Dave Grant

Friday, January 26th, 2018 - 14:25
Former Associate Administrator of FEMA’s Mission Support Bureau. It is also important for senior government leaders who are moving on from public service to share their reflections on the work they did and the missions they pursued. Join us as we welcome Dave Grant, Former Associate Administrator of FEMA’s Mission Support Bureau to reflect on his public service career and his leadership roles.
Radio show date: 
Mon, 02/05/2018
Intro text: 
Dave Grant, Former Associate Administrator of FEMA’s Mission Support Bureau. It is also important for senior government leaders who are moving on from public service to share their reflections on the work they did and the missions they pursued. Join host Michael Keegan as he welcomes Dave Grant, Former Associate Administrator of FEMA’s Mission Support Bureau to reflect on his public service career and his leadership roles.

David A. Grant

Friday, January 26th, 2018 - 14:25
On September 1, 2015, Mr. David A. Grant began serving as Associate Administrator for Mission Support. Previously, Mr. Grant served as the FEMA Chief Procurement Officer. Prior to his appointment as the FEMA Chief Procurement Officer, Mr. Grant served as Chief, Agency-Wide Shared Services (AWSS) for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) where he provided oversight and direction to key operational and administrative divisions in support of IRS tax administration.

Weekly Roundup: November 27 – December 1, 2017

Friday, December 1st, 2017 - 10:50
John Kamensky FEMA’s Resilience Reset. RouteFifty reports: “State and local governments should own the disaster recovery process by creating integrated, outcome-based mitigation plans like Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s administrator said Thursday at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.”

Making Data Real – Lessons From and For Federal Leaders

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 - 14:00
Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 12:52
In this final installment, we provide highlights from these federal leaders on the most important ingredients for a successful analytics program.

Carter Hewgley, FEMA: Conversations on Using Analytics to Improve Mission Outcomes

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 - 13:53
Tuesday, October 21, 2014 - 13:41
When Carter Hewgley joined FEMA in 2011, the organization was focused on two things, the timely delivery of services and the processes required to collect and organize all the resources to support those services.  FEMA was a “disaster-driven” organization, more focused on responding to the next emergency, rather than reviewing the lessons learned from a previous emergency.   Although there were “analytical cells”

One Size Doesn't Fit All: Marshaling Science in Crises

Monday, May 12th, 2014 - 9:40
Friday, May 9, 2014 - 16:34
Almost 40 years ago, the Forest Service developed a command-and-control approach to battling forest fires that was successful in coordinating efforts across multiple jurisdictions and fire departments.  Its approach was adopted by other agencies to address their own forms of emergencies. For example, USDA uses it to battle infestations of crop-killing insects.

Adapting the Incident Command Model for Knowledge-Based Crises: The Case of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Friday, May 9th, 2014 - 15:25
The federal government has developed increasingly sophisticated approaches to addressing emergencies and crises. One successful management model is the incident command system (ICS), which was initially developed in the 1970s as a command-and-control approach for fighting forest fires, but has since been adapted to other policy domains. The Department of Homeland Security adopted the ICS model—which it renamed the National Incident Management System (NIMS)—and required its use at all levels of government in emergency and crisis situations.

David Robinson

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 - 10:20
What are the strategic priorities of FEMA’s Mission Support Bureau? How is FEMA’s Mission Support Bureau providing the support, tools, and resources that ensure FEMA meets its mission? What is FEMA doing to improve its operational performance?
Radio show date: 
Mon, 08/25/2014
Intro text: 
What are the strategic priorities of FEMA’s Mission Support Bureau? How is FEMA’s Mission Support Bureau providing the support, tools, and resources that ensure FEMA meets its mission? What is FEMA doing to improve its operational performance?
Complete transcript: 







Interviewers: Michael Keegan and Angela Carrington



Segment A


Michael Keegan: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour.  I'm Michael Keegan, your host and Managing Editor of The Business of Government Magazine.  2011 and 2012 were in succession the most active and among the mostly costly years in U.S. history for natural disasters, and at the same time that the disaster patterns are intensifying the nation's lead emergency response agency, FEMA, like most of the Government, faces an ever shrinking budget reality.  This is unlikely to change even with more and further contraction of the resource base, challenging FEMA's ability to deliver effectively on its mission. 


Given these challenges it is critical that agency leaders properly align mission support functions, such as finance, technology, acquisition and workforce management, with mission delivery.  Doing this involves identifying opportunities to consolidate or reorient functions in a manner that can deliver greater value with fewer resources.


What are the strategic priorities of FEMA's Mission Support Bureau?  How is FEMA's Mission Support Bureau providing the support and tools necessary to ensure that FEMA meets its mission?  And what is FEMA doing to improve its operational performance?  We will explore these questions and so much more with our very special guest, David Robinson, Associate Administrator for FEMA's Mission Support Bureau.  Also joining our conversation from IBM is Angela Carrington.


So, David, welcome to the show, it's great to have you.


David Robinson: Thank you, glad to be here.


Michael Keegan: Angela, welcome, as always.


Angela Carrington: Thank you, Michael.


