. From there, you take it to my current position, where typically, I'm working one-on-one with individuals who represent larger, broader constituencies. At the end of the day, it's interpersonal skills and working one-on-one with people. It's just the stakes on different -- whether we're talking about an individual animal or an individual herd of animals versus populations of animals. At the end of the day, it's a matter of employing good common sense and having the interpersonal skills to explain your situation and your position.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about the speed of decisions and the things you can make an impact on? I imagine it must have been very rewarding to you to work one-on-one in a small setting and solve a problem with an animal, and see that work its way out, and now to think about solving something in a population seems much hard and would take more time.

Dr. DeHaven: I think that for the most part is very true. When you're dealing with an individual animal, oftentimes, it's life-and-death situations and decisions need to be made very quickly. On the other hand, when you're dealing with populations and diseases and disease programs that have broad implications for a large population of people and a larger population of animals, typically that decision-making process is much slower, requires a transparent and open process that allows the public and all stakeholders to have an input on that decision. That's how government does work and should work, and we certainly emphasize having an open and transparent process.

Not everyone is cut out for that kind of work. Bureaucracies are intended to be somewhat inefficient, so that they provide that opportunity for everyone to have input. It's something that you develop a skill and ability to work within our system, which, again, by some accounts is intended to be somewhat inefficient in that it does provide for broad constituencies to have input.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting. As I think about you getting an MBA and your point about, you know, making government act more like a business, and you talked about the need for inefficiencies, are there any other places that you've noticed where it almost shouldn't run like a business?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, we don't have a bottom line, per se, to worry about in government in terms of having to generate revenue. Rather, making the best use of taxpayers' dollars that are appropriated by Congress or otherwise made available to us. But whether you generate a revenue or have an appropriation, it's getting the most bang for your buck, making sure that how you use that money is used efficiently and effectively. In our case, it's for the public in general as opposed to private business, where you have that customer that you're trying to give them the most benefit for their dollar spent.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting point, especially about the need for openness and transparency.

We're all aware of mad cow disease. How are we tracking and testing for this disease? We'll ask Dr. Ron DeHaven of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to tell us about this 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 Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

And joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Well, Dr. DeHaven, let's talk about mad cow disease. And with the scare of the disease entering in the United States, how is APHIS able to track and test cattle for the disease?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, we have actually been testing cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, since 1990, increasing every year the number of animals that we test. In 2002/2003, we tested some 20,000 animals. And these are animals for what we consider to be the high-risk or target population, meaning that if we do have the disease, these would be the animals that would be most likely to test positive, some 30 times more likely than the average adult cow in our population.

Because of the recent cases in North America, both of them native born in Canada, but one found in the U.S., we have entered into an enhanced surveillance program beginning June 1st of this year. Since June 1st, we have tested somewhere in the neighborhood of 98,000 animals in this high-risk or target population. And of course, all of them thus far have been negative.

Our goal is, during a 12-month period, we want to test a statistically significant number that would, if we have the disease in the U.S., even at a prevalence as low as 1 animal out of 10 million that's positive, that we would find the disease. So our goal is, during this 12-month period, to test somewhere in excess of 250,000 animals, and then can say with some degree of statistical significance whether or not we have the disease, and, if so, at what prevalence.

Mr. Lawrence: Take our listeners through the process of testing. You describe statistics, so I have a picture in my mind of sampling, much like we would anything else, and then running the tests. And so I'm curious, is that right? And just what does the test entail?

Dr. DeHaven: That is correct, Paul. We, unfortunately, don't have any live animal tests available to us at this point in time. There's no blood test. In fact, the test involves getting a piece of tissue from a very specific section of the brain, in the brain stem. So we're collecting these samples from animals that have died on the farm, have gone to slaughter, or otherwise would be animals that have died or are destined to be slaughtered.

We're picking these samples up off of animals that die on the farm. Typically, they're sent to a rendering plant, and we collect the tissues at rendering. Some animals that become nonambulatory at slaughter, they go down, if you will, and are not allowed into the human food chain, we test those animals as well, but also animals that are going to public health laboratories and state diagnostic veterinary laboratories, animals that are showing some central nervous system disorder.

So after the animal dies or is otherwise selected for testing and is euthanized, this portion of the brain, a small piece of tissue, is taken from that section of the brain and then it's subjected to one of half a dozen different tests that we've approved for this purpose. These are rapid screening tests.

So the samples are collected at slaughter plants, rendering plants, diagnostic laboratories, and then that sample is shipped to one of seven laboratories around the country where this testing is done. If any of the animals or tests come up anything other than negative on one of those screening tests, then it goes to our national reference laboratory, that's our National Veterinary Services laboratories in Ames, Iowa, for confirmatory testing.

Mr. Lawrence: Are there steps to implement measures and risk assessments for better effectiveness of tracking disease? As we were preparing, I was reading about the animal registry program.

Dr. DeHaven: The animal registry, I assume, Paul, you're talking about our National Animal Identification System, which is the system that we are currently developing that would provide for some kind of electronic identification on every animal, livestock species of animals, in the country. It's almost ironic in that because of the recent finding of the BSE case in the state of Washington, we're on an accelerated path to implement this national animal identification. And ironic in that BSE is a non-contagious disease, so it's one that we have the luxury of a matter of days or even weeks to trace animals.

On the other hand, if we were to have a highly contagious disease enter the United States, such as foot-and-mouth disease, we would need to be able to track animals in a matter of hours in order to be able to contain and, hopefully, eventually eradicate that kind of disease that might be introduced into the United States. So while certainly animal identification on every animal in the country would be useful for a number of domestic disease programs that we have ongoing, certainly in terms of our BSE testing program, it would be critical to have that kind of system in place were we to have the introduction of a highly contagious foreign animal disease.

he system that we're implementing would then involve electronic identification on the animal, and there's a number of different technologies that can be used, such as radio frequency, ID microchips. But the idea would be that in a maximum of 48 hours, we could trace animals that were infected or had been exposed to infected animals.

Mr. Wasson: Well, Dr. DeHaven, recently APHIS partnered up with the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency on developing a single portal on agricultural biotechnology regulations, which is usbiotechreg.nbii.gov. Can you tell us how this came about and what this site offers?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, the three agencies that are involved in regulating agricultural biotechnology APHIS, Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, and EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency all have very distinct and different roles. But the public really wants one site where they can go to to answer all of their questions, regardless of which agency might have specific regulatory authority. So we worked with our colleagues at FDA and EPA as well as the White House's Office of Science Technology Policy to develop this website. As with all of our regulatory programs, our goal is to be open and very transparent in the process so that we can have a coordinated and risk-based approach.

I think biotechnology represents some unique challenges, in that we walk a very thin tightrope in terms of ensuring that we have adequate regulations to ensure protection of the public and the environment, but, at the same time, not over-regulating to the extent that we unduly restrict growth in an industry that has so much to offer to society.

Mr. Wasson: Well, earlier this year, USDA and APHIS will prepare an evaluation of its biotechnology regulations and several possible regulation changes, including the development of a multi-tiered risk-based permitting system and the enhancements of the deregulation process to provide flexibility for long-term monitoring. How is this process coming along, and what impacts does this have on the stakeholders?

Dr. DeHaven: Mike, you're right. In January of this year, we published a notice of intent in the Federal Register and said in this notice that we plan to prepare an environmental impact statement, or EIS, to consider possible changes to our biotechnology regulations. Through the EIS and a change in regulations, it would provide for a multi-tiered system that would provide some flexibility in the commercialization process for biotechnology products, genetically engineered products, and provide for new policies in field testing, for example, for pharmaceutical plants, plants that are genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical compounds or other industrial compounds, as well as providing a mechanism for dealing with adventitious presence. That would be the presence of genetically modified organisms in organisms that are thought to be or expected to be non-genetically modified.

Before even starting this process, however, we met with stakeholders and got their input and, through this notice of an intent to prepare an environmental impact statement, received over 3,000 public comments. We've reviewed and considered those comments, and we are currently in the process of writing this environmental impact statement, the impact that new regulations might have. The public will once again have an opportunity to comment on this EIS. And then ultimately, we would be publishing a proposed rule, once again for public comment. So again, emphasizing our open and transparent process in developing any new regulations.

Mr. Wasson: In the wake of terrorist attacks against the U.S., bioterrorism has been of a great concern. For instance, the Bush Administration passed the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002. What is APHIS's part against bioterrorism?

Dr. DeHaven: It's been part of our responsibility in APHIS to respond to the introduction of foreign animal, plants and plant diseases, and pests as well as animal diseases. So we have considered ourselves for several decades to be first responders when there is an accidental introduction of a plant disease or a pest or an animal disease.

What has changed obviously with the recent times, most notably since 9/11, is the recognition or realization that we not only are vulnerable to an accidental introduction of pest or disease, we've vulnerable to an intentional introduction, an introduction that could have far-reaching implications for the economy of the United States. So we have renewed and emphasized our role not just in dealing with domestic disease programs, but in terms of response to the introduction of a foreign animal disease or a plant pest and disease, recognizing that that could be an intentional introduction.

We have worked closely with FEMA to develop what's called an emergency support function for agriculture, ESF-11. APHIS has the lead in that, meaning that just like FEMA has a responsibility to respond to natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes, the FEMA function would also apply to an agricultural emergency such as an unexpected or intentionally introduced foreign animal disease or a plant disease. So through this emergency support function and working with FEMA, APHIS would have the lead in responding to an agricultural emergency, but through FEMA would have all of the resources of the federal government at our disposal to deal with that kind of situation.

APHIS is also the lead agency for the agricultural component of the Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002, where we have worked very closely with CDC in coming up with a program to ensure that university laboratories and private laboratories that are dealing with agents that could have a bioterrorist use, that there are proper controls and inventory of those kinds of agents. We refer to them as select agents.

We actually have a liaison person with APHIS who works at CDC, who works with them on issues that would affect both animals and plants, zoonotic disease, if you will, as well as any bioterrorist agent that would have not just human health, but also animal health implications.

Mr. Lawrence: How is e-government being used to streamline processes at APHIS? We'll ask Dr. Ron DeHaven, its administrator, to tell us about this 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 Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

And joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Well, Dr. DeHaven, the scope of APHIS's protection has expanded beyond pest and disease management. APHIS has assumed greater roles in the global agricultural arena. What management challenges has this presented for the leadership of APHIS?

Dr. DeHaven: Paul, thank you for the question. And we're realizing more since 9/11 than ever before that our first line of defense, speaking from an agricultural perspective, is not at our ports and borders, but rather overseas. We don't want to wait until potentially harmful diseases, agricultural diseases, or pests are at our borders to exclude them, but rather have people offshore who realize and are our eyes and ears in terms of what threats are out there, and keeping those kinds of things from ever entering our ports and borders. That's our first line of defense, is offshore.

But APHIS is always walking a tightrope in terms of safeguarding American agriculture, but also facilitating trade. Agricultural trade is critical to the economy of our country. So our role is to ensure that those products that we import from abroad as well as our agricultural exports are safe and don't represent any risk to our trading partners. As we enter into more and more trade agreements with our trading partners where historically trade has been restricted by quotas and tariffs, now what's becoming a limiting factor is what we call the sanitary/phytosanitary issues, those issues that represent potential health and pest risks.

And so APHIS is becoming front and center in terms of -- it's those technical issues, the issues that are involved in safeguarding American agriculture, are the same ones that are limiting trade. So there's increasingly more and more emphasis and pressure on APHIS to resolve those technical barriers so that trade can continue unrestricted, but doing so in such a way that we don't jeopardize the health and safety of agriculture in the United States.

Mr. Wasson: Well, Dr. DeHaven, in the last segment, we have learned that APHIS has worked with many different agencies to develop informational websites and protecting U.S. agriculture. Are there any lessons learned and advice you would give on working and managing interagency?

Dr. DeHaven: I think there's one overriding thing, and that is that the administration, our Congress, and, probably more importantly, the public expect there to be interagency cooperation. They're not really concerned with whether there are two or three or four agencies that are involved in some area of oversight. They want to make sure that government agencies that have a role are working together and that there's a coordinated approach.

I was talking a minute ago about trade issues. And so APHIS has a critical role in facilitating trade, to the extent that there are technical issues, to make sure that we don't unintentionally export or import disease or pests. But to do that, we work very closely with the Foreign Agricultural Service, an agency within USDA, in establishing those trade policies and working with our trading partners around the world.

I think the BSE, or mad cow, situation is an excellent example of the need for interagency coordination. APHIS has a role in terms of surveillance of our live animal population. Food Safety Inspection Service, another agency within USDA, has a responsibility to ensure that the food produced from those animals is safe and wholesome. And our colleagues in FDA have some responsibility as relates to animal feed as well as cosmetics and other products that would be made from those animal products. The public, the department, indeed the Congress expect us to work very closely together in dealing with those issues that cross agency boundaries.

Mr. Wasson: Well, early in 2001, APHIS launched an e-gov initiative that streamlined its permit process and application online. What are some of the challenges with this launch?

Dr. DeHaven: In the context, Mike, of ensuring that we are user-friendly to our public, we want to provide the option for that public to request our services either through the traditional paper methods or electronically. For example, both our plant protection quarantine and veterinary services units have a permit process where one can apply for a permit that would allow for the movement of otherwise restricted materials into or out of the United States. Our biotechnology regulatory services unit also receives requests for permits for permitting the use or testing, field testing, of potential biotechnology products.

The challenge for us was to develop one coordinated system that met the needs of all of these different purposes and do so in a way that is user-friendly and not create a three separate system. So we have that traditional bureaucratic issue of getting the funding, getting approval for the system that we're developing, selecting a contractor, and then working closely with that contractor. But all of those things are coming together, and we would hope to pilot a project for this permitting system early next year.

Mr. Wasson: Are there any other e-gov initiatives on the way within APHIS?

Dr. DeHaven: Actually, there are several that we have underway, and our intent is to provide an electronic mechanism of any interaction that we would have with our public. Another example is that we license and register facilities under the Animal Welfare Act. This is primarily facilities that are involved in research or exhibition or the commercial sale of animals, and those types of facilities need to be either licensed or registered with us under the Animal Welfare Act. So rather than, here again, submitting a paper application for that kind of license or registration, we're developing a system to do that all electronically.

Mr. Lawrence: This naturally leads into a discussion of the President's Management Agenda. And could you tell us about APHIS's plans to action to implement the agenda? For example, one area of interest is the integration of performance and budget information.

Dr. DeHaven: Our mission goals in APHIS, Paul, are safeguarding American agriculture and facilitating trade. And as I've alluded to, those two goals can be a little bit of a conundrum in terms of competing interests; in terms of safeguarding agriculture, but at the same time facilitating trade and, in doing so, potentially running the risk of accidental introduction of pest or disease. So having said that, our pest and disease programs very readily lend themselves to a cost-benefit analysis. What's the program going to cost? What's the potential export or market that might be out there, or what is the value of that commodity to our own economy? And then doing a cost-benefit. Is the cost of that program going to yield potential benefits that will exceed those costs?

Here again, we also know that by instituting various plant and animal disease programs, we can improve our export markets. We can improve the exportability, if you will, of certain markets. And so is that potential market from a cost-benefit analysis greater than what the cost would be of implementing some of our programs? APHIS has actually scored very high within the Department on the OMB process to review program assessment, if you will, where we have scored high in terms of the value of our programs versus the return on that investment.

Mr. Wasson: How is APHIS making the adjustments on the move of its port-of-entry inspectors to the Department of Homeland Security?

Dr. DeHaven: We've gone through a very difficult transition. It was in March of last year that we transferred somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,600 agricultural quarantine inspectors to the new Department of Homeland Security. These 2,600 inspectors are the people at our ports and borders whose job it is to ensure that we don't inadvertently allow into the country prohibited products that might also harbor plant diseases or animal diseases. So it's been somewhat of a difficult transition for us to lose those inspectors while at the same time ensuring that they continue to have a very active role in performing that agricultural mission at our ports and borders.

We found newfound friends with our colleagues in the Customs and Border Protection, one of the major units within the Department of Homeland Security. And we think that through the creation of this new department and overseeing all of the inspection activities at the ports and borders, not just agricultural, but Customs inspections and immigration inspections, that there is ample opportunity for improvement, and at the end of the day, having a far better system. Our role is to continue to provide the policy and training for those inspectors at the ports and border, making sure that the agricultural mission remains very high on their priority list. And in order to do that, we've had a couple of initiatives underway.

We're working with our colleagues at DHS to have a quality assurance program to ensure that that inspection is happening as it should, but also that we've got good communication. Current issues, is there a new outbreak or a new situation that would cause us to send an alert to the ports and borders to be on the lookout for a particular commodity or a disease that might be presenting itself? Changes in policy -- and we continue to, again, provide the training for the agricultural inspectors, including the new agricultural specialist within the Department of Homeland Security. So we're developing a newfound friendship and relationship with our colleagues at DHS. And, again, I think that at the end of the day, there's a potential to have a much more effective system.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting, especially all the technology described that underpin the programs.

With all the technology being used today, how are skilled IT professionals being recruited and retained? We'll ask Dr. Ron DeHaven of APHIS to tell us about this 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 Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

And joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Mr. Wasson: Well, good morning. Dr. DeHaven, in the future what changes of shifts do you see in APHIS's role in protecting U.S. agriculture?

Dr. DeHaven: Mike, I think we're already seeing some of those shifts. We're seeing more new and emerging diseases in the last few years than we've ever seen before, and I think that's reflected in the apportionment of monies that we've received to respond to some of those new emergencies and emerging pests and diseases. During the eight-year period from 1993 to 2000, we spent some $475 million in responding to those kinds of plant and animal emergencies. In the last four years, that number has soared to $1.1 billion. So in half the time, we've spent twice the amount of money responding to some of the new and emerging plant and animal pests and diseases.

We've touched base already on the fact that as we enter into more trade agreements with our trading partners around the world, some of the technical issues to safeguard American agriculture are becoming those issues that are limiting trade, and so increasing pressure on APHIS to resolve those technical issues in a way that applies appropriate safeguards, but doesn't unduly restrict trade.

