G. Martin Wagner interview

Friday, June 29th, 2001 - 19:00
G. Martin Wagner
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/30/2001
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Arlington, Virginia

Thursday, May 10, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment by visiting us on the web at endowment@pwcglobal.com. 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 with Marty Wagner, associate administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. Welcome, Marty.

Mr. Wagner: Good to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Steve Seike, another PwC partner. Welcome, Steve.

Mr. Seike: Good to be here, Paul. Thanks.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Marty, let's start by finding out more about GSA and specifically the Office of

Governmentwide Policy. Could you tell us about its activities and its role?

Mr. Wagner: Okay, I think most of your listeners probably know about GSA. It's the government's big buyer of stuff. And we tend to do a lot through the Public Buildings, through the Federal Supply Service, Federal Technology Service. This is where about 14,000 employees set up contracts that are used by the government as a whole for all the goods and -- or for many of the goods and services that they do.

I don't do that. I have what's called the policy function, where we look at the overall system, not just the specific contracts that GSA does, but the $200 billion or so of government procurement, the $300 billion a year of grants that are issued, how those systems manage the way we travel.

I have the policy function at GSA. Now, the policy function used to be -- until about five years ago -- simply part of the different operational arms of GSA. But what we got into through some discussions with OMB and various reviewers is a sense that GSA was getting too much into the operations, and that frankly, there were some concerns that there was a conflict of interest between managing the policies for how the government bought everything and also being in the system of running contracts that then other agencies use.

So in fact, that's what we do in Governmentwide Policy. We've centralized all the management functions of government in one place. We look at the government as a whole and try to make things so that the government is better managed than it otherwise would be.

Mr. Seike: Marty, the thing that I'm curious about is how is the Office of Government Policy different than some of the other agency policy development units, like the Government Accounting Office or the Office of Management and Budget?

Mr. Wagner: Well, I think we probably have some parallels. General Accounting Office probably has more of an audit and oversight role than we would have. We're really not in the business of looking over the shoulders of agencies. We're more in the business of developing best practices and, frankly, the regulations and the guidance for how agencies ought to operate.

OMB tends to operate at a higher level. We work very closely with OMB, but we're not OMB. OMB has the budget; it has the management and the regulatory reviews. A lot of those areas have implications that are a lot broader than OMB can actually do itself, and that's where we get involved.

So, for example, OMB does the budget, but working with the other agencies on the federal acquisition regulations, the federal travel regulations, and the way the -- developing the government's internal processes, that's where we work.

We work also a lot with the agencies. One of the things that we found when we consolidated our operations is the government probably historically has had a top-down approach to policy. Something would go wrong, and we would develop a rule against doing that bad thing. And we found that that probably gets you a fair distance, but you're actually going to do better in developing your policies if you work with the community that is affected by those policies to develop approaches that solve the overall problem � not avoiding the bad thing, but doing the right thing. And we would work closely with the agencies and OMB to develop and then implement those policies.

Mr. Lawrence: How big is the Office of Governmentwide Policy, and what are the skills of the people who work there?

Mr. Wagner: We're about 300 people overall, and the skills tend to be management skills in all the management policy areas. So we find-- and I may miss a few as I go down the list, but for example, acquisition, procurement. The Federal Acquisition Regulations, the Federal Acquisition Institute for Training, acquisition professionals, we have those policy functions. So you have people who understand procurement. That's one community. The Federal Travel Regulations, those who understand travel management, travel contracting, procurement of travel services, per diem, when we set the per diem rates in different cities -- a function that makes us extremely popular in certain circles, he said, tongue in cheek. But there's that area. Mail management, management of personal property, management of real property, disposal of personal property, disposal of real property. And then one that I think is particularly important and has certainly been growing in importance: electronic commerce, information technology, all those areas. A lot of what the government is going through is using information technology to be more effective, and it cuts across all management areas and, frankly, is probably our key to productivity gains in the future.

Mr. Lawrence: GSA seems to have somewhat of a unique role. How would you describe the culture at GSA, perhaps in contrast to other parts of the government?

Mr. Wagner: Well, I think GSA's got a very customer-oriented culture, is embracing technology more avidly than many agencies, but certainly not as quickly as some of the real technology-focused agencies. Very much into using an e-marketplace.

I think part of that is driven by -- when we talked earlier about the policy function and the separation and all the

forces that led that to being -- one of the things that happened with GSA is we, as a matter of conscious policy, moved it from a mandatory source of supply to one where it was optional.

And that's got a couple of advantages. One advantage is human nature. People tend to run away from the thing they're told they must use. So that barrier to using the vehicles went away. But it also means that it's an enormous incentive on the services to be efficient and effective. And that also cuts through into the way they operate internally. So it's actually been a -- I don't want to say it's better than every other agency I've worked in, because all the agencies I've worked in have had a lot of advantages. But it does have a somewhat more customer-centric culture, and I enjoy that. And since I like technology, I like being able to have it on my desktop and use it to good effect.

Mr. Lawrence: Marty, let's spend a little time now talking about your career? What drew you to public service?

Mr. Wagner: I think my big drive to public service is that I wanted to make a difference. I wanted scope. I wanted some ability to change the world. Originally, when I finished graduate school; I had gone through as an aeronautical engineer; I did a bachelor's and a master's degree, but the first job I got was working for a consulting company doing the cost/benefit analysis of the space shuttle. And it was all under contract for NASA. And I just thought space was neat, and being a player in the decisions of how we were going off into outer space in a standard, effective, businesslike way was sort of fun.

So from that, I went back to graduate school, this time in public administration and was trained in economics and public policy and thought that's a way to affect things. And after that, well, where is the action?

At the time, the action was the Environmental Protection Agency. So I went and worked there. And after awhile, the action was in telecommunications, and I went to OMB and worked there. And then � you don't want to be too long at OMB. I think it's a very good place to work but I thought it was time to move on.

I went to Treasury and did telecommunications for Treasury. Then I left Treasury to go to GSA, where I did information technology -- computers. And I did that for awhile, and then I got into electronic commerce, and these days I'm doing management.

As I look back on my career, I say, "Gee, I kept moving around and doing different things and they were always interesting and they always broadened me and improved my skills." And where else but the federal government could I have done all of those things? So that's pretty much how I got into it.

Mr. Lawrence: We're talking with Marty Wagner of GSA. This is The Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Marty Wagner, associate administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. And joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Steve Seike.

Marty, in your years of government service, what qualities have you observed as key characteristics of good leadership?

Mr. Wagner: That's a good question. I'm not sure I can give a complete answer, but I think one of the most important characteristics is to be able to see the big picture, to see the things that really matter. It's so easy to get caught up in the things that look really important but turn out to be not so important.

So, I'd say see the big picture, be ready to ask the right questions. I think you also have to be ready to work flat. Most of the things that really matter need you to get a lot of other people, who don't necessarily work for you, to do something that helps you achieve the goal that you want to get. Part of that, you ought to be able to articulate the vision; not just have it in your head, but explain it to other people. Better be flexible, be ready to deal with ambiguity, because there's an awful lot of ambiguity out there. And flexibility is, I sometimes think, the most important trait.

And finally, perhaps a silly one, but say "please" and "thank you." I once was working with an interagency group, and there were several folks that were there who really liked me a lot. And I'd like to tell you it was because I was wonderful, but it wasn't. It was I said "please" and "thank you," and they came from an environment where they basically had to deal with a lot of, it sounded like, not so nice managers, very directive. And just the basics of courtesy -- it's amazing what people will do for you if you just say "please" and "thank you." So that would be my closing thought. A lot of other things as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me follow up and ask you about working flat and what the management challenges are from doing that. We note in talking to a lot of government folks that they all would like to collaborate more, yet somehow it never seems to happen. So I'm wondering what the lessons learned might be from working flat.

Mr. Wagner: I think working flat, you've -- first, I think collaboration has worked pretty well. We've done a lot of it. Most of what we do is, in fact, collaborative effort. A problem may be working flat is not the same as working shallow. You've got to be not just talking to people, but moving toward some set of concrete results.

So working flat does require discipline, it requires focusing on deliverables, things that matter. It doesn't mean that you're getting together once a week to, sort of, talk about problems and issues. It means that you're each working towards getting something done. I think probably also it -- a lot of the important things -- an ecological metaphor is maybe not a bad way to think about it. You're doing something, but it keeps changing on you. The goals keep changing. The priorities keep changing. But if you recognize how that happens, you can use the fact that the world will be changing on you to get more done. Because you know something outside of your control is going to happen. You can even predict what a lot of those things are, and act accordingly.

That may be a bit obscure, but think of ecologies, and then think about how that metaphor applies to Washington, D.C.

Mr. Seike: GSA presents achievement awards for real property innovation. Could you describe some of these recent winners and what the impact this has had?

Mr. Wagner: First, let me briefly explain that what we do through many of our programs is that we create awards, which involve personal money going to government employees for things they achieve. Now, that's not altruism that leads us to do this. It's because if you want to find out what best practices are and disseminate them across government, an awards scheme is a pretty good way of doing it. The ones you mention are those for real property. We have them for travel, for mail management, and several other areas as well.

Recently, we gave one to the Department of the Army for privatization of Army utility systems; basically innovative ways of buying things like electricity cheaper.

Building Green went to GSA's Public Buildings Service; a lot of environmentally better ways of building buildings.

So because we make those awards, then we put them on our web page, and then people can learn about them. And we also work with other agencies, so that the average level of management starts rising to the level of what was the innovation of a few years before.

Mr. Lawrence: Now, we've been hearing a lot lately about FirstGov, which is a collaborative government Internet portal. And I'm curious as to what GSA's role in that is, and maybe you could share with the listeners a little bit more about FirstGov.

Mr. Wagner: Let me begin by first giving the URL. If you go to www.firstgov.gov -- and spell it out, f-i-r-s-t-g-o-v dot g-o-v -- although we also made sure to cover various misspellings of that as well; you're going to go to a search engine or a home page which searches everything that the federal government documents on the web.

Right now, that's up to about 33 million documents renewed every week or so. I'm sorry -- renewed every two weeks. And it's a very effective tool for finding out just what's going on in the federal government. It's arranged by category, so it doesn't require you to be an expert in the U.S. government's internal plumbing.

If you type in "passport" in the search box, you go to the place in the State Department, which has the passport office, where you find out about passports. You don't have to know that's how the government is lined up.

And it's, I think, a pretty good model of the transformation the government as a whole is going through. We're going from what I'll call inside-out government to outside-in government. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean that mostly, when we look out, working for the government, we work in our programs and we deliver those programs. We have an organizational view, and we deliver it out to customers.

Turns out that you can also look at it from the other viewpoint. A customer looking into the federal government, what I'm calling outside-in. FirstGov is one of the cuts at doing that. There are some others, which I could get into if you're interested.

First of all, though, it's a webpage that takes you to everything. Then it has taxonomies that lay out -- the information is organized in different ways. It's also consciously shallow. We're not building some sort of huge edifice in front of everything else that the government is doing. The government is too big, it's too important, too diverse to build one thing to be the front end for everything.

But what we can do is make it easier for folks to get to the place where it matters. So if the place you want, the information you want is at a NASA website or an EPA website or something like that, FirstGov will get you there in a fast and efficient way.

Mr. Lawrence: Telecommuting is a big issue, and I noticed that OGP has developed the Interagency Telecommuting Program Manual. I'm curious to know from your perspective, sort of, what's the state of telecommuting within the federal government?

Mr. Wagner: Well, the short answer is telecommuting has got a long way to go. It's going to be really, really a lot more important than it's been to date. It's where a lot of society is going. Because with technology, things like laptops and high-speed access and wireless access, you're a lot more able to work anyplace at any time. Now, the problem you get into is not all jobs fit that way of operating. In fact, we actually probably would prefer to say "telework" instead of "telecommuting." "Telecommuting" carries with it the idea of you really doing the same thing, but "telework," you can take a laptop, be on the road, be in a train, be in an airport, depot, you can do a lot of that work. We're doing more and more in that direction.

We in our own office are setting up hoteling arrangements by which people can more easily move around and do telecommuting that way. There are some real issues to work out. How do you manage a telecommuting work force? A lot of the people who telecommute, or telework, they get nervous about it because if they're not in the office, they're worried about being forgotten. How do you deal with those legitimate concerns and work through that? And frankly, there are a lot of issues in using the information technology, to make it standard and reliable, to work that out.

But we see that as pretty much the wave of the future. It's not going to be for everybody. And you've got true believers who somehow think that anyone can be a teleworker. I don't think that's the case. But an awful lot of us are going to be teleworking more and more.

Mr. Seike: I was interested as a follow-up to that in how many people currently are taking advantage of the program, and do you see that trend continuing over the next five to ten years?

Mr. Wagner: I'm afraid I don't have any good numbers about how many are actually teleworking at the moment, although those figures do exist. They're just -- I don't have them on the tip of my tongue. I'm pretty confident they're going to grow, and they're going to grow a lot. Because at least -- I just look at my own office, and we're just the tip of the iceberg as we start working out exactly how to do this and how to measure it and work more effectively. So the short answer is there's some going on and there's going to be a lot more numbers to follow.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour and our conversation with Marty Wagner. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Marty Wagner, associate administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. And joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Steve Seike.

Mr. Seike: Thanks, Paul. Marty, can you tell us how FirstGov came about?

Mr. Wagner: Well, I think I talked earlier about FirstGov when we were talking a little more about how that came about. It's an interesting project, because I don't think it fits the traditional mold. It didn't have any budget. It was interagency. It had no natural home. But it did have a presidential management directive that, sort of, told the government to go set up a portal for all its content.

And there had been the work that various folks -- for example, under the Chief Information Officers Council in the GSA � had been working. And so you had a push to do something. And then it went in a period of roughly three months from being an idea to actually being something up and operational -- maybe six months, if you count some of the precursor work.

And the way it kind of happened, I think, is an interesting model. I learned a lot of lessons from how FirstGov came about. You know, lessons -- these may be obvious lessons to the listeners, but sometimes we have trouble seeing the obvious.

The first was leadership mattered. FirstGov was something that people at the senior levels wanted to have happen and did the work cross-agency to get the money together, took a lead to make it happen. So we had high-level involvement: make this happen.

The second lesson is that if you want to get something done, you have to have ability to execute. And in fact, we had a cadre of people in various agencies, including GSA, who could actually get up and get something up and running quickly. We were able to use a lot of the acquisition reforms of the past several years to move very, very quickly to do a very competitive acquisition in a short period of time. We found the value.

Talking to everybody is really important. Communications matters. Even when you're moving quickly, you need to be talking to everybody.

Speed matters, too. We found that not only does speed help you get things done quickly and focus on the things that matter, it also means that your critics are criticizing -- they're behind you because you're already doing something different because you ran into the problems that the critics were pointing out and now moving into another area.

And then, I think, one that may seem a little silly, but it's nice to be aligned with the forces of history. I mean, what FirstGov is is an Internet portal, it's customer-centric, it ties the government as a whole to the people as a whole. And that's a lot of what the whole Internet is about. The Internet is turning a lot of companies inside out. It's changing the way we do business.

And by moving and using what this technology was doing, and moving in the direction of commercial off-the-shelf products stitched together to solve a problem, worked pretty well. And frankly, FirstGov is a model for a lot of the other things we're doing as well.

Mr. Lawrence: What I found interesting about your answer in terms of the lessons was none of them describe the technology; none of them involve technology. They were all management lessons about people, for the most part.

Mr. Wagner: I think that's true. I thought about that, and I thought I might be even overdoing not mentioning technology.

You tend to be in trouble when you're driven by technology, as opposed to technology being a catalyst to enable you to do something else. But you really do have to understand the technology. And when I talked about that middle-management cadre of people who understood stuff, it was really important to have people who understood what the web could do, what it couldn't do, who could weigh the different clouds as the vendors make their offerings and say what you're doing. So technology matters, but it doesn't matter as much as what you're trying to do.

Mr. Seike: What are the plans for the future of FirstGov?

Mr. Wagner: The biggie is, I think, it's less so much a FirstGov set of plans. The FirstGov plans really boil around we've got the search engine substantially improved now over the way it was in the beginning. We're improving the taxonomies. We're working more and more closely with the states on how to tie that in because in fact the states have many of the same issues we have. For example, the U.S. government has 30 million documents online, the states have about 14 million documents online. There's a lot of working through making it better.

But the really important, I think, ties back to the various other cross-agency efforts and, frankly, agency-specific web

portal efforts.

How do you get feedback to be better? We're starting to deliver services over the web. You want to run that closed loop, not open loop. By that I mean you listen to what's happening, and then you adjust accordingly.

So I think we need to do a lot more work with the feedback side and better links back into the other cross-agency portals, like students.gov, or seniors.gov, or disability.gov. I mean, there are various of these websites all built around presenting the problem from this outside-in perspective rather than the inside-out perspective, as well as all those really important agency-specific websites to which we are handing off traffic coming via FirstGov.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me continue this discussion about management by talking about another interesting topic, which is the balanced scorecard. We understand that you're using the balanced scorecard to manage the operations of the ten units under you. Could you tell us about this?