Michael Keegan: David, before we delve into specific initiatives would you give us a brief overview of the mission and continuing evolution of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration, FEMA, and its Mission Support Bureau?


David Robinson: Okay, sure.  Actually, it's good to start with the vision of FEMA.  The vision of FEMA is simply a prepared nation, and in achieving that vision FEMA, its mission really is to support the citizens and first responders of the nation and work together with them to build and sustain and improve our abilities and capabilities to prepare for, to protect against, to respond to, to recover from and to mitigate hazards, all kind of hazards.


That mission has evolved over time and, in fact, this month we're celebrating the 35th anniversary of FEMA.  But the important thing is that we're trying to look at all types of hazards, it's not just -- most people think of FEMA they think of weather disasters, but we're preparing for and responding to all kind of disasters, so manmade disasters, as well.


In the Mission Support space, which I'm primarily focused on inside FEMA, we actually become the infrastructural underpinning to FEMA, we're that support infrastructure on which everything else is built so that it can be prepared.  Our vision in Mission Support is achieving business excellence for a prepared FEMA.


Michael Keegan: Given the critical mission of your organization would you give us a sense of the scale of operation, both of your office and the agency you support?  How are you organized?  What's the size of your budget, fulltime employees, and your geographical footprint?


David Robinson: So, FEMA's budget is actually quite large, it's $13 billion when you count in all the flood insurance and disaster operations or disaster funds that we use, and FEMA has about 15,000 employees across the nation, including a Reserve Corps that is called up as needed when disasters happen and we need additional manpower.


For Mission Support our budget is quite small compared to the $13 billion, we've got about a $450 million budget of all types of appropriations, and I've got about 1,100 employees across the nation that are working, at FEMA about 1,100 employees that are working Mission Support type activities in providing that support infrastructure.


We're organized along -- relatively along functional lines.  So, for example, the Chief Information Officer's group, the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, which handles a lot of administrative facilities, property type functions, the Chief Human Capital Officer, who handles the plethora of HR and employee relations type functions.  We also have the Chief Security Officer handling personnel and physical security, and the Chief Procurement Officer, which handles the acquisition portfolio for FEMA. 


And then, in addition, Admission Support who helped me to pull all this together.  I've got what we call our Enterprise Business unit, which is sort of our business office that's providing analytical support to each of these other offices so we don't have to duplicate effort.


Angela Carrington: So, David, can you talk a little bit about your specific responsibilities as Associate Administrator of the Mission Support Bureau?  And you talked about kind of the areas under your purview, but how do your efforts really support FEMA's mission?


David Robinson: Sure.  So, if I could, I'll just give a couple of examples in each of those functional areas.  So, in the HR area, for example, we do all the HR processes from hiring people, all the way through retirement of an employee.  So, all the things that affect an employee's career happen in our Chief Human Capital Office, and that includes some training, leadership -- we have a big Leadership Development Program that trains future leaders and emerging leaders and coordinates that kind of effort to get people into leadership roles as they progress through their career.  In addition, HR folks do performance management, so managing the performance standards that employees are held to and managing that process that helps us to evaluate folks' performance during the year.     


For the Office of the Chief Administrative Office it's a little bit of a lot of different things in that office.  So, for example, they manage all of our real property and facilities, managing leases and the property that FEMA owns, both that we own and that we lease from GSA, for example.  They have the personal property, and where we have millions and millions of individual items of personal property.  We have 96% of all the property that's owned in the whole Department of Homeland Security inside FEMA, that's right, yes, more than anybody. 


And then we also, that same office manages the vehicle fleet and the Records Management Office, and that's a very important function to make sure that we're maintaining the records in appropriate ways and dealing with records as they age.  Privacy Office is also in there, as well as the Safety Office, so there's a whole lot of different things in that Administrative Office that is sort of a catchall for a number of very important functions. 


Michael Keegan: So, David, given the expanse of your portfolio, your Mission Support portfolio, what are some of the top management challenges you face and how have you sought to address them?


David Robinson: I think that we've had three really, really big challenges.  And the first of those challenges is about affecting change.  Most Government organizations, I suspect most organizations, are riddled with stovepipes, and FEMA is no different in that way.  We have our own set of stovepipes, just like everybody else.  And so affecting change and finding ways to be more collaborative in our work so that we're doing FEMA work, not just Mission Support work, or FEMA work, not just response work.


So, I kind of look at it this way, as we're looking at change and how we affect change we -- I kind of use a boat analogy.  And the analogy I like to use is that at FEMA we're building a boat, a new boat, and we're going to invite everybody to be a part of building that boat.  And then once we build that boat we're going to invite everybody to get on, and then we're going to sail off toward the new direction that we're going, you know, a new collaborative, new responsiveness, new whatever we're trying to do.  Invariably some folks are going to be left on the dock, but when we arrive at that new destination it's going to be with energized and enthusiastic employees who helped to build that and have affected that change themselves, and that's going to be helpful.  That's what I'd say is change, is challenge number one is making change stick.