And then as we mentioned before, with the events of 9/11, the anthrax situation here in Washington, D.C., with the recognition with the foot-and-mouth disease in Europe that we, too, are vulnerable, we have an increasingly important homeland security role within USDA in general and APHIS in particular. I think we're realizing as an agency that emergencies are part of our norm. As we go about our day-to-day business, that's going to include responding to whatever the current emergency is, either on the plant or animal side or, heaven forbid, both of them.

Mr. Wasson: How does APHIS plan on integrating and protecting its science and technology infrastructure?

Dr. DeHaven: Mike, I think the credibility of our whole agency is that we are a science-based organization. We need to stay science-based and keep that as part of our roots. We have expanded, in fact, that science base in our agency, and I'll give a couple of examples.

Within our plant protection quarantine unit, we've created a Center for Plant Health Science and Technology. So as we're dealing with the domestic disease programs and coming up with new science-based ways of dealing with them, or have a trade issue that requires a science-based resolution, it's those scientists at CPHST, Center for Plant Health Science and Technology, that are responsible for coming up with those kinds of science-based resolutions. And on the animal side, a similar organization is called the Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health.

Clearly, when it comes to regulating biotechnology, we have to be science-based there. It's an evolving industry; the potential benefits are huge. We have to understand the science and ensure that our regulations are science-based.

Our wildlife services unit has gone from an organization that managed damage control on livestock to one that is really a wildlife disease management organization, employing a number of wildlife biologists to ensure that where there is interaction between wildlife and domestic livestock, we're appropriately managing the disease concerns there. So we are science-based, and our future credibility is dependent upon ensuring that we're employing the best science in our programs and activities.

Mr. Lawrence: Throughout our conversation this morning, you've talked an awful lot about very complicated programs: technological, statistical, and scientific. So let me ask you just about the employees who support you. Let's start with technology. How is the agency recruiting and retaining skilled IT workers?

Dr. DeHaven: Indeed. With all the program activities I've talked about, Paul, we couldn't carry out all those activities if we didn't have an excellent support staff, and we do, and that runs the gamut from our IT specialists to our financial managers. On the IT side, especially in the last couple of years, actually recruitment of good quality IT specialists has not been an issue for us. Typically when we put out an advertisement for a vacancy, we get a good number of applicants. And so I'm proud of the caliber and expertise of our IT specialists within the agency.

Having said that, I think that there is a couple of things that we can do, or several things that we can do if that becomes an issue in terms of providing financial incentives to attract some of those IT specialists. But I think even more fundamental than that is within APHIS, we have an organizational culture that values our employees and places high value on family values. So I think we're a family-friendly, employee-friendly organization, but we can also provide those kinds of financial incentives if need be.

Mr. Wasson: How is APHIS supporting agriculture trade between the U.S. and its trading partners?

Dr. DeHaven: Within our international services unit, we have a separate team we call the trade support team, which is really the interface between APHIS, our Foreign Agricultural Service, and the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, where we are collectively working on agricultural trade issues. I think especially in the last decade, trade has become increasingly important as we enter into all of these trade agreements. And the technical barriers to trade that APHIS is responsible for are becoming increasingly important. So we have this team of individuals with geographical responsibility around the world that deal specifically with those issues from a technical standpoint, but also serve as our liaison between other parts of government that are dealing with agricultural trade issues.

But we're also expanding our presence overseas. We have APHIS employees in 29 countries that are working on not just facilitating trade, but being our eyes and ears in terms of the agricultural threats that are out there in terms of what potential threat might be coming to us from different parts of the world because of the animal and plant disease situations around the world. So I think we have an increasing role, and we certainly have had over the past decade an increasing role in trade, and I don't see that doing anything in the future except expanding.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. DeHaven, if I've done my math right, you've dedicated your career to public service, almost 30 years if I remember the dates from our first segment. So I'd like to ask you to be reflective and talk to a person who's maybe interested in a career or just starting out in public service. What advice would you give to them?

Dr. DeHaven: I think one of the most frustrating experiences of my 30-year career in government was getting that first job. There was no good process to tap into the system, get your questions answered, and effectively compete. So while I think we've made some tremendous inroads and are much more user-friendly today than we were in the past in the perspective, and there's ample opportunity to get information from the Internet, I would encourage folks to be patient and persistent.

I would also say, at the end of the day, certainly for me it's been worth it. Certainly don't come to work for government if you just want to draw a paycheck and sit back and look forward to a retirement. Plan on working, working hard, but also plan on the rewards being substantial. I think the impact, for example, that APHIS has on American agriculture is tremendous. And so while the work is hard, the hours can be long, the rewards are equally as large.

I would also encourage those that are interested in coming to work for a particular agency learn what you can about the agency before you go for a job interview. I can't tell you the number of people that I've interviewed for prospective jobs that know next to nothing about the agency. And indeed if you are truly interested in working for that agency, it just makes common sense that you would have done some background and know what that agency does and what kind of position that you would be interested in.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, I'm afraid we're out of time. That'll have to be our last question. Dr. DeHaven, Mike and I want to thank you for squeezing us in your very busy schedule this morning.

Dr. DeHaven: Well, thank you, Paul, it's been my pleasure, and Mike as well. I appreciate the questions and the opportunity to explain to the public the wide variety and important functions that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service plays. We've got a great group of dedicated employees who work hard day-in and day-out.

And for those of you that are interested in knowing more about our programs, I would encourage you to visit our website. That website is www.aphis.usda.gov. And we've got a comprehensive website that will explain to you more about what we do in our various programs as well as provide mechanisms for you to get answers to your questions if you need services from our agency.

Again, Paul and Mike, thank you very much for having me on your program.

Mr. Wasson: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you, Dr. DeHaven.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and research and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

LTG Steven Boutelle interview

Friday, November 26th, 2004 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"To address threats, you need small mobile organizations that can quickly move around the world and perform the mission we assign. . . We're going to call them brigade combat teams."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 11/27/2004
Intro text: 
Innovation; Technology and E-Government; Leadership; Strategic Thinking...
Innovation; Technology and E-Government; Leadership; Strategic Thinking
Complete transcript: 

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge 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 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 Lieutenant General Steven Boutelle, Chief Information Officer and G-6 of the Department of the Army. Good morning, sir.

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Good morning, Paul, great to see you this morning and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about what we're doing in our service.

Mr. Lawrence: Great. And also joining us in our conversation from IBM is Chuck Prow. Good morning, Chuck.

Mr. Prow: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, General, perhaps you could begin by describing the mission of the Department of Army's chief information office, G-6?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: That's a great question. The CIO and G-6 of the Army really has multiple roles. As the CIO we hold that traditional role, which is providing IT services across the force. Now, when we say "across the force" for the Army that's significantly different in some corporate worlds, that is, global requirements for IT wherever you are in the world, any time, any place. And generally and quite often in today's environment that is in a place where there is no infrastructure.

Under the G-6 role we actually provide the soldiers, the young men and women who operate many of those services, be it in Afghanistan or Djibouti, Horn of Africa, South America, or here in the continental United States.

Mr. Lawrence: Tell us about the people on your team, especially the skills.

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: The skill set is a varied skill set but they do have a common core and that is somewhere they're involved in the IT industry. We do have those people that are in the resourcing business but really in the IT industry and that is all the way from software and computers up to transmission systems via satellite, tropospheric scatter, microwave, or hand-held tactical radios.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about the size of what you're taking place in terms of a budget, don't want any secrets but it's always interesting to put what's going on in the service in the context of other Fortune 500 companies?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Our IT budget is about $6 billion and that runs over our palm so it's a significant budget in the size of business.

Mr. Lawrence: And then you were describing how combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the like are involved. How do they affect the budget?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: We have the normal budgets that we have in peace time although our budget doesn't significant change although it's increased with the current supplementals in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. So those are usually supplementals on top of our normal budget where we buy and push services be they leased services of satellite services or information services or actually buying systems, commercial systems, to put on the ground in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Iraq or other places.

Mr. Lawrence: A while back we interviewed Kevin Carroll, the program executive for Enterprise Information Systems for the Army and he talked to us about how his organization was now falling under the CIO/G-6. Could you talk to us about the reorganization?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Sure. The Army has, like many of the services, program executive officers. Those are the acquirers. They award the contracts for research and development and eventual production, whatever the system is, be it an airplane or a helicopter or in Kevin Carroll's place it's enterprise services. Most of the work that Kevin Carroll does in PEO EIS, and he would tell you 50 to 60 percent of the work is resourced or funded by my organization, those are large-end satellite systems in Baghdad or enterprise systems around the world.

Mr. Lawrence: So by putting it under the CIO does that make things more common?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Makes it much more common. There are about 12 program executive officers in the Army, one for aviation to buy helicopters, one for ground combat systems that buys tanks, another one for missiles, and it was a natural fit for Kevin Carroll and EIS to roll underneath the CIO/G-6. The other 11 PEOs currently work under Lieutenant General Joe Yakovac and he's responsible for providing those services.

Mr. Prow: Good morning, General. As CIO and G-6 for the Army what are your chief roles and responsibilities?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Well, several chief roles and responsibilities separated. As the CIO I do provide the enterprise services and the direction and the guidance and that is to ensure that the user at whatever level, be it the tactical level, the young soldier in the field, or back in the United States, whether he's operating at a depot or an office or behind a desk, has the appropriate IT services. That means bandwidth to the desktop or to the soldier moving across the battlefield or to the attack helicopter, provide all of those services. Some of those are leased services, some of those are products, and some of those are buying at an enterprise level.

Mr. Prow: Can you share with us a few of the highlights prior to you becoming CIO and G 6 of the Army?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: It's a long road to be the CIO/G-6 and I will tell you if you look at my predecessors each one of them has had a different path. My immediate predecessor was Lt. Gen. Pete Cuviello. He came up pretty much more of a traditional communications role. But in my case I started out as an inductee back in 1969 and elected to join the Army and started out in nuclear weapons electronic repair.

At one point in time I went to artillery officer candidate school, probably because I had reasonable math scores, and in the wind-down of Vietnam I also had a background in electronics and electrical engineering and was shifted over into communications and electronics, spent quite a few years in that. Most of us spent a lot of years initially in combat divisions and I was in the 3rd Infantry Division, the 8th Infantry Division, and 5th Corps, 7th Corps in the United States, in Korea, and, of course, various places around the world.

At a certain point I went into the acquisition business and that is looking at buying products from the commercial world. And when you get into that business you make a shift. You're no longer primarily working communications. You're more working general electronics, software, computers.

And probably the defining event was about 19 -- probably about '87 when the PCs first started to hit the market and I worked in an organization where they were coming in. And I came home one day and I said I think these new things called personal computers are going to go somewhere and spent many nights and evenings doing some very, very basic programming and rebuilding and building computers and have been at it ever since.

Mr. Lawrence: When you look back at those experiences are there any one you talk about when you talk about your career that prepare you for where you are today perhaps from going from a doer to managing a doer or understanding the role that you would play as a higher ranking officer?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Well, I think that's a great question and one of the most difficult things we do, as our chief says, is build a bench and that is identify those people who need to take your job should you depart that job or who your replacement's going to be. And I don't think we do that all well or as well as we could both in industry and in government. And one of the things we do as senior officers is we look out across the landscape of those people who work for us or who are around us and try to identify those young people who are starting to broaden their horizons and no longer looking down at just doing the function that they're trained to do but start looking at where the Army is going, where the nation is going, where the world is going, looking at the geopolitical environment and how to start to apply the technologies to where we need to go, not where we are today but where do you need to go in the future. And so identifying those people is one of the things we as leaders need to do and then mentor those people.

We seldom want to send our superstars off to school for a year or six months. We want to keep them close to us. And we need to make those hard calls and send those people out and make sure they get the right experience, they get the right schools, they get the right exposure so we can bring them up to take our job and hopefully do a better job of it than we've done.

Mr. Lawrence: I have a pretty good idea from your description of what drew you to public service but what's kept you in? I imagine from time to time you might have thought about going into the private sector. What's kept you?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: I think a combination of two things. You go along for a certain period of time and you do it strictly because you really enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. And in my business on a day to day basis and some days are better than others but you generally feel that you've accomplished something and you're pushing this technology the right direction. And I think probably over the last few years it's probably been a knowledge that since I have been in this business for a long time, I've been a program executive officer, I've been a project manager, I've built systems, that I thought that I had a bench of knowledge where I could apply those or help apply those to the young soldiers in the field and in the current war and what I believe will be the future wars on terrorism.

Mr. Lawrence: Tell us about some of your personal style in managing and leading, for example, communication. A lot of people talk to us on this show about the importance of getting your message out and communicating to your team but yet you have a big team and it's spread all over the world. How do you do that?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: One of the things we do and one of the things I've tried to do is right up front have a very narrow set of objectives that everyone can understand, six or seven things that you want to accomplish in the period of time you're going to be there, two or three years or whatever it may be, and don't change or adjust those unless absolutely necessary. And then you will find that if you put that out to the senior leaders that you'll find that everywhere around the world globally they all understand what you're trying to do and where you're trying to go and be consistent. You need to know where the boss is trying to go. You may not agree with him but you need to know where he's trying to go.

And the second thing is visit them as often as possible. I don't believe we need to micromanage these professionals. They know how to do good work and make things happen. Draw the white lines in the road and give them the objective and the direction, surround yourself with some really good managers and senior people, and I have a superstar staff, and periodically check on them and praise them when they do a good job and give them guidance if they don't. But I am extremely pleased where the Army people are going around the world.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you think about the speed of decision-making in government? Is it fast enough? Is it slow enough? I know we've talked to a lot of people who've come from the private sector who joined government and are somewhat surprised at the speed by which decisions are made. How do you think about that?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: I think we're in a hybrid right now. In peace time we build very strong armed forces but we do it very methodically and we do it within the system. The exponential growth in the IT world, specifically in IP, XML, web services, that's happening around us does not lend itself to making decisions and putting those systems in the field as quickly as we want. Every circuit board I buy for a system in six months is outdated and there's a new one to replace it. Our process does not support that.

Having said that, in the current war and with the nation in the state it's in today and still in national emergency after 9/11 we are able to do things very, very quickly based upon supplementals and a wartime environment and bring systems in very quickly, replace old systems. So I would suggest today we can make a decision today and make things happen in a matter of sometimes hours or days. That is not true in a peace time environment and that's okay. In a peace time environment you want that structure, you want to build that underpinning and that base to have a stable Army or a stable Navy or Air Force. But right now we can make decisions very, very quickly and execute very quickly with industry.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting point about the speed. What does the term "network-centric operations" mean and why are we hearing so much about it these days? We'll ask General Steven Boutelle of the US Army to explain this to us when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversation is with Lieutenant General Steven Boutelle, chief information officer and G-6, Department of the Army, and joining us in our conversation is Chuck Prow.

Mr. Prow: General Boutelle, can you tell us about some of the IT lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan and how those lessons are affecting Army technology?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: I'd be glad to, Chuck, and, as you can imagine, Afghanistan and Iraq have many lessons that we've learned. Probably the one lesson I've learned, and I just returned from the theater, is where there's a vacuum today or something doesn't exist today with the pervasiveness of the tools that we all use somebody's going to fill it. And what I mean, if I don't take and provide a particular IT tool, a radio, a computer, a wireless network, to a certain organization within, say, Afghanistan in a very short period of time to meet their needs with the availability of those things off the commercial network they will buy their own, they will install it themselves. These young men and women are just like the kids here. They know they can buy a router and a switch. They know they can buy a wireless network and a bunch of cards and build their own network. If you don't provide them the right tools quickly and a vacuum appears they will fill that vacuum out of their discretionary funds.

Mr. Prow: Interesting. Has the evolution of technology affected the evolution of war fighting?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: I would say absolutely. Two things, one is when you make IT pervasive as it is today and information pervasive as it is today you tend to flatten your hierarchy of management much as is happening in the commercial world. Let's face it. Today in the commercial world as well as in the Army if a young soldier or sailor or airman decides to launch an e-mail message to his boss or to his wife back in the United States it goes at the speed of light minus switching time and that information flow is so quick and the ramifications of it flow very quickly. No longer do you have the point where you have someone at the bottom part of the architecture or the hierarchy who has to manually put something on a piece of paper and send it through maybe his boss and his boss's boss and his boss's boss and over a period of time get a decision. It's near instantaneous so you flatten the management hierarchy.

What that's caused us to do in the Army is relook at how many levels we have. The Army basically has four major levels of hierarchy. We have brigades, divisions, corps, and army. We're in the process of removing one of those levels and in that process when you move a level you start parsing out and sharing those management responsibilities. So when we finish this process we will have three levels. We know that. We know we're going to have brigades; we've already announced that. Divisions, corps, and armies, at the end of the day only two of those will continue and you'll parse those functions. And you can do that because of the information technologies.

Mr. Lawrence: How long will it take to resolve which two of the three?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: I think that'll probably resolve within 12 to 18 months. We've already decided that the lowest level, the brigade, will still survive, but what we've done is we've enhanced that brigade with IT technologies to allow it to be able to operate within other services, in other words take an Army brigade and nest it in a Marine division. We can do that as we're building IT services in. So the brigades the brigade is our basic fighting unit today as we evolve, as we're building today, where in the past it would have been a division but we're going to make those brigades very autonomous and independent and we are able to do that with a lot of command and control communications, satellite systems, IP-based networks.

Mr. Lawrence: We've heard you speak about the importance of reading and understanding the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army's paper, "Serving a Nation at War: A Campaign-Quality Army With Joint and Expeditionary Capabilities." Could you summarize the key messages one should take away from this paper?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: The key message in that is we need to make a dramatic change in the structure of our Army. The Army is primarily and has been designed for many years to fight on the East German plain-North German plain against the Soviet Pact or in the Korean Peninsula and it's a very structured Army. We knew the battle space, we knew the ground, we knew the cities and the mountains, we knew exactly where we were going, and we knew what we thought we were going to do when we got there. In today's contemporary environment with the war on terrorism and the radical fundamentalist groups that we're going face they are a nonnation state. They don't belong to a nation. They don't wear a uniform. They move back and forth between countries and they move globally. To be able to address that threat appropriately you need to have small mobile organizations that can quickly move around the world and perform whatever mission we assign to them.