Mr. Wagner: Okay. Balanced scorecard is a pretty interesting approach. What has historically happened with many organizations is the focus on things like the bottom line misses a lot of other things that are important. And what balanced scorecard fundamentally tries to do is discipline yourself to look at more than just a few things.

And in fact, in our case, I think we're nontraditional. I think there are supposed to be four perspectives, but we have five perspectives. But when you look at the things you're going to measure your performance on, you don't just look at the one thing, like customer satisfaction. That's important, but you want more than that perspective.

So what are our perspectives? Well, first is what do we measure from a stakeholder perspective? Our stakeholders are all the folks who are interested in management across the government as a whole. So there are measures from that perspective. There are also the measures from a customer's perspective. We have customers too. If they're happy or unhappy, that matters a lot. We also have internal business processes. Are those processes working well or badly? Very much -- that's another balance scorecard. Budget, keeping track of the money � fairly important to do. And finally, something that I think tends to have been neglected and is going to matter more and more, is the learning and growth perspective. Do your employees know what they need to know? Do they have the tools that they need to know? Are they the right tools for the right job?

So, what are the measures? How do you make sure that you aren't so caught up in making customers happy that you don't deal with longer-run issues like making sure that people will be able to make them happy in the future.

Anyway, we're managing using those five measures. It's, I think, more difficult for a policy organization than an operational entity because a lot of our measures tend to be how do you measure the effectiveness of a policy. It's a somewhat trickier question than, you know, cost per item produced or something like that. But we're finding it a useful way of looking at it.

I will give a suggestion to those looking at it. This is a really good way to look at your programs, but don't get carried away with it. It should be a simple way to look -- it should be a simpler tool for looking at what you do. And this is one way of looking at things, and it's a way of keeping balance. You know, find things that work and be prepared to change. Because what we also find is what we were sure was the right way to do things a year ago, turns out to have been wrong. And that's not bad. It just means you adjust and start working as you evolve towards a better way of managing.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me follow up quickly. When you say use the scorecard to manage, and you describe the different areas, how actually do you use it to manage? Is it the scores or the results in those five areas or is it driven down to a personal level?

Mr. Wagner: We're not as far along as that, to drive it all the way down to every individual in the organization. But basically, you have five perspectives and you look at -- you find things to measure in those five perspectives.

They should be things that encourage the behavior you want. If you want a behavior that you want customers to be satisfied, find a customer satisfaction measure of some sort or another to measure, and that's one of the things doing. If you want your folks to be educated on what they need to be educated on, find something to measure that leads you in that direction.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, great. It's time for a break. We'll be back with more of The Business of Government Hour in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Marty Wagner, associate administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. And joining us in our conversation is Steve Seike, another PwC partner.

Well, Marty, let me double back on some of the management issues we were talking about in the last segment. Could you tell us about the linking budget to performance program?

Mr. Wagner: I guess I'll begin, since you're talking budget to performance -- I think I'm quoting Mitch Daniels, the new director of OMB, who said something along the lines of, "If you're not keeping score, you're just practicing." And I think some of the stuff we talked about on balanced scorecard earlier is if you -- things you measure, you'll get more of. And I think that's the first important point -- trying to measure something, and then move in that direction; understand those measures as step one.

Now, there's been a lot of, I think, discussion that gets almost religious about things called outcome measures and output measures and things like that. I think there's something about outcome measures that may bring out the worst in some people. But this is my take on the way we have to go.

First, an outcome is something that you really want to achieve. It's not necessarily what you produce but it's some measure of programmatic effectiveness that is as far away from the nitty-gritty outputs -- it's the higher-level things.

I think what we ought to do is figure out what are the outcomes we want, and then try to measure them. Then we also will be going -- we'll have programs that are moving in the direction to get those outcomes that we want. Those would be outputs that we do measure. Frankly, outputs is things we've done a pretty good job of measuring across a lot of it. We can count what we spend to do X or to do Y, or how many of them that we built, whether they be regulations or sizes or things like that. You can do your outputs. The problem is linking the outputs to the outcomes. And what I would suggest there is, rather than get into trying to quantify it too exactly, tell the story, that people can either believe or not believe, of why the things you as an agency are producing help achieve the outcomes you want to achieve. In my case, the outputs I would have might be things like regulations or accounting best practices or number of visits to a website or something like that. The outcomes I might want, or that I do want, are better management at an agency level. Well, I can't prove that because some best practice came out or that we developed performance measures that they're really making a big difference. But I think I can make a case of why the regulations or the guidance or the performance measures then being used by an agency has led to better behavior.

And the important question is, people can listen to that case, and they can believe it or not believe it and make their judgments. And that's better than being in this well, I can't measure anything or any measure that I have has to be so purely perfect that I can never achieve that. So that's kind of my take on that.

Mr. Lawrence: Marty, let's turn now and focus a little bit on the future. We're hearing this a great deal about the upcoming federal government retirement wave and the impact that that's having on agencies. How big an issue is that for GSA and the Office of Governmentwide Policy? And are you doing some planning and working on some solutions around that?

Mr. Wagner: It's probably the strategic issue for GSA and, I suspect, for most agencies. We have this building retirement wave coming in. I think we've got 90 employees that are currently eligible to retire or will be eligible to retire in the very near future, a significant percentage of the work force. And it's going to continue for a while. It's not so much Armageddon, but it's this rising issue that we're going to have to deal with. So how do you deal with it? Well, one thing is you try to retain people. And there are some financial incentives that you can use in that direction. There are also, frankly, some quality of life, quality of work things that you can offer.

A lot of what we have to offer in the government, frankly, is not salary. We actually can offer scope and opportunity to do things that are really significant. When I was working at EPA, which by now is probably 15, 20 years ago, I was, I guess, down the hall from someone, a GS-11 maybe, GS-12, a key guy working on billion-dollar standards, air quality standards. And he was the person doing all the modeling work. He had a major impact on a multibillion-dollar decision that the government made. Now, that's EPA. I was recently talking to a fellow who worked in GSA's Public Buildings Service, who told me about a job interview when he was a couple years in government and was thinking maybe he'd go into real estate for a company. And the companies that he was interviewing didn't believe what he told them he was doing, because nobody that junior, that lowly paid, would be in charge of projects that big. That's what we've got to offer. We have really good opportunities to make a difference. In addition, I think we've got, you know, good salaries and benefits. And we can have discussions about which areas -- information technology would clearly have some areas of being able to recruit the folks we need and that's going to cut into more than just those areas.

Mr. Seike: Well, speaking of young people, what kind of advice would you give to a young person who's interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Wagner: Pursue things that interest you that you think matter. I think that what public service offers you is a chance to do a wide range of things. And my basic advice was if you're interested in the environment, you ought to be talking to EPA. If you're interested in energy, you know, you've got the Department of Energy. If you're interested in the Treasury Department. There's just a wide range of things that you can do. So the first thing is find something that interests you. Second is move around. Don't stay in just one agency or one office. You move around, you may find that you like government a lot and want to stay, and you may find that you want to go work for PricewaterhouseCoopers, I suppose. I mean, those are opportunities too. You know, but there are your opportunities to do interesting things. And you should care about what you achieve. At the end of the day, if all you do is you're putting in time, you're just doing the job and getting paid, life's too short to focus on that. You ought to be happy that you're achieving something, whatever that thing could be.

Mr.Seike: Would you recommend the development of any certain special set of skills?

Mr. Wagner: Well, I think the � whatever skills that you like. I mean, some people want to be accountants; some, economists; some, engineers; some, marketeers. I mean, there's sort of -- you'll have the skills of the things that interest you. So I'd begin with that. The thing that you may not have thought of, though, is you need to stay current. You need to have the skill to learn a new skill. Half the things I do today I had no -- I knew nothing about only a couple of years ago. And that just keeps happening. So the key skill to learn is the ability to learn new skills and adjust.

Mr. Lawrence: Marty, let's turn now to another really hot topic, and that's the one of Internet privacy. How much involvement do you think that GSA will have in regulating privacy issues in the government going forward?

Mr. Wagner: Well, we're certainly not going to be a regulator of privacy issues, but we're certainly going to be a participant in working through the privacy issues. Privacy is one of those issues that tends to be often mixed in with security, and they are different. When we move to a more and more electronic government, we need to guarantee that we protect the privacy of our citizens.

Frankly, there are some probably larger issues in how the Internet is evolving, when you look at some of the privacy issues there. Simple one; you have a right to be anonymized, unless there's some reason that you need to identify yourself. If you go and pull down a tax form, no one's going to collect anything about you if you're downloading a tax form because that's our duty, is to make sure that that's private. If you are, however, let's say interacting directly with a government agency through the Internet, we have to guarantee that it is in fact you that we're talking to because that's private information.

We're going to be working through a lot of how you actually make that work. We haven't worked out all the answers, but since we have a collaborative model, we've got OMB and all the other agencies that we'll be working together with on solving that over the next few years.

Mr. Lawrence: Marty, I'm afraid we're out of time. Steve and I want to thank you very much for the conversation today. It's been very interesting.

Mr. Seike: Thanks, Marty.

Mr. Wagner: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Marty Wagner, associate administrator for Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. To learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web at endowment@pwcglobal.com. See you next week.

George Fields interview

Friday, June 22nd, 2001 - 19:00
George Fields
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/23/2001
Intro text: 
George Fields
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the Endowment and our programs by visiting us on the Web at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business in Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with George Fields, director, Transportation Administrative Service Center at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Welcome, George.

Mr. Fields: Thank you very much.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let's start by finding out more about TASC. Can you describe the activities for our listeners?

Mr. Fields: TASC is a unit of the Department of Transportation. We were officially created as a separate unit within the Department of Transportation in 1995. It was one of the reinvention initiatives. Prior to that time, the unit had existed as the Department's working capital fund. And, essentially, the Department, as most other government agencies, has administration within their purview and the Department decided to breakup policy from the operations side of administration.

Mr. Lawrence: How many employees are at TASC?

Mr. Fields: There are approximately 280 employees.

Mr. Lawrence: And could you compare the culture at TASC with the culture with the rest of the Department of Transportation?

Mr. Fields: TASC is a not-appropriated-funded agency. And, as such, we have a sense of urgency with respect to the programs that we're administering, or I should say the services that we're delivering. Given that we receive no appropriation, all of the revenue that's generated is based upon our ability to deliver services that are both cost-effective, as well as services that are deemed to be of value to the customers. So there's a real cultural difference here.

Mr. Lawrence: So without revenue for services, there might not be any TASC?

Mr. Fields: Without revenue there may not be a TASC. There may not be employees that are performing these functions.

Mr. Lawrence: And when you say it generates a sense of urgency, what does that mean?

Mr. Fields: It means that employees fully understand that they have to have satisfied customers -- customers that are, in fact, willing to pay for the services delivered. Otherwise, we would, in fact, not exist.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, tell us about your career. Tell us, you know, what led you to where you are now.

Mr. Fields: Mine is a rather interesting career, in that I had graduated from the University of Kansas, and at that time, had studied political science, but as most political scientists, realized coming out of school, you know, you generally look to do just about anything. I always had an intention to go into government. I saw it as a noble calling.

I started my career with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, in the management intern program there. And studied, while at Kansas City, a number of areas, transportation being one of those, budgeting, financing, and saw very much at that early stage the real benefit associated with understanding the operations of government -- not so much the matter of delivering direct service to customers or to the public but, really, appreciating the actual operation and flow of government.

I moved from there and actually started my own business. So, I got little bit of the private sector into me in that I understood how to make a payroll at that time; I had an electrical wholesale company. I sold that company and then moved to the East Coast and at that point did some work in county government, the County of Arlington. And after that, went to work at the state government and worked under two governors. In state government, I was politically appointed as the Deputy Secretary of General Services, and following an approximately ten-year stint with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, then came to work here at the federal government. So, I've had an exposure, in terms of government, city, county, state, now at the federal level.

Mr. Lawrence: And then how did you get involved with TASC?

Mr. Fields: The Department of Transportation, at that point, in 1995/1996 was contemplating the creation of this organization, and it sounded extremely attractive to me because it looked like an opportunity actually run a business inside a government organization. So, it was a blend of the kinds of things that I, in fact, had been involved in and very much, you know, was attracted to.

Mr. Lawrence: You've had private-sector experience, yet most of your career has been with public service. What drew you to public service?

Mr. Fields: It sounds a little bit corny, but it's the nobility of the service. I very much have been interested in serving the public and have never had an interest in working in the private sector, other than if it were for myself and, in that instance, I would in fact control. I'm very much interested in terms of the programs that are, in fact, delivered to the public. And from my perspective, those programs are affected by how one, in fact, shapes them from the inside, and I feel as though I can make a contribution that way.

Mr. Lawrence: How would you compare the ability to deliver programs at the county, state, and federal levels?

Mr. Fields: At the city/county level, you have a little closer contact with the citizenry. Here at the federal level, you're a little bit more removed. However, I think the concept and the basic principles are still the same. How can you, in fact, deliver services that are of benefit to the public? You know, what is it that the public is looking for? How can you, in fact, deliver that in a cost-effective way? And, quite frankly, take into consideration all of the public, not just simply individual segments.

Mr. Lawrence: Does the culture differ at the different levels of government?

Mr. Fields: Yes, very much so. I think that you see at the city and county level, very much more citizen participation in what is, in fact, being delivered to the public. That sense of citizen participation is lost once you look at it from the federal level. I think there are many efforts ongoing to try to do that kind of outreach, but I don't think it nearly gets there as it does at the city and county levels.

Mr. Lawrence: Which positions best prepared you to be the leader of TASC?

Mr. Fields: I would say, quite frankly, my experience in my own business. In that environment, I truly did understand what it took to actually develop a business, make a payroll, and understand how to make those rather critical calls necessary to keep the doors open every day.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you translate that experience to someone who has had a career not in the private sector?

Mr. Fields: I would say that if, in fact, you understand the issues of accountability, which is rather key here, I think it's very easy to understand then that the public is looking for someone that's delivering services to them, that is keeping the public in mind, and making certain that those services are very much attuned to what that public is looking for. I don't think that it's any secret what occurs in the private sector. The private sector is looking at, if you will, the quarterly return, you know, what is in fact in the best interest of that private-sector company at the end of the quarter. Same thing here is true with respect to the taxpayer. They're looking for that return, as well.

Mr. Lawrence: In your years of government service, what qualities have you observed as key characteristics of good leadership?

Mr. Fields: Surely, there are a number of factors but I would say that, as I look at that, a couple factors are probably key, character being one. Character as it relates to one's ability to obtain trust of those that you are leading. Because without trust of those, you cannot, in fact, lead an individual and/or a group. And, so, character is extremely important.

I think the other thing is a matter of connection with employees or with individuals, because without a sense of connection, you're asking to lead someone and asking them to perform without really having appealed to their heart, quite frankly. And until you've appealed to the heart, you cannot get an individual to perform for you. And so I think a combination of character and connection with the individuals that you're attempting to lead.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think these characteristics have changed over time, or will change going forward?

Mr. Fields: Doesn't matter the time, doesn't matter the issues of how much technology we're introducing. I think those are basic human instincts.

Mr. Lawrence: Okay, that's a good stopping point. I'm talking with George Fields. This is The Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and our conversation today is with George Fields, the director of the Transportation Administrative Service Center at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

We know that TASC has had some involvement in the recent increases in public transit ridership being reported here in the Washington metropolitan area and nationally. What's TASC's contribution in this effort?

Mr. Fields: We're rather proud of our contribution here. It's a behind-the-scenes activity but, quite frankly, that's how we deliver most of our services: behind the scenes. In April of 2000, the President signed an Executive Order that extended a transit benefit to federal employees, specifically here in the National Capital Region where the transit benefit was to be made standard at $65 a month and going up to $100 a month come January of 2002 in the rest of the nation and other regions. That was optional.

In any event, TASC, for the Department of Transportation and a few other agencies throughout the metropolitan area, we had in fact been delivering these services by way of delivery and administration of their transit benefit programs. A rather small activity for us over about a nine-year period. And this even predates TASC. With the signing of the Executive Order, and that taking effect in October of 2000, many agencies found themselves faced with the rather large hurdle of how do they, in fact, implement such a program in such a short period of time.

We had stepped to the plate and suggested that we could deliver a rather holistic approach to delivery of transit benefits for them -- without them to replicate, in each instance, such a program for themselves -- and have been rather successful at that over the last year period. We've increased from about a $15 million revenue-generating activity for TASC to about $113 million activity for TASC, just in this area of transit benefits. And now we're delivering to all but one of the cabinet agencies, and we're delivering that service across the board to all those agencies and across the nation, not just here in the metropolitan area.

Mr. Lawrence: What were the management challenges from expanding that program so quickly to be so large?

Mr. Fields: You can't imagine the challenges associated with that. Even a private-sector firm going through that kind of a growth in short period, you know, really finds itself faced with some challenges.

Probably our largest challenge has been a matter of attracting and obtaining the right mix of personnel that would staff this activity. We went through a series of, literally, burning people out in terms of long hours before we were able to get fully staffed in order to meet that October 1 time line. But we have finally gotten there. We still have a number of issues yet facing us, such as our accounting systems that haven't kept pace, but we think that we at least understand the issues that we can systematically address those.

Mr. Lawrence: One of the services provided by TASC is contract administration. Could you tell us more about this service?