Challenge number two is, of course, our decreasing resource environment, it's hitting every agency, it's hitting the whole Government.  There's certainly the cry from all sides to try and decrease the spending that we have in Government, and we're trying -- in answering that we're trying to figure out how can we be innovative and creative and find ways to collaborate more so that we don't have to build things brand-new every single time.  And it also requires us to make hard decisions, those are, you know, we have to make some tradeoffs sometimes.


Third challenge I'd say is that while all this is going on, while change is going on, while decreasing resources are being addressed we're literally fixing the engine of the train while it's moving at high speed down the track, while we're moving the tracks.  And that's a very sort of a hard thing for folks to get their arms around because we can't, in disaster we can't just stop and fix stuff until we're ready, the disaster isn't going to wait.  So, we have to be fixing while we go, which means that it's harder to do.


Michael Keegan: So, David, given your experience what are the essential characteristics of an effective leader?


David Robinson: Great question, and you can read lots and lots of books about that, right?  But I think there's essentially six things that come to mind, six quick little things that come to mind for me. 


One is that I think a good leader needs to be well rounded, and by that I mean that if you have differing experiences and differing jobs and not just had the same job your whole career, but rather moved around and seen and done different things with different sets of people, I think that makes you a better leader.


Second, I think you have to be a challenge seeker and that means having initiative, you have to seek out those challenges because they're not always going to present themselves to you, you have to go look for them and be willing to take them on. 


And then be a risk taker, and being a risk taker means that you have courage and that you are willing to stick your neck on the line for what you believe in or what you know is right.  It also means that you have to be willing to speak truth to power, and most senior leaders very much appreciate folks who are willing and able to do just that.        


Fourth, I think you have to be a communicator in all media.  You have to be able to speak, you have to be able to write, you have to be able to be succinct and get your message across without -- and understand your audience so that you're not necessarily diving down into all the details with the folks who really don't need to know or care.


And then, fifth, I'd say you have to be enthusiastic.  If you don't bring your attitude, your attitude as the leader is going to be reflected by every single one of your employees and the people around you, and you have to choose your attitude and you can, and I think you have to be enthusiastic.


And then, finally, a lot of people say you need to be a team player, and I don't, I don't say that.  I say you need to be a team builder because the leader, it's a very definite distinction because you can be a team player all day long and just wait for somebody to tell you what to do, but the leader has to be the builder of the team.  And so I think, yes, you have to be a team player when it's appropriate, but as the leader you need to be a team builder.


Michael Keegan: So, David, who has influenced your leadership style?


David Robinson: I'd say there were two people who have influenced my style the most or my leadership the most.  And first is my father, and my father taught me that the two most important things are honor and courage, and to him honor without courage is worthless and courage without honor is dangerous.  So, those stuck with me. 


And, second, I've had a lot of mentors in my life.  The one who is probably the most memorable professional mentor was Susan Grant, who is the former CFO of the Department of Energy.  And she had a lot of things to say, and she used to say things like “Be ready to lead no matter what, be ready to lead, no matter who you are be ready to lead.”  But she'd also say something like, “Hope is not a strategy.” So, I use that all the time because people come and say, “Well, I hope to do this or I hope this or that,” and I say, “Well, hope is not a strategy, what are you really going to do?”


Michael Keegan: What are the strategic priorities of FEMA's Mission Support Bureau?  We will ask David Robinson, Associate Administrator for FEMA's Mission Support Bureau when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Segment B


Michael Keegan: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour.  I'm Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is David Robinson, Associate Administrator for FEMA's Mission Support Bureau.  Also joining us from IBM is Angela Carrington.


David, would you outline your strategic vision for your office?  What are your core strategic priorities?


David Robinson: Glad to.  As I had mentioned at the outset, the vision of Mission Support is to achieve business excellence for a prepared FEMA.  And we look at that from essentially five major priorities.  One is to make sure that we are enhancing our workforce's capability, and that includes agility and engagement and all the kinds of things that you need to do to enhance your workforce, making sure they have the right training, the right tools.


Also, providing outstanding service, I mean we have to have this as our core mantra that we're going to provide outstanding service as the support infrastructure.  If we're not providing outstanding service in partnership with our customers and stakeholders then we're going to miss the boat.  And I say that in partnership very deliberately because we can't just do it in a stovepipe and if we don't understand our customers and stakeholders' needs then we will not be able to provide as a Mission Support group we will not be able to provide the right kinds of service.  We might provide something.


Third, I think that we need to cultivate and we need to strengthen a more inclusive work environment.  Now that means a lot of different things.  It can mean diversity of thought, it can mean diversity of people.  It also includes a workplace that's conducive to collaboration and consultation and a workplace that is open and inviting, that people want to come to work.


Our fourth priority is that we want to improve and enhance our ability to communicate, to be able to promote open and effective communications throughout.  One of the things that mission support has had a problem with in the past is that we do a lot of good things, but we don't tell anybody or we're not able to communicate, tell our story or get to the salient points about what's important or help people through, and it's that dialogue that is better than just one-way communication or tossing things over the fence at each other in trying to solve a problem.