So the Chief's and Secretary's paper says look, the brigade will become our combat fighting unit. We're going to call them brigade combat teams. There will be many of them. We're going to increase the number of them. We're going to enable them by satellite-based networks because so many of the places that we have found the al Qaeda and other organizations are in nation states that have failed or Third World nations where there is no infrastructure. So to enable those organizations takes lots of satellite capability, lots of IT capability, a heavy reliance on intelligence, and providing that to those organizations. So I think the Chief and Secretary's paper is you've got to dramatically change this Army and you need to do it now.

Mr. Lawrence: What does it mean to the individual soldier?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: There's a couple of pieces in there. One piece of the Chief's paper says look, we're going to be a campaign-quality Army and we're going to be joint. The Chief would like us to have home station operation centers and project force out of the United States and in doing that he will stabilize the force. Right now and in the past we've moved people about every three years, sometimes more often. Do we need to do that if we're going to be a force-projection Army?

A young man or woman can come in the Army and really spend three, four, five, six, even up to seven years at the same place, have his family buy a home there, settle into that community and use that environment. And if he gets promoted move him around that post, camp, or station. There's no good reason in today's environment to move him automatically every three years just because the clock ticks off three years. When the Chief says I want your families in the same place let's have them in a home station. Let's have a good quality of life there and spend some resources on making that a very powerful quality of life and project force out of that place when we need to.

Mr. Lawrence: The paper talks about a lot of big change and I'm curious. It doesn't really talk about how long it will take to achieve this point, the change?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Good question. The 3rd Infantry Division, which returned from Iraq this spring, which is the division that actually went into Baghdad, will be radically changed by the end of this year. It will not have three maneuver brigades. It will have four maneuver brigades. It will have the new IT system, the new satellite system, the new voice-over IP systems, all the new networking, all the new Red Switch and CIPR and IPR and all those types of things. We have started delivering that last week. Soldiers are already training on it. We will completely outfit that division, turn it around, and have it ready to deploy again after the first of the year. We will do three more divisions in calendar year '05, the 101st Airborne Division, the 10th Infantry Division, and the 4th Infantry Division, all before the end of calendar year '05.

Mr. Prow: General, we often hear of the concept of network-centric operations. Now, what is N-CO and how does it apply to the Army?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Network-centric operations which we are trying to achieve I think is an end state, and I'm not sure quite what the end state is, but we have tremendous amounts of information that we generate and that we store. The question is how do you get that information readily to all the decision makers, be that decision maker at the lowest level or somewhere back at a depot on a sustaining base in the continental United States.

Most of us are primarily circuit-based and have been circuit-based for many years; that is, a data stream flows from point A to point B. Network-centric operations presume that you can make that data centrally stored, you may cache it elsewhere, and it's available to everyone. And as we do that we start to get the synergism that has been promised to us for so long. The tools that will make that happen are really the web services, a combination of XML and SOAP and UDDI, lots of the web services protocols that will start to allow us to leverage these terabytes and in some cases petabytes of information we have stored.

Mr. Prow: On that topic can you also describe LandWarNet and how it will impact the business of war fighting within the Army?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Yeah, Chuck, LandWarNet is an attempt we've made with the TRADOC commander, General Kevin Byrnes, and Headquarters, Department of the Army, to try and bound and define what these networks are. I mean, most of us grew up that have been around for a few years where we had a separate network at the low end and it really wasn't a network. It was a voice capability at the lowest level. It was a tactical voice capability on tactical radios. And as you moved up in our infrastructure you got into what we call mobile subscriber equipment. Yes, you had a network, primarily circuit-based. It was locked on mountain tops; it was not mobile. And then when you got back in the United States you got into other circuit-based networks that tie together depots, the corporate world, the Army corporate world, and the other services. You've merged these now together with TCIP becoming the de facto standard. And now you've merged the lowest level to the highest level to the sustaining base in the continental United States with a TCIP backbone. It's a router-based network and we've all joined that network.

But as we've merged these into a single network we had to name them. And so what we're saying is LandWarNet for the Army is the network that goes from the lowest soldier all the way back to our sustaining bases and depots be they in Europe, in the Pacific, or back in the United States. It's the network plus the applications that ride on that network.

Mr. Lawrence: As you talked about this discussion of technology I hear a story of change and you talked about how change flattens the Army. And I'm curious. What's happening to in the civilian world what are called middle-level managers, people who were trained for a certainty in the world and now it's all changing? How's their life changing?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: I think dramatically and to some people it probably is a terrible awakening because that information does flow so quickly. But it's a double-edged sword. On one side it flows very quickly. On the other side if we're not careful we leave out the middle-management level where they are there to make decisions and make recommendations and in some cases it'll flow directly from the bottom of the organization to the top of the organization without much massaging, staffing, and thought process in it. And so the good side is the information flows very quickly. On the other side in some cases you tend to lose the influence and the richness that is added by the staff. So as you trim down and eliminate some of that staff we're trying to be very careful to keep a very strong group of people in there that still add the richness to that raw information and data as it comes forward for decision making.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting point, especially about the staffing. What is knowledge management and how is the Army using it? We'll ask General Steven Boutelle, CIO of the Army, to take us through this when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversation is with Lieutenant General Steven Boutelle, Chief Information Officer and G-6, Department of the Army. Joining us in our conversation is Chuck Prow.

Mr. Prow: General Boutelle, we know that systems interoperability, particularly in the joint arena, is key for you. What are some of the ways that your office seeks to promote coordination within the Army and across the services?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Great question, Chuck, and that, as you know, has been a continuing issue and although we do have interoperability issues I think sometimes we don't give ourselves credit for all the things we should.

Interoperability applies at many different levels. One is just at the communications level or radio level. Will one radio talk to another? And so you have to solve that problem first to make sure they both talk to each other be it on the same spectrum, same frequency, and so you solve that one first.

Then you move to the next level and say what do I want to pass between the two systems and you'd have to talk about the application. What application am I going to have on one side versus the application on the other side? Are they designed to talk to each other? Are you trying to make a logistic system talk to an intelligence system? Obviously they probably will not interoperate. So you have to map and architect what those systems are.

And if you assume the applications are designed to talk to each other then you have to take it to the next level and say what messaging am I using. Am I using the same type of messaging across the network? Is one of them operating at a VMF bit-oriented message and the other in a character-oriented?

So then when you line up and get that correct then you say what's in the message. And when you define what's in the message you may both be operating on character-oriented message or bit-oriented message but then you need to get down to the data element level and align the data elements to make sure that you're passing data that you want to pass to the other application.

And once you get the data passing back and forth the next step in interoperability is how do you display it. In other words are you displaying it on a graphic screen? Have you come to an agreement on the symbology? Is it mil standard 2525B that I'm on and you're on FM 101-5? So you've got five or six different areas.

We do pretty good, pretty good, at the radio level, not perfect, of being able to talk to each other or, say, one satellite system to the other. We do pretty good when you get down to some of the other levels. And where we usually run into issues is taking the applications over time and say what is it that we really want to do. What are you really trying to do from one end to the other? And yet we tend to throw it all into one basket and say we're not interoperable and try to solve all of those things when many of those things are already solved and we need to get down at the application level and say what is the thread of information we're trying to pass and what are we trying to do when we get there.

Mr. Prow: We understand that Information Technology Enterprise Solutions is one of the Army's recent efforts to centralize IT programs. How is ITES benefiting the Army?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: As you probably know, ITES1 is run by a program executive officer, EIS, Enterprise Information Services. Mr. Kevin Carroll runs that program and ITES1 is primarily a services- or support-based contract. I think we've awarded so far probably about $157 million worth of work off that contract but it provides services, everything from wide area network services to LAN services, IT support, programming/database support, services type contract; very powerful, allows anyone in the Army to come to a single place to get those types of services.

Mr. Prow: How will ITES2 be different from the current ITES?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: We're running out of overhead on ITES1. We've almost awarded all the dollars we're allowed to award against that. ITES2, we will increase the amount of overhead in that or the top end, how much money we can put against that contract, significantly.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me skip subjects here and talk about knowledge management. Could you describe the Army's vision for knowledge management?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: I'd be glad to, Paul. First of all we all are collecting tremendous amounts of data. You've got tremendous amounts of data and information and documents probably on your computer and on your hard drive today and over time that becomes not only megabytes and gigabytes but pretty soon terabytes and petabytes and, believe it or not, we can talk in petabytes in information we have in storage today and that information is pretty much static unless you have ways to access it and sort it and provide it to the right person at the right time.

That's the process we'll working right now, a combination of two things, all the information, and that information can be in the form of video, imagery, documents, messaging, translations of information that we've got around the world, open sourcing. How do you take all that information and how do you access the piece you want for one thing, to be able to make a decision in a rapid time in order to action something and have some successful event take place? When we get into Army knowledge management it is really taking data and being able to massage that data and facilitate that data to get it to the right person someplace globally to make a decision.

Several ways you can do that. One is you can just do searches on it like you do on Google or Yahoo! or Excite or something else with a search engine. What you really need to be doing right now and what we're beginning to do and what the Department of Defense has directed, which I think is absolutely the correct way to do it, is employ a lot of the XML standards to sort that information for content and intent and as we start to convert that to XML then you will start to really get the power that we're all after in this knowledge-based world.

Mr. Lawrence: Tell us about tracking progress as you move towards those goals.

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: One is to be able to convert tremendous amounts of information into those protocols, into XML and those family of protocols, and that's going to be one part of it. The second piece is just start to apply that to the many, many, many hundreds, if not thousands, of systems that we have across the Army. Look, it's pretty easy to fix one system or mod one system or build one new system. But when you get a large organization like the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, we have tens of thousands of applications and so we need to parse those applications and decide which we want to attack first.

We do have a requirement now that all new systems coming on board will use an XML back plane as part of that and we broke it out by domains. We have war-fighting domains, we have business domains, we have domain owners, and we are now assigning those domain owners responsibilities to modify those systems to operate within the XML environment. The larger environment is what we call the NCES environment, which is a Network-Centric Enterprise Services environment, which really the DISA organization is administering.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's take it down a level lower to the individual soldier. Could you tell us about Army Knowledge Online and how it affects their lives?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: AKO or Army Knowledge Online, which is the largest portal in the Department of Defense, has several pieces to it. It has an unclassified portion which we operate, what we call the NIPRNet or the unclassified for day to day operations within the Army. It has a piece of it, the CIPR, which is the secret side, which is primarily used by our intelligence community, our war-fighter community, and our operations people, and then there's another side of it that are the websites open to the public.

For the individual soldier and family we have a tremendous amount of things that are going on. First of all, for any deployed soldier we offer the opportunity for him to provide guest passwords and access and collaboration sites to his family and kids. So a deployed soldier today can go to one of the many Internet cafes we have throughout the region in South America or other places and actually exchange e-mail and messaging and pictures and other things of their family and their kids and different events that take place within the family. That's on the personal side.

On the professional side if you go on Army Knowledge Online like I do every morning and I boot that system it provides me instant messaging to the people I work with around the world but it also provides me role-based things. Today when I boot on it's got a series of stoplights and said your physical is green but you didn't take your flu shot so it's amber or red. Go take your flu shot, you need a dental checkup, those types of things. So it is tied to many databases and systems throughout the nation.

Effective in October we'll really be role-based. Not only will it tell me that I need to take my physical or I haven't taken my flu shot but when you log into the system it'll be role-based. It will not only know about my physical and my flu shot but it will know what my role is in the Army and present information to me that's based upon who I am, what my age is, what my specialty is, what part of the world I work in, what my organization is, and start to provide role-based information for that individual. If he's up for promotion it should come up and tell him, okay, you have an opportunity for promotion here. You need to do these types of things to get ready for it.

Some of those are available today but we're going to pure role-based shortly. That gives us two things. It focuses information on the individual but it also makes sure that he or she does not have access to information that she does not need or is sensitive information that she should not have access to.

Mr. Prow: On the subject of knowledge management can you describe the Army's Battle Command Knowledge System and how this evolving knowledge management system will affect the Army's ability to fight wars?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: The BCKS or the Battle Command Knowledge System is one of our very, very powerful stories. It's grown out of a couple young soldiers who decided that probably the big Army was not receptive and adaptive enough to do what they wanted to do, and they referred to it when I talked to them. They said we built the website companycommander.com, which was the original website, as if a bunch of company commanders were sitting around on somebody's front porch talking about how they operate every day and what works and what doesn't work as a company commander. And these young soldiers decided that a great thing to do would be put it on a website and they found that there was such a demand for sharing of information from company commanders in Korea and Alaska and Hawaii and South America and Europe it was an overwhelming success, exponential growth.

But they thought that because they did it on their own with their own servers that that was the only way to do it. And we worked with them for many years and we've now rolled that into a bigger program and that bigger program is BCKS. It does reside on Army Knowledge Online. It is now in the dot-mil domain. We're extremely pleased. We not only have the companycommander.com on the mil domain now. We've expanded that to platoon sergeants and battalions so that information is shared.

And when you start sharing that information and hopefully tacit information you have very, very powerful results. And so the young soldier who has an IED problem and a solution in Afghanistan when he was a company commander is now sharing that with a young soldier who's in Fort Riley and about to go to Afghanistan or Iraq. And so we're seeing all the sharing and collaboration of information; very, very powerful, very useful in our business.

Mr. Lawrence: Fascinating, especially the sharing part. Are military IT programs different from IT programs for civilian agencies? We'll ask General Steven Boutelle of the US Army for his perspective when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence and today's conversation is with Lieutenant General Steven Boutelle, Chief Information Officer and G-6, Department of the Army. Joining us in our conversation is Chuck Prow.

Mr. Prow: General Boutelle, you are considered a pioneer in the area of tactical communications. Can you explain the importance of tactical communications to our listeners and what innovations you expect to see that will positively affect the Army?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Great question, Chuck. The tactical communications world is a little bit different. In previous times prior to 1989 tactical communication was pretty much tethered to infrastructure within Europe, within Germany, where we thought we might have to fight a war with the Warsaw Pact.

Tactical communications today in a fight against a group of terrorists that have no alignment to a particular state or nation requires you to go into many of these fallen states or Third World countries or very poor countries, Afghanistan probably the third poorest country in the world. There is no infrastructure. There's no electricity. There's no potable water. There are no places to buy batteries for your radios. You have to bring it with you. There are no telephone systems, no cell systems, although they are starting to evolve cell systems in the bigger cities like Kabul, but you have to bring it all with you.

So when you bring it all with you and you have no electricity to plug into you get into the tactical world very quickly. And that is I have to be able to talk to someone either across the street, on the next mountaintop, or in the next valley and the way you do that are usually systems that are not readily available in the commercial market. They must be able to withstand the tremendous temperatures and weather environments that we operate in and that drives you to the tactical arena, usually it at the lowest level of FM voice and usually secure FM voice, and you move up for longer distances to what we call tactical UHF satellite.

That whole world of tactical arena is only somewhat applicable to the commercial world and usually pretty much customized to the work we do although we're seeing much more use of things like the 802.11 protocols b and g and some of the other protocols. We're starting to see a little bit of inroads to the commercial protocols. That's primarily the tactical world and it's really a stand-alone, sustaining, power it yourself, carry it on your back, or carry it in a vehicle if you can get a vehicle into a type of type of communications.

Mr. Prow: Information technology has and will continue to play a vital role in current operations around the world. What can industry to improve IT for the benefit of the Army and its evolution into overseas conflicts?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: A couple things we need to think about. One, at the higher level, and this is really across the entire network, is information assurance piece. Let's face it. We're out there and we are an information-based Army and we are an information-based Department of Defense and federal government and that's a strength but it is also a weakness. And so tremendous amounts of resources and effort are being put into things like firewalls and anti-virus packages and packages that will push the IAVA updates across the battlefield to every computer. That's one piece that we really need industry's help on and it's a continuing thing. We can secure all of our networks today but the enemy has a vote be that a script kiddie or a local hacker or maybe a determined enemy on the 'net. So even though we secure our nets today that enemy will continue to try to attack and have better techniques and better tools in the future so you must continue to improve those information assurance things.

And the other piece is we need to push the envelope. When you're pushing people out in strange places in the world in a mobile and harsh environment the commercial product as it stands probably will not do the job. Much of the mobile computing came early in the armed forces. We were running mobile computers in helicopters and airplanes and tanks significantly before we had it probably in our house or were carrying out PDAs around. So as we continue to push that envelope we find higher demand for more bandwidth, to have higher resolution imagery, to see unmanned aerial vehicle streaming video. Those types of things will continue to push the industry on providing protocols and standards to give us those products in a timely manner.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's take a step back and think about IT projects in general. How would you compare and contrast, say, creating technology solutions in the military versus civilian agencies and the federal government?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: In the military today, unlike 20 years ago, we don't create a lot of IT solutions. There was a time when the Army held and we still hold many patents but we actually created devices, we created radios, we created things. Now we rely heavily and we leverage the commercial community to do that. So I think you'll find that across the federal government that the Army by law is very much restricted and bounded by some things we do. We fight and win the nation's wars and so we focus primarily outside the continental United States.

Now, the National Guard under Title 32 does have a role within the different states and that's pretty much codified. So we focus outside. The National Guard focuses inside unless we activate and mobilize them and bring them with us. And the Reserve, of course, is part of the active Army in direct support.

So we really focus a little different, each federal agency, be it the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA, really, which enclaves they focus in. The FBI is very centric to the United States. The CIA is outside the United States. The Army and the armed forces focus outside the United States. We have some role in certain occasions within the United States.