Mr. Fields: Contract administration is one of the services of one of our business practices. TASC is divided into ten separate business practices. We established ourselves along the lines of a professional services organization. This particular practice, we call it acquisition services, we provide the normal contract and acquisition services of any contract shop that any agency would find themselves faced with.

However, one of the unique features associated with TASC is that we provide expertise in niche areas. And with respect to our contract services area, one of the niche areas of expertise that we have or, I should say, centers of excellence, that we have is our ITOP program. And ITOP stands for Information Technology Omnibus Procurement. And that was a creation of the procurement reform, streamlining of procurement. And you think back, maybe ten years ago, when we were having this influx of information technology acquisitions, most of those acquisitions were taking anywhere from a year to two years to achieve. The technology was advancing so rapidly, it was almost impossible to acquire the appropriate technology for customers, in fact, to have that technology be meaningful for them, and it's taking you that long to acquire it. So by the creation of ITOP, what we're able to do is move from a year's time to do an acquisition to, in some instances, as little as three weeks. And so, what we've done there, is we've put the contractors under contract to deliver certain categories of services, and we're able to reach those contractors almost immediately to fulfill customer requirements.

Mr. Lawrence: How's TASC helping agencies comply with the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Guidelines, which require that Web sites of agencies be accessible to disabled Americans?

Mr. Fields: Approximately two years ago, in anticipation of these requirements and in conjunction and consultation with the disability community, the Department created, through TASC, the Department's Disability Resource Center. That particular center was established for the purposes of providing accommodations to employees with disabilities. This act, the 508 Act requirement, is just one aspect of accommodation for employees.

Once again, this is an area where a particular service is provided by TASC where we have expertise within that particular unit that can respond to employee requirements, employee needs -- in this instance, employee requirements as it relates to disabilities.

Mr. Lawrence: We also know that TASC provides human resource services to customers. Could you tell us more about that and which services are most popular with the customers?

Mr. Fields: We provide the normal recruitment, benefits counseling, retirement counseling, kinds of activities as part of our human resource activity. But again, we provide those services with a look towards providing real expertise in terms of value to our customers and, as a result, we are able to reach out to customers outside of DOT. And that's a feature that we have within TASC in that the services that we're providing within DOT, we're trying to make certain that those services are broad enough that we can, in fact, cross-service other agencies so as is the case here with our human resources activities -- not just providing the very traditional retirement counseling, but providing real expertise as it relates to retirement counseling, so that it becomes attractive to other agencies to want to use these services and so, to a great degree, word-of-mouth would suggest that others want to come to you to use those services from you.

Mr. Lawrence: TASC has a Worklife-Wellness program that promotes health and fitness and provides disability resource center, career counseling and even employee assistance services. What kind of impact do these things have on staff?

Mr. Fields: I would say it has a rather tremendous impact. In �96, when I came to the department and began to work with TASC, our Worklife-Wellness activity was one of those activities that many within the Department questioned; I mean, what's the relevance of this to my ability to deliver services to the public? And it was our challenge to demonstrate that an individual that is treated in terms of the issues that are surrounding that individual, beyond just simply that work setting, is a more productive individual for you.

And it didn't take long for us to capture, quite frankly, the hearts and minds of those within DOT to realize that this is an extremely worthwhile activity. Our fitness center is a good example, in that we have one of the highest rates of participation as an employer in our fitness center of any within government. And, quite frankly, that's something for us to be extremely proud of. Now, many may say, what does that really have to do with delivery of services by the federal government to the taxpayers?

Well, the reality of it is that if in fact we can pay attention to the health and well-being of the individual, that individual's going to be more productive for you.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be back in just a few minutes with more of The Business of Government Hour, and our conversation with George Fields. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and our conversation today is with George Fields, director of Transportation Administrative Service Center at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

George, what's "TVU"?

Mr. Fields: TVU is the Transportation Virtual University. We have branded that just for Department of Transportation, however, we have carried the same concept to other agencies, such as HUD and have branded it around HUD. But what it amounts to is electronic learning and distance learning.

We find ourselves in a time, when time, quite frankly, is a value. Individuals aren't able to take the time to do the rather traditional classroom training, and individuals are looking for training when they need it, as they need it, what they need. And this whole method of electronic training is a way of achieving that.

TVU is something that we're rather proud of, in that we recently received an award -- recognition for our efforts here in that we have blended some new technology, while keeping the individual in mind, in terms of the design of the course, work design of the activity that the person is learning. And as a result of the award, I think, that we have gotten some recognition. It's been a little bit slow-starter for us in terms of the service, but I think that we'll probably be expanding this and you'll probably be hearing more about it. It wont' be necessarily TVU, because again, it's branded towards each of the agencies that we may deliver for.

Mr. Lawrence: We know that one of your roles at TASC is to manage the Headquarters Procurement Project, which is leading of new space for the Department of Transportation. What are the biggest challenges in managing this process?

Mr. Fields: It's several challenges. Of course, we're looking to obtain the support of both OMB and Congress. We're looking for making certain that we have a viable strategy for how we, in fact, are going to house the employees of DOT. We have been participating in a procurement process since June of last year, and I guess the biggest challenge for us today is just simply trying to bring conclusion to that procurement.

Mr. Lawrence: What lessons-learned could you pass on to other leaders undertaking a complex facility project?

Mr. Fields: I can't say clearly enough: Define your project goals. You have to understand what your goals are and keep yourself focused yourself upon those goals. I would also suggest that, and this is something that we learned, before we started the project and we're very grateful that we followed through with it: Bring in someone from the private sector to be of assist to you. I think that too often we in government are rather myopic in our views as to how to achieve things. And I think in a proper partnership relationship with someone from the private sector, the real estate community in this instance, we have found that to be quite beneficial to us. Mr. Lawrence: TASC is self-described as a customer-service oriented with both the public and other agencies as customers. How do you build a customer-service culture?

Mr. Fields: Asking that question is like asking, 'how do you build the foundation of TASC?' Our whole foundation is based upon customer service. Customer service is, in fact, part of our logo itself. Service, value, success -- whenever you see the name TASC, you'll see under that "service, value, success." We very much are focused upon how the customer is, in fact, going to be serviced here.

From the very beginning of an employee's employment with TASC, we take them through a very specific training to orient them to this whole concept of customer service. And especially those that are longstanding within government, where they're coming from an environment that we're working off of, in many instances, mandates because we're talking about statutory requirements. That's not the case with TASC. TASC has a culture where we do not survive unless we're satisfying customer requirements, keeping the customer ever-focused upon, you know, our minds, because it affects our revenue.

Mr. Lawrence: How does TASC build partnerships with other government agencies, particularly those partnerships that provide additional services?

Mr. Fields: Those partnerships are built based upon our ability to deliver. And our ability to deliver is demonstrated to those other government agencies by a demonstration of the products that we have, the services that we have. As an example of that, we have a system called Dockets Management System, where we have built for the Department of Transportation an electronic means to communicate with the public. The Department of Transportation is, as is the case with many agencies, engaged in publishing rules and regulations. Looking for comments back from the public with respect to those proposed rules. The Dockets Management System gives the public an ability to do just that.

Prior to our establishment of that Dockets Management System, and it's been in place now for about three years, we were getting responses, about 3,000 responses a year, to the proposed rules from individuals across the country. Quite frankly, across the world. Now, we're in excess of 300,000 responses coming in from individuals, you know, weighing in on the matter of government.

Demonstrating that for DOT has translated into our ability to demonstrate that to other government agencies and have them see the benefit of that. So, that's the way that we partner by way of demonstrating those kinds of services, the availability of those services, and as a result, having customers coming to us.

Of course, yes, we do some marketing to those customers, but for the most part, customers are coming to us asking to have those kinds of technologies deployed with them.

Mr. Lawrence: TASC administers a purchase card program at the Department of Transportation. How do you administer this program and what capability should customers have?

Mr. Fields: We administer a program where we, essentially, have a two-part role. On one hand, we provide a contract-management role for the Department's senior procurement official, where we've established the contract with the bank for the purchase card, and established certain tools such as the remote accessing of account, assuring that the customer is able to pull up electronically their account, making certain that that account is, in fact, compliant with federal requirements, in terms of procurements. So, those are some of the tools.

But, in addition, we perform a secondary role, one that we're involved in almost on a daily basis. And that is actually administering the purchase card program on behalf of a number of agencies, including for ourselves. We, as employees, do, in fact, have a need for a purchase card and we do that for ourselves, but we do that also for other customers within DOT.

Mr. Lawrence: TASC administers or participates in the Merit Promotion Program. Could you tell us more about this program and its impact on TASC?

Mr. Fields: Well, rather than isolate so much just to the Merit Promotion Plan which, quite frankly, is something that we do in terms of the statutory requirements with respect to civil service requirements, one of the basic philosophies of TASC in our creation was that we did not ask for, nor have we sought any special dispensation from the procurement and/or personnel rules. And what we'd suggest is that it is possible to actually run a business in government with the government requirements still in place, not asking that those governmental requirements be relaxed. Because we think that it is, in fact, true that most of those requirements were put in place for good reasons. Even if they're social reasons, they're good reasons, and there's no reason why a business should not, in fact, be adhering to that.

If we're in the private sector, there are, in fact, impositions placed upon us. And we would suggest that we shouldn't get special exemption from those requirements inside of government. And so, as it relates to Merit Promotion, as it relates to the Federal Acquisition Requirements, all of those requirements, we're saying that, not only are we adhering to, but we're going to sign up to, very much.

Mr. Lawrence: We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour and our conversation with George Fields. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with George Fields, director of Transportation Administrative Service Center at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

After five years of operating a fee-for-service agency, what management lessons have you learned?

Mr. Fields: Be patient. Running a business inside a government is something that does, in fact, truly require a sense of patience. It's an ability to actually work with people and get involvement of the employees within the organization. I think that without their involvement, you don't get their buy-in. And that's something that we've been very careful to do in constructing this organization. We are currently going through our budgeting process where we have to actually build our budgets in order to project our potential cost for each of the operating administrations within DOT that are going to be buying our services, hopefully.

And, as a result of that, we have to actually have the employees participate in that process. So this is not a matter of you build the budget at the top and then pass it down to the employees. We actually go through a process where the employees build the budgets. And, so, that's a management instruction that I would give to many, even if you're not running a fee-for-service organization.

Mr. Lawrence: We hear a lot about the coming government retirement wave and the expected impact on federal agencies. What kind of challenges will this present to TASC?

Mr. Fields: We're presented with the same challenges everyone is in terms of there are, you know, basically cycles of hiring that have taken place over the years at the federal government level. Twenty years ago, a large wave of employees came in, and it's time for those employees to be leaving.

One of the unique situations that we find ourselves faced with, though, is that, as earlier stated, we're looking for real expertise in the areas in which we provide service. And so we quite frankly, are looking for those long-term employees. And so, while at the same time that we're bringing in some new entries to the workplace, we're really trying to supplement ourselves with the long-term employee. And so, we've been successful in both attracting and retaining past retirement period some employees that have the real expertise that we need in the given areas that we're providing service.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give to a young person who's interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Fields: You have an interest in public service if you are dedicated to the public and delivering services to the public. If you think that there is in fact some monetary reward, public service is not where it is. If you are not, quite frankly, thick skinned, public service is not where it is.

I mean, quite frankly, public service back in the '60s when I came into it was in fact a noble calling. It has over the years lost that gilt, but I think it's beginning to come back. I think it is beginning to be identified as some place that is a place of choice, and I think that once government gets to the point, where we are not only asked to be held accountable, but we are accountable for what we are delivering, then I think that the young person will be coming back to government service.

Mr. Lawrence: What kind of skills should that young person have?

Mr. Fields: What we're looking for are people that have an ability to maintain interpersonal relationships, people that, you know, understand how to think through a problem so it's a real solving of problems. Looking for people who, quite frankly, have good communications skills. Those are the basics and beyond that, then, a lot of it is going to be based upon the ability to be trained. But very much the issue of interpersonal skills, because you're going to be interfacing not only with the colleagues that you're working with, but you're going to be interfacing with what we call customers, be it governmental or customers be it the public.

Mr. Lawrence: What kind of services does TASC provide in the area of information technology?

Mr. Fields: We provide a host of services in terms of the IT arena. And we provide those services, quite frankly, in partnership and in conjunction with the private sector. We don't maintain a large workforce ourself. As I noted earlier, we have a workforce of approximately 280 employees, and we have a workforce any day of approximately 800 contractors. We are providing data warehousing services, we're providing telecommunication services, we're providing what we call mail-store, or email services, so the traditional desktop services, all of these are services that we, in fact, are providing, and providing, I think, very well in a real partnership with the private sector.

Mr. Lawrence: What steps does TASC take to recruit and retain technology employees?

Mr. Fields: For one, we don't attempt to maintain a large workforce of our own, but those that we do have, we have the real expertise in given areas. And we're retaining them, quite frankly, through the ways that many of the other federal agencies are finding that they're having to deploy, such as retention bonuses, signing bonuses. Within TASC, we have what we call an entrepreneur award, where employees that are able to attract and retain business beyond the ongoing business, are able to receive monetary reward for that activity.

Mr. Lawrence: What progress is TASC making in reviewing positions for competition through the FAIR Act?

Mr. Fields: We are, in fact, exposing all of our positions to FAIR. We, quite frankly, find that we're in an environment where we are partnered, right now, with the private sector, more so than many agencies. As noted, most of our employees that we're actually using to deliver services are, in fact, contracted employees. And what we find is that that represents an environment where the private sector sees that they, in fact, are participating in the activity of the service delivery and so it's not a matter of the private sector's on the outside looking in, trying to obtain this business. They're already working the business right now.

Mr. Lawrence: What are your lessons-learned from managing so many contractors?

Mr. Fields: That is just it. That is the value that we bring to the table in TASC, in that having an expertise in the given area that we're delivering the service, then we understand what it is that both the customer is looking for, as well as, what the options are for ways in which to deliver that service and, as a result, can direct our contractors consistent with what our customers are looking for.

Also, we're entering into relationships with contractors where it truly is a partnership, not just a cliche in terms of partnership, where the contractor is participating as a partner, meaning that they're at risk. So if, in fact, we're successful, our contract partner is successful. If we're not, our contract partner is not successful, either.

Mr. Lawrence: What's your vision for the next ten years of TASC?

Mr. Fields: At present, I'm looking at the next week, but for ten years, I look that TASC actually becomes a bit of a model for the federal government in terms of how to deliver these behind-the-scene kinds of activities. You know, one of the things that, I think, the public is asking, when the public is asking the question about the growth of government, the public is really interested to know, what are we getting for the dollars that we, in fact, are seeing?

The Department of Transportation is a $58 billion organization. About $44-45 billion of that is, in fact, being delivered in terms of grants to the states, to localities. The public is wanting to know, how much is it, in fact, costing you to deliver those dollars to us? And organizations like TASC help the public really get a handle on lowering that cost of government for delivering the services directly to the people.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm afraid we're out of time, George. Thank you very much for having this conversation with us this afternoon.

Mr. Fields: Thank you, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with George Fields, director, Transportation Administrative Service Center at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

To learn more about our research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the Web at endowment.pwcglobal.com. See you next week.

William R. Ferris interview

Friday, June 15th, 2001 - 19:00
William R. Ferris
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/16/2001
Intro text: 
William R. Ferris
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Monday, April 30, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and a co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created the Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about our research by visiting us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com

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 William R. Ferris, chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities. Welcome, Bill.

Mr. Ferris: Thank you. It's great to be with you, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: A lot of people know about the National Endowment for the Humanities. But I bet they don't know all the things it does. Could you describe its activities for us?

Mr. Ferris: Well, the National Endowment for the Humanities is the nation's largest supporter of the humanities and in so doing, we support public television, radio series like the Ken Burns series on the Civil War and his recent series on jazz. We support programs in local libraries and museums. We support classroom teaching, websites that help teachers and summer institutes for teachers. We also support research -- scholars, the preservation of presidential papers. And we increasingly are reaching out to all American people to try to make the humanities a household word, in initiatives like family history website, called "My History is America's History" that allows anyone to put their stories and genealogy online, and to connect through that with American history. So we have a broad, wide web of relationships and support that we bring to our nation on behalf of the humanities.

Mr. Lawrence: How big is it? How many people work there? And what type people are they?

Mr. Ferris: Well, by Washington standards, we're very small. We have a 170 staff, an annual budget of $120 million. And the staff I think of as a university. These are many PhDs, who speak many languages. The diversity of expertise is really extraordinary, not unlike the National Science Foundation.

We vet an extraordinary range of programs from international research to the history of American culture. We often have to draw on different languages, different periods of history to vet our projects. And we have scholars in house who are fully equipped to do that.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, tell us about your career.

Mr. Ferris: Well, I grew up on a farm in Mississippi. And studied English and later folklore. In terms of the South, my interests have focused on the Deep South traditions like blues. I did a book on a storyteller, a mule trader called You Live and Learn, Then You Die and Forget It All. And I think of that as a sense of urgency in my work as a folklorist.

I've also been privileged to direct for 18 years before coming here, a Center for Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. And we produced an encyclopedia of Southern culture that looks at one of the nation's great regions in great detail.