And then, finally, I think Mission Support, one of their more important priorities is to prepare for the future with a strategic focus, and that means that we can't just rest on what we've done before, that means we have to be always looking ahead, always anticipating, always planning, and you just have to be able to do that strategically, not just in the moment.  We oftentimes get into a situation where we are -- all of us do this, a situation where we are answering the urgent or the emergent, we're constantly battled by our inbox, and we're constantly reading e-mail, but are we're doing things deliberately and strategically and, or are we answering our e-mail or answering the urgent and emergent in strategic ways.


Angela Carrington: David, IT systems definitely play a critical role in supporting FEMA to accomplish your response and recovery efforts.   Can you tell us a little more about our efforts to enhance and maintain that IT infrastructure and maybe some of the key challenges that you've faced in this area and any efficiencies or cooperative efforts that you've undertaken in those efforts?


David Robinson:  Sure.  Thank you.  FEMA, as I mentioned, is a large organization that has very complex systems.  We have well over 600 operational systems today, and managing a portfolio of 600 systems is a daunting task.  Part of the challenges that we've had in managing that is just understanding what they are. 


We are, in fact, in the middle of a very big undertaking, headed by our Chief Information Officer, Adrian Gardner, who is taking a team around the country to all of our 10 regions and in the Headquarters to identify the systems that we have, indentify the vulnerabilities that those systems have in the IT security world, to repair those vulnerabilities and help the programs and our regional administrators repair those vulnerabilities, and also to understand the interdependency of those systems.  We're looking for duplication of effort.


The IT, we spend a lot of money on IT, and we spend a lot of money on IT security.  And so, if we can find duplicate efforts and combine those or consolidate those into fewer systems that makes our management of those systems much easier to do, so we're trying to tie all those together.


In addition we're looking for are we using our systems in the best way, so for example we may have a number of inventory type systems, but do we need more than one?  We may have a number of training systems, but do we need more than one?  And so we're looking at how are we using our systems and can we leverage the ones, the best of breed, if you will, and try to reduce that footprint and make things more seamless for the folks who are actually using those systems. 


IT is hot on our list.  We believe, frankly, that our systems are critical, our technology is critical to our success, and we also know that FEMA has to be the last agency standing in the event of a major disaster so that we can be there and able to help others recover from a disaster.


Michael Keegan: So, David, I want to talk about your procurement strategy, could you tell us a little about it, what are some of the challenges you have in this area and is there a difference in approach in your procurement strategy when you're dealing with an emergency or nonemergency?


David Robinson: Sure.  Our procurement strategy is really that we need to get the best, we need to get the things that the programs need on the ground when they need them.  Now that's particularly challenging in a disaster, and I'll tell you that our approach to disaster versus non-disaster is not any different.  It's really the same procurement rules apply, the same kinds of controls apply, and what we try to do is make sure that we are pre-positioning contractual vehicles or pre-positioning things that we need in a disaster so that we're not having to create brand-new things in the field, in the heat of the moment.


In addition, our procurement office is working vigilantly on improving the accuracy of contracting, just making sure that the data files are right, and making sure that we are improving our contract processes so it speeds those things up.  We're also looking at how we're organized so that we can make sure that a group that's doing, let's say, IT procurements over here and another group that's over here doing procurements for another organization aren't buying the exact same thing separately with separate contracts.  So we're looking at how are we buying, what are we buying, and trying to find ways in which we can combine those buys to get, to leverage better pricing.


Michael Keegan: And that goes back to your duplication efforts, minimizing that.


David Robinson: Yes, it sure does.  Now from a -- that's sort of little a procurement, but in a big A procurement, a big A acquisition we are looking very hard at all of our major acquisition programs, and we've got 30 some odd programs that we're monitoring and a few of them fairly large.  And so we're looking at how do we do better oversight, how do we do better program and project management of those programs, how are we making sure that small businesses are in the mix of our procurement strategy. 


We're looking at making sure that we are having Acquisition Review Boards at appropriate milestones along the way and in the lifecycle of these major programs, as well as working very closely with the folks at the Department of Homeland Security on improving our ability to do good lifecycle cost estimating so that we know what we need to be budgeting for the long term and it's not always a catch-up year to year.


Angela Carrington: So, let's now talk about your human capital strategy, people are just so important, and I'd like to kind of hear about what you're doing to recruit, hire, train and retain really a quality workforce to meet your mission needs, both now and for the future, and also kind of how are you cultivating leadership and mentoring folks to develop the next generation of FEMA leaders?  And then, lastly, maybe if you could talk about any challenges in that area?


David Robinson: Angela, that's a great question, and the heart of any organization is its people, and FEMA hears that loud and clear.  And one of the challenges that we have is that when you look at things like the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, FEMA doesn't rank very well in the results of that survey, and we're taking that very seriously.  And we're not trying to chase the survey, but we're trying to say, “What are root causes of why those survey results are so bad?” 