Mr. Prow: How do you see the Army's CIO/G-6 evolving in the years ahead?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: The CIO role, as you know, has become increasingly more active in the last few years. A lot of that is because of the Klinger-Cohen Act. The Klinger-Cohen Act gives each agency very strong roles for the CIO, the chief information officer, to perform and that's codified in law. But I would suggest, and some of my CIO counterparts and brethren may not appreciate it, that at the turn of the century we had a vice president for electricity as we brought electricity into manufacturing plants. And so the CIO today will probably be here for 10, 20, 30 years but as IT becomes the common backbone of everything we do that will be an evolving role. I have no idea what that role will be 20 years from now but it will be significantly different today when we are initially bringing on IT services versus getting into knowledge management and where that goes. It may be more of a knowledge management officer than a CIO.

Mr. Prow: More generally where do you see the Army's movement over the next five to ten years?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: I think the Army's movement is really networking the force to the lowest level. We can provide the transport network anywhere we want to today by brute force and resourcing. The issue we still have to solve and we have on the books and we're working on it very hard, and I believe it'll be solved in the next three to five years, is networking in the soldier at the lowest level or the special forces operator. That's the hard part. He needs a lot more bandwidth and he needs it in places where there is no infrastructure on this globe. That's the hard part, that's what we're working on, and battery technologies support it. It takes a tremendous amount of battery technology and lots and lots of batteries to support just about anything we do so power technologies to support those things in getting that large bandwidth out to the individual soldier or special operator.

Mr. Lawrence: You've spent the bulk of your career serving our country. What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career in public service?

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: I think the first thing I would do is it's like any other thing you want to do. If you want to get into something be good at what you do. You can take that niche, whatever niche you decide you have an interest in, and become the expert in that niche be it IP services, XML, whatever that may be. It's significantly different.

When I look across our population that we have in the Army, civilian and military and contractor, all three, I find a seam there age 30-35. If you're under 30 or 35 you probably grew up with IT technology, maybe just as a tool around the house. If you're over 30-35, if you've taken an interest in it or it was part of your job, you may become very good at it. If you're not into that business you need to make a concerted effort to learn some of these basic technologies about the web and IT services.

Great opportunities to do great things. It's very fast-moving. There are opportunities when you deal within the Department of Defense to get access very quickly to high-end systems, technological systems, systems used globally, technologies that are far beyond what you might be able to do in the public sector.

So I would suggest that a lot of this force is self-schooling, a lot of reading, a lot of time visiting different organizations and how they do business, but there are great opportunities in the civilian sector, in the Department of Army civilian sector, and also in the military sector in these technologies. It's in demand. It is something the Army needs and it is something our nation needs to empower those war fighters to do the things that are important for our nation in the future.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, that'll have to be our last question for this morning. Chuck and I want to thank you very much for joining us, General.

Lt. Gen. Boutelle: Thank you, Chuck. Thank you, Paul. It's been a pleasure.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you. This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Lieutenant General Steve Boutelle, Chief Information Officer and G-6 of the US Department of Army. Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness and you can also get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again that's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Ambassador Prudence Bushnell interview

Friday, November 19th, 2004 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"The issues of diplomacy have become far more complicated. The skills of diplomacy are important, but also skills of leadership. A diplomat’s role is not only to influence one-on-one but to provide leadership to all other government agencies overseas."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 11/20/2004
Intro text: 
Leadership; Innovation; Strategic Thinking; Human Capital Management...
Leadership; Innovation; Strategic Thinking; Human Capital Management
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge 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 Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, dean, Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute.

Good morning, Ambassador.

Ambassador Bushnell: Good morning. How are you?

Mr. Lawrence: Great, thank you. And joining us in our conversation also from IBM is Kim Hintzman.

Good morning, Kim.

Ms. Hintzman: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Ambassador, let's start by finding out about your current position; I was intrigued as I introduced you. Could you tell us about this position?

Ambassador Bushnell: As you said, I'm the dean of the Leadership and Management School, which is one of four schools in the Foreign Service Institute. And our mandate is to provide both leadership and security training for the people in the Department of State, both those in Washington and those who are going overseas. It's a wonderful job.

Mr. Lawrence: How so?

Ambassador Bushnell: Because the Department of State is a global organization with 265 branch offices in 180 different countries employing 30,000 people of different nationalities with a mandate to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world with resources of no more than one percent of the U.S. budget. The job of me and my team is to help civil service employees and Foreign Service employees deal with the challenges of implementing that mandate. It is very complicated, very challenging, and very adventuresome.

Ms. Hintzman: Ambassador, that's very interesting. Can you tell us a little bit more about the brief history and overview of the Foreign Service Institute itself?

Ambassador Bushnell: Let me start by saying that the Foreign Service is actually a fairly new service. It was created in the '20s, the modern Foreign Service in the '20s, and the Foreign Service Institute was created in 1946, originally to provide people with economic training. Now when you think back of what the U.S. was doing in 1946, we were preparing to become a global power, we were looking at issues of the Marshal Plan, and helping Europe recreate itself, so it made sense that people needed to be economically savvy. Since then, however, the Foreign Service Institute has broadened to encompass a number of different issues. We're very well known for the 70 different languages to which we train, but we also provide a lot of trade craft courses, a lot of seminars to prepare people with children, spouses going overseas. So we are a full-service organization.

Ms. Hintzman: Great. So how is the creation of the school related to the evolving profession of diplomacy over the years? I think you started telling us a little bit about that. Can you expand on that some more?

Ambassador Bushnell: Diplomacy has changed tremendously, particularly since the end of the Cold War. It used to be that one could be a very, very effective diplomat as an individual player. You could make your reputation and do the government's business by your own individual actions vis-�-vis the government or the person whom you wanted to influence. As the U.S. became more of a global power, more and more federal agencies went overseas, and the role of the diplomat was not only to influence one-on-one, but also to provide leadership and a sense of direction to all of the other government agencies overseas. The Leadership and Management School is helping people to do just that, and it shows just how much more complicated our job has become.

Ms. Hintzman: Can you tell us what your vision is for the Leadership and Management School?

Ambassador Bushnell: I would like to see the school continue as a creative and dynamic partner to our colleagues who are implementing the very difficult mandate of creating a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world.

Mr. Lawrence: A lot of people talk about leadership and management together in one sentence. What are the key differences between the two?

Ambassador Bushnell: You know, I don't worry about that too much. Having spent a lot of time doing management training and leadership training, I think some of the differences are artificial. I think that it's more of a difference of emphasis. The leader, if you will, focuses on the direction; the manager focuses on getting there. Often you hear that leadership is doing the right thing and management is doing things right. You need both, in order to be effective either as a manager or as a leader.

Mr. Lawrence: And you don't focus on the difference between them because you think they're both important? I was curious about that comment.

Ambassador Bushnell: What is more important for me is to look at what behaviors go into leadership, because very often, I find that people want to wait until they're in a position of leadership in order to think that they're going to start practicing leadership. Well, if we all wait until we finally arrive at that position with who knows what as a title, without ever having practiced leadership behaviors, then we're not going to be very well prepared.

So what I would rather have people do is to look at what are the component behaviors of leadership. And it doesn't matter to me if you call them leadership or management, but what are the component behaviors? How can we practice them regardless of what title we have on our jobs or what position we occupy so that we can be ready for that stellar moment when we are crowned as leaders?

Mr. Lawrence: Well, do you answer the question for them? What are the component behaviors of an effective leader, in your opinion?

Ambassador Bushnell: I think the key behaviors are interpersonal skills, absolutely key. And when we train the leadership at the Leadership and Management School, we do it from the inside out, with the notion that leadership is not about you, leadership is about the other person. So you can't be so focused on how am I doing, how are people treating me, how do I need to behave. You really need to have a very good sense of yourself and a sense of discipline in yourself and managing your own behavior so that you can focus on the other person and lead the other person in terms of understanding the other person, motivating the other person, setting a sense of direction, and providing the environment that those people need to get their jobs done.

Ms. Hintzman: Tell us about your career prior to becoming the dean. How did your earlier positions help prepare you for your current position?

Ambassador Bushnell: I joined the Foreign Service 23 years ago, and before then, I had been involved in management training and found that when I came into the Foreign Service and went into the administrative work, there was a great deal of transferability of skills. It was very useful to know management concepts and procedures as I became a manager in an overseas context supervising people of different cultures. Since then in the Foreign Service, I've had jobs that entail both the practice of management and leadership as well as the theory and concept of management and leadership. So it's been very -- it's been a back and forth.

Mr. Lawrence: Tell us some more of those experiences. Take us through your career and how you got here.

Ambassador Bushnell: My first overseas position was in Dakar, Senegal, in West Africa, as management officer. Then I went to Bombay, India; came back to the Foreign Service to do leadership training at the Foreign Service Institute. I then went out as deputy chief of mission back to Dakar, Senegal. I have to tell you that the Senegalese who had known me when I was a lowly administrative person were thrilled to see me come back five years later in a senior job. They were just so proud of me. This is, you know, a general services officer made good.

From that job, I returned to the United States and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary, then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs; went out to Nairobi, Kenya, as an ambassador, and from there to Guatemala as U.S. ambassador.

Mr. Lawrence: Now I also understand, in preparing for this interview, I learned that you recently received the Service to America Medal for your career achievements. Could you tell us more about this and why you were selected?

Ambassador Bushnell: The Service to America Medal is given by a nonprofit, nonpartisan partnership for government and the Atlantic Monthly media. And what they are trying to do is to highlight the contributions of public servants, so mine was not the only award. There were many other wonderful people who have done terrific things. And the purpose, as I say, is to highlight contributions of public servants and appeal to people to join the public service. Our nation, our government, I think, is as healthy as the quality of our public servants, and it's terribly important that people see public service as both a noble and a wonderful way to go in their lives.

Mr. Lawrence: I hope you told the Senegalese about this award.

Ambassador Bushnell: Yes, yes, I'm sure they'd be very, very proud.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting.

What does it mean to manage during a crisis? We'll ask Ambassador Bushnell to tell us more about this 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 Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, dean, Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute.

And joining us in our conversation is Kim Hintzman.

Ambassador, as you mentioned in the previous segment, you were ambassador to Kenya at the time of the bombing in 1998. Could you tell us what it's like to manage during a crisis like that, during the attack, and the days that followed?

Ambassador Bushnell: Let me situate you. The embassy was in a very, very busy downtown area of Nairobi. The explosives amounted to about two tons that went off in this very busy intersection. Within a nanosecond of the explosion, 213 people died; over 5,000 people were wounded mainly from the chest up, which meant an enormous amount of blood; about 150 businesses were instantly destroyed; and a two-mile radius of the bomb site was devastated. We had, within five minutes, about 20,000 people on our -- in front of the embassy, because the building next door to us had completely collapsed. This was a seven-story building that pancaked. And windows in all of the buildings in our area had been blasted out.

There was no 9-1-1. This was a city that had a minimum amount of resources for itself in the best of times, and in the worst of times was completely inadequately prepared. What is different from what happened to us to what happened to people on 9/11 in New York, as an example, is that we, the victims, had to be our own rescuers. We had about 50 percent casualties in the chancery building, in the building that was blown up. The other 50 percent of the people came out onto the sidewalk, regrouped, and then went back into what was by that time a deathtrap of a building to bring out their dead colleagues, their wounded colleagues, and go under the rubble to find those who survived.

We went from there to finding the many, many people who were missing, because I did not want any of us to stop until we could account for every single person in the mission, both Kenyan and American. So we sent out teams to go through morgues, hospitals, neighborhoods to find our people. Meanwhile, we were recreating our embassy and an emergency action center at another building within town. There was, as you can imagine, a flood of media, a flood of attention. There was an inordinate amount of need on the Kenyan side, so we were trying to deal with the needs that the Kenyans had in addition to taking care of ourselves and recreating our community and our organization.

Most of the people, most of my colleagues, American colleagues, who had an opportunity to curtail from their assignment, choose not to. And even those who had been evacuated for medical attention returned, many of them with shards of glass still in them. Most of our Kenyan employees continued to work. And as a community, we reconstructed ourselves. We continued the bilateral business and recreating the bridge of friendship, which was sorely mangled at the point of the bombing, and we carried on. It was the most extraordinary lesson in leadership and exercise of leadership that I have ever gone through, and certainly changed my life and my thinking about what leadership is all about.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, tell us some of those lessons you learned and how your thinking changed.

Ambassador Bushnell: Let me give you an example. During the first few horrible, horrible hours, when we really were all by ourselves, before any rescuers from outside could come and help us I could hear on the embassy radio net everything that people were doing to help out to rescue our colleagues. And it created in me an incredible need to be worthy of these people who were doing so much. Some weeks later, one of them came up to me and said, geez, Ambassador, you know, we were really trying so hard to keep up with you. I said, well, I was trying hard to keep up with you. So there was this incredible synergy that was created.

And as I think about the leadership component to that synergy, what it was included a team of people who knew one another and trusted one another. Because I had spent a lot of time in the two years I was in Nairobi, before the bombing, creating teams and having us work together as teams. Being a team member and trusting one another doesn't mean you have to like one another necessarily, but trust and knowing how to accommodate one's work style was terribly important, so we had a team that was familiar with one another.

We had a leader. I had experience in crises as a result of having worked as Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs. I had a fair amount of experience in leadership. And very importantly, I had a relationship with my team. They trusted me and I trusted them. And I think they knew they could depend on me as I knew I could depend on them.

And the third was a sense of mission that encompassed all of us. Failure was not an option. It was unacceptable; absolutely unacceptable to do anything but pick ourselves up and help one another get through what was a catastrophe. So team, leader, and mission to create this incredible sense of synergy where when one falters, the other can sort of pick you up temporarily and go forward.

Ms. Hintzman: The terrorist attacks on these embassies were front page news. How often are Foreign Service officers confronted with managing a crisis and we don't hear about it in the news?

Ambassador Bushnell: Very often. Part of the Leadership and Management School is a division called the Crisis Management Training Division. We recently did a survey of our colleagues overseas, all direct-hire Department of State personnel -- Civil Service, Foreign Service, and Foreign Service National, who work in our embassies overseas -- to find out just what experience with crises people have. And the crises we're talking about are crises as defined in our foreign affairs handbook, so we're talking hijacking, hostage, bombing, chem-bio, natural disaster, beyond the kinds of crises that we can get involved in, traffic accidents and family crises. So these are fairly, I think, major crises.

What the survey came back with was that 67 percent of our people overseas have either been a victim of or involved in resolving a crisis. When you talk about the population within the Foreign Service, the population of generalists with 15 years experience or more, that number goes up to 87 percent. So what I learned recently is that who we are, as Secretary Powell says, is on the front-line of offense, truly are the Americans with our Foreign Service National colleagues who are facing incredible dangers that are becoming more and more serious every day.

Mr. Lawrence: I understand the Leadership and Management School has a course about crisis management. Could you tell us about that course?

Ambassador Bushnell: In part because of this incredible statistic, I have to tell you that all of us who worked at State and are in the Foreign Service acknowledge that we deal with crises and we have sort of taken it for granted. We also recognize that we had jolly well better prepare ourselves, so the handling crises and dealing with personal security permeates many, many of the courses in the Foreign Service Institute. It is mandatory, for example, that every employee of the U.S. Government goes through a security course, and we actively encourage spouses and children to go through that personal security course as well.

In addition, the crisis management team which I mentioned to you that works within the Leadership and Management School travels to literally all parts of the globe to exercise 50 percent of our embassies every year. So these people create post-specific scenarios, then go to the posts and work with the emergency action committee of the United States' mission, the Americans and the national employees, to go through a scenario and help them become better prepared. Every two years, 100 percent of the posts in the world will have gone through a crisis management exercise, and we will exercise posts more frequently if they need it.

In addition, we recently created a crisis leadership training for senior leaders. And what this does is to extract from the array of management and leadership skills that are useful at any time those specific skills that are needed in times of crisis, and we train people specifically to those skills.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting, especially the part about the training specifically for that.

What does one do when their job description includes promoting democracy? We'll ask Ambassador Prudence Bushnell to help us get a better picture of what a Foreign Service officer does when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, dean, Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute.

And joining us in our conversation is Kim Hintzman.

Ms. Hintzman: The Leadership and Management School gets people joining the Foreign Service from all sectors, as well as those already within the Department of State. How many non-career ambassadors join the Service, and how does the school help them to acclimate more quickly to their foreign posts?

Ambassador Bushnell: About one-third of our ambassadors overseas are non-career people, and this has been a tradition since the Founding Fathers created the United States of America. One of the challenges that I have, an absolutely delicious challenge, is running the ambassadorial seminar, which helps people who are going out to be ambassadors, be they from the career service or non-career service, anticipate and plan for what they are going to be doing.

We spend a day with our non-career colleagues specifically orienting them to the culture and the language and the acronyms of the Department of State. And then in the two-week seminar, they interact with their career colleagues looking at some of the issues that are going to be facing them. And my job is to help everybody, both career and non-career, look at what kinds of skills they have gained in their past and how to transfer it to the context of a chief of mission.

Mr. Lawrence: I understand that one of the career tracks that a foreign officer might select is political, where he or she may be asked to promote democracy and the rule of law in developing countries. How does one go about promoting democracy?

Ambassador Bushnell: Easier said than done. You know, for most of us, we tend to think of democracy as a concept and as a theory. For us overseas who have the job of promoting democracy, it is real and tangible. So one of the things that we do is look at what do we mean by promoting democracy, and what is going on in this country in which we are currently located? Democracy essentially is citizen participation. That's one way you can look at it.

Let me take you to Kenya, where I was for three years, and where we went through an election. When we looked at promoting democracy, particularly going up to a presidential election, we were looking at citizen participation. Who's participating? Are women participating? Only 50 percent of the population; very little participation. So when promoting democracy in Kenya, going up, leading up to the elections, we placed a lot of emphasis on working with women, getting women to recognize their political rights, their legal rights, and encouraging them to participate in elections. And in fact, there was a woman who was running for president.

We did a lot of work on election monitoring among Kenyans so that they could monitor their own elections. That was very different from Guatemala, where I next served, where a lot of the issues we were dealing with were rule of law issues. And again, rule of law seems theoretical and pie-in-the-sky. And what we tend to do is to look at, again, the circumstances on the ground to see where can we move in and help create a better system.