And all of that work has in various ways shaped important initiatives that we're now doing here at the Endowment.

Mr. Lawrence: How did you get out of academia and come to the Endowment?

Mr. Ferris: Well, I was invited. To be offered the position that I have, I think of as the highest honor an academic can ever have. I've worked for many years over my life with the humanities, and have been blessed with support, both as a scholar and as an administrator from NEH.

So, to come here and to return that favor by leading and supporting the initiatives that NEH is doing was something that I never dreamed would be a part of my life. And so when I was offered that opportunity three and a half years ago, it was certainly an easy choice to make.

Mr. Lawrence: It's interesting that you describe the position as both a scholar and an administrator. Which jobs in your career best prepared you for both of those functions?

Mr. Ferris: I think they both did because I was on the other side of the fence before coming here, requesting support for scholarly research and teaching, and also for administrative work -- the renovation of an antebellum observatory, the creation of new curriculum on the South. All of which happened because of NEH.

So I know, in a very personal way, a lot about our programs because I've been a part of them for probably 22 years before coming here.

So I feel as though I am knowledgeable advocate for the humanities. In speaking to the White House and to Congress and to the American people on behalf of our agency, I can call on personal experience in saying how powerfully important this work is for the whole nation.

Mr. Lawrence: How would you contrast the cultures of academia versus the public sector?

Mr. Ferris: Well, I think in many ways they're similar, in that you are responsible to the public, both at a university and at the Endowment.

But there are differences. Within the university, you respond to a department chair or to a university president. Here, I'm responsible to the White House, to Congress and to the American people.

And I think all three of those entities are equally important. You have to respect and be accountable to all of them. There are new ways of walking here, in the sense that you have ethical restrictions that normally would not apply in a private world within a university.

But ultimately it's following your heart, trying to be as honest and clear in what you are doing and want to do as possible. And when I first came here I was very intimidated by the thought of going into the White House, or going into a Senator or a Congressional office and speaking with people that I had read about and admired enormously.

But to go in and actually talk about your business was something I had never thought would be possible. But you quickly realize that you're dealing with other people who share values and once they understand that the work we're doing is improving and enriching the lives of people they represent, it becomes a clear choice of, I think, supporting this agency.

The increased support that we've had from Congress over the last two years reflects, I think, the confidence that they have in our work.

Mr. Lawrence: How about the differences in management styles?

Mr. Ferris: Well, the differences in management style at the basic level I don't think have changed. I'm the same person I was before. But the scale of management is far greater.

I mean, I was directing a Center for Study of Southern culture, managing about 18 people. Here, there are 170, and it's far more complex.

So, I had a steep learning curve. I'm still learning every day. But as a result of trying to understand an agency that I already felt I knew, but was quickly able to see that there was far more there than anyone really understood, we created over the last three years four working papers as a way to look in great depth at our programs, with international programs, with regional programs, science, technology and the humanities and teaching and lifelong learning.

And these are all on our website, a very impressive upgraded website. We are making ourselves much more visible to the American people and to our own staff. I mean, the range of projects and activities within this single agency is very impressive. And it helps to be able to also pull up a 35-year time line on our website, and look at the distinguished work that has taken place under every president and every chair since our creation 35 years ago.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, since you're an expert in Southern culture, I'm curious to know how would you contrast Washington, D.C. with the rest of the South?

Mr. Ferris: First of all, I have to say very proudly that I would consider Washington a part of the South. In our Encyclopedia of Southern Culture we include Washington. And from the very earliest colonial period Southern leaders like Thomas Jefferson played a significant role in the city.

So as a Southerner coming here, having worked on the South for 30 years, I found myself very comfortable here.

Mr. Lawrence: This is The Business of Government Hour. We'll re-join our conversation in just a few minutes.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Could you tell us about the development of the Rediscovering America program?

Mr. Ferris: Yes. Our real initiative at the Endowment is to connect the humanities to every American. And to do that, we are reaching out to American families and communities with a number of initiatives that are making a significant difference.

Mr. Lawrence: We know that you're planning ten regional centers as part of this program. What will these centers do?

Mr. Ferris: Well, these centers will be housed within major universities in 10 five-state areas that roughly correspond to the areas we think of as New England, the Deep South, the Southwest, the Midwest.

They will offer the B.A. and M.A. interdisciplinary degrees on the history and culture of their region. They will support research projects like encyclopedias on each region. And they'll do public programs -- television, radio, exhibitions.

And they'll link over the five-state area the infrastructure of education and culture: religious groups, civic groups, national parks, universities, colleges, K through 12, arts and humanities councils.

Groups that normally don't talk to each other will be gathered together at a common table so that when an initiative like an exhibition on the California Gold Rush is being developed all of these groups will have a chance to take part in it and to help make it a stronger initiative.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the management challenges of running these centers?

Mr. Ferris: Well, the centers will all be run by the universities in which they're housed. They're actually built on already existing work, in some cases; programs that have been focused on the region for 20 and 30 years.

And what we are issuing is a challenge grant over five years that will offer each university a million dollars a year. And they in turn will match it with a three to one match.

And we are turning to Congress for only four of the six. The other six we are raising support from private sources for -- we recently received a two and a half million dollar gift from the Knight Foundation which is the largest single gift in the 35 year history of our agency.

So I think Congress and the private sector are very excited about the ways that this will deepen our knowledge of what American culture is all about.

Mr. Lawrence: We know that you spearheaded an effort to put statewide cultural encyclopedias online. Could you tell us what this is and what the biggest hurdle to doing this is?

Mr. Ferris: Prior to coming here, I was co-editor of an encyclopedia of Southern culture, which the NEH funded. And I saw firsthand how powerfully important that was in helping people understand about their own history and culture. And we have already seen in the last few years a growing number of state-based encyclopedias, mostly print encyclopedias.

So we've decided to create an online encyclopedia in every state through our state humanities councils. There is one that we funded earlier, which is up and running: The Handbook of Texas, which is an enormously successful project. And it's a prototype for what will be available in every state over the next five to 10 years.

It allows teachers and students to develop new curriculum. It has an impact on economic growth through cultural tourism. They have a tremendously important role in the life of the individual state. And they virtually cover the globe in the ability they offer to learn more about Texas, for example.

We have recently funded 17 states and we'll fund another round of states this summer with $50,000 planning grants to get the process started. And then we'll come back with $450,000 implementation grants to help put it all together.

Mr. Lawrence: What's the Schools for the New Millennium program?

Mr. Ferris: The Schools for the New Millennium is a very exciting approach to looking at the entire school and reshaping curriculum by developing technology and bringing together not only the students and faculty but parents and the administration. We partner that entire group of the school's leadership with a local museum and a university. For example, the Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee is partnered with the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and with Northeastern University in Boston developing a new curriculum on the civil rights movement.

And for those students in the classes in Memphis, the civil rights movement is a part of history. It's something that took place before they were born. So it's a wonderful way of doing oral histories with parents and family and neighbors to give them a deeper sense of their local history. We have similar projects with the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, looking at their Native American myths and comparing those with the theater of Shakespeare.

In each of these schools around the country, wonderful new, innovative work is being done; again, using technology and partnerships with museums and universities that make a high school curriculum far more exciting than ever before.

Mr. Lawrence: The Endowment is encouraging Americans to write down their stories through the My History is America's History project. Could you tell us more about this project?

Mr. Ferris: This My History project is our most comprehensive effort to reach out to all Americans. It involves first of all a book that is also online at thatsmyhistory.org.

And if one wishes, you can either get the book or you can pull down on the web all the information on it. And you can also get a copy of the book by calling 877-NEH-history.

Basically, what the book or the website does is to walk you through the ways of putting together your genealogy or gathering your family stories and then putting those online. And through those stories, and your own personal genealogy, you begin to connect in a much more exciting way with American history. We've put two copies of this wonderful book in every library in the nation. And we're working with teachers to use family history as part of their curriculum.

In states like Pennsylvania the State Humanities Councils are launching special oral history initiatives in communities all over the state. It's a project that is growing in terms of the numbers that are using it, and it's also bringing the humanities in a very powerful way into the personal life and family history of all Americans.

Mr. Lawrence: You've suggested that NEH should function as a traditional endowment where both private and public funds are added to the large pot of funding. What are the benefits of this structure?

Mr. Ferris: I think our new administration believed very strongly that there should be a private- public partnership. And our current budget of $120 million is simply not adequate to fully address the needs of the nation in the humanities areas.

So we have turned, with the encouragement of both the White House and Congress to corporations, to foundations, and to individual donors. We've had a wonderful gift of about $1.7 million from the WorldCom Foundation to create Edcitement, which is a K through 12 website that includes 105 websites, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress and others.

And now, thanks to this gift and this website a teacher in Oklahoma can pull up Thomas Jefferson or Martin Luther King and it will sweep all these websites and give you the information.And then they can say I'm a 10th grade teacher in Tulsa. Give me a teaching unit on this subject using the Oklahoma teaching standards. So within 5 or 10 minutes, a teacher has a wonderful lesson plan on the subject they need that they carry into the classroom.

So we are very encouraged by the growing numbers of gifts for specific projects in the humanities that we are receiving. And Congress and the White House applaud this kind of entrepreneurial spirit within the humanities.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm talking with William Ferris of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is The Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Well, you've been credited with refocusing the Endowment's mission from funding controversial projects to those that preserve America's heritage. Can you tell us about the process that you used to shift the mission of the NEH?

Mr: Ferris: As a folklorist, I think of humanities as the human story and I think of a proverb, an African proverb, that I often use in teaching my students folklore. The proverb says that when an old man or woman dies, a library burns to the ground. And I view the humanities as a work of urgency, that we need to be about preserving those stories, not only of our family, but understanding more deeply the stories of our nation's history, our literature our philosophy, our folklore. These are all fields that we study really from kindergarten on; they are the humanities and there's nothing controversial about this. It's simply getting a good education. Our founding legislation draws on the language of Thomas Jefferson, which says that a democracy must depend on an educated citizenry, and we in our democracy have to protect and nurture our education for all ages, from kindergarten through lifelong learning. And that's what the humanities is all about -- there's nothing controversial about the work that we do. It is an urgently needed necessity for our nation, to support the programs that we have.

Mr. Lawrence: NEH regularly deals with competing and sometimes conflicting interests. How do you keep all the stakeholders satisfied?

Mr. Ferris: I view the various groups within the humanities as a parent would view children. You love them all, you want to nurture them all and take care of each of them.

And that is exactly our approach. We have public programs that nurture the public television, radio, and museum worlds. We have research programs that deal with scholarly research. We have education that assists classroom teaching and develops websites. We have challenge grants that help build long term support for institutions. And we have preservation and access, which is a way of preserving historic documents and making them available to the public. All of these are part of what we think of as the pipeline of the humanities. We have to preserve the collections of papers in order that scholars can write about them and filmmakers can draw on the photography -- like Ken Burns has done. Eventually, these films and scholarly works will find their ways in to the classroom of K through 12. So in some ways, you can look at a decade-long process of preservation and making accessible resources that are then used and turned into very public and very accessible worlds. All of these steps are important. We view all each area with equal care, and we try to be as fair as possible in supporting them all.

Mr. Lawrence: Money is often an issue and has been in the past has been somewhat of a struggle. You testified after the budget cuts of 1996 that NEH was forced to close down many of its core grant programs, lay off a quarter of its employees, and downsize many of its functions. How did you prioritize what would continue to receive funding in this period?

Mr. Ferris: Actually, that all happened before I became Chairman. It was several years after those deep cuts that I came on board. It clearly had a terrible effect on the agency. All of our younger staff that had just come on fairly recently had to be let go. Many of our programs that people depended on in a variety of areas were reduced or cut. It's been my challenge to rebuild those programs through Congressional or White House support or through private support; to seek additional funding for these programs. And I'm delighted to say that we're on the right course, both with Congress and the White House and the private sector. Private support also is flowing in ways that I think will steadily increase in the coming years.

Mr. Lawrence: NEH was able to increase its budget in the past year. What lessons would pass on to other leaders navigating the budget process?

Mr. Ferris: I'm very proud that we've had a five million dollar increase over each of the last two years and that was after flat funding for a number of years. My sense is that there are no shortcuts to this process, it's a process of learning to understand and respect the Congressional and White House leadership and over time -- over a number of years-- explaining about your programs, and why there're important, and how they affect to the American people. The bottom line here is that we are a democracy and the Endowment exists because of the generosity of the American people and their elected officials. We are responsible to those people and to the degree that our programs enrich and support their lives in every part of the nation, then I think we will thrive and grow. That's what we're doing. The growth in our budgets and in other areas of the agency represent our work.

Mr. Lawrence: In 1999, the NEH was criticized for inviting President Clinton to deliver the Endowment's annual Jefferson Lecture. What lessons can you pass along to other leaders faced with this level of controversy?

Mr. Ferris: Our idea was -- and I think it continues to be a valid idea -- that every sitting president should have an opportunity at the end of their term to reflect on the humanities and their role on of history in their leadership during their four year period. Regardless of who the president might be, I think that would be a significant resource for the nation. If we had such a resource on every president from George Washington to the present, it would be a treasure trove. I continue to think that this is an idea that is very important. We certainly are open to seeing this be made a part of the future of humanities if the leadership in the White House and Congress feel that it is important.

Mr. Lawrence: In an era where all government agencies are being asked to produce results, and track performance, how does NEH track and communicate performance information?

Mr. Ferris: Well we increasingly are using our website and electronic reporting of information from grantees and from audience participation and programs to monitor and track the results of our projects.

We've also responded to the Government Performance and Results Act in creating what is called a Performance Plan for all of our projects. It establishes goals and sets forth a series of indicators that help us understand how our various grants are succeeding. And we in turn report that to Congress and the White House.

I think technology is in our favor in that our website and our ability to use technology to move data quickly and to sort data is increasingly giving us a clear picture of how successful our projects are. And they are enormously successful. We can begin to see a summer institute for a high school teacher gives that teacher a much firmer knowledge of the subjects they teach.

And then you can only imagine for the next 10, 20, maybe 40 or 50 years that teacher, year after year, is a better teacher for hundreds and thousands of students who will then go forth and be better citizens.

So you multiply that one teacher by hundreds of teachers at the secondary and college level, and then you multiply the numbers of students whose lives they touch. And you begin to see it's like a pebble dropped in the water and the ripples go out. That is but one example of how our programs make our nation far stronger and far richer.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be back with more of The Business of Government Hour and our conversation with William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

One of the toughest challenges that many employers are facing now is recruiting and retaining new employees. Does NEH have this problem?

Mr. Ferris: I would say we have a problem with retaining employees. But our problem, like many federal agencies, is that we have a graying workforce, which is particularly acute in our situation, because so many of our younger staff were cut when the 40 percent budget reductions came through a few years earlier. But we are slowly and steadily rebuilding this workforce. As our staff retires, then we are bringing in wonderful young leadership within the humanities, and many of whom are PhDs in various fields.

And there's a great love for the Endowment across the nation. And I think it's going to be exciting and easy to recruit highly professional trained scholars who are interested in helping through the Endowment to build the humanities all over the nation.

Mr. Lawrence: Will they come for a job that will last a career, or will they be moving back and forth to, say, academia?

Mr. Ferris: Well, one can do both. But I think in most cases we will be bringing in people to work for a career. But it's also possible to come into the government for a year or two and to have that experience, and then to go back into the university. But most of the examples that I'm familiar with within the agency indicate that once staff is there, they do not leave until they retire. Because it's an extraordinarily and moving experience to see institutions and individuals grow and flourish. Because -- and I'm the best example. I mean, my whole career as a teacher and scholar and administrator would not have been possible without the NEH support.

So, I know full well that the kinds of advantages the Endowment offers individuals are in direct relationship to the leadership we have at our agency. These are leaders who become very personally involved and they have a chance to watch over several decades, sometimes, a small institution grow and flourish, or an individual scholar who's totally unknown, a young Ken Burns get help for his first film on Huey Long, and then become one of the nation's greatest filmmakers.

There are many examples like that. Ralph Applebaum, who designed the Holocaust Museum began his career as an unknown designer for museums with NEH support. The examples that one can cite are many. And to bring staff in and to give them a chance literally to shape the nation for the better I think is very appealing. And I look forward to seeing the growth and the development of young staff as they increasingly come to our agency.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in a career at NEH?

Mr. Ferris: Well, I always tell young people to follow their hearts. Life is too short to do otherwise. And do what you love. And if you love the humanities, and want to come to the NEH, then look at those positions that appeal to you most.

In some cases, it might be working with research, in others with public programs. A person who has a strong background in film or radio would be much more challenged and excited by the public program sector. If you've done research and published books and so on, then the research division would be a more likely venue.

But there's a wide range of wonderful opportunities within our agency. And each summer we bring in summer fellows who are college students. And they bring a wonderful new energy for the summer into the agency. And many of those are inspired and have indicated that they would like to come back, you know, after they finish their education and join our staff full-time.

And so there is a process here that clearly is exciting to the public. And we are never without wonderful choices when we're seeking to hire new staff.

Mr. Lawrence: Is there a key characteristic, from your observation, that separates the really excellent researchers or filmmakers from the other ones you see -- the Ken Burns, for example, from the other filmmakers?