And it comes down to people, and it's more than just hiring, though, so we've taken a step back and said we could fix the hiring process all day long, but we only hire 400 or 500 people each year new, but we have 15,000 employees.  If we're not managing those 15,000 employees well in ways that they feel like they've got a career path, they know what's expected, they have clear expectations of them and their performance or their training or whatever, if we're not strengthening that workforce along the way throughout their career then we will have missed a big boat.


So, we've taken on recently, in fact, I'm the Chair of this project, this strategic focus for FEMA is workforce management.  And one of -- this is a strategic focus because we recognize that if we don't understand how we can better manage the lifecycle of employees, if you will, or the whole workforce, both disaster workforce and non-disaster workforce, then we'll miss a big opportunity. 


So, we're looking at this from three big areas -- building the workforce, which would for me mean that we are including, making sure that we have the right people in the right place at the right time with the right kind of skills, so we're hiring well and we're helping managers to understand how to hire well in the first place.  That our processes are transparent and open and people feel like that even if they didn't get that job they understand why.  And so, we're also trying to improve our processes in terms of speed because if it takes 180 days to hire somebody oftentimes that person is going to end up going off to do something else.


We're also looking at targeted recruitment because if you look across our workforce we may not have the right skill sets, we may not have the right diversity, we may not have the right mix of people that we need for our disaster.  And so, we're looking at how we can do better at targeted recruitment of the right people.  We're looking at workforce planning in ways that we had never really looked to before and things like organizational design.  What do we really need in our workforce and why do we think we need that, what are the data that show us that we need a workforce that looks and feels like this?  And then, and so we're looking at new ways to think about organizational design, so that would be sort of the building piece because if you can design it well and you can hire well and you know what you're getting then you can build the right workforce.


But then you have to manage them, and so there's a big chunk about management, that's about performance management, it's about -- we have this effort that we can talk about workplace transformation where every employee is an emergency manager, and we're expeditionary and all those kinds of words, but we're managing the workforce in terms of performance and in terms of recognition, in terms of dealing with poor performers, as well.  How well do we do that and what do we need to be doing?  How do we train managers and supervisors to be better managers and supervisors so that the workforce understands their expectations?  Most people want to come to work and do a good job, but if they don't know what is expected of them it's hard for them to do that. 


And then the strengthening piece is really about building a career, like what's the career path of the workforce?  If we hire a GS7 or GS9 employee early in their career and they aspire to be a GS15 or a GS14 supervisor how can they get there, what's their career path along the way, what kinds of things do we recommend for them?  And are we monitoring their career along the way, not just leaving them to their own devices, but helping each employee get to a better place, wherever they want to be, and where we need them, so that would include coaching and mentoring and training and leadership development, things like that.   It's critical.


It's also a different approach because in the past we've hired to vacancies, and so a program, we've been hiring to programs.  And so a program might have 150 employees and they have three vacancies, they hire those vacancies, but what we need to move toward is hiring for FEMA and hiring people who can work in FEMA wherever they land.  So they might start in the Recovery Office and then they move to one of the Mission Support Offices, and then they go back and do response work or they do flood insurance work, but we train them along the way, we give them different kinds of experiences, and we're mentoring and monitoring them along their career path so they become a more fulfilled, more engaged, more satisfied employee.


Michael Keegan: And, David, I would like to transition from the workforce to the workplace, and you alluded to the workplace transformation initiative, can you tell us a little bit more about this, what's happening in terms of how you're designing a more collaborative environment, and what are some of the obstacles that you're dealing with in realizing this vision?


David Robinson: Sure.  First, let me tell you what it is, and our workplace transformation initiative was originally dreamed up because we were losing money, because we didn't have enough money in our budget.  And so, we made a critical strategic decision to trade space so that we could keep people because we're a people organization and so the space is less important than the people.  What we're moving our workforce to is to understand that the work of FEMA is what you do, not where you do it. 


So, we started an effort to reduce our footprint and to create open and collaborative environments, open workspaces, very much in the model that GSA has used over the last several years, and where we are -- and just in the National Capitol region alone we had physical location eight different buildings around the National Capitol region.  We've now reduced that to three, and we're probably on the track to reduce it more than that over the next several years. 


But we are renovating a lot in our main building on 500 C Street, where we're knocking down walls, knocking down offices, and have large open spaces where you could sit just about anywhere you want to with reservation systems so that people can say today I'm going to sign in, I'm going to sit here.  Your phone is moved to that desk, your computer is moved, you take your computer with you.  We've armed every single employee with a laptop and a mobile device of some sort, cell phone, Blackberry or whatever, and one of those security tokens so that you can log into our network virtually, and with those three pieces of, three devices you can be a FEMA employee anywhere. 


And we do a lot of telework, we've been encouraging and increasing the amount of telework that people are doing because in many cases the jobs that people perform can be done anywhere.  There are some exceptions to that, obviously, if you're in a secure environment you need classified information, you can't take that home, but if you are an analyst and you're doing analytical work or you're writing a paper you could write that from this desk or that desk or this floor or that floor or your house or your library or some other place.