One of the things we found, for example, in Guatemala, is there was a great deal of confusion on a crime scene or any scene as to who would do the investigating. The prosecuting attorney's office had investigators and so did the police. The result was that the evidence was often tampered with and was absolutely useless in a trial. Therefore, one of the aspects of promoting rule of law was trying to get the attorney general's office and the police to have a memorandum of understanding about how to treat evidence.

Things that seem, as I say, very theoretical can turn into very, very practical issues. And you take it one step at a time, depending upon the circumstances that you find, and those circumstances are different with every single country.

Mr. Lawrence: What management tools do you use to do that? I was thinking of the example where the two people with the two investigators. I mean, how did they come to figure out there should only be one and one person would be in charge of it?

Ambassador Bushnell: Well, that's very difficult, particularly since the issue was between two branches of the Guatemalan government, and here we are, the gringos, you know, stepping in and saying, okay, why don't you all do it our way. Actually, it's not just a management tool, but it's a training tool. How do you sit down with people and get them to see where the differences are in their approach, where the commonalities are in their approach, and how essentially they can get to yes. And what we did, what I did a lot as ambassador, was essentially facilitating. I do that a lot as a trainer. And I think that the skills of listening, active listening, the skills of finding commonalities are skills that are very important to managers, leaders, and diplomats.

Mr. Lawrence: How about promoting democracy in different cultures? You gave the example where people were unused to perhaps women voting, and working through that. But how about where they have a history of conflict and losing is probably, you know, resolved different ways than sort of acknowledging the winning as we do in elections? How do you promote democracy in a situation like that?

Ambassador Bushnell: It becomes even more complicated, because what conflict does is increase a state of mistrust. And if you think of democracy and participation, it's also power sharing, right? I am sharing in the power with my government. Conflict, on the other hand, is generally viewed as win-lose. I win, you're dead. That is not exactly power sharing, nor is that conducive to the kind of trust necessary for a democracy.

In a lot of countries, the step to promote democracy after conflict is one of reconciliation, where people recognize what happened and come to grips with what happened so that they can then move on and create a democratic culture. And it has worked. If you look at South Africa, for example, it has worked in South Africa. It has worked in Salvador.

In other countries, it's much more difficult. You certainly need, I think, a national consensus that we have got to come to peace with one another. And you need, I think, the leadership that is going to promote the kind of open and transparent systems that allow people to have some trust in the use of those systems.

Ms. Hintzman: Since development issues, environmental factors, and historical context can be so different from one country to the next, how does a Foreign Service officer translate his or her past experiences and apply them to new challenges?

Ambassador Bushnell: There are certain skills that a Foreign Service officer has that can be taught. Language, of course, is one of the most basic ones. Before I went to Guatemala, after my tour in Kenya, I spent two months, eight weeks learning Spanish, six hours a day, one-on-one. There was no place to hide. Now if I felt like speaking Spanish or not, I did. I was very motivated, because I kept having the thoughts of an ambush press conference, and there's nothing like the thought of appearing stupid on television to make you want to learn a language and be a little smart.

So we teach languages as the Foreign Service Institute. We teach all kinds of trade craft courses. What we don't teach and what you can't teach is experience. And I think that people in the Foreign Service learn how to go into a different culture and observe and see what works and where they fit. And that is very, very important and something that you just get as a result of doing it from time to time. In many respects, it comes down to strategic thinking.

Mr. Lawrence: You've talked about promoting democracy and rule of law, sort of taking a very theoretical thing and making it practical. How do you measure the performance of how effective we are at doing those things?

Ambassador Bushnell: By becoming very practical about it. We have a system in the Department of State of starting with strategic goals and moving them all the way down to performance indicators. So every single embassy overseas and every bureau in the Department of State has a program plan which is created and reviewed every year. And from that program plan, employees create their work requirements and their work objectives for the year with the performance indicators tagged to the performance indicators of the mission program plan.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting.

Should other organizations establish a Leadership and Management School? We'll ask Ambassador Bushnell for her perspective 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 Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, dean, Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute.

And joining us in our conversation is Kim Hintzman.

Ms. Hintzman: Ambassador, how does the Leadership and Management School measure the success and impact of its programs?

Ambassador Bushnell: I think that's a difficult challenge for anyone engaged in influencing human behavior, because there are so many other factors involved. We always have evaluations immediately after our training events. We often do impact evaluations a few months later, but this is self-reporting. And it's wonderful to get kudos and it's wonderful to hear people say yes, I'm an even better employee than I used to be. Is that true? We start looking at anecdotal evidence to see whether the culture is changing.

The culture of leadership in the Department of State is something that we are promoting, so it is more than simply people's reactions to the training, it is what happens on the job, because that's where it's important. It's great that we deliver a good product, and we do. What I'm interested in is what is happening at work. Are people changing the way they behave toward one another? Are they becoming more effective? Are they creating teams? Are they leading better?

I think that we are seeing some changes, as indicated through conversations we have with our Inspector General, with the people who serve on promotion boards. And I think that obviously, as in any change effort, we have a very long ways to go.

Ms. Hintzman: Do you think the model of the Leadership and Management School should be emulated by other organizations, both in the private and public sectors?

Ambassador Bushnell: I think it depends very much on their population and what they are trying to do. Our training is exceedingly pragmatic. We take people for a very short period of time. We have very focused training that is immediately applicable to their work. We just don't have the numbers of people or the time to spend a great deal of hours on concept. We also have a very smart population, so they get it. So our focus is not just on talking about the importance of listening, that's sort of a no-brainer, but, okay, now you go through the practice of listening--very practical.

That works for us. I think each organization needs to decide for itself what is going to work for its own population.

Mr. Lawrence: My observation is people's perceptions of foreign policy and the role in the U.S. and in global conflicts change over time. Looking back on your career, I'm struck by the fact that 10 years ago, many people dismissed your efforts to keep America's attention focused on the conflict in Rwanda, and today you're being honored for these same efforts. What changed?

Ambassador Bushnell: One of the lessons I find is that I have asked myself the same thing, you never know what you do that is going to make a difference in hindsight. So what I tell a lot of people is if you are in a position of leadership, just do the right thing, because you'll be able to face yourself in the mirror later on; and, who knows, since you don't have any choice as to how you will be judged, do it and you might be judged properly.

I tried to do the right thing on Rwanda. What happened is people looked back as historians, looked back at this extraordinary genocide as political leaders, such as Bill Clinton, looked back on it. They saw that a lack of engagement helped to facilitate people who wanted to murder their fellow citizens, and that made us think twice. And I think if you look at our response to Sudan and our response to Rwanda, you will find a great difference.

Mr. Lawrence: It will probably seem obvious to historians what should have been done, but how hard was it to do the right thing when nobody else seemed to be going along?

Ambassador Bushnell: Well, actually, you know, I have to tell you that for all of the efforts it wasn't just me, there were a number of us who were exploring ways to stop the killing within the parameters of our policy -- we were not successful. We tried to be very, very creative in what we did, because the policy was that we would not provide people or resources to stop the killings. So we were using the press. I was telephoning senior people in the Rwandan government. How much that did, I don't know; I don't think it did a whole lot. But the lesson for me is that you do what you can do. There is just so much we cannot control, but we can control our own behavior. And even if somebody else isn't doing what we think is the right thing, we can do the right thing.

Ms. Hintzman: How do you envision the profession of diplomacy changing five or ten years from now?

Ambassador Bushnell: I think it's going to continue to change as dramatically as it has changed in the past five years. We have gone from a profession that essentially looked at very narrow issues between governments to a profession that deals with an array of complicated subjects: from fighting HIV/AIDS and poverty and promoting democracy; to looking at terrorist financing and helping United States business create new markets with constituencies that become ever more interested and involved in what we do. So now we are not just interacting with governments, we're interacting with nongovernmental communities; we are interacting with business communities, with faith-based communities. Our jobs become far more complicated, the issues become far more complicated, and the numbers of players become far more numerous, which takes me back to where we began. This is why the skills of diplomacy become important, but so do the skills of leadership, because really, every diplomat now has leadership behaviors which will serve him or her well.

Mr. Lawrence: You've had a long career dedicated to public service, so I'd like to ask you to be reflective in this last question. What advice would you give for a young person considering a career in public service, say, in general, and international fields specifically?

Ambassador Bushnell: I would like to see resurgence among young people in public service. I think I mentioned earlier that the quality of a society and of a government to me is directly related to the quality of public servants. Having served in developing countries, I have seen what happens when you do not have, when you cannot depend on a good civil service group. So I would encourage people to join the public service. I looked up the website: usajobs.opm.gov is the website. For federal employment and for international employment in the Department of State, it's state.gov. Go on the website and you will find an array of adventuresome careers awaiting you.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, thank you very much, Ambassador, for squeezing us in your very busy schedule. Kim and I appreciate you joining us this morning.

Ambassador Bushnell: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, dean, Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, and you can also get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Kimberly Nelson interview

Friday, October 22nd, 2004 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"The EPA is collecting the information we need to understand the condition of the environment. It’s important to have the right information to make sure tax dollars are being spent wisely and for management purposes."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 10/23/2004
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Technology and E-Government; Green...
Technology and E-Government; Green
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good Morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence partner in charge of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. We created this center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more 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's changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Kim Nelson. Kim is the Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency. Good morning Kim.

Ms. Nelson: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation also from IBM, is Dave Abel.

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning Dave.

Mr. Abel: Good morning Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Okay, let's start by talking a little bit about the EPA. Could you give us a historical background of the EPA and explain its mission to our listeners?

Ms. Nelson: The Environmental Protection Agency I think is an organization that most Americans recognize. It was created back in 1970, right around the time of the first Earth Day, and it was created as America was really getting an interest and awareness of the environment. Everybody wants clean air, wants safe drinking water, wants land that's clean to live on and living communities that are safe for our children to grow up in. And therefore EPA was created to help provide that kind of mission for the country.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you talk to us a little bit about the EPA's interaction and relationships with other Federal departments and agencies.

Ms. Nelson: Sure, you know, when people think of the environment often EPA is the first agency that comes to mind but really there are many Federal agencies that have some kind of responsibility for protecting the environment. For instance, the Department of Interior manages over 500 million acres within the country. In fact one-fifth of all the land in the United States is managed by the Department of Interior through their park service and through national lands. Likewise the Department of Agriculture manages all the forest land within the country that is owned by the government. And you have a handful of other agencies that also some kind of environmental responsibility. So in doing our mission we have to work with many other Federal agencies.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you describe the size of EPA's budget and its number of people?

Ms. Nelson: EPA is a fairly large agency, even though we are an agency and not a department. We have almost 20,000 employees across the country. We have a headquarters that's rather large here in Washington but we also have 10 regional offices across the country and I really think that's where the rubber hits the road in terms of EPA working with states, working with local governments, and working with tribes to fulfill our mission.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about the skills of the people, as you were describing the environment, I began to think about the scientists and the like, maybe you can describe the capabilities of the team?

Ms. Nelson: Well, we certainly do have a lot of scientists and more and more I think one of EPA's core missions is in the research area. There are lot of questions that are still unanswered to us today. Even 30 years -- more than 30 years after the agency was created, there are so many answers that we still don't have today. Particularly answers like linkages between environmental conditions and health conditions so certainly the science is an important part of EPA's mission.

In addition we have a lot of engineers. We have enforcement officers, lawyers. We have people who analyze programs trying to ensure that we're achieving the results we want to achieve. So we have a broad array of different kinds of people working at EPA with different backgrounds and skills. In my own office, I'm in the Office of Environmental Information of course.We have tremendous focus on technology and therefore the -- the skillset that we have in my office has more of a focus on technology, information science, information management, librarians, people who know how to access information, display information, disseminate it; people who use geospatial tools, a lot of people with geography backgrounds because that's an important part of how we share and display information.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's talk a little bit further about the responsibilities of your organization. What are your responsibilities and duties as the Chief Information Officer?

Ms. Nelson: Well, that title Chief Information Officer is one that is probably widely known to a lot of people who work in the private sector. For government, the term is relatively new. I will say particularly coming from State government. And here in the Federal government back in 1996, the Clinger-Cohen Act was passed and under that act certain large agencies were required to create a Chief Information Officer position. That position as envisioned by the law was to be created in such a way that many companies, large companies in the private sector created CIO positions. The position for instance is to report to the head of the agency. There was a real acknowledgment at that point in time that the use of the information was a powerful tool to the Federal government.

The Federal government was making a tremendous investment of billions of dollars in information management, information technology tools and therefore they felt that the CIO who has authority generally across an organization to make investment decisions and technology decisions was a wise position to have in the Federal government.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned background in the State government. Can you tell us about your previous experiences before becoming CIO?

Ms. Nelson: I have been in Washington now for three years, before that I worked for 22 years in the State government. I held a variety of positions. Interestingly enough I spent 22 years as an at-will employee or as a political employee, never having a civil service position. I believe that sort of gave me the desire everyday to get up and do an outstanding job because I didn't have civil service protection. I started in the Senate of Pennsylvania as a Legislative Aid. It was a tremendous way to get experience of the State government at large, everything that happens in the State government. I left there and I went to a regulatory agency, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and I worked for the Chairman of the Public Utility Commission.

There I think I really got interested in regulatory issues. I was there at a phenomenal time. I was there during the accident at Three Mile Island. I happened to live just outside of Harrisburg, when that accident occurred and much of the work we did then was dealing with the aftermath. The clean up there, the cost associated with it. I was there during the break up of the 18 bell companies. Again it was an interesting time in the regulatory arena. I left there and spent a short amount of time working in Governor's Office Administration, the Department of Ageing and really recognized that I want to get back into a regulatory environment and went to work for the Department of Environmental Resources. I spent 14 years working there before I came to EPA. And it was there at the department of environmental resources where I was tapped to be the first CIO ever for that particular agency.

Mr. Lawrence: So how -- how did these experiences together help you to be able to prepare for the responsibility that you now have in the EPA?

Ms. Nelson: I come to this CIO position perhaps a little bit differently than a lot of people. I don't have an IT background. I don't have a degree in information technology, computer science information management. My bachelor's degree is in secondary education and political science. My master degree is in public administration. I cannot be jobbed really from a management perspective saying what does a manager need to do for their job by way of information and it was very apparent back then in our environmental agency. We didn't have the kind of information we needed to know, whether we're doing good or not. We couldn't compare one program to the other in terms of were our facilities in compliance with our laws.

We didn't have information to really tell us whether the air was getting better, the water was getting cleaner. So we didn't have the kind of management information we needed to always make the best management decisions in terms of where our resources should go or how our budget should be allocated. And that's what drove me into this field, which was to say how do we as an organization then start to collect the right information to use for management purposes.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned the management information, I want to take you back to compare some of your State experience with your Federal experience. Give us a sense of you know, how would you compare the different management approaches at the two levels of government?

Ms. Nelson: Well, it's funny you should ask that question Paul, I was testifying before the Congressman's Putnam's Committee and at the tail end of the hearing he asked that exact question, how would I compare my State experience with my Federal experience. There're many, many similarities: the mission of our organizations are similar, the demands that we have from the public are similar, the challenges we face are similar. The one thing that is very different here in the Federal government is the focus on information technology and information management from so many areas.

The Federal -- the State government, excuse me, it almost happened unnoticed but here in the Federal government there's a tremendous amount of interest from Congress. You know, I've testified a half a dozen times already before congressional committees. I never did that in the State government. There wasn't that kind of interest from the general assembly. The General Accounting Office, the number of audits that my office goes through from the General Accounting Office again is another indication of the inspector general, the OMB all of that oversight is very, very different here in the Federal government than what I ever experienced in at least my own State government career.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about the speed of decision making, how would you compare the two levels?

Ms. Nelson: The speed of decision making, I think, depends on the nature of the decision that has to be made. There are clearly some instances where I could point to my own State career where I was able to make a decision on the spot and have that implemented, but here in the Federal government so many of those decisions are in fact covered by regulatory requirements that a decision that was very simple in State government that I made on my own and had implemented within 24 hours, actually here in the Federal government would take a rule making, or would take years to implement.

Then again there are many other decisions where we can make them just as quickly here and that's not the case so it really depends on the nature of the decision although in general there is more bureaucracy here and more red tape and it is more difficult to get things done.

Mr. Lawrence: It's an interesting point especially about the speed and the different issues. Information collection and dissemination is a big part of what the EPA does, what are the management challenges in doing this? We'll ask Kim Nelson of the EPA for her perspective when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversation is with Kim Nelson. Kim is the Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency. Joining us in the conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Kim, the Office of Environmental Information or OEI has numerous responsibilities including the collection and dissemination of environmental information with external stakeholders. What kind of data does your office collect and how do you use it?

Ms. Nelson: Dave, let me just do a minute on what the Office of Environmental Information is about because I think that's important. Next month, October we will be celebrating our 5th anniversary as an office and it was created solely for the purpose of recognizing that EPA did not have the information it often needed to manage its programs. So if you look at the Office of Information, of Environmental Information, we have a broad spectrum of responsibilities. And they almost follow the lifecycle of data, how you collect it, how you store it, how you disseminated it. One of those key responsibilities is information collection and what's really fascinating is EPA is a little different from most Federal agencies and that so much of the Federal law is delegated to States and tribes.

For instance if you take our major air, water and waste management programs, those programs are all delegated for the most part to our states. That means 95% of the information in EPA's computer systems comes from the states. So for us a large challenge is how do we collect that information from our state partners, our tribal partners in a way that's a standardized format that allows us to then aggregate the information in a way that's valid so we can get the national picture. So a core part of what we collect is from our state partners. We also though have some direct regulatory responsibilities with facilities.

For instance in my office of Environmental Information, we have something called the Toxic Release Inventory program that requires facilities once a year to submit a report directly to EPA that tells us how much material they have released to the environment either the water, the air, the land that's of a toxic nature. Those reports come directly to us for tens of thousands of facilities across the country. So there's information collection requirements span, municipal government, tribal government, State governments, and facilities.