Mr. Ferris: Well, I think there are really no filmmakers who are not good. I mean, I'm a filmmaker myself. And I know a lot of what separates one filmmaker from another is simply the access to resources. And Ken Burns really is unique in his ability to raise support and to build institutions around the subjects he's done, such as the Civil War and jazz.

And we seek not only to help the blockbuster productions, but to help the unknown filmmakers who are just beginning their career. We're launching support for filmmakers who are coming to us for the first time. And maybe $10,000 spread over 50 filmmakers -- of 10,000 each -- will yield a handful of truly significant filmmakers over the next 50 years who will be household names in the ways that Ken Burns' name is today.

So I think no one can distinguish between good, better, best. In scholarship, in filmmaking we simply can't judge what a decade or two from now will be viewed as a very powerful and important grant. And many of our smallest grants have had this effect. We funded a perhaps about $10,000 or $12,000 to a scholar to do a research project and a book on the Amistad incident about 25 years ago. Well, that book was one of the key resources for Steven Spielberg's wonderful film.

We can point to many examples where we gave an archeologist a modest amount of money to do work in Peru that led to the discovery eventually of the Ice Maiden. So, our work moves in wonderful and mysterious ways. And I think these are all God's children that we support. And they're all very beautiful and significant work in our eyes.

And I think as we look back over our 35 years, we can see the patterns of growth that have come in very unexpected ways that have blessed and enriched the lives of all Americans thanks to this great institution, the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mr. Lawrence: What does the future hold for the National Endowment of the Humanities five, 10 years out? What do you think it will look like, and what do you think it will be doing?

Mr. Ferris: I think it will be hardly recognizable in terms of what we see now. First of all, all of our applications will be done electronically. We will have virtually every resource in our nation, presidential papers, family trees, the histories of local communities on websites that will all be linked so that a student in the 5th grade in rural Montana will have equal access to the rich worlds of the Library of Congress, as rich as anyone in the country. And we will see the agency partnered in a very intimate way with the White House, and Congress as we shape national and international policies, economic, cultural. We will have a whole new sense of pride and understanding about our nation's culture.

And that step will have been made because of NEH. I think NEH will grow and will become an essential part of all public policy. Not only education, but cultural and economic because culture is related to economic development. And we grow as a community, as a region and as a nation in direct proportion to our ability to know our history and our culture.

In our recent book on the 35-year history of the agency, there's a preface by Stephen Ambrose, in which he says, "I can't imagine an America without the NEH." And I think that will be the thought of every American in the coming years.

Mr. Lawrence: I want to thank you, Bill. I'm afraid we're out of time. I've enjoyed our conversation very much.

Mr. Ferris: Thank you very much.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

To learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com. See you next week.

Bonni Tischler interview

Friday, June 1st, 2001 - 19:00
Bonni Tischler
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/02/2001
Intro text: 
Bonni Tischler
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Monday, December 18, 2000

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. We created the Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. To find out more about the Endowment and its programs visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business in Government Hour focuses on outstanding government executives who are changing the way government does business. Our special guest tonight is Bonni Tischler, Assistant Commissioner for Office of Field Operations at the U.S. Customs Service.

Welcome, Bonnie.

Ms. Tischler: Thank you, Paul, glad to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining me tonight is Craig Petrun, also of PwC. Welcome, Craig.

Mr. Petrun: Hi, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Bonnie, let's start out by finding more about the Customs Service, could you tell us about its overall mission?

Ms. Tischler: The U.S. Customs Service, really, is charged with protecting our borders so that cargo or persons crossing our borders, either entering or leaving the U.S. have to deal with U.S. Customs. And we are there, basically, as the front line, so to speak. We walk a very fine line between facilitation and cargo coming into the U.S. In our law-enforcement, we have a complex mission that includes enforcing over 60 laws for about 400 or 600 laws, sorry, for about 40 different agencies.

And it's really a soup-to-nuts agency. We do it all. The laws that we enforce are our own in terms of the trade laws, and then we enforce laws for things like, for instance, the Food and Drug Administration, Agriculture, the Drug Enforcement Administration. And so we have a plethora of activities we participate in.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you tell us more about the role of the office of field operations and how its mission works at the U.S. Customs?

Ms. Tischler: Sure. I think one could say that the office of field operations is what most people perceive as mainstream Customs. I have approximately 13,000 people who work for me and a $1.2 billion budget. And these people are actually on the front lines: 7,500 inspectors, more or less. These are the people you see, our folks in blue, when you come into the country. We have import specialists that handle our commercial cargo. We have our Customs enforcement officers that are basically K-9 handlers, and other assorted folk who participate in that particular mission.

Mr. Lawrence: Tell us about your own career and the various positions you've held at Customs.

Ms. Tischler: Well, actually, I had a really unusual career to wind up in the Office of Field Operations. I started with Customs in 1971 as a Customs security officer, whereas most people remember it as a Sky Marshal. In other words, I was hired to ride airplanes and keep them safe from hijackers. And I was hired in 1971 just as the government changed their attitude towards women in law enforcement. Prior to an Executive Order in January of '71, women could not carry weapons in the federal service. And so, it was changed by Executive Order and then Customs, actually, was the first federal agency to hire women in that capacity.

Following my sky marshal stint, I stayed with Customs as, actually, an EEO officer. I did EEO investigations, but very briefly. And then I became a Special Agent, which is a criminal investigator position, and I stayed within that realm all the way, really, until this year. So, I was a working-level criminal investigator. My specialties turned out to be money laundering and narcotics. I was eventually assigned to something called Operation Greenback in Miami, Florida, which was the first anti-money-laundering project ever in 1980. The Customs, IRS and the Justice Department came together to, in fact, start this project and, really, the work that we did was a precursor to the Money Laundering Act in 1986. So it was very satisfying.

And then I came up to headquarters, and I became a Branch Chief and then a Division Director in Financial Investigations and later in smuggling. And then in 1988, I became the first female Special Agent in Charge of anyplace when I went to Tampa, Florida, which was at that point our second largest office. And I was there for seven years, enjoying the west coast of Florida, and then became the Special Agent in Charge in Miami for two years before I came up to headquarters in 1997 as the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Investigations. So, I'm really quite privileged to be able to straddle both sides of what Customs does, essentially.

Mr. Lawrence: It sounds like you've spent most of your career in public service. And the question that comes to mind for me is, what drew you to the public service arena at the beginning of your career?

Ms. Tischler: I'd like to say altruism but, actually, I was just looking for a job. I graduated in broadcast communications in the prehistory of, actually, it was just the late '60s, and really nobody wanted a woman. And so I eventually, after a sting in New York at an advertising agency, I came down to Washington and I went to work on Capitol Hill for the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee in their Public Affairs division. And I really liked it, and I really liked being on the Hill, I liked the push and the shove.

And then I left the committee, really, to become a sky marshal, so I really got quite the view of Capitol Hill and was very taken by being that close to history, I guess, you might say. I was attracted to the federal sector in terms of that sky marshal job just because it was an adventurous thing to do and it was nontraditional for a woman. I had met somebody at a cocktail party, actually who had recruited me. And I just thought for a twenty-six-year-old kid that it would be just a great opportunity to see the world. So I didn't have altruistic motives, really, when I came into Customs, but afterwards, I didn't even know the sky marshals were part of Customs. But I think I was there, like, three months, and you can't help becoming involved in Customs and being absorbed into the family because it really is like a big family.

And the work we do. It's a cause-and-effect relationship, I mean, we do the work, we see the results and I think that's a really terrific thing to be involved in.

Mr. Lawrence: What were some of the more challenging leadership positions you've held, and why?

Ms. Tischler: Well, actually, all of them. And the biggest challenge, as far as I was concerned, was getting through the glass ceiling. I mean, that's very bandied about and probably in this day right now, it's not as true as it was in the '80s. But when I became a Special Agent in Charge and had to go out on my own to manage an office for the very first time in a state like Florida, which their entire law enforcement community, the sheriffs and the chiefs, were all male. I knew they hadn't encountered anybody who was a female in their upper-level management or their command staffs. And so, I just sort of landed on their shores, but I was really lucky. I grew up in Florida and I went to the University of Florida and, so, they treated me like a Florida girl and that was very helpful.

So, the initial challenge was just being able to communicate with males in law enforcement and get my agency's mission accomplished. We were very successful at that.

After that, I think, after you've been in the government for a while in a managerial position, like I have, and I've been in doing management, really, since about 1984, it's really turned into a personnel and resource management job. I mean, I wish that it was operational. When I was in the field and we were doing operations or investigations where things were happening, still in all, the heaviest responsibility was how to manage the people and the money. So, that really is the biggest challenge.

Mr. Lawrence: I guess, you may have answered part of this, but it sounds like you have held several leadership positions. What qualities do you think are true to being a good leader in government today?

Ms. Tischler: I think you need credibility. I really think that everything spins off credibility. I'm not that much of a touchy-feely manager. I mean, I came up in a command-and-control kind of atmosphere, but I do believe in participatory management. And so it matters to me, I mean, it doesn't matter to me whether I'm popular or not with the troops. But it does matter to me if I have their respect and that they follow what I ask them to do because they believe in me and they believe in the mission.

I think, an apocryphal story was when I first came into headquarters and took over a smuggling division, I took over something called Tactful Enforcement. It was all of our old patrol function, and one of the patrol officers who was retired military, actually, came to me and said, "I want you to know ma'am, you have my undying loyalty." And I thought at the time, you just cannot fork over loyalty. You can immediately fork over respect, and I think that's what everybody expects. But loyalty is something that you have to earn, and you can only earn that if you're a credible manager.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of the Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and tonight's conversation's with Bonnie Tischler, Assistant Commissioner for Office of Field Operations of the U.S. Customs Service. And joining me is Craig Petrun, also of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Well, Bonnie, early in your career, you developed what is now known as the Women in Federal Law Enforcement Intra-agency Committee. Can you tell us more about this organization, who its members are, and what its purpose is?

Ms. Tischler: Sure, Paul. I basically had a concept in 1977 that was based on meeting a number of women who were in federal law enforcement positions, and women had just come on in 1971. Here they were on, and it was six years later, and they weren't getting anywhere. Some of them had problems with the traditional problems you would associate with a job that's a 24-hour-job, and things like day care, getting married, having a date, what a concept.

But, the bottom line is that they were all having significant problems in terms of details, training, and getting promoted. And so, a friend of mine was running the Women's Bureau over at what is now the Office of Personnel Management, and we had known each other through the Federal Women's Program for a number of years. So she said, "well, why don't you come over on a detail" -- this was just before I became an agent -- "why don't you come over on a detail and why don't you start something up." They had just started something called Women in Science, which I guess is still in existence today, also. So, I went over there, and I gathered up some of the more senior people I knew in some of the other agencies. Specifically, Jo Ann Kotcher for instance, who is with ATF and has just retired from them. And we put a committee together that wanted to -- was based on exploring why women were having obstacle problems within the criminal investigations area. That's all we were looking at back then. Well, now, it's expanded to any law enforcement position within the realm of federal law enforcement.

But, in any event, they did a survey and they talked to a lot of women and they saw what their problems were. It was pretty much, you know, what I was saying, you know, training details and getting promoted. It was called back then the Interagency Committee on Women in Law Enforcement. It's changed since then, and it's just gone private now. At the time that I put it together, Justice and Treasury cosponsored it. But recently it was, they decided it was too much of an advocacy group for the government to sponsor, and so it's gone private just like NOBLE, which is the black law enforcement executive organization and some of the others.

So, people who belong to it are women who are, and men for that matter, who are involved in any of the federal agencies in the U.S. And, also, we have foreign membership and state and locals belong to it, as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Okay, can you also, going with that theme, talk about some of the challenges, and especially leadership challenges that female law enforcement officers face today? Earlier in the program, you mentioned the idea of credibility, respect, loyalty being important in leadership positions today. What unique challenges do female law enforcement officers have in obtaining those kinds of characteristics?

Ms. Tischler: Well, I think these days probably less true than when I first started out. But when women started out in the federal sector in law enforcement positions, there were so many apocryphal stories floating around, how could you possibly be out on surveillance with a female? People would question whether or not you were actually watching the event or messing around with the "girl". You know, could a woman actually handle a gun, would she back you up in terms of a raid or some other enforcement activity?

But that was 1971 and this is now, and women have been in a number of situations over the years that have proven the fact that they can handle the job just as well as their male counterparts. I think it's real important to touch the bases and ring the bells. I think it's important to our male counterparts. I think it's important to the women. I think that it's a credibility issue. I think you can't become a manger unless you've done the job, and the people who think they can skip the rungs of the ladder are sadly mistaken.

I was not a first-line supervisor. It was during a time frame where I was bypassed for a first-line supervisory job, so I kind of worked around it in terms of becoming a program manager and then a branch chief, which was a first-line supervisor but just not out in the field.

So that type of glass ceiling doesn't exist anymore. Women are becoming first-line supervisors. They are becoming second-line management. They are becoming executives. Almost all the agencies have female SACs right now, special agents in charge, and I just think the atmosphere is different.

Mr. Lawrence: So, in other words, then it is important to actually do the various types of positions and jobs that everyone's expected to do as you work your way up through the ranks?

Ms. Tischler: Yes, I think so. But I also think, you know, a lot of women come to me and they say, "well, we'd really like your job." And I said, "hey, you're welcome to it." But, basically, they say, "well, how did you get there?" They went to some class and they talked about goals and stuff like that, and you know, when I started out, I really didn't have the goal of being an assistant commissioner. I just wanted to do the very best job I could do as a senior special agent. That was my original goal.

But as I stated earlier, it was kind of an incremental thing. It was pearls on a string, you know. I'd get a job, and I'd think, "well, I could do the next one." It was like just climbing the ladder rung-by-rung. Well, the women today really don't have to do that. They can, in fact, shoot for something a little beyond the next rung in the ladder. But, for me, that wasn't possible, and I was just looking immediately about what was just ahead of me.

It was less scary that way, too, but it's easier for the women now that know that I and others like me, am out in front of them and have already broken the ground for them.

Mr. Lawrence: You describe many of the things that have changed throughout your career, in terms of acceptance of women, for example. Are there things that haven't changed?

Ms. Tischler: I don't know. I think, I'd have to ask the women who are still out there in the trenches, so to speak. I think there are things that still have not changed for me. Mostly, if I'm at a meeting, it's 99.9 percent male. All in the same gray, and black, and dark-blue suits. It's a real treat when there happens to be a woman, either in another agency or somebody who's a peer at one of these meetings. Not too much has changed in that area, but, of course, I'm still on that first wave and so, hopefully, another five years and some of these women that are following up behind us will be out in these meetings, as well.

So I think in terms of seeing women as policy makers, not too much has changed. The women I talk to, the young women in Customs who come to talk to me, claim that they're doing equally well alongside their male counterparts. So, I think things have probably changed down at the bottom. There doesn't seem to be that much concern anymore about a woman taking away a guy's job, which was one of the concerns when I first came on.

So, the policy-making issue, I don't think much has changed. I think we'll see an incremental change over the next five years or so, but it's a density problem. The more women there are, the more women in the chain, the more women in the pipeline and so forth and so on.

Mr. Lawrence: How did all these firsts, or almost firsts, affect you as a manger and developing your management skills?

Ms. Tischler: If you're talking about role models, my role models were all male. And because they were in a command-and-control atmosphere back then, I followed suit. Now, when I tried to do some of the things that the fellows were doing, either, you know, perhaps out for drinks or, you know, maybe some colorful language, I mean, that was -- it didn't work for me. So, I mean, I sort of fell back and regrouped and said, "all right, you know, they're not going to let me a woman, but on the other hand, I don't have to be like them, either." So, I just had to develop my own way of doing things.

I am very forthright and I used to think that there were only two ways you could actually survive within the federal sector in any jobs. And that was to either be so far out in front that nobody could touch you or so Machiavellian that nobody could find you. I never managed to achieve Machiavellian status so, unfortunately, I've sort of developed that reputation for honesty and being out front and pretty much telling it like it is. Although, I've certainly over the past ten years, I think probably softened up the edges and become more diplomatic, but I still am a strong believer in that, and I have no patience for people who work for me who blow a lot of smoke at their management.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned how you climbed the ladder, you went from rung-to-rung as you have gone through your career. Is there one rung of that ladder that kind of stands out or an interesting story or situation that you found yourself in that particularly shaped your career and your understanding of leadership?

Ms. Tischler: The thing that shaped me the most was getting a first; that special-agent-in-charge job down in Tampa. It was just a never-before. I'd had a series of jobs, you know, first, first, first, first, and then I wound up in Tampa, and I had 250 people who reported to me. I had to worry about them, and I had to worry about the 24-hour phone call that was going to come in saying somebody was injured, hurt or, perhaps, dead. So, I think that that job probably let me evolve my management style into what it's become now.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of the Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and tonight's conversation is with Bonnie Tischler, Assistant Commissioner for Office of Field Operations of the U.S. Customs Service. And joining me is Craig Petrun, also of PricewaterhouseCoopers.


Mr. Petrun: As an assistant commissioner, Bonnie, in the Office of Field Operations, you're responsible for the cargo and passenger processing throughout the United States. Last year, more than 480 million passengers entered the United States and nearly a trillion dollars in cargo crossed the border. How do you and your staff manage and work through this level of volume?