So, we've not only been able to begin to move the needle on the culture of FEMA in terms of the workplace, but what I've observed just in the little bit -- we haven't finished our construction, but in the little bit that we have done I've observed people actually talking to one another a lot more, they can't hide behind high-walled cubicles or behind desks anymore.  They have to talk to others and it's almost forcing the collaboration.  So teams can go together and decide they're going to work together today on a particular project and they work together in a specific area in the building, and it becomes more free flowing of ideas, more free flowing of thoughts and, oh, by the way, we're saving lots and lots of money. 


In the last two years alone we've reduced our footprint by 40,000 square feet, and we've saved $3.5 million just in the last couple of years and we're on track to save well over $9 million or $10 million and, like I said, reducing the footprint by, ultimately by 187,000 square feet just in the National Capitol region. 


Our intent is to take this same idea out to our regional offices so that we can both reduce the footprint out there, save some money, get people in more collaborative open spaces there, as well, but also just to change our mindset that you have to have an office because you really don't.                    


Michael Keegan: So, David, being a good steward of the public trust is critically important in this day and age with the budget realities we're dealing with, so I'd be interested in understanding how are you folks limiting fraud claims, fraudulent claims, and what are you doing to address this?


David Robinson: So, great question because I think that we've been doing a really good job in this area.  As I mentioned to you, we have a Fraud Detection unit down in Florida that goes and investigates the various claims of fraud when we hear of them or detect them, but really what we've been doing more than that is to prevent it in the first place.  So, for example, we do a lot of individual assistance to survivors of disasters and one of our big missions is to make sure that people are, individuals, individual citizens are getting help when they need that.


Our rate of improper payments to individuals right now is less than half of 1%, and so it's a terrific record, and we did that through upfront internal controls.  So as a person calls, an individual citizen calls into our Service Center, our Call Center, there's a litany of questions that are asked and they sort of prescreen all of this stuff so that we are doing detection upfront, we're helping guide people, our improper payments to individuals is very, very low.


And now we do a lot of grant money, too, so we give grants to universities, we give grants to communities, to organizations that are trying to do disaster preparedness and other things.  And one of the things that we're working now with each of them is not as much about fraud, more about helping them to obligate their money, helping them to get that money spent in the way in which it was intended.  We've hired a batch of contract attorneys to help them work through the contractual issues, helped communities and organizations work through contract issues that they may be having and getting those monies spent in the way in which they wanted to spend them in the first place. 


And by having our assistance upfront with the internal controls and having our assistance with grantees to help them through the process of getting grants or using the grant money that they have you can do a whole lot in avoiding fraud.  And then where we do find fraud, like I said, we have an investigative unit that goes and investigates each one of those cases and we get pretty good resolution.


Michael Keegan: How is FEMA's Mission Support Bureau providing the tools and resources necessary for the agency to meet its mission?  We will ask David Robinson, Associate Administrator for FEMA's Mission Support Bureau when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Segment C


Michael Keegan: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour.  I'm Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is David Robinson, Associate Administrator for FEMA's Mission Support Bureau.  Also joining us from IBM is Angela Carrington.


So, David, would you tell us about the initiatives you're pursuing to improve FEMA's operational performance?


David Robinson: Sure.  I think the biggest one I'd like to touch on is a new initiative that we've got going on that ties into our workforce management initiative, it's about cadre management.  Cadre management, to us, is about: how do we manage the disaster workforce?  Obviously, a subset of the entire workforce, but the disaster workforce has some very -- some even some unique requirements that are related to disasters. 


And so my colleague, Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery, Joe Nimmich, and his team are heading an effort around cadre management.  And we're defining cadres as we have 23 cadres aligned by functional area, so skill sets, if you will.  So, you'll have an acquisition cadre, you'll have a response cadre, you'll have a recovery cadre, an HR cadre, and all of the critical skill sets that we need in a disaster we have one of these cadres.


And the cadre can include fulltime permanent employees, it can include disaster, people who are specifically focused on disaster work, not just the normal day-to-day ops but disaster work only.  It also includes the folks that we have who are reservists, we have several thousand reservists, who are part of these cadres.


And we're managing these cadres, we're starting to manage them a little bit differently than we had before.  We used to just consider them about the reservists, call the reserve workforce up in a disaster and be done, but really now we're looking at the holistic view of cadre management and what does that mean? 


And it really kind of has five key things.  One is availability, staffing and availability, do we have the right staff, are they available when we need them?  So, we might have a cadre of 400 people in a particular skill set in Disaster A in North Dakota, we only need 20 of them, but we need to make sure that those 20 are available. 


Secondly is the training and education and the professional development of the cadre.  We've got a set of skills and task books, if you will, a group of skill sets and training that is required for each one of these skill sets that we require everyone to be current on, and so through a system that we use we can monitor a person's tracking through the training and education requirements that are levied on them for their educational requirements in a disaster workforce.


Third is equipping them and making sure they're prepared, do they have the right equipment, do they have their laptop, do they have a cell phone, do they have any protective equipment that they might need in a disaster zone, do they have other specialized equipment that they might need?