Mr. Lawrence: It seems to me with the delegation of responsibility for the collection of so much data the quality assurance has to be a big concern for your -- for your organization. What type of quality assurance programs are in place or under way to make sure that the data that's collected is both accurate and reliable?

Ms. Nelson: It's a huge issue for us in fact, last year for the first time EPA put on the street, last June what we call a draft report of the environment. It's hard to believe with the agency having been in existence of over 30 years, last year was the first time we ever put a report out to the public that told us what we knew and didn't know about the condition of the environment. And in some respects we couldn't answer those questions because the quality of the data wasn't high enough to provide answers that we thought were scientifically valid. So data quality is a huge issue for us.

One of things we've done is, we work very closely with States and tribes on data standards, because one of the things that's important is when we aggregate the data we're not mixing apples and oranges--that we all have the same definitions and standards. So about 5 years ago we started a data standards counsel with State, tribes in EPA and that's been very successful. We've worked through some really tough issues like how do we identify facility, what we call chemicals, what are our biological standards, permitting of standards, enforcement of standards, what do you call an inspection, and what do you call an enforcement action. They are important decisions because when we aggregate that information across 50 states we have to have the right picture. That's an important step we've taken.

We also have, I think a very good quality management program with EPA. All of our programs have to have quality management plans for all their information systems. And this year for the very first time we actually have every program in EPA with an approved quality management plan in place and I think that's -- that too is a big step. The last thing I'll just say we're doing is we know data collection is important to EPA. We know we collect data from a lot of different sources and one of the most important things we can do to improve the quality is make sure it's right before it ever gets to us. So we're putting in place a lot of validation techniques.

For instance we have our central data exchange. That's our portal, the single point through which all data will be received by EPA in the future and built into CDX are the tools and the technology to help ensure the highest level of data quality as those reports or submissions are being received. And we have seen for instance just this past year, our toxic release inventory reports. We know that when people submit those electronically over the internet through a central data exchange, we see a 25% higher rate of quality in terms of errors coming in the door than we see on paper reports, so we know it works.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, better data in clearly means better information out. Once you've collected the data what types of products are produced? Can you give us a couple of examples of how EPA actually uses the information once it's been collected?

Ms. Nelson: Boy, the examples are limitless. I'll go back to the one that I just mentioned because it's one of which I'm so proud and it's last year's EPA's draft report on the environment, again it's hard for me to believe, an agency of our size, an agency that has budget of almost a billion a year has never been able to tell the American public what we know about the environment and what we don't know. That was really an initiative of Governor Christine Whitman's when she came on board. She pledged that before she left she would give the American public what she liked to call the report card about the state of the environment and we were able to do that.

We are now working on our second report card and that's really fashioned in a way that's easy for the American Public to understand, based on some common questions, like is my water safe to drink, are the fish safe to eat, what's the condition of indoor air and what contributes to bad indoor air. The kinds of things that effect, you know, you every day or as a parent you are concerned about. That's one important tool we use. Another is getting information out to the public on our website. My office is responsible for managing our website and I think EPA has one of the most impressive set of tools to share with the American public about what we know about the environment today.

One of them is windowed in my environment--a very simple tool on our website. Go in and put your zip code in and we will tell you based on your zip code everything we know about that part of your community. What facilities are there that we regulate, what we know about their discharges what we know about their permits and violations, it's all right there in one place.

Mr. Lawrence: In addition to the public who are some of the other stakeholders that use the information and how do you make information available to them?

Ms. Nelson: Well one of -- certainly in an audience that we're concerned about, we work with closely are other decision makers throughout the United States. Certainly EPA with its 18,000 employees we recognize we're not the only environmental professionals out there and without environmental decision makers at the local level and local governments, at county levels, in state governments, in tribes. So one of the things we try to do is make sure that as decision makers across the country, we all have access to the very best information, because we're spending, you know, cumulatively between states and EPA we're spending over $20 billion in tax payer money. It's important to have the right information to make sure these dollars are being spent wisely.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned the Environmental Information Exchange Network. Could you tell us more about this, the history of how it came into being and how it works?

Ms. Nelson: Well as I talked about it earlier, EPA is an agency where our responsibilities are so highly devolved down to the state that it became apparent if we were going to do our job as co-regulators we really had to be in a partnership in sharing information and we -- the world at the time was such that states were spending more and more money on their own information systems. They weren't relying on EPA's information systems, which were becoming more outdated. States were building their own information systems and actually building integrated information systems. So it was important we partner with them to share the information. I think that the network is based on a very -- you know some very simple concepts.

And one is the e-commerce concept. We recognized that the world was changing and technology was bringing to us the ability to use the Internet and standard e-commerce tools to our advantage. Things like data standards, trading partner agreements for companies that were sharing information--they were being used for the same reason we needed to be able to use those. So, the technology was evolving and we could rely on the Internet.

The second core concept was, as I mentioned earlier since 95 percent of our information comes from the states, it's important that the states be the stewards of their own data. If you have to maintain two different information systems, one for EPA and one for yourself, which one's going to have the highest quality data? The one you're using, not the one you're feeding to EPA. So it was important we eliminate this duplicate system and ensure that the states were in fact the stewards of their own data and that they collected the data and kept the data and that they kept it up to date and accurate and only provided access to EPA of the data we needed. So this is about states, EPA, stewarding their data, making sure what we collect is of very high quality and then sharing it. So what our network does is encourage everyone to put a node on the network using common standards and technology and on that node you would place data that you want to share with other people.

They maybe openly available or it may only be available through a trading partner agreement. But that data then is data that you own, you decide to share, you decide with whom you're going to share it and what the conditions are in terms of sharing that data through a trading partner agreement. And we're seeing as a result of that higher quality data, more accurate data, more timely data being available for decision makers.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a very interesting point, especially about the reduction and the redundancy. Technologies used to drive EPA's operations. How is the EPA addressing issues such as interoperability and enterprise architecture, we'll ask Kim Nelson of the EPA to take us through this when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence. This mornings conversation is with Kim Nelson, Kim's the Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency. Joining in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Kim, we spent the last segment talking about the information that you collect from external stakeholders and the reporting and analyses you do against that information. But you're also responsible for the technology that derives the operation within EPA. Can you give us an idea of what that entails and what your office is doing to promote efficiency and interoperability within the organization?

Ms. Nelson: The OEI has many of the traditional responsibilities and as the CIO, you would expect to find in terms of managing operations within an organization. For instance we're responsible for providing secure access to our network and that includes thousands of applications and all of our databases. Some are very sophisticated scientific computing and now with good computing and communications, so that's pretty standard but we're really evolving into a lot of the new or super computing and good computing areas that are -- I find very exciting particularly in partnership with our researchers in the organization.

One thing that is I guess we're very fortunate in EPA and as I talk to my colleagues I recognize more and more we're fortunate, EPA has the entire organization on an agency wide e-mail and Lotus Notes system. I'm shocked when I talked to my colleagues in other federal agencies and realize they're still using multiple e-mail systems but we are using this efficiencies and we're talking earlier about how we're using SameTime and those Lotus Notes and collaborative tools to help us manage the organization and work more effectively. I find that very exciting as people are discovering the potential there. Security is a major issue for us as it is in all organizations. We've come a long way in security in this organization.

Four years ago EPA actually had to shut down its Internet access because there were so many potential security breaches acknowledged in the GAO report. We've reached a point now where last year in the President's budget EPA was cited as "the model" for having the best security program within the Federal government. So we still have many challenges ahead of us, there are still a lot of work in terms of what we have to do in management operations, there are some of the things we do on the internal side, on the external side I was talking earlier about for instance, central data exchange. Managing that project and running that operation for users on the outside is very important to our relationship with our partners.

Mr. Lawrence: One of the topics that we normally interact with -- we talk to CIO's on these shows and elsewhere as enterprise architecture. I know it's a very complex subject. Could you describe the value of the enterprise architecture at the EPA?

Ms. Nelson: You know, enterprise architecture is an interesting term and I have learned in 3 years in the Federal Government that we all may be better off if we stop using the term enterprise architecture because after so many years there are still so many people who find it very difficult to understand. And I'm not sure why because to me, all enterprise architecture is, is a very basic blue print or a picture. It's being able to describe graphically the business of the organization so that you understand the business of the organization and you can make the best resource decisions for your organizations in terms of where you put your people, where you put your technology, where you put your money in terms of providing tools for your organizations and solutions.

So it's been an interesting journey over the last few years. So I've learned to stay away from the term and my goal over the next year is actually to -- not use those words "enterprise architecture" but to focus solely on business results. What are the solutions we need to put in place to ensure the business results of the organization and that's understanding our strategic goals and making sure that we're investing our dollars to achieve this strategic goals.

Mr. Lawrence: Well with the blue print and understanding the business results, have there been any new technology initiatives that have happened as a result of sort of putting those two together?

Ms. Nelson: Oh clearly, I think as we look for instance to build our portal one of the things we're trying to do is look at our shared -- what I'd like to call shared services. What are the things we want to build one time in EPA, share with the rest of the organization, in other words build once use many and our portal will do that. What we envision through our portal is to have that single place where people outside the agency can come who are co-regulators, people inside the agency to access the information they need. So we're building the core share services that are identity management, security, and our backend registries that will house the information that people most often want to get out of our databases. It is the tools to manipulate that data, to actually extract that data, manipulate and display it.

So for instance, that then becomes an implementation of our enterprise architecture because we're building a solution one time and we're providing that for many people in the organization. It meets the strategic goals of the organization it reduces duplication, and it helps get information in the hands of people as quickly as possible and very high quality information.

Mr. Abel: So we've talked quite a bit about what can be competing priorities. There are the priorities of the external stakeholders, information sharing consortium and there's priorities of the internal stakeholders managing the business of the agency. How do you balance the requirements between those two groups of stakeholders?

Ms. Nelson: Well if you do it right and you establish your priorities you can often find that a solution that you're putting in place to meet your external customers often meets your internal customers. For instance, recently and I've talked a lot about central data exchange, but it's really interesting when you develop a solution and you develop a solution that's built in such a way that it is sharable and usable and scalable. With our central data exchange we recently put that in place, while we built that originally as you know for communication with our state partners and our tribal partners.

We recently put that in place as a backend service for one of the Presidency Gov initiatives. We a partner with the grants.gov, e-Gov initiative which is the way the federal government wants to centralize all the grant information for the Federal government. So if you want to find and apply for a grant you go to grants.gov one place. We were actually able to use the web services tools of CDX to assist on the backend on an internal way, grants.gov. So it's wonderful when you find solutions like that that you can reuse and the more we develop solutions like that the more we'll be able to do that.

Mr. Abel: Well, let's talk about one initiative in particular. Can you tell us a bit about the environmental indicators initiative just a little bit about what it is and how it helps the EPA to manage the results?

Ms. Nelson: Well, as you know, Dave, over the years there have been many initiatives that required the government to focus on results. The government performance results act, what we have to do for our budgeting purposes, the most recent part tools that OMB is using to assess programs in terms of their effectiveness. But what we found is even some of those statutory requirements were lacking, at least within EPA. Because much of what we have to do has a long term horizon to it in terms of really understanding the condition of the environment and we tended to focus more on, as many people do, the widgets or the outcomes.

You know, how many permits were issued, how many enforcement actions were taken, those kinds of things versus what's the quality of the water across the country. And what we're trying to do with our environmental indicators initiative is to really focus for the American Public on answering those questions. Our very first step was the draft the report on the environment, I mentioned earlier. That was a first milestone and a very long-term effort.

One of the most important things we're doing right now is when we issued that report we were not able to answer almost three quarters of the questions in a very solid way. Some questions we couldn't answer at all, other questions we answered with what we recall like a level two indicator, with some information but it wasn't the very best. We are now looking at all of those gaps and to have a process in place for determining what are the highest priority gaps, how do we fill those gaps, what it will cost to fill those gaps, and what's the signs that we have to understand in terms of filling those gaps.

So, think of this as a very long-term initiative within the agency to truly begin to collect the information we need to understand the condition of the environment. And I'll just say as a final note, some people might say, you know I can't understand, you know you've been around on these 35 years, why weren't you collecting some of this information. Much of it is because of the change in focus, many of the laws that were in place directed certain activities to take place, like issue permits and performance inspections and they were the things we had to report to Congress on. But you know, even if every facility has a permit out there, it doesn't mean the environment is getting better.

Even if every facility has been inspected it doesn't mean that the air is getting cleaner. So, we need to begin to collect the information so that we ultimately understand the outcome and we didn't do that before because the laws didn't require that. Now, maybe that's not a good reason, but we focused on what the laws required and now it's important to focus on the bigger picture.

Mr. Lawrence: It's a very interesting point, especially the alignments between the metrics and the ultimate outcomes, you want to have. Let me ask you to take that question into your office, what performance metrics do you use within the office to determine if the goals are being met?

Ms. Nelson: Well, we are meeting with the Office of Environmental Information's board of directors to adopt for the very first time a balanced scorecard. When I came onboard at EPA, it was less than two years old, and we really didn't have as an organization good metrics in place. We received, interestingly enough an internal grant from our Chief Financial Officer to put performance metrics system in place for the office environmental information, we're doing that starting October 1st, which is the start of the fiscal year and we're trying for the first time a balanced scorecard. So I'm sure we won't get it 100% right but it will be a learning experience.

Mr. Lawrence: Interesting, you will have to come back and tell us how it turned out. EPA is involved in many of the e-gov initiatives, how are they doing and what have been the lessons learnd, we'll ask Kim Nelson of the EPA to give us certain thoughts when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence. This morning's conversation is with Kim Nelson. Kim is the Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency, joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Kim, the EPA is involved in 14 of the 25 e-government initiatives that are currently underway. Can you tell us a little bit about some of these initiatives?

Ms. Nelson: The e-government work is very exciting, you know, people said to me when I came to Washington, we talked a little bit about this earlier actually, how difficult it is to make a difference in a short period of time. Well, when I would look back and realize that this e-gov initiatives have only been underway for less than 3 years. I think it's phenomenal when we look at the progress. The e-gov initiatives are part of the President's Management Agenda. It's his desire, his vision to make sure that government is citizen centric, that government is result oriented and that we use market based solutions and that's what you're seeing in the e-gov initiatives. We're involved, as you said in 14 of them. That clearly keeps us busy because we're a much smaller agency than many of the big departments but so many of these are fundamental to how we work.

One of them that are very important to us is the e-authentication project. It's really what the federal government is trying to do to ensure that we can establish identity, authenticate users to ensure the proper transmission of electronic documents with electronic signatures. Our role, I think, in this is very exciting. We were recently given a grant and here's another way that government is being very innovative we got a grant from this project for $700,000 for EPA to be able to demonstrate the interoperability of digital certificates between state governments and the Federal government. So, we're demonstrating through all the work we've done with our state partners in CDX, how you can take a certificate that a facility has and using in State government and use that to authenticate a submission to the Federal government and vice versa.

Likewise, another project we're working on, which I -- would be remised if I didn't mention is the rule making initiative. Rulemaking.gov, EPA is the lead partner on that initiative, which means we're managing that with many other agencies as co-partners but we are the managing partner of that initiative and through that website "rulemaking.gov," citizens can go one place, for the first time ever one place and put in any kind of key word. If you're a farmer and you're interested in agriculture, if you're a teacher and you're interested in some education issues, if you're interested in environment, something like mercury, you can type in one key word and find every Federal agency that has some kind of rule making or policy open for public comment.

Mr. Abel: So, EPA is a participant in the e-rule making program with e-government, overall you are one of multiple participants?

Ms. Nelson: We're one of many participants in rule making but we are a managing partner. So it's my office that has the overall responsibility for managing that initiative. Each one of these projects has a managing partner and we have the responsibility for rule making and that's primarily due to, of course EPA being a regulatory agency, rule making is the large part of our business. If you look at the lines of business within EPA, we issue a lot of rules, much to the dismay of some people but that's the nature of our business and as a result of that OMB felt we had a tremendous amount of expertise to manage this project, on top of the fact that we already had an electronic docket system in place that is serving as the basis or the core for rulemaking.gov.

That's the other great part about these e-gov initiatives is that throughout the federal government we're taking good ideas that already existed in one department and expanding those to many, many other agencies. So, we are reducing duplication, we were reducing redundant expenditures and we were taking a good idea and we're expanding it.

Mr. Abel: So, what are some of the management challenges that you faced in the implementation of these programs?

Ms. Nelson: The biggest challenge is that we're operating in a very innovative way. We are bringing partners together and working on common solutions and we are doing really terrific things in a way the Federal government never behaved before but we still haven't managed to get all the processes and the bureaucracy to catch up with that innovation and it makes it very difficult sometimes to do the very basic things we have to do, like move money around. Because when you have an initiative that involves 20 partners, that means 20 different agencies have to pay for that project.

Well, getting the money from 20 different agencies all at the right time, getting 20 different agencies to participate in a decision is not always the easiest thing to do. So, the governance side of the house hasn't quite caught up with the technology and the innovative thinking but it's not holding the projects up, it just means it's making a little bit more of achallenge to manage it.

Mr. Abel: Have there been any early successes?

Ms. Nelson: Oh, I think many of the e-gov projects could be called early successes. FirstGov for instance recently won a very prestigious award for being so citizen centric and has received tremendous number of awards. Rule making is a wonderful success; the business gateway is now up. If you're a small business owner and you haven't been there, you need to go to the business gateway.gov site. Because if you are a small business owner you can go to one place now and find what you need to do from an environmental prospective, or a labor prospective, an IRS prospective, and get all of that in one place. So these are the kinds of services that are being put in place for citizens across the country.

Mr. Abel: Can you describe the significant challenges that the EPA will face in the future?