Ms. Tischler: Well, first of all, Craig, Customs has 301 ports-of-entry around the U.S., and that's the basis of my organization. You cannot manage an organization of 13,000 spread out with those 301 ports-of-entry and headquarters without a tiered-up system of management. It's impossible. So, you know, we have teams of people. We have supervisors, we have port directors, we have directors of field ops and inevitably we have headquarters management. And I believe in a tiered-up system of management when you're spread out all over the U.S. like we are.

I mean, you're talking about volume, and I brought a few little stats for you. So, last year, we cleared 971,000 aircraft and 11 million trucks and 127 million POVs, that's private automobiles, and 211,000 vessels and 2 million rail cars, and 5 million sea containers and ad nauseam, all right? So, with that amount of volume and the people that we have to clear them, we have to depend on a tiered-up system of management and oversight in order to get the job done.

Mr. Petrun: What type management skills do you use to run the tiered-up organization?

Ms. Tischler: Well, I really believe strongly that people have to -- we're paying them to do their job. They should do their job. The inspectors should inspect. Their supervisor should supervise them, their port director should supervise or their chief inspectors, actually, ought to supervise what's going on with the inspectors, the port director should be handling their port. The directors out there in our 20, in our Customs Management Centers ought to be strongly operational with strong oversight over those port directors. And headquarters, I redid the office when I came in, and I have executive directors that handle different things. One of them handles field operations in the 20 Customs Management Centers in these 301 ports-of-entry, and they have oversight. I like to know what's going on out there. And, in terms of resource lay down and management, I centralized the budget when I came back into the Office of Field Ops. The Commissioner wanted it that way, and I agreed. Budget was spread out, the hiring was erratic. I centralized everything. It's not ... it's more like a benign dictatorship. Not exactly, but the fact is that I could spread the resources out in a flat environment. If you need positions in Los Angeles, and we don't need them someplace else, hypothetically, we decide where they go. They don't decide, and I think that that's important. If this was an expanding budget environment, we would be looking at it somewhat differently.

Mr. Petrun: Given that sheer volume that you talked about, obviously, you can't inspect everything that goes across the border. How does Customs, you know, deal with that? How do you decide what to search and stop or let go?

Ms. Tischler: That's a really good question. We're hiring a psychic next month. Actually, we do a lot of targeting. And the only way we can target is with advance knowledge. So, we get advance manifests from our air carriers. We get information from sea, land, and rail carriers, and we look for anomalies in the flow in cargo. We look at widgets that are imported, for instance, in terms of our narcotics responsibilities. And maybe the weights aren't right, or maybe they're misdescribed, or maybe concrete posts are coming into the country from Colombia when we don't need concrete posts. So, we depend a lot on targeting analysis and intelligence in terms of our law enforcement functions.

In terms of our trade functions, as well. Low-risk shipments are going to be able to go through. In order to achieve low-risk, they're going to have to show us that they're compliant with our trade requirements and our entry requirements and that they're not off record or we're not interested in them in terms of law enforcement. And if they're that way, we're moving towards letting them come into the U.S. without too much fuss or mess.

Mr. Petrun: You've been with Customs now for almost 30 years, so you're very familiar with the organization. What's been the most surprising aspect of your relatively new appointment as Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Field Operations?

Ms. Tischler: Well, a lot of people ask me that because I just showed up in July of 2000. And so, I had dealt -- you can't be in Customs for as long as I was in Customs, and this is what I tell people without knowing something about the organization in general. You can't be in Customs for as long as I did in the management jobs that I had where there was no interface with the other side of the house, it's impossible.

So I knew pretty much what the Office of Field Ops was, in fact, doing in their enforcement area. The surprise to me has been that I have been able to pick up on as much trade-related and our compliance system as fast as I've been able to do it. I've really only been there six months, and it's been a very satisfying thing to me to know that I'm not totally brain dead after all these years in the government, and I was able to expand into an area that, not that I didn't know anything about it, but that I didn't really have to deal with it on an every-day basis.

And the trade community is very important to Customs, and I was bound and determined to make sure that they understood that I would be an advocate for them. So the most surprising thing to me is that I've been able to actually accomplish as much as I've managed to accomplish in the six months that I've been there.

I do have three themes. I've been working on risk management, uniformity, and oversight. And those things are involved in everything I've been doing and, actually, the uniformity project, the trade is saying oh, there is no uniformity in Customs. Port A isn't like Port B, and so forth and so on, and I basically said, fine, no more apocryphal stories, tell me who, what, when, how, where, why, you know, and we'll track these things down. But that project's sort of taken on a life of its own because the other offices in Customs, like regulations and rulings and strategic trade have really -- and office of information technology, have asked to be on my task force for uniformity because of the functional overlap. And I've been very pleased with that.

Mr. Petrun: Uniformity, I take it, means, you know, so that whenever you enter a particular port of entry, you kind of get treated the same way. Is that what uniformity is about?

Ms. Tischler: Treated. In most of the trade fields, uniformity's really got to do with the classification of merchandise coming into the U.S., but there are other things, you're right; entry of goods and people into the U.S. People have a right to expect that if you come into New York, you'll be treated the same way and your cargo of widgets will be treated the same way at JFK as they will be at the airport in Miami. And that's what I mean by uniformity.

Now, it's a lot easier to enforce uniformity with our law enforcement responsibilities than it is in our trade responsibilities. There have been a lot of clarifications on policy they are sending there at 301 ports-of-entry, and that's what we're trying to get at.

Mr. Petrun: You talked in your description of how the monitoring takes place in terms of having information that picks up patterns and trends. What type of training is offered to Customs' employees to stay abreast of some of the tools and techniques to do this?

Ms. Tischler: Well, actually, one thing that our new commissioner or, he's not so new anymore, Mr. Kelly has done, is establish an Office of Training and Development, and I think that's very important. Training, in general, in most of the federal sector, always takes a hit when for instance resources are low. And yet it's the one thing that sort of stands between you and the tigers.

Our training is done on different levels. We have basic training for individuals who are just coming into our jobs like inspector and agent. And we have training at the ports, and we have advanced training. So they're kind of codifying all this training and they're making it uniform so that the training in Port A is not unlike the training in Port B, and I think that's extremely important. It'll be sort ongoing training, so it'll be more or there'll be a lot more refresher training and a lot of, actually, developmental type of training, as well.

Mr. Petrun: Great, it's time for a break. We'll be right back with more on the Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and tonight's conversation's with Bonnie Tischler, Assistant Commissioner for Office of Field Operations of the U.S. Customs Service. And joining me is Craig Petrun, also of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Well, Bonnie, we hear a lot about the forthcoming retirement wave and the difficulty of attracting young people to government or new people to government. Can you tell us whether these issues are problems for Customs and, if they are, how Customs is responding?

Ms. Tischler: Retirement is a difficult problem for almost all the federal agencies right now, especially, the ones that are in law enforcement. There's a special kind of retirement in the federal sector called, it's a law enforcement retirement. We affectionately call it Succeed, but the bottom line is that there are a lot of eligible people right now. There is a huge bump between now and 2005, where most of the agencies are going to be losing their most talented, their most experienced management, as well as their worker bees, basically. That isn't so much true within the Office of Field Ops because they don't have access to this retirement, but even so when they put the retirement system in known as FIRS, which is the new retirement system, as opposed to what I am in under, it's a portable retirement system. And when they did that, the youngsters, especially, generation X and whatever they're calling Y and soon- to-be Z, they're portable. So, we're losing a lot of people to private industry. Now, sometimes they come back because it's the same thing, they can go back and forth, actually between the public and private sectors because the retirement system has enabled them to do that. And there's a lot of money to be made in the private sector.

The public sector offers, you know, a lot of satisfaction to people who feel, like I do, that you're the cutting edge, that you can change things, that you can't complain unless you're willing to try to change things. But I worry about it because in today's environment, when it looks like it's money, money, money, it's very difficult to attract the younger crowd into, not just Customs, but any of the agencies. I know because we talk about it all the time to our peers and our colleagues in the other law enforcement services, and everybody's having the exact same problem. And especially the more tuned in they are to any technological advances, and the computer geeks are all running around trying to make a lot of money in software companies. It's very hard for us to attract those kinds of people.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think public service is for everyone or are there particular types of individuals you think are probably best suited for that environment?

Ms. Tischler: I don't know, I'd like to think we attract a lot of different kinds of people. It's just that it sort of depends on where their heads are at. I mean, eventually, they may decide that shark-infested pools of software companies may not be for them and our Office of Information Technology will, in fact, be able to attract these kids. But, you know, Congress has enabled us now to pay different salary structure to certain types of technology employees and more power to us because we really need them and we couldn't compete with the private companies.

Mr. Lawrence: Speaking of technology, what impact will the role of technology play with in-field operations? In other words, moving forward. You know, we talked about the huge volume of things coming and going throughout he country. What role do you think technology needs to play in the future to help you, you know, do that role better as we go forward?

Ms. Tischler: Well, let's just talk about non-intrusive technology, things like x-ray machines or new Vacuses, which are a type of x-ray machine or any one of the targeting devices that we're using, so that we don't have to search your luggage or search your person or search your cargo. And we'll be able just to either sniff it or look through it and be able to see if, in fact, there's contraband there in a timely manner and then release it. That's the ultimate. So, we definitely -- the more of that that we have, the easier it's going to be on us to review cargo for contraband and take a look at people so that they don't feel like they've been singled out and so forth and so on.

But our computer environment is absolutely necessary. Our automated commercial environment that we've got a five-year plan on right now. When and if we get that together, I believe that, while it won't be the total answer to everything, it's certainly going to be a long way towards data warehousing information and being able to target and being able to release cargo and making it easier for people that are going to leave the U.S. And so, we're pinning our hopes, actually, on ACS, as we call it.

Our Automated Commercial System, which has been the system that's been in existence since about 1984, is a legacy system, it's antiquated, and it's, you know, it's exceeding its useful life right now. And it certainly isn't a data warehouse and, so, we're definitely moving towards this automated environment, we've got to be able to get there.

Mr. Lawrence: That's true that must be a major challenge because, I guess, in terms of importing and exporting, most of the customers you probably service are large corporations who are always on the leading edge, the cutting edge of technology, yet they still have to work through that older system from 1984.

Ms. Tischler: Well, it's not just that. I just, you know, the ultimate will be a paperless environment, I think. Certainly, I wasn't the most technologically inclined person when all this first got started, but it's like that old thing about publishing or perishing, where you either use these computer systems or you're left behind in the dust. And so, we'd like to go totally paperless, that's where we're going and we're being buried in paper right now. If ACS goes down, that's our legacy system, we don't even know how long it would take us to dig out of the paperwork after a week, if that thing was, suddenly became inoperable.

We've done some studies, and it looks extremely challenging, I think the term is, actually, I think it would be like extremely depressing because we'll never be able to dig out of the paperwork. You know, and so, it's absolutely imperative that we have an outstanding system to provide outstanding service for our trade partners.

Mr. Lawrence: In addition to the reduction in paper, how else do you see Customs changing in the decade ahead.

Ms. Tischler: Good question. I think the type of jobs that we have will probably change to some extent. I mean, as more automation comes on, makes it easier to target, maybe our mix of actual jobs will change. I think that that's certainly going to give us some problems because, you know, we have National Treasury Employees' Union is a partner, and they're concerned about the jobs, for instance, in terms of our employees. But, you know, there may come a time where some employee jobs will have to be converted to other positions because maybe they won't be quite as needful as they've been in the past. So I think it's going to present a real challenge to get the right mix of people and to be able to acquire the resources, you know, from Capitol Hill in order to continue our lay-down of automation.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think that the skills or the basic skills by the people in Customs need to change as you move ahead into the next 10 to 20 years? Or it just needs to be tweaked?

Ms. Tischler: Well, you know, coming from my old job being a criminal investigator, agents will definitely have to become more and more knowledgeable about how to utilize the various databases. I mean, the computers have completely changed the complexion of law enforcement from a criminal investigations perspective.

Our inspectors do a number of different things. Some of them are more or less mechanical and some of them are more or less cerebral. I mean, I was just looking at a passenger analysis unit that was doing some pretty heavy-hitting targeting. For instance, to look at a flight manifest that was coming in to see if anyone was really interesting on the flight that they needed to look at a little closer, and they were really making some big leaps of faith, spinning straw into gold, using the databases just as if they were, in fact, criminal investigators or intelligence analysts. So, any of these job distinctions are going to blur. And so, that's what I mean, maybe we're going to go to more teams of people who are going to be agents, intelligence analysts inspectors because we've got inspectors that are doing intelligence analysts' work and intelligence analysts that are doing agent work. I think that's true in a lot of the agencies, though.

Mr. Lawrence: I guess our last question for tonight is what advice would you give a person growing up in the organization who says, one day I'd like to be a leader at Customs? What advice would you give them?

Ms. Tischler: I think they really need to think about what skill sets they're going to have to acquire and they're going to have to go after the training or developmental courses that they need to really understand budget and resource management. And they need conflict resolution and soft skills that they may not otherwise get. So, rolled into a nutshell, they've got to manage their careers a little bit better.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you, Bonnie, for being with us tonight. Craig and I have enjoyed our conversation very much.

This has been the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government.

To learn more about the Endowment's program and research, visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.

See you next week.

John Nolan interview

Friday, May 25th, 2001 - 19:00
John Nolan
Radio show date: 
Sat, 05/26/2001
Intro text: 
John Nolan
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the co-chair of the Endowment for the Business of Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment by visiting us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.

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 John Nolan, Deputy Postmaster General, and Chief Marketing Officer of the U.S. Postal Service. Welcome, John.

Mr. Nolan: Glad to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining me in our conversation is another PwC partner, Nancy Staisey. Welcome, Nancy.

Ms. Staisey: Thank you, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: John, in this first segment let's talk about your career. You began with the Postal Service in 1970. Could you tell us about the various positions you've held?

Mr. Nolan: Well, I actually started in the Postal Service as a management intern right out of college, and I did that for a short period of time and then moved into a program management position in Washington. And got involved in the start-up of our new bulk mail centers back then in the late-'70s, or mid-'70s, starting up these 33 centers.

I came back to Washington from New York where I had been starting up the first of those centers and worked in Washington for a while, and then moved back out to the region from our regional office in New York City and held a couple of positions before I became postmaster in New York City.

After 19 years I left the Postal Service and then went to work for Merrill Lynch for 11 years, and like a bad penny I'm back.

Ms. Staisey: John, you served as general manager and postmaster for the New York division, as you mentioned, which is the largest division not only in the Postal Service but also worldwide. What did you learn from that experience?

Mr. Nolan: Well, it was a great job. As postmaster in New York, you're the 800-pound gorilla, and so pretty much you had the opportunity to do what you wanted and people were just happy that you wanted to do it. If you were successful, they wanted you to keep being successful.

But I think the biggest thing in that job, you're really running a business. You really are. You have customers, you have a mission that you have to carry out every day. Constantly talking to your customers and communicating their needs aggressively within the organization I think was the most critical thing because if not for the customers, we don't have a reason for being in existence. So I think in an organization that large, 25,000 employees, and as many customers as we have, you can't overcommunicate. You've just got to constantly communicate.

Mr. Lawrence: You also mentioned that you worked for Merrill Lynch for 10 years after a long tenure with the Postal Service. How do you contrast your experience in the private sector with that in the public sector?

Mr. Nolan: Well, there's a much greater focus on money in the private sector, I'd say. We had one figure really that drove a lot of our behavior at Merrill Lynch, and that was turn on equity. We can't do that in the Postal Service. It's just a little bit more complex so in a sense it's easier in that sector, although Merrill Lynch is a very complex company.

I think our set of problems is very challenging because you not only worry about what a normal businessperson would do in such a situation like this, but what are the political implications because we're not just a regular business. But I think it's very similar in many ways. The business I was running was actually a related business for Merrill Lynch and so they had a lot of similarities. But I found the focus on profits, the overriding focus on money, to be a very all-encompassing one, and a very healthy one in many respects because it forced people to really think about the consequences of what they did in very clear monetary terms very day.

Ms. Staisey: How did your experience at Merrill Lynch prepare you for your present position?

Mr. Nolan: I think that there was a greater breadth at the way we looked at problems that I've got now. I had the postal experience, now I've got the Merrill Lynch experience. I've seen things from both sides. I think I understand better all sides of issues that typically come in front of us.

I was a customer, so I knew what it's like to be a customer at the Postal Service and the satisfactions and sometimes the frustrations in that regard dealing with a very large organization. I had an advantage because I knew about the inside of the Postal Service so that gave me some advantages. But I saw the way our people had to deal with the Postal Service, and I think it's enabled me as we get into discussions of key policies, programs, futures, et cetera, to stop and say, "well, wait a minute, what would I be thinking if I were sitting on the other side of the fence again," and I think that's certainly an advantage.

Mr. Lawrence: What is it about public service that attracts you?

Mr. Nolan: It's just a very challenging period. I was very fortunate in the years I was at Merrill Lynch financially, so I'm able to consider this again because the big drawback for me of course is financially doing this. But I've known Bill Henderson for 25 years, the prospect of working alongside of him and the rest of the management team is one that I thought would be interesting.