Fourth is qualifying them from their experiential requirements, so you may have training, but if you've never deployed to a disaster zone, you've never had the experience of working in a disaster, and we need each one of our cadre members, our disaster workforce to have those experiential requirements, and we're going to lay all those out so that there's clear expectations of what those are.


And then, finally, it's performance management, and this is why everything I've just said here in this really ties right back to the whole of workforce management is sort of a subset, but if we've got the right availability and we've got the right training and the right preparedness and equipping them, the right experiential requirements, and we're monitoring their performance on the job, in disasters then we'll make sure that we have enhanced the workforce.  And if we're managing these cadres in this way we equate that to operational readiness.


Angela Carrington: So, David, we understand that making FEMA an expeditionary organization is a key priority for the administrator, so you can tell us what that really means and what your role in your organization is in making that vision a reality?


David Robinson: Sure.  Expeditionary is one of those terms that a lot of people get confused about because they're not sure, does that mean that I have to be deployed all the time or whatever does it mean?  It means kind of fundamentally that we are able to work wherever we need to work, and I sort of touched on this a little bit when we were talking about workplace transformation, but the work is what you do, not where you do it. 


And so, if we are equipping folks with the right kinds of equipment, the laptop, the cell phone, et cetera, and we are making sure that their connectivity is solid, so they can have wireless connection or they have some way to get back into our networks to the systems that they need to operate, then that helps them whether they're working in the Headquarters during non-disaster times or they're working in a disaster area that they're there. 


But it's also a mindset, expeditionary means that you may be called up to deploy to a disaster to help in your skill set or a skill set that you've designated.  One of the things that I learned in Hurricane Sandy, back in 2012, I had been in a job at FEMA, in my current job for one month and Sandy hit.  And so I came to work that day, and they said here's your first disaster.


Angela Carrington: Welcome.


David Robinson: Yes, “Welcome to FEMA, here's your first disaster, and it was a big one.”  And while not exactly a catastrophic disaster it was a big one, and so but it gave me the opportunity to observe Mission Support's role in all of this and how does it -- how does Mission Support play.  So, in addition to the infrastructural things that we were doing, I also observed that we were providing a lot of the surge workforce that was needed to just sort of do some extra hands on deck.  And we were doing that by a show of hands, who volunteers to go. 


And I came back from Sandy thinking that we needed to rethink that, that if we're just doing it by volunteerism then what's going to happen is the people who are really excited and enthusiastic are going to all volunteer and some of those day-to-day steady state operations that I am responsible for just to keep the lights on, to keep the power on, to keep the systems running, to keep the facilities open, to keep things secure might drop off.


So, we had to take another look at Mission Support, in particular, and say, “Okay, we're going to look at not by person but by position, what are the things that absolutely must stay on and how many people and which people, which positions do we need to keep them on?”  So, out of my workforce we've identified like 200 people that if a disaster happens these 200 people stay and they keep doing their day-to-day job because that's what keeps the infrastructure going.


Then there's a whole another group of people that have disaster titles, if you will, they're already qualified with disaster workforce type situations, and they would be deployed in a variety of situations to do those kinds of things.  It could be acquisition professionals who go to the field to do acquisition work.  It could be IT professionals who go and do systems work, get networks running in our forward deployed field offices.  It could be any number of skill sets that are helping in various disasters.


And then there's going to be those who aren't necessarily going to do their specific skill, but they're going to help out in something else, so they might be a general workforce to go and help with meeting survivors in their homes and going to help collect information from survivors and help in that kind of effort.


There's also going to be some subset of people in mission support that are going to sort of drop their day-to-day job, but stay in place because that's where they can best support the disaster.  So, for example, we might add people to help desk operations for call centers or something, but they can do it from right where they sit, they don't have to deploy anywhere, but they're deployed in place.


So, we've sort of rethought how we organize ourselves around the disaster workforce, and that makes us more expeditionary because we're thoughtfully and deliberately deciding when something goes wrong, how are we going to respond to that?  It's not make it up as you go.



Michael Keegan: What is FEMA doing to improve its operational performance?  We will ask David Robinson, Associate Administrator for FEMA's Mission Support Bureau, when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Segment D


Michael Keegan: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour.  I'm Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is David Robinson, Associate Administrator for FEMA's Mission Support Bureau.  Also joining us from IBM is Angela Carrington.


So, David, how are you leveraging partnerships and collaboration to improve operation and achieve program outcomes?


David Robinson: Collaboration is something that we try to do better and better at all the time.  The easy answer from a Mission Support perspective would be for me to say we're leveraging contract vehicles across the Department of Homeland Security or we're leveraging the data centers, as DHS is consolidating data centers in response to directives.


But really the way in which I think that is the best example of the collaborative effort and the collaborative nature of FEMA is when there is a disaster, what happens then?  Particularly when there's a major disaster, and we activate our National Response Coordination Center here in Washington, where we do national coordination of large events.


Each of our regions, each of our 10 regions has a Regional Response Coordination Center, as well, to manage the smaller events, but in each of the -- whether it's the National Response Center or whether it's the Regional Response Center, when those things are activated you can see the collaborative nature of FEMA's work right there in person because every agency of Government is at the table, non-Governmental agencies are at the table, Red Cross, the faith based organizations, the Tribal Nations are represented at the table, the Military Services are represented at the table.