Ms. Nelson: EPA's challenges for the future are the fact that in many respects we've managed to do the easy things. It's the 80/20 rule. If you look across the country, rivers that used to be black and polluted and burning are no longer there. I come from the state of Pennsylvania, if you think of what Pittsburgh looked like 30-40 years ago, where a man going to work in the morning with a white shirt had to change his shirt in mid-day because the air was so polluted. We don't have that problem in the United States anymore. We've made huge environmental progress.

The challenge we have in the future is that, in order to make the next incremental change improvement in the environment, it means it's going to involve every single person in this country. We made this huge environmental changes in the past by driving hard largely on industry, cleaning smokestacks, cleaning up industry but the biggest polluters today are you and me. It's the car we drive, it's the lawn mower we use, it's the gas grill we use, it's the fire places we burn in the winter time, it's our life-style that has the biggest impact on the environment today and that's hard for people to accept. It's easy for them to say, take care of that factory down the road that's spewing dirt out of its smokestack.

It's another thing to say to somebody, you know you should be driving a different car, you shouldn't be using your lawn mower, you shouldn't be using your grill. That changes your lifestyle and people don't like that. But we all have to look internally and make our own changes to our own lifestyle because if we do that, we can make a big difference. One thing I would encourage everybody to do, if you don't have fluorescent light bulbs in your home, put 1, 2, 3, 4 fluorescent light bulbs in your home, if you do that, if every single person in this country put a handful of fluorescent light bulbs in your home, we could reduce the number of power plants being built in this country and nobody wants a power plant built in their backyard. And if we reduce the number of power plants, we can reduce the air emissions, which dramatically improve air quality. So, doing simple things like that, like putting in a fluorescent light bulb in one room, one bulb in each room of your house, can improve the environment.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask you to take a step back and reflect on your careers. You think about maybe somebody interested in joining public service, what advice would give them?

Ms. Nelson: Well, for me -- you know I only have one prospective, I've only ever worked in government, it's certainly incredibly rewarding, the ability to impact public policy, the ability to make a difference in terms of how government serves citizens. It's something that's so incredibly rewarding. I would encourage people to try sometime in public service if you're currently working in the private sector. I would love to see the kind of work environment where people who are currently working in government could go also out into the private sector and spend some time in business because I think walking in another person's shoes ultimately always makes for a better person.

Unfortunately, we don't always have that flexibility and it would be great if the Federal government -- and they're looking at that, looking at ways to make it easier for people to move in and move out, even if it's for six months, a year or two years to gain some experience. So, I would encourage people to be as well rounded as possible. I regret I don't have the business experience. I tried to spend more time with people in the private sector to understand their needs and concerns. In the future I think we all will be better served if we could do that.

Mr. Lawrence: Kim, that'll have to be our last question. We're running out of time. Dave and I want to thank you for squeezing us in your very busy schedule.

Ms. Nelson: Well, thank you very much Paul and one final note. I just want to say October mark's Children's Health month. Children from the Environmental Protection Agency's prospective, are one of the most important parts of our population--they are our future. We recognize that as we look to the environment, we need to protect our children, they're our future.

With children's health month, I encourage every parent, every teacher and every child out there to better understand what the environment means to a growing child. So go to EPA's website www.epa.gov and look for children's health and you'll see it right upfront and you got lots of great information about how you can help protect the children of the country.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you Kim. This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring conversation with Kim Nelson, Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency. Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and research and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again it's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence, thank you for listening.

Rodney Bent interview

Friday, August 27th, 2004 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"One of the best pieces of advice I received was to listen to what the Iraqis wanted, not just jump ahead and assume that they wanted the same things that we wanted."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 08/28/2004
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Leadership; Financial Management; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships...
Leadership; Financial Management; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships
Complete transcript: 

Monday, June 21, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge 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. Find out more about the Center 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 conversation today is with Rodney Bent. Rodney�s a professional staffer on the House Appropriations Committee. But perhaps more interesting, he�s just come back from six months in Iraq, where he�s been the director of the CPA�s Office of Management and Budget and also served as a senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Finance.

Good morning, Rodney.

Mr. Bent: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation also from IBM is Jonathan Breul.

Good morning, Jonathan.

Mr. Breul: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Rodney, let�s start at the beginning. Could you begin by describing for our listeners how the resources were allocated for the reconstruction of Iraq?

Mr. Bent: Certainly, absolutely. There were three pots of money. Perhaps the most important pot of money is Iraq�s own resources, the oil money that it earned both currently and then previously under Saddam, under the Oil for Food Program. That�s about, in terms of the �04 budget, $21 billion.

In addition, there was 18.4 billion that was appropriated last year, and prior to that, a couple of billion, 3 billion that Congress also appropriated. Finally, there was the about 12-, $13 billion that other countries had pledged to help Iraq in its reconstruction in a Madrid conference in October of 2003.

Mr. Lawrence: Now money was allocated through the supplemental. And I�m curious, is there precedent for allocating money this way?

Mr. Bent: There is. The President requested something over $21 billion, I think, originally. And he presented his request in a format with about 10 or 11 sectors, about 60 line items, such as power generation or potable water. But he really was requesting a large amount of money that would be similar -- that he could use in a flexible manner similar to what had been done with the Y2K fund or the supplemental immediately after the September 11th tragedy.

Mr. Breul: Rodney, the Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA, was the name of the temporary governing body which has been designated by the United Nations as the lawful government of Iraq until Iraq assumes sovereignty. What role did the CPA play in managing the fund?

Mr. Bent: Oh, a huge role. Ambassador Bremer was essentially the fiscal steward for the Iraqi funds, and he was also, if you will, the person who was allocating the American supplemental. What he and the CPA did essentially was to try and put together a budget and a resource plan for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Mr. Breul: Well, what are the critical skills required to manage and provide oversight for the reconstruction funds?

Mr. Bent: Good question. I think that when I got out there, I discovered that I had a staff of 10 or 11 people who were enthusiastic, young, intelligent, but had never worked on budget issues before. And so one of the skills, and we can talk a little bit later about this, is sort of that fundamental analytical perspective, how to listen, how to ask the right questions. What kind of options do you prepare? Who�s doing what? What are the consequences if you do it a certain way? Can it be done? What are the practical questions?

Mr. Breul: Well, what was your role and what were your duties then while you were in Iraq?

Mr. Bent: I had a bunch of them. I was the head of the CPA Office of Management and Budget. I was the senior adviser to the Ministry of Finance. And I was also the senior adviser to the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, and other duties as assigned.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you get three jobs?

Mr. Bent: Well, essentially the titles were meaningless in the sense that we were sort of inventing as we went along. It wasn�t structured. You went you there and you essentially would see things that needed doing, questions that needed to asked, or problems that needed to be addressed. And so a lot of times, you know, we were working on things that would have been well outside the purview of what you would normally think of. For example, we worked on the pay structure for Iraqi civil servants, you know, who gets paid how much, how they�re defined. That is not something that usually a Ministry of Finance or an OMB would look at, but there, it was essential. And then you add in things like reforming the pension system or handling food subsidies, oil subsidies, electricity subsidies, building electric power plants. It was just a huge range of activities.

Mr. Lawrence: What does a typical day look like when you�re doing these kind of things?

Mr. Bent: Well, it was intense. Generally people were in the office by 7:00 in the morning and we would go until 10:00, 11:00, midnight, 1:00, or 2:00, 7 days a week. The only time we theoretically had off were Friday mornings between about 9:00 and 12:30, where I say �theoretically,� because no meetings were supposed to be held, but, in fact, people tended to go to the office because that�s where the computers were, that�s where you could get things done. Well, it was tough.

Mr. Lawrence: Tell us about your experiences leading up to this role.

Mr. Bent: Sure. I�d been, for five years prior to doing this job, the senior career head of the international division at the Office of Management and Budget, and I�d worked at OMB for about 20 years. Before that I�d been a banker in New York and had worked at the U.S. Treasury Department in their international division.

Mr. Lawrence: And then tell us about, given your experiences, walk us through your decision to actually go to Iraq.

Mr. Bent: Well, it was a little spontaneous. I got a call from the Pentagon asking if I knew anybody who would be interested in working on budgets in Iraq, and I said I would. And they said, well, the search is over.

Mr. Lawrence: And when you got there, how would you compare and contrast your experiences sort of in Washington versus working there just in terms of, say, management skills and the kinds of things, you know, you would think about as an adviser?

Mr. Bent: There are a lot of similarities, especially given work at OMB, where usually there�s a lot of conflict: agencies want more money, the Congress wants more information, the President wants more flexibility. And some of those same conflicts play out -- or played out in Iraq as well, but there were just extra complexities in Iraq, there were extra challenges.

Take small things, like phones. Here, everybody�s got phones, faxes, E-mail. There, the phones, there were no land lines in Baghdad, so everybody had to use small cellular phones. The signals were erratic. In fact, I had -- used to have to stand on a chair at the Ministry of Finance to try and call back to CPA with the cell phone. Most people didn�t have phones, and so although the CPA provided cell phones to the Minister and his senior deputies, they weren�t always on, you couldn�t always find people. And so just basic communication was hard.

Plus, Iraq is a society that prizes that kind of personal relationship. Things that you might do here over the phone, there, they really required a face-to-face meeting. You had to sit down and you had to have tea, you had to talk about families, you had to talk about your personal relationship. It�s a very intimate kind of way of doing business.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, how about just continuing on the tactical? How about just languages?

Mr. Bent: Most of the Iraqis that we dealt with were quite fluent in English, to a greater or lesser degree. We did have interpreters and you�d use them in situations where it was important that you get the facts or the nuances exactly right. But by and large, we conducted business in English, and that was less of a problem than I thought it might be.

Mr. Lawrence: And then how about the speed of decision-making? As you were describing all the challenges in your different roles, I couldn�t help but think of sort of a desire to go fast and get things done. And when you talked about the relationships people needed, having tea, it seemed like go slow, so I�m sure it�s been a balancing act.

Mr. Bent: There was clearly a lot of cultural differences, if you will. Ambassador Bremer�s a very decisive guy. Anybody who�s been in a meeting with him, you know, he wants the facts, he wants your recommendation, he wants to know why you think this way. He�ll ask, frankly, a series of very probing questions and he makes a decision.

With the Iraqis, it�s a different cultural mode of handling things. There�s a great respect for I think elders. And so that means that when you have a conversation, you have to make sure that the oldest person in the room has a say. You have to make sure that there�s a traditional -- or terrific emphasis on coming to a consensus. It�s -- people might say what they think, but they always want to bring in other people. And so you found yourself frequently having to make sure that you talked with everybody and that you drew people out in a way, and did it in a respectful manner. It�s considered very rude to directly contradict somebody. It�s not that people don�t say no, but they would preface it by saying, well, with respect, I appreciate what you�re saying, but in fact, I must offer up an alternative suggestion as opposed to you�re an idiot. And that took a little while to get used to.

If you�re coming from a culture that kind of prizes decisiveness and get it done and do it now to a culture where you have to explain the context, people want to know what your motivation is, why are you doing this, what are the implications, what does it mean for them. And that just takes more time, but in some sense it�s worth it because once they�re persuaded, then they will do it.

Mr. Lawrence: How did all these things change your management approaches and styles while you were there?

Mr. Bent: The absolute importance of listening carefully. Before I went over, I asked a variety of people at the World Bank or AID or the State Department what it was like and what the issues were. And I think one of the best pieces of advice I got was to listen to what the Iraqis wanted, not just jump ahead and assume that they would want the same things that we would want. And so I spent, frankly, a lot of my time listening and then trying to summarize and then trying to present options that would reflect what they wanted.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you give me an example of where they would not want what we wanted?

Mr. Bent: In terms of basic personal security, the aftermath of the war was really a disaster, the looting, the crime. The Iraqis had this tremendous sense of personal vulnerability in which your kids could be kidnapped as they were walking to school; cars were taken. It�s impossible to project that sense of insecurity to, say, people here in Washington. You walk out your door, you get in your car, you drive off, you don�t worry about somebody taking shots at you, you don�t worry about your kids being grabbed while they�re being walked to school, you don�t worry about a ransom note, you don�t worry about roadside bombs or grenades or gunshots. And yet, that�s part of everyday life in Iraq. And so, you know, there�s that huge difference there, so security is one thing.

Basic infrastructure, electricity, communication, telephones, these are all things, employment, that are important to Iraqis. And yet, for the Americans I think when we were there, and I�ll just use this as an example, not to pass judgment, but security, sort of training the Iraqi police or training the Iraqi armed forces, and that clearly is part of dealing with that first problem I talked about, security. But it was such a long-term solution, it was something where, you know, by the time the police were trained and equipped, it was going to be months down the road. And yet, what the Iraqis wanted now was being able to walk out their door and not feel like they were going to be killed.

Mr. Lawrence: Interesting.

How has the economy of Iraq changed over the last two years? We�ll ask Rodney Bent to take us through the stages of the economy pre-Iraqi Freedom and what it�s like now 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 Rodney Bent. Rodney�s on the professional staff of the House Appropriations Committee.

And joining us in our conversation is Jonathan Breul.

Well, Rodney, in this segment, I�d like to talk about doing business in Iraq. Perhaps you could begin by telling us more about the political and social and economic contexts in the country. What were your observations about the people of Iraq in terms of their sense of history and the social cohesion?

Mr. Bent: I guess the starting point for Iraq is really the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. And out of that wreckage the British, particularly for the history buffs, Richard Bell created an Iraq that previously was probably several parts. I mean, one would be Kurdistan, the third would be the Arab Sunni middle, if you will, and then there would be the Shia south.

Iraq has, you know, a huge history. I mean, you go back to Mesopotamia and Babylon, so it�s got 5,000 years� worth of history, but really only for the last 80 or 90 years as the country of Iraq. And so there are a lot of disparate groups. I mean, you categorize yourself by religion, by tribe, by ethnicity, by family, by clan, by whether you�re educated or not educated, rural, urban. There are just lots and lots of different ways of classifying yourself.

I was struck in some ways by how -- rigid might be the wrong word, but maybe class-conscious Iraqis were. Everybody knew sort of where you fit, that there wasn�t the kind of -- there was sort of a long history to families. And so people would say, oh, he comes from a good family. And the upper tiers of the Iraqi society are really both very well educated and everybody knows everybody. So for example, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Planning had a wife who worked as the director general of the Ministry of Finance, and everybody tended to be friends, to have gone to school with the other people. And so there was kind of, on the one hand, a whole series of divisions and, on the other hand, a kind of a cohesiveness. And it made for some strange interrelations.

Mr. Breul: Rodney, can you give us a sense of the state of the economy in Iraq before Operation Iraqi Freedom, and then what it was like when you were there?

Mr. Bent: The Saddam economy was essentially a disaster. The state ran everything. It was in a state of decay and decrepitude. It relied essentially on the Oil for Food Program to feed people. It�s -- if you drive down or go through Baghdad, even the nicer sections have a kind of a shabbiness, and I was just, frankly, struck by how rundown and decrepit and used everything seemed. Cars were all 10, 15 years old, battered, missing headlights, bumpers ripped off. It was a huge contrast to go to another Arab country, say Jordan and Amman or Abu Dhabi, and see essentially a complete contrast, with new cars, new buildings, paved streets, functioning electricity, everything. I think that the -- you know, Saddam obviously and his coterie of folks didn�t suffer from any of this, but you really felt the plight of everyday Iraqis.

Mr. Lawrence: And was it changing after Saddam or how --

Mr. Bent: I think just huge changes that you could see. I mean, there were probably a million additional cars on the street by the time I left. In fact, when I arrived in late October, you could drive through downtown Baghdad without too much trouble. I mean, the streets are broad, but there wasn�t a lot of traffic. By the time I left, people were complaining about the traffic. It would take an hour to get somewhere; everything was gridlocked.

You could see on some of the shopping districts just stacks of warehouse goods: refrigerators, air conditioners, TVs, satellites. There was an explosion in satellite TV, and you just felt like this society had opened up in some way from going -- from the closed Saddam period where, you know, you couldn�t own -- nobody had satellite TVs to a period where it seemed like every family who could afford one was out buying one.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, what are the types of challenges people like yourself face when you�re working in Iraq on a day-to-day basis?

Mr. Bent: Huge. I mean, the -- one challenge is communications. I talked about the cell phones, but that meant it was very difficult to get ahold of people. And Iraq, essentially, it was frozen in time. There was a Rip Van Winkle quality to, you know, pre-1991 and post-1991. So that, for example, in the medical schools, the journals stop in 1990, 1991. There are no recent journals.

People were not used to a computer. In fact, when I went to the Board of Supreme Audit, which was kind of a combination GAO and auditing firm, we talked about their use of computers and auditing processes. And they said, well, yes, of course we use computers. Let�s show you the computer center. Well, you go. Well, there are no computers in the computer center. What they meant by computers was essentially doing spreadsheets and very basic work as opposed what we might think of in terms of auditing.

Danger was clearly the second thing. Every time you strapped on your flak jacket and put on a helmet and drove out of the Green Zone, you were always a little bit nervous about, well, what might happen. The day before I left, in fact, one of my staff came in and very apologetically said, well, he�s sorry, but he�d wrecked the car. And, you know, I felt a little bit like, okay, I�m the dad and the teenage son has come back. And well, it turned out he�d been shot at by somebody driving a pickup truck with an AK and he�d just riddled the car with bullets, and it was just a miracle that the staffer wasn�t injured or killed. And I mean, that -- you know, one of my translators was blown up in a bomb on January 18th. You know, it was -- that gives a different perspective on things.

Mr. Breul: Let�s talk about the project implementation stage of the resources that were allocated for the reconstruction of Iraq. Can you describe the types of projects that the Defense Department, the State Department, and the U.S. Agency of International Development are implementing?

Mr. Bent: Sure. Broadly speaking, the Defense Department was doing two areas. One area was clearly security: training the Iraqi armed forces; training the ancillary groups, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, the border enforcement. They were also, through the Project Management Office, handling a lot of the reconstruction of Iraq itself. The Army Corps of Engineers was heavily involved, so power plants, dams, irrigation, railroad, roads. Defense was involved in all of these things.