It certainly is a very challenging time in the history of the Postal Service. I think finally the one thing that got to me is that 20 years from now Bill said someone is going to write a book about the Postal Service, you need to be in that book, again, referencing the fact this is a particularly critical time. As soon as my wife heard me make that statement, she says, "oh no, you're taking the job."

So I think the challenge, the tremendous challenge, the sheer size and the importance of what we do is something that's pretty, especially, for someone like me, hard to overlook.

Ms. Staisey: Which positions or management challenges provided you the best opportunity to develop as a leader?

Mr. Nolan: I think that being postmaster of New York with 25,000 employees trying to change directions in what we were trying to do, dealing with the unions, the customers, the management groups, really helped me grow as a leader. I think that some of the -- or just before then my position as the regional director of customer services in the Northeast region of the Postal Service and had to deal with the entire regional area and, again, communication being key was one.

Frankly, at Merrill Lynch trying to build a company within a company that's not a mail business to try and figure out how do you get people whose main mission in life isn't what you're to accomplish, but for whom it's very important that we do well, how do you get them moving in that direction and getting people excited about this new company you want to form. I think all three of those things would be things I'd point to.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned communication, and I'm wondering about some other key characteristics of leadership.

Mr. Nolan: Well, I think leaders challenge limits. They challenge processes that exist to make sure that we are on the right track. I think leaders have to inspire a shared vision. I think that's a very important thing that just managers sometimes don't do, but that shared vision is very critical.

I think leaders find a way to enable others to do their best and to really serve as a role model to encourage the heart. It's not just the things that you do, but why you do them and to get enthusiastic about those.

I think leaders have a tremendous performance bias. It's not "let's sit down and think about it," it's "let's go, let's go, let's make something happen." So I think those are critical things for a leader.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you do that in such large organizations?

Mr. Nolan: In some ways, I don't know that the size is part of the problem I guess, but it's the bias within the organization. It's the way you structure things. It's the way you challenge people within an organization. Size can be a tremendous advantage because you've got tremendous resources to bring to bear on a given issue. So I think structure comes into play there and how people feel about what needs to be done.

I think the big thing is that you can't get into this mind-set that this is a big ocean liner and when you turn the wheel it takes all those analogies that you always hear. The fact is that you give an order and a whole lot of dust can start to move in one direction if you get people moving that way. So you can make some pretty big changes in a hurry if you're crystal clear about what you're doing and why you're doing it and you're able to communicate that.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think the characteristics of leadership have changed over time?

Mr. Nolan: I don't know. I think that it may be that the need for increasing flexibility because of the speed at which change occurs is one that's risen to the top of the list of things that leaders have to be aware of and concerned about. So I think that flexibility, of all the things, I think that's probably one that leaders have to be conscious of.

Mr. Lawrence: We're talking with John Nolan of the U.S. Postal Service. This is the Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and tonight's conversation is with John Nolan, Deputy Postmaster General, and chief marketing officer of the United States Postal Service. Joining me in our conversation is another PWC partner, Nancy Staisey.

Ms. Staisey: Thank you, Paul. John, as Deputy Postmaster General and as Chief Marketing Officer, what are your areas of responsibility?

Mr. Nolan: Well, there are several. First, I have the chief technology officer who reports to me, and obviously the marketing functions, everything from product development, to pricing. The sales organization is about to shift over to my area of responsibility.

The other area, which is new to the Postal Service, is an area called corporate and business development. We're really looking at more Internet/e-commerce related products and services and alliances and partnerships that we're going to see more and more of.

Mr. Lawrence: Throughout your tenure at the Postal Service you have stressed positive labor/management relationships, particularly in your work in New York City. How have you been able to improve labor/management relationships, and what lessons learned would you advise other managers?

Mr. Nolan: Again, I go in with a certain bias that people do want to do a good job. I mean, you always have the ÄÄÄÄ but you don't structure a whole approach to business for a few people, you do it for the large group.

I think honesty is very important. I mean, if you're going to do something, if you need to do something, you ought to be honest about it and get it on the table and discuss it. I think I try and work hard to understand the other's viewpoint to be direct about what my viewpoint is and to encourage them to see things from my side as well.

And don't give up on important goals. I mean, if the first time you get a "no" that you go off and pout, it doesn't accomplish very much. If people know what's important and you can get a way for people to work cooperatively to achieve a compatible end, I think that's important.

Ms. Staisey: As New York City postmaster, you also improved service and productivity. At the same time, you exceeded safety, performance, and budget goals. How did you do it? What were some of the keys to this success?

Mr. Nolan: Well, following a good management team didn't hurt. George Schuman who was postmaster in front of me, and Bill Dowling who was head of operations really did a great job. The team that I first inherited and then built were very good people.

I think one of the things we did is, we focused very heavily. I think we tried to focus on the customer to make sure that what we were doing made sense for the customer. We paid a lot of attention to that, as well as paying a lot of attention to detail. In our kind of business it's "what have you done for me lately," and it's sticking to the knitting every day and making sure you're doing the fundamentals right.

Then the other big thing as I mentioned before is communication. You just cannot overcommunicate to an organization as large as that.

Mr. Lawrence: What do you mean when you say you focus on the customer?

Mr. Nolan: A lot of times what we do is we say if we do our job right, then the customer benefits because obviously what we're doing is in the customer's best interest. That's an operations- centric look at this, and basically what we're doing may not be the right things for the customer, and what we've got to understand is what does the customer want.

It may be that they're using our products, but they're using our products in spite of the fact that the product is the way it is and they wish that something could be done slightly differently. What we've got to do is constantly look at what are our customers telling us, what do they want? Certainly if you make your budget goals and you make your service goals, in general that's got to be good for customers, but it may not be enough. So I think that's the big think that we tried to focus on.

Mr. Lawrence: How would you describe the challenges today from your current position in terms of improving service and productivity?

Mr. Nolan: Well, in our structure, the chief operating officer really handles the day-to-day operations of the company, but I think that working as part of the management team in a leadership role, we've got to make sure that we're challenging ourselves enough. If you set easy targets, you achieve easy things. If you set very tough targets, you sometimes find a way to achieve those tough targets.

So I think the challenge from our standpoint is to make sure that we understand what is it going to take to be competitive, to meet the needs of the marketplace, and then to try and exceed those and set tough targets. In some cases things that would seem impossible you've got to lay out there as a challenge, just like a number of years ago the Postal Service decided it was going to hit mid-nineties on service, and at the time they were in the seventies and everyone figured that's crazy, that will never happen, and it happened. Why? Because they set tough targets and they didn't take no for an answer.

Ms. Staisey: The Postal Service recently launched a number of new online service such as secure electronic documents and net post certified. Can you tell us more about these and the directions the Postal Service is going in terms of online services and products?

Mr. Nolan: Well, there's been a lot of questions about what in the world are you all doing. This doesn't look like mail. What are you doing going into this business. Our answer is, look, we've been dealing in money, messages, and merchandise for over 200 years. It's what we do. And if you follow that line of reasoning, why in the world did we ever leave the Pony Express?

We helped develop commercial aviation. Mail was the first big user of planes. Our customers are continuing to see incredible value and importance in mail, but they're also trying to communicate in other ways, to move money in other ways, to receive merchandise in other ways over the Internet. We need to be there to make sure we're providing a full range of services.

Just as any other company would seek to diversify if part of its product line was in jeopardy from diversion, we're diversifying. But the big thing is that we think that it's what our customers want us to do. We bring a tradition of trust. The secure messaging, again, the old game, who do you trust. When people ask that question we come up very high on the list so we think we can bring a greater element of trust to the Internet.

We think that our NetPost Certified for example is going to enable government and individuals to take a lot of the difficulty out of transactions, costs out of transactions back and forth by offering the ability to authenticate the sender of information whether it's birth certificate information or medical information and be able to authenticate it. Encrypt the document that's being sent to Social Security or to the Health Care Finance Administration or whoever so that they're able to get it in a mode that eliminates their work to get it in a machine readable format. It will speed everything significantly, reduce costs, enable government to work better, and enable citizens to be satisfied.

Part of what makes it possible is our ubiquity. We're everything, and people have an easy time dealing with us. We've partnered with some very, very good people in AT&T and IBM. The other of course big one that we've mentioned is eBill Pay. Some people want to pay bills online. I mean, we love it in the mail. We like to keep bills in the mail and payments in the mail, but some customers want to do things differently.

We believe that nobody in America or in the world offers a better bill payment service than we do. We've partnered with a very good company there as well, Check Free, and so we bring strengths, they bring strengths, and we think this is helping us be of a complete answer for your customers.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the management challenges of introducing online services?

Mr. Nolan: Well, it's being sure you're very crystal clear about what you know and what you don't know, what you should do and what you shouldn't do and leave to partners on the outside who do this for a living. But that's no different for any company or any issue, whether it's transportation issues or whatever.

But again, things more very quickly. Things that seem really interesting and exciting and a lot of companies want to jump at them right way without thinking. You've heard that dot-coms caused everyone to lose their judgment about what makes sense in business, you've got to, again, go back and do what makes sense in business and not just get enamored with a new technology.

So I think you have to understand the technology, understand the customer and what they want and, again, stick with the things you do well, and partner with the best for those things that you don't.

Mr. Lawrence: Many are apprehensive about having partners so deeply involved in the operation of the organization. They're actually worried about the management challenge. How have you addressed that?

Mr. Nolan: I think first of all what you do is to make sure you're careful about who you partner with. Second of all, you've got to sit down very carefully and make sure that you understand along with your partners what is it that each member of the team wants out of this relationship; what is it that each person on the team brings to the relationship; and how can we make sure that those things are being delivered. Then to constantly reevaluate that to make sure that you're asking the question is the equation changing or are we still in good shape here.

Mr. Lawrence: We'll be back in a few minutes with more of the Business of Government Hour and our conversation with John Nolan of the United States Postal Service.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with John Nolan, Deputy Postmaster General and Chief Marketing Officer of the United States Postal Service. Joining me in our conversation is another PWC partner, Nancy Staisey.

Ms. Staisey: John, we've heard a great deal in the news lately about the $6.3 billion alliance between the Postal Service and FedEx. Can you tell me more about this?

Mr. Nolan: No. It's top secret. Actually, what this is, it's a two-part agreement really, and it's a business alliance or business partnership that we've created here. The first is a transportation contract where they're transporting express mail, priority mail, and some first class mail for us on both the night and day network just as we have contracted with other airlines in the past, except they just happen to be one of the largest airlines in the world and have a network that's very beneficial for us and for our customers.

The other is a retail agreement where we are agreeing to enable them to put their collection boxes in front of our post offices so that areas that we can't hit with the services that our customers want, FedEx might be an answer to their shipping needs. So it becomes more convenient for customers, and it's something that FedEx wanted because it's a whole lot easier to explain to people where your boxes are if you say go to the post office.

So we're enthusiastic about the partnership. We think it's good for our customers, for the industry as a whole. I think it's a win-win.

Ms. Staisey: Seems like it's one of the biggest strategic moves ever for the Postal Service.

Mr. Nolan: Yes, and no. Yes, in the -- well, no in the sense that we've done transportation contracts all over the place and other kinds of deals. I mean, you can mail things through Mail Box, Etc. now. So we've done a business partnership with them. You can buy stamps in grocery stores. So that's the "no" part.

But the "yes" part is who would have thought about it. I mean, who would have thought that the Postal Service would actually be partnering with one of its competitors. I think what's that, competition or something like that is used so we're going to compete like crazy in certain spaces where we do compete. Some areas we just don't overlap at all. But I think it does signal for people in this country that this is a Postal Service that's going to do whatever it takes to make sure that we are effective for our customers and are there for them with solid services that are very affordable.

Ms. Staisey: Is it a sign that there will be more new and different ways of doing things in the future?

Mr. Nolan: I would certainly think so.

Mr. Lawrence: What's been the reaction of the various stakeholders?

Mr. Nolan: By and large, positive. I mean, some of the initial questions dealt with antitrust issues, gee, is there a problem here, and we feel strongly that there isn't, and some initial indications are that there seems to be no problems. But some people are concerned about that.

Obviously some of our competitors are curious and concerned about it. You had some of the airlines that were hauling or are hauling our mail that will phase out certainly aren't thrilled to death with it. But by and large, from our customers, from the analysts in the industry, I think it's by and large seen as a very shrewd maneuver.

Mr. Lawrence: How about with the postal employees?

Mr. Nolan: Well, it doesn't negatively impact the postal employees at all. It makes us more competitive we feel. No postal employees are losing jobs because it's a transportation agreement and putting retail boxes in front of our facilities for which we're being paid. So we think it makes us more competitive which should help us sell more product and help pay for the retail structure that we have out there with some additional revenue.

So our employees have been very positive about it. Surprised because we haven't done this with a competitor in the past but again, our people are very sophisticated when it comes to these kinds of things, and I think that they just like any analysts analyzed the thing and saw that it was a good deal.

Ms. Staisey: Besides alliances, does USPS plan to use any other new mechanisms for doing business? I'm thinking of things like joint ventures, teaming approaches.

Mr. Nolan: Yes. Well, we actually already are, interestingly enough. Again, with our e-bill pay service we partnered with Check Free, which is a top company in the bill payment area. On net post certified we've set up a partnership with -- business arrangement partnership with AT&T and IBM. There's a company called Imagitas, which handles our moving guides that we have in post offices for which we were recognized by former Vice President Gore in efficiency in government.

So we've begun to do some partnering. Do I think that the phrase "you ain't seen nothing yet" may apply? I think so. I think that there will be more things we're going to do, more interesting relationships, whether it's with ISPs, Internet providers, whether it's with other companies that can bring something to the table and we can add something. I think we'll look to do a lot more innovative things to make sure that our products and services are everything they can be.

Ms. Staisey: What about taking an equity position with some of your teammates?

Mr. Nolan: Well, it's something that we're looking at certainly. It's not without controversy as they say to some. We think it's -- any business would reasonably look at that and look to determine whether that would be a beneficial way of ensuring financial viability in the future. So I think we acting as a business as we're supposed to do by our law that formed us in 1970 look at all opportunities and try and determine what's appropriate given our statutes.

I think that there are some things that clear that we can do, some things that we can't do, and some things in the middle that we have to sit down and evaluate. But certainly looking to make sure that our investments in services and products give us the best possible return would make you want to look at the financial alternatives that exist.

Mr. Lawrence: There's been talk of postal reform by the Postal Service board of governors and the postmaster general. What do they hope to accomplish with postal reform, and what do they mean?

Mr. Nolan: Well, our hands are tied. I mean, one of our competitors complains that they don't have a level playing field. Every time I talk I say anytime you want to trade playing fields, I'm happy to do it, believe me. The rub is we don't pay parking tickets, we don't park illegally, and we don't pay taxes. We don't make money. You want me to pay taxes? Fine. Give me a chance to make some money.

The big thing for us, frankly, is that you've got a company here that doesn't control 76 percent of its costs, its wages. It's set by an outside arbitrator. We don't control our pricing, we're limited as to what products we can offer, and we can't make investments. If someone said, "Paul, I've got this great opportunity for you. You're going to be CEO of this company and there's only a few things that we're not going to let you do." Would you jump at a chance to run this company? I think the answer to that would be "no."

We need these freedoms to be able to operate in the future we believe. Business is challenging. It has nothing to do with whether mail is relevant or irrelevant because mail is relevant. But the Postal Service sparked a whole explosion in the mailing industry in the '70s and '80s because we freed up the industry to do things.

In some ways we're beginning to be a roadblock. We think with the value of mail that still exists that the industry can explode more, but we need to be freer to offer our customers greater opportunities.

Mr. Lawrence: And yet a tremendous amount of creativity has already been demonstrated through the alliances that you just described. So I'm wondering ...

Mr. Nolan: It's not enough. It starts to go a little way, but it's not enough. Again, when you don't control your prices it's very difficult, or your costs to a large extent.

Ms. Staisey: What are the most critical freedoms that you need?

Mr. Nolan: Well, again, for example, we have a tremendous customer in the priority mail area and our prices are set and are fixed we can't negotiate those. So it enables a competitor to go in there and undercut is anytime they want to. If they happen to have space on a plane and want to fill it up, let's see which customers the Postal Service has and we'll just go with marginal costing and, bingo, we're toast. So I think pricing is a big thing.

I think that offering new products. Again, there's a lot of people that have questioned why are you into these things, the Internet, et cetera. And yet when other companies do it -- boy, that makes a lot of sense. Well, there's no difference there.

From an investment standpoint, again, when you're going to work very closely with a company, the opportunity to make investments so that you grow two ways certainly makes a lot of sense.

Mr. Lawrence: We'll be right back with the Business of Government Hour and our conversation with John Nolan of the United States Postal Service.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and tonight's conversation is with John Nolan Deputy Postmaster General and Chief Marketing Officer of the United States Postal Service. Joining me in our conversation is another PWC partner, Nancy Staisey.

John, we hear a lot about the forthcoming retirement wave and the difficulty of attracting young people or new people to government. Can you tell us whether these issues are problems for the U.S. Postal Service, and if so how they're being dealt with?