And everyone working together in a collaborative way, coordinating their efforts across lanes, across traditional stovepipes to make sure that we are providing the best response we can to and the best help we can to survivors, whether they're individual survivors or communities of disasters wherever they may be.


Angela Carrington: So just to add to that, speaking of Mission Support, how have you been kind of looking to better integrate your team to be a single face to your customers?


David Robinson: It's an interesting one because I mentioned stovepipes earlier, and when I joined Mission Support a couple years ago there were a lot of stovepipes.  Every one of those lanes had its individual stovepipes and then there are stovepipes within stovepipes.


The leadership team and I have come together and created a Mission Support strategy that is supportive of and integrated with the FEMA strategy, but it's a single Mission Support strategy, strategic focus.  And I went over those strategic objectives, if you will, of five focus areas that we have in Mission Support.  That was a result of the leadership team coming together and thinking about Mission Support as a single entity, as an enterprise, and not just what do we need in HR, or what do we need in IT, but what do we need as an enterprise of Mission Support?


The way I kind of like to look at it is that we're really good at answering questions, but we're less good at providing solutions because if you have a problem that you're trying to solve and you haven't first asked that question what is the problem and clearly identifying the problem you're trying to solve instead of simply answering the question, then you miss an opportunity to go across the lanes and say, “Okay, you've asked me this question, but your problem is this and this has a tail over to IT, and this has a tail over to HR, and there's a security component to this problem, let's bring everybody to the table.”


So, in Mission Support we're trying to take that kind of an approach as we go forward.  Part of that is, as I alluded to earlier, is understanding the needs of our customers within FEMA and making sure that we have a clear understanding of what it is we're trying to fix.


Michael Keegan: I'd like to focus, as we close our conversation, on the future.  What are some of the major opportunities your organization will face and how are you going to seize those opportunities?


David Robinson: I think the greatest opportunity that we have is technology, and I'll give you an example.  You could -- in the past, even today, when there's a disaster that destroys homes we send a team of housing inspectors to go and assess the damage.  Well, if you're in Moore, Oklahoma and your home was just completely obliterated from the map and there's nothing there, there's nothing to inspect.  We can tell that from satellite photos. 


So, we're trying to find ways to creatively use technology to speed up our ability to help survivors, and the housing inspection is one example.  If we know that a house is completely destroyed, and there's nothing to inspect, we give folks the financial assistance up to the limit, whatever is the right, appropriate amount.  But that's just one example where technology is being useful.  And it also ties back to the strategic focus area that we have on utilizing data and data analytics to make better decisions, to operate better, to work smarter through data analytics.  This is just one example.   


So, I think that that and you can come up with many other ways I'm sure where technology is helping us to work smarter and to take advantage of some opportunities that didn't exist just a few years ago.


Michael Keegan: Good.  And speaking of taking advantage of opportunities, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about a career in public service?


David Robinson: That's a question you get a lot of times, and there's no one right answer here, but if I could boil it down to one thing I would just say be agile, be agile because if you think that your career is going to be going down a certain path and you weren't prepared to be agile enough to take that right turn and the fork in the road when it presented itself, then you might miss some opportunities that will make you a much better person.


I talked about some leadership characteristics earlier, right?  One of them is well rounded, and by being agile you can present -- opportunities as they present to you can really turn into something else.  I started my career as an Infantry Officer in the Marine Corps, and it's taken a lot of different turns and a lot of different twists, and every one of them made a difference in me being able to do what I'm doing today and be prepared for those kinds of things.  And so I think just watching out for opportunities and being agile enough and having enough courage to take those opportunities when they present themselves.


Michael Keegan: Well, David, I want to thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule to join us today but, more importantly, Angela and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the country.


Angela Carrington: Thank you, David.


David Robinson: Thank you for having me, it's been a pleasure.


Michael Keegan: A great conversation.  This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with David Robinson, Associate Administrator for FEMA's Mission Support Bureau.  My co-host from IBM has been Angela Carrington. 


Be sure to join us next week for another informative, insightful and in-depth conversation on improving Government effectiveness.  For The Business of Government Hour I'm Michael Keegan, and thank you for joining us.



David Robinson

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 - 10:19
On September 24, 2012, Mr. David M. Robinson began serving as Associate Administrator, Mission Support Bureau (MSB) for FEMA. Mr. Robinson assumed responsibility for improving support by collaborating across Agency programs and offices to deliver competence in technology, human capital, security, procurement, and administrative processes.  In addition to ensuring efficiencies, he is also charged with ensuring an improved internal review of Agency business processes.

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In our 2011 report on analytics use in the federal government, "From Data to Decisions: The Power of Analytics," we wrote about the tremendous budget pressures federal agencies face at a time when there is great public demand for government to be more effective and efficient. This report’s release sparked an overwhelmingly positive response from agency leaders and federal performance management practitioners who asked, “Where do we go from here?