The State Department was working on training police on some of the democracy programs. AID was doing some of the reconstruction along with Defense on electricity, but they were also doing health, education, some other governance issues, trying to help the Iraqis establish what we would call a civil society.

Mr. Lawrence: The reconstruction has relied on a lot of private contractors, and that�s not without controversy in terms of pluses and minuses. I�d be curious sort of your perspective and some lessons learned on the use of contractors in this environment.

Mr. Bent: It�s one issue is using contractors to do what we�d call inherently governmental services. And, you know, whether you talk about the tragedy at Abu Gharib or, you know, clearly there�s been -- you know, that�s just horrible abuses. But really, contractors bring you a lot of things that you wouldn�t otherwise get. I mean, there are not many people in the U.S. Government that have sat around building power plants or looking at dams or being civil engineers. You get some, but they don�t generally -- they oversee, they don�t generally do. And so private contractors were essential.

I think it�s a little bit different when you talk about policing or some of the other things where there�s clearly a gray area in terms of what gets defined, who does what.

Mr. Lawrence: There�s a sense of one perspective that an awful lot of money�s being spent on contractors and, gee, you know, people are taking advantage of the system. There�s also a sense that, gee, this is a very high -- this is a very risky place, as you�ve indicated.

Mr. Bent: Yeah.

Mr. Lawrence: It probably does cost more to get people motivated. As the budget guy, how did you work that equation?

Mr. Bent: Well, it was an increasing part of the equation as we were ending. As I was leaving, I was listening to I think it was Mr. Waxman talking about trucks in Iraq and saying, well, people didn�t have -- they would abandon an $85,000 truck because it had a flat tire. And I don�t know this to be the case, but I was speculating in my mind, well, anybody who�s driven on a highway in Iraq knows that you�re not going to pull over and change a flat. I mean, that�s a sure way of getting killed. And so, you know, on the one hand it points out the risks of working in Iraq and just the extraordinary extra cost for security that you have to pay. On the other hand, you can sort of say, well, heck, why are we doing that if it�s going to cost, you know, for lack of a spare tire, we�re going to lose an $85,000 truck? Should we be doing that?

Mr. Lawrence: And how about the personal benefits when you see people interviewed now in the media? I mean, they do cite sort of, you know, sort of a Peace Corps kind of I should be there, I should go and help these people.

Mr. Bent: You know, I think that -- I never knew anybody over there who was in it for the money. And maybe truck drivers for Halliburton or whatever, but by and large, the folks at CPA were a pretty high-minded lot. I mean, it -- everybody went over there with a sense of purpose, with a kind of desire to help in any way you could.

I think that it was kind of interesting and contrasting sort of my experience at OMB with being over there. In both cases, you have talented staff, you have people who are motivated, but there was much more out there in CPA. There was a kind of a camaraderie; we�re all in this together. You know, whatever people felt about the war, and there were a range of people who actively didn�t support the war to people who were fervent believers, but that was essentially irrelevant. The war was, as far as I was concerned, was over and done with. We had to do what we could to help the Iraqi society.

Mr. Lawrence: That�s a fascinating point about the different perspectives on the war.

What types of management flexibilities are needed to manage funds in an ever-changing environment? We�ll ask Rodney Bent to tell us what he saw during his time in Iraq 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 Rodney Bent. Rodney�s on the professional staff of the House Appropriations Committee.

And joining us in our conversation is Jonathan Breul.

Well, Rodney, let�s talk about managing the fund in the section. The supplemental was set up to fund 10 priority areas. Could you talk to us about some of the key areas, and what was the strategy in terms of what to focus on first and prioritize?

Mr. Bent: Sure. The supplemental had, as you say, about 10 areas. The 60 line items, as we would call them, were things like training police or building electricity or electricity transmission. When the President requested it, the focus was clearly on what I�d call hard infrastructure: dams, power projects, that kind of thing.

What changed a little bit while I was there is that, well, first, in the middle of November, there was the announcement that we were going to give the Iraqis back sovereignty on June 30th, which meant that people suddenly started focusing on democracy and elections and all the things that go with a democracy, things that we take for granted here like organized political parties, a responsible media, a way of getting the message out. There, you know, you have dozens of parties, you have every tribe, every politician in some sense sort of mobilizes, and the media is just almost a cacophony of print and radio and TV. So it was -- you know, we clearly needed to put more money into helping Iraqis pull together what they were going to probably do anyway, which is organize themselves into competing groups, if you will.

Mr. Breul: We�ve talked about how the fund was set up to be as flexible as possible given the ever-changing environment in Iraq. Can you give us some more examples of when priorities changed and just how that changed the projects that were being funded?

Mr. Bent: Sure. Well, distinguish a little bit. The request would have had the fund be as flexible as possible. I think that Congress when they reviewed it said, well, we�ll give you essentially what you want, but we want to make sure you�re going to spend the money as you say you�re going to spend the money. And so they put restrictions on how you could move it around. In other words, they wanted to make sure that if you said you were going to train a certain number of police that you really trained a certain number of police, that you didn�t move that to a different area.

I think that tradeoff between flexibility on the one hand and accountability and oversight on the other, it�s kind of a creative tension, if you will. It forces people to decide what�s important and to think about if they want to move funding, you know, what it is that they�re going to be doing. What are you going to get if you move the funding?

Mr. Breul: How did you provide for that accountability? I mean, there wasn�t a large tracking system in place.

Mr. Bent: Not compared to what we have back here, no. Well, we -- Congress required quarterly reports, the first of which I worked on when I was in Baghdad that came back. It was well over 100 pages. It went through each of the major sectors, each of the line items, if you will, and talked about vocational training, micro credit, education, water, electricity, you name it, and explained what we were going to do with the money and how we -- the periodicity, the quarters, by which we were going to do the spending.

I think in some ways it was a good system. It was a useful discipline for thinking about what we wanted to do. And because the report is quarterly, you can change it over time. You can say, heck, you know, this is now less important than we thought it was three or six months ago. We need to spend a little bit more on another sector.

Mr. Breul: Tell us some more about the challenges inherent in managing such a fund. For example, how do you go about just estimating the cost of funding a project?

Mr. Bent: Sure. That�s a good question. The starting point was always working with the Iraqi ministries on what they wanted. And so, for example, if you were working in the water resources area -- and that�s hugely important in Iraq in a way that, you know, here you might, oh, well, that�s sort of water, that�s good, but there it�s dams, it�s irrigation, it�s canals, it�s, you know, essential to the functioning of the Iraqi economy.

And so the senior adviser for water resources would work with the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources. They�d come up with a series of dams, canals, irrigation projects, and they would put a price tag on it. That price tag or that series -- that project would go over to the Project Management Office within CPA and they�d look at it and they�d say, well, how good are the estimates? They tended to add funding for uncertainty. You know, was it -- had it been engineered out? They added money -- or they added a cushion, if you will, for security costs. And so a project that might start off costing, hypothetical, $100 would cost $125 or $140 that same project when it was looked at by the PMO, not because the project itself had changed, but because they wanted to build in ranges for uncertainty. And the cost would change again when the actual contractor or construction company looking at it got in there and could say, oh, well, you know, we don�t have a road, we can�t get this particular piece of equipment, we�ll need to do something different here.

So all the way through there was kind of almost a loop in which you�d start with the Iraqi ministries, go to the PMO, and then as they call it, task orders get written and the construction firms begin looking at things.

Mr. Lawrence: Give us a sense � earlier, you talked about just sort of the different things that are going on. As you were describing developing the price estimate for the Iraqis for the first part of that, I just began to think about data collection and how that�s done in an environment that�s so very different.

Mr. Bent: Yeah. Well, good point. We were always operating in a -- like being a ship�s captain where you don�t have radar and you�re not entirely sure where you are. For example, when I got to Iraq, the common estimates of unemployment or underemployment were sort of in the 50 to 60 percent range. When we left, the Ministry of Planning, which was responsible for pulling together the statistics, said, well, they kind of reckoned the unemployment rate was, you know, around 20 percent and the underemployment rate was about 28 -- 25 to 30 percent. So -- but how did they get those statistics? Where did they come from? How good were they? How were they, if you will, annualized? All of that was sort of a work in progress. So you were -- we were forever hoping that we�d kind of gotten the basics right without really knowing if we had.

Mr. Lawrence: And also, how do you manage? There�s multiple sources of money, so we have multiple projects and multiple sources of money. I can�t help but think about duplication and just accounting.

Mr. Bent: Sure.

Mr. Lawrence: How did all that work?

Mr. Bent: Well, I think the primary emphasis was on getting stuff done. And so if you were looking -- if you were working with the Minister of Electricity on power projects, you clearly had a finite set of projects that you were dealing with. And whether those projects were going to be financed by Iraqi resources, by the development fund for Iraq, or by the supplemental, you�d clearly talk about it and you could work out that part of it.

But the follow-on part, and this is where I think the advantage of having people who�ve worked on budgets was important, the real question was not could you build more power plants or fly in generators, if you will; it�s the fuel for those generators and the pipelines and whether you�re going to use treated crude or whether their refined product was available. Those are the kinds of follow-on questions that we were struggling with.

And because I think the Iraqi body politic had been so dominated by Saddam and by the Baathist Party for 35 years, it was a top-down process. And so people we just used to getting orders and essentially following them without really talking about the dynamic. And so, you know, it was a little bit Stalinistic. I mean, if the Minister of Electricity was told build power plants, he�d build them. That didn�t mean that the Minister of Oil, for example, knew that he, therefore, had to supply, you know, how many thousands of metric tons in order to fuel those power plants.

And that�s the kind of give-and-take that, you know, we were sort of working towards, bringing that together. That was part of the challenge of the Program Review Board and part of the challenge of my job, and certainly that of Ambassador Bremer.

Mr. Lawrence: Was it hard for these folks who had not operated on that sort of system of learning and collaboration to get to that point?

Mr. Bent: Well, yes and no. I mean, there�s clearly, because of the, you know, the back and forth in Iraqi society, you know, a real tendency to talk about everything. On the other hand, you know, I think they were so used to following orders, there was sort of that tension. One of the things I�m proudest of was a moment in the Program Review Board, which used to look at all of the spending proposals. And the Minister of Finance had always been a member of the board, but we succeeded in getting the Minister of Planning to come and the Board of Supreme Audit to look at it. And I began to have ministries that wanted to do projects, like the Ministry of Electricity come in and give their proposals essentially directly. And then the Minister of Finance or really his staff would challenge, well, what about this? Did you consider that? It was really great. I mean, you could sort of see essentially how people were arguing over actual spending. They had some control, some empowerment over what they were doing in a way that, you know, would have been inconceivable five years before.

Mr. Breul: Rodney, who comprised the members of the Program Review Board and how did it sort through all the competing demands?

Mr. Bent: There were probably 10 or 11 different groups represented on the Program Review Board: Australians; the United Kingdom�s Department for International Development; members of the CJTF-7, which was the multinational force, if you will; various members of CPA; and then obviously the Minister of Finance, and then, as I say, we succeeded in getting other Iraqis to participate in the meetings of the board.

It would meet once a week, typically Saturday mornings, but there�d be staff meetings. There was a lot of interaction back and forth. We�d put the minutes up on the web so that if you had access to the Internet, you could at least see what was there. We arranged for translators to be there to make sure that we were really having, you know, full and open consultations.

Mr. Lawrence: That�s a fascinating point.

When the funds were provided to Iraq, quarterly reports were prepared, as Rodney described. He�s been one of the people who�s been there when the first reports were prepared, and now he receives them on the Hill. We�ll ask him what it�s like to review this reporting requirement from both sides 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 Rodney Bent. Rodney is on the professional staff on the House Appropriations Committee.

And joining us in our conversation is Jonathan Breul.

Mr. Breul: Rodney, what role did Congress play and does play in the distribution of the funds and the reconstruction efforts?

Mr. Bent: Huge role obviously in terms of the initial appropriation, but then also the subsequent oversight, both getting the reports from CPA, and presumably in the future, it�ll be the State Department on what�s being done, asking questions, looking at the components of the spending, making sure it all adds up.

Mr. Lawrence: You talked about the reports earlier and that you were there pulling together the first one, and now you receive it. Can you reflect on the process of pulling the report together and interpreting it from the different points of view?

Mr. Bent: Sure. When I got out to Baghdad, I thought that I�d get out and find, you know, well-established routines, people who had clearly put together the first report and done I thought a very good job and could explain what was behind all of the assumptions. When I got out there, a lot of those people had already moved on in some sense. And so we were starting from not ground zero, but we were, in a lot of cases, reinventing what had been done. Who was going to carry something out? Why did we make these assumptions about the number of power plants or the number of police who were going to be trained or the number of staff? And you have to adjust that.

There was clearly, I think, as an example, a desire to spend more on security because that was more important. And so the Iraqi armed forces, which were initially conceived of as I think an agent against external aggression, sort of in the change I think became less relevant than, say, standing up the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which was part of the internal group that was helping the multinational force deal with the insurgencies.

Mr. Lawrence: When we think about reporting, of course, you get lots of money, you need reporting. And some would argue reporting is sort of this bureaucratic thing and it slows things down and causes more layers. What was your perspective?

Mr. Bent: Well, it -- I think it�s a useful discipline. It forces people to ask the questions that need to be asked. What�s the structure? Who�s going to carry it out? What are the reasonable expectations? What�s not? It�s what people do with the reports where I think that, you know, you can ask questions about, okay, do they have a role in asking tough questions. If you get to a level of questioning that really does slow things down, gee, you can�t answer who�s going to carry out this project in this governance, and so, therefore, you ought not to do it. Then you�re clearly impeding progress. But to ask questions about, well, who�s going to carry it out and what do you hope to achieve, that�s entirely legitimate.

Mr. Breul: Given the fact that Iraq has recently emerged as a sovereign nation, what are some of the challenges that you foresee for this new country?

Mr. Bent: Oh, huge challenges. One is going to be security, clearly. Second will be corruption, which under Saddam flourished at all levels. And Iraq, I think, previously was, and these are relative, a secular, humanistic culture in which honesty was prized. And yet, over the last 35 years or so, it�s moved to a period in which all sorts of rake-offs and kickbacks and corruption and influence-peddling is all part of the norm of doing business. I think, at least I hope, that more transparency, more accountability, more -- it�s not honesty, because that gives a value-laden term that I don�t think is appropriate here, but more transparent way of doing business, I guess, so that people can see that they�re getting full value for their dinars.

Mr. Lawrence: I�d be curious how you reflect on your time in terms of the expectations that have been placed on this whole process.

Mr. Bent: I think you can -- looking back on it now, the expectations of a year and a half ago were clearly way too high in terms of building a liberal democracy and a free market economy that was going to, you know, maybe not be on a par with Switzerland, but certainly up there. And I think those were absolutely unmeetable expectations. And so much more realistic would be to say can you get a functioning economy? Can you start a banking system? Can you get a government that makes essential decisions on behalf of its citizens? I think that�s possible.

I think the violence and, you know, the coming together that I hope will happen would prevent what would be a disaster, which would be a civil war and warring groups and everybody thinking that they�re entitled to take what they can take by force of arms.

Mr. Lawrence: In another aspect of your very unique experience has been working with people of different cultures, but also the military, the State Department. I wonder how you sort of reflect on all that.

Mr. Bent: Sure. I -- out there, I have just the utmost respect for the military. It�s -- setting aside Abu Gharib and whatever you think of that, I -- you know, coming back from meetings at the Ministry of Finance, and you�d see kids standing at checkpoints absolutely exposed and not knowing whether there was a sniper or whether they were going to be killed doing their job. But there was really a degree of professionalism that was -- I just found incredibly impressive. People were thrown into doing things that they had no training for. Civil affairs officers were working with the Ministry of Social Affairs on things like vocational training programs, and they kind of plunged into it. It was sort of a think outside the box, be innovative, what works, and, you know, they were sort of, you know, we�re in this. You know, we got to do something. What can we do? You know, what works? Well, if that doesn�t work, okay, let�s try something else. There was a real entrepreneurial kind of get-it-done feeling out there.

Mr. Breul: What about members of your budget team? How did they perform and how was their work environment?

Mr. Bent: Well, it -- we would leave the Green Zone probably six days a week, Friday being the holy day, and so people got out there. When I got out there, I think staff were young and talented and hard-working, but they didn�t really have a lot of experience in budget matters. And so, you know, part of it was throwing them into it and helping them as best you could. But it, I think, gets a little bit to, well, what kinds of skills were required and what kinds of folks should be out there.

The British and the Australians sent mid-level employees who worked for five or ten years on things like financial markets or budgets. And, you know, what is a little missing in the discussion back here is the contribution of the other countries to the civil reconstruction, if you will. And I will say that my Australian and British colleagues were absolutely invaluable, and they were huge important parts of whatever successes we did have.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, with that as a perspective, I�d be curious what advice, based on your career as well as your recent experience, what advice would you give to someone interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Bent: The challenges of public service are that you�re going to find a kind of a commitment and a desire to get things done that -- well, I�m not putting this very well, but I think what -- you�re going to find challenges that you�re just not going to find in the private sector. You�re going to be given awesome levels of responsibility that are going to be well beyond anything you might do as a 25- or a 30-year-old in a company. It�s on the one hand daunting and, on the other hand, it forces you to grow.

I think that if I were looking back on sort of, you know, my own career, I think that a lot of what you learn in the public sector, sort of analyzing choices, trying to bring a neutral, turn the coin and look at both sides perspective to issues, that�s important. You can�t go in and be a moralist and try to judge people�s motives. You�ve got to deal with the world as you find it. And I think that that and the camaraderie and the sense of purpose were what I most enjoyed about CPA.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, I know Jonathan and I could ask you many more questions, but I�m afraid we�re out of time. Rodney, we want to thank you for being with us this morning.

Mr. Bent: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Rodney Bent. Rodney�s a professional staffer on the House Appropriations Committee, but for the past six months, he�s been the director of the CPA�s Office of Management and Budget a senior adviser for the Iraqi Ministry of Finance.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today�s very fascinating conversation. Once again, that�s businessofgovernment.or

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.