Mr. Nolan: Well, they are. I think I saw a figure that 85 percent of executives in the Postal Service are within 10 years of retirement. That's a huge number because we have a couple of folks in the executive ranks in the Postal Service.

One way of looking at it is it's a tremendous opportunity. When I joined in 1970 there was a whole wave of retirements that occurred and I got positions of importance a lot faster than I ordinarily would have because they needed people. So I think if there are people listening out there that want a real challenge, the Postal Service is the place to be.

Nobody is as diverse as we are. Nobody values diversity as much as we do I think, and so there are tremendous opportunities. We're stressing very heavily development, redevelopment actually of a management intern program that we sort of had let slide for a while. We have leadership training programs. We've got our own management academy out at Potomac so we do value training.

And we send people to Harvard and Stanford and MIT because we need to have leaders that are savvy, that have rub shoulders with a lot of other leaders in industry. So you've got a great opportunity in the Postal Service to get a lot of responsibility, do a lot of interesting things, and be trained very well.

So I think these are the kinds of things we're trying to stress. We've got 800,000 employees. We're trying to move as aggressively as we can to get people within our own ranks interested in moving up and trying to get people from outside of our industry to move in because the things we do are pretty exciting.

Ms. Staisey: John, one of the demographic trends on the customer side has been an increasing number of new businesses and a great deal of residential development that's been going on. What's the impact of this in terms of the ever-increasing number of daily physical deliveries that USPS has to make?

Mr. Nolan: Well, the way we look at it, last year we added Chicago. We added 1.8 million new deliveries. We added the city of Chicago in terms of deliveries. Now, we don't get paid a penny for delivering to those residences unless there's an increase in revenue from people sending mail. Last year our revenue or the volume went up some, but not as much as it has in the past. So that's a tremendous cost on our operation; 1.8 million, the city of Chicago we added last year, and that's continuing. We don't see any signs of abatement there.

We had a huge influx of dot-coms and we had to build infrastructure to serve them, and then they collapse in some cases. So the breathing that we're doing in and out to grow and shrink from some of those businesses or something, but we haven't stopped growing when it comes to possible deliveries.

Ms. Staisey: Now, are there ways you can use technology to further your mission and also to help serve the ever-expanding number of deliveries you need to --

Mr. Nolan: Well, we're as big a user of technology as almost anybody in the world. That's why we have so many companies eager to do business with us. Unfortunately, there's not many ways that technology can help us walk up to the front door or to the curb to serve new deliveries. But when it comes to the use of mechanized equipment, automated equipment, bar code technology, scanning devices, electric vehicles. Technology is everywhere in what we do. Finding new ways for customers to reach us using the Internet at usps.com, finding ways of making call centers more efficient by using artificial intelligence. I mean, there's very little that we're not looking at or working on. So technology is critical for our future.

Mr. Lawrence: How is the Internet and use of e-mail and even the rise of e-commerce affected the way the Postal Service does business? Does it threaten the volumes?

Mr. Nolan: Well, the way we look at it, the Internet is both a disruptive and supportive technology. It's disruptive in the sense that some of our business could go away, and bill payment and bill presentment is certainly a very big part of our company, 25 percent of our revenues. And so the extent that that's threatened, that would be categorized as disruptive I would think.

On the other hand, it's very supportive. The most important thing that we're doing on the Internet now is using the Internet to reduce our internal costs. It's the biggest thing that we're doing. Second, it's enabling us to build an information platform more efficiently that enables us to manage better what we do every day.

The third thing, we're going to be adding a lot more value to our current core products and services. If you have a post office, for example, in the future we envision that you'll be able to look on the Internet to see whether you have mail in the post office box, whether you need to stop by the post office, and things like that; the status of your mailing. We'd be able to scan documents en route, and you'll know whether or not you're about to receive a package or that the package you sent was delivered.

Finally, the e-commerce initiatives that we've got to offer more products and services. So it really is changing the whole landscape of what we do. It's how we look at the future and how we're tackling the present and moving toward the future.

Mr. Lawrence: How is all this technology changing the way the Postal Service is managed?

Mr. Nolan: Well, we need to have technical savvy, first of all. That's sort of the ante to be in the game. So you need to understand the technology, either through people you have in house or consulting partners or vendors that you deal with so that's critical.

But the big thing is that still the fundamentals apply in managing an organization and it's a matter of understanding customers, and the big challenge here is that not only do you try and understand what the technologies can do for you and what you have to do internally but also how is it affecting your customers and be able to anticipate that impact and be able to be there as the customers change. Because when you've got a customer who very often doesn't know for sure how it's going to impact him, it's pretty hard for them to tell you.

So what you just got to be is more of a futurist I think to examine what's really going on here and to be there at the pass to cut them off and make sure they stick with you.

Ms. Staisey: John, if we could all be time travelers and travel ahead 10 years into the future, what would USPS look like in 2010?

Mr. Nolan: The U.S. Postal Service is the gateway to the household. Nobody in their right mind will go to their household directly. They drop at the Postal Service and let us do that, walk that last mile. No one is more efficient, no one is more effective at doing it. No one is trusted more. So whether it's packages, whether it's videos, you name it, people are going to use the Postal Service to move that last mile.

On the origin end, we've got all the tools necessary for our carriers to make it very easy to hand things to us so you won't necessarily have to go to a post office. You're going to see some post offices changing location. We need to move where the population is. With technology today, with kiosks and all sorts of things, there's a whole easier ways; the Internet. You don't have to come to the Postal Service to buy a stamp. You may not even need the stamp. You can do PC postage now and pay for your postage.

So I think what you're going to see is a Postal Service that has moved with technology and understood clearly what customers were trying to accomplish. You're going to see a lot of different models setting up in different areas. The post office today, there's a lot of sameness to it. It's the same everywhere. Well, in the future I don't see that always being the case. I think that there are certain areas where the post office ought to have a whole lot of services that it doesn't have today, and in other areas that just wouldn't be appropriate. So you won't see some of those services offered.

If you're in a town with no greeting card stores, why not be able to buy a greeting card at the post office. In other places that has greeting card stores, we can't add extra value there so don't do it.

So I think what you're going to see is a Postal Service that's much more tailored to the customer where the customer is, and a greater flexibility and range of service offerings.

Mr. Lawrence: What type of leaders will be in this organization in 10 years?

Mr. Nolan: Probably ones that don't include me, but I think to be effective in the Postal Service 10 years from now you're going to have to be someone that has a vision, and stick with that vision and move aggressively toward it. You're going to have to have sound business knowledge because you're going to be up against the biggest and the best and the littlest and the fastest.

So you're going to have to have a business acumen that's going to be critical for the future. Hopefully there will be a greater movement of executives from outside to inside and inside to outside, but it's going to be a lot of challenges and they're going to have to be innovative.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm afraid we're out of time, John. Nancy and I want to thank you very much for spending time with us. We've had an interesting conversation.

This has been the Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with John Nolan, Deputy Postmaster General, and Chief Marketing Officer of the U.S. Postal Service. To learn more about the endowment's programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com. See you next week.

Ida Castro interview

Friday, May 11th, 2001 - 19:00
Ida Castro
Radio show date: 
Sat, 05/12/2001
Intro text: 
Ida Castro
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the co-chair of the Endowment for the Business of Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment by visiting us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.

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 Ida Castro, Chairwoman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Welcome, Ida.

Ms. Castro: Thank you, Paul. I'm very happy to be here, and I want to extend a warm hello to all of your listeners.

Mr. Lawrence: Great, and they'd like to find out more about the EEOC. Can you tell us about the commission and your role?

Ms. Castro: Well, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created, actually opened its doors around 35 years ago as a result of the enactment of the Title VII Civil Rights Act, and our responsibility is to enforce anti-discrimination laws throughout the work force.

Some years later we also were given the responsibility of similar types, although quite different in certain regards, of enforcement and promotion of equal employment opportunity in the federal government as well. Throughout the years, our jurisdiction has expanded significantly. Initially it was race and gender and national origin and the well-known areas. As you know, throughout the years there have been additional laws that have been enacted, whether it's age discrimination or disability discrimination and so forth and so on.

So our plate is pretty full, regrettably, at this point. Generally speaking, the commission receives on average about 80,000 charges from the private sector alone each and every year so we investigate in the private sector, we make determinations and findings of discrimination. We conciliate with the employers in a confidential setting, and if conciliation fails, then the commission decides whether or not to pursue the matter through litigation or if the party has a private attorney. They may request a right to pursue and proceed to court, separate and independent from the commission.

In addition to enforcement in the private sector and in the federal sector, the commission is also responsible for policy questions and for issuing guidance rules and regulations in guiding the employer community and the employee community on their rights and responsibilities under the law.

So we are basically a very holistic type approach of agency. In the past, we've been basically an enforcement agency, a law-enforcement type agency. Since I arrived, I've tried to amplify our outreach efforts and make sure that we also do all that we can, given our limited resources, to encourage compliance with our laws and to stimulate voluntary compliance because we do have far more than what we can handle, quite frankly.

Mr. Lawrence: You've worked as a lawyer and a professor as well as a government manager and leader. Can you describe your career to us?

Ms. Castro: Well, I first started actually as a manager. At a very early age I had the unique opportunity of being permitted to submit a proposal, get funding, and actually start a whole program. The initial proposal that got funded was an employment and training program in a municipality in Puerto Rico, and the program started with slightly over $100,000, and within 16 months mushroomed into an $8 million proposal that was funded under the CITA program which was just starting. So I'm going back for those of you in employment and training some time ago. I just want to highlight that I was extremely, extremely young at the time and was given some wonderful opportunities.

From there on in, I proceeded to work in a variety of areas. I guess I had a number of roles in the employment and training arena, which is public service. From there I had the opportunity to begin an academic career at the Institute of Management and Labor Relations for Rutgers University. At that time I was a labor educator, and I completed also my law degree and became the first woman tenured in the Labor Education Center.

Once I had my law degree, then I wanted basically to make sure that I could practice and have that experience under my belt as well, so I did that. I did labor law, and ultimately I also did management representation. I further administered a number of programs in the Department of Labor, the latter being an experience I've had within the last 7 years culminating in the nomination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as Chairwoman which has been indeed a privilege and an honor for me to have been able to do this job for the last 2 plus years.

Mr. Lawrence: What drew you to public service?

Ms. Castro: Public service offers a unique opportunity. I did private practice and I also did government practice. The unique opportunity is always the level of impact that one can have, particularly when one is at the federal government, actually the Washington, D.C. level. I mean, literally with the stroke of a pen so to speak one can have a real impact on the entire work force from where I sit. That is certainly an attractive position to be in.

But I think more importantly is the commitment to make sure that America holds up to its dream, and certainly to its well-earned reputation. That is, America needs to maintain its number-one standing in terms of not only its employment opportunities but also the environment in the context of the work force opportunities that are offered in America. We're leading in the world, and I wanted to serve my country, serve it well, and make sure that the promise that we've often made through our own values as Americans are met, and that is the opportunity I was offered in this position, so it's been really the best job I've had.

But public service in general is certainly to be commended. It takes a lot of commitment and a lot of hard work, and often times a lot of misunderstanding from the public in general. Certainly it's not the money you get paid because you can make more in the private sector more often than not. And often times, regrettably, it's not the accolades one gets from the public. It's really that knowledge that you are working for the betterment of your country, and that is a wonderful feeling.

Mr. Lawrence: What position or challenges gave you the best opportunity to develop as a leader?

Ms. Castro: I don't think I can pinpoint it to any one particular position. I've had I guess the wonderful opportunity of working in such a wide variety of positions from a Head Start teacher to manager to lawyer to different executive positions to planning, and then to implementing. I think that has really allowed me to be a better chairwoman at this point and a better leader because it's the exposure to the different kinds of skills one acquires along the way to the different kinds of leaders that one meets along the way that really allows you to figure out what is your best style and how is it that you can have the greatest impact.

So I really agree with the corporate world for the most part that you need to track experiences that are diverse.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm talking with Ida Castro. This is the Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and our conversation today is with Ida Castro, Chairwoman, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Well, as chairwoman you've implemented an innovative agenda to increase fairness, quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of all aspects of the agency's operations. Could you tell us more about how you went about doing this?

Ms. Castro: Well, given the nomination and appointment process, Paul, it tends to be sometimes rather lengthy. I did have the good fortune of having about 9 months to think about what is it that I needed to do and focus upon once I arrived at the agency. I really welcomed, in a warped sense, the time because it did give me that opportunity to really plan out, identify what I thought would be the major challenges for the agency, and begin to formulate a plan that would address those challenges that would accomplish results, and do so in a fair and swift manner so that the experience of success for the staff itself could then reenergize them and reenergize actually me so that we can continue to evolve and change the areas that really required attention.

Let me backtrack a moment. Because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, although it's always had a very noble mission, and a mission that's difficult to accomplish given the universe of need, it had experienced a time of about 15 to 20 years almost where it was understaffed and underresourced. That long-time resource starvation had had an incredible impact in the infrastructure of the agency as well as staff morale, so I also understood that that was another layer of my challenge. So it's not coming up with ideas, but it's also making these ideas real for the people that really have survived, so to speak, a 20-year famine, and that tends to be pretty hard.

I was helped immediately by the fact that I came in with an increase in our budget, a $37 million increase, which for EEOC was an enormous amount of money. However, given the need, it really quite frankly wasn't enough at the time because our credibility was in question as an agency. We had been involved as anyone that would have read the papers at the time, in a series of articles that really were extremely critical to the agency. At the time, everyone thought about EEOC in terms of its backlog and in terms of the length of time it took to get to a charge and investigate cases 2 or 3 years before you even got an investigation.

In other words, all of our customers were unhappy. All of our stakeholders were unhappy. The primary question had to be, "why is it that such an important agency with such an important mission has such a terrible reputation," and then work backwards and see what is it that we could correct immediately and what were the longer-term projects.

So in the immediate corrections, obviously the budget went a long way. We were able to expand our staff. We were able to improve on technology. When I arrived in '98 at EEOC, we couldn't even communicate through e-mail and people were complaining about, for example, quality of work and uniformity of decisions. Employers would raise this all the time and how can I guarantee that one region does as the other one does when they can't even communicate? So clearly that was a big issue for us.

So we were able to connect all of our offices, upgrade all of the computer technology, and therefore improve on our productivity while at the same time we're expanding the staff and training them. Our staff had not been trained in like 10 years so how do you guarantee quality customer service, and so forth and so on.

And lastly but not less importantly, we were able to once again refocus on our mission, clarify our mission, look at the way we were doing our work, and ask staff to really think through these processes and think them through not just as staff members, but think them through from the eyes of all of our stakeholders and advise me on how is it that we can address all of these processes so that we can accomplish several things.

One and foremost, results. If we're here to identify discrimination, then how quickly can we do this, how well can we do this, and how strong can we do this in the sense that once we've identified discrimination, do we have everything in place so that we can follow-up accordingly?

Have we explored all of the tools available to us to resolve discrimination? I mean, once we identify the problem, then what are the mechanisms that we have at play to increase the resolution of these disputes? And then how is it that we strengthen our actual enforcement capability?

These were the three areas that I immediately focused upon so we created a comprehensive enforcement approach. For the first time, believe it or not, Paul, we brought together our lawyers and our investigators, which had been bifurcated for the history of our commission. We had them working early on the charges so that we can identify priority charges from the beginning.

We established a National Mediation Program, which has been a total success throughout the country. That National Mediation Program allowed us to take an enormous amount of charges, refer them at the outset without any government investment in investigation and resources right at the entry point, and just refer them to a qualified mediator in the hopes that it can get resolved without the need of governmental intervention.

I'm happy to say that this program has been up and running for about 18 months now, and in 18 months alone we've already successfully resolved more than 13,000 charges. Successful resolution means that the parties came together and came to an agreement. It's voluntary, and it's free to the parties, by the way. It's a great deal, but they come together with a qualified mediator. They discuss the dispute within 10 or 15 days of the charge being proffered, and they tailor-make their own resolution. It's a voluntary agreement. We don't get involved. If they agree that this is the way to resolve the dispute then, fine, we just sign it.

On average it takes about 3 months, only 3 months, from point 1 to end of process and that is definitely a major success for us because I know that those that thought it would take 5 years to get anything done in EEOC are pleasantly surprised to see that we can actually resolve charges in less than 3 months. That's a major milestone for our agency.

In addition to that, we strengthened our litigation program. Our litigation program had been unfocused at times. The policy that whatever cause we found in our enforcement side had to be litigated regardless of the strength of the case, I thought, was also a misapplied policy that was very cumbersome. It did not allow us to prioritize our own cases and invest the taxpayer's dollars where we would get the greatest mileage, so to speak, and mileage really doesn't mean money. Mileage really means where is it that we can clarify the laws, where is it that we can clarify the parameters of behavior that's acceptable within the laws, and how is it that we can benefit the employer community and the employees that we're intended to protect? So all of these questions need to be brought to bear, and we need a program that will get us to that end game.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break in just a few minutes with more of the Business of Government Hour and our conversation with Ida Castro, Chairwoman of the U.S. EEOC. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and our conversation today is with Ida Castro, Chairwoman, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Well, Ida, in our last segment you described the processes you went through and the things that you did, but I'm curious about the results. How did it turn out?

Ms. Castro: I'm very proud of the results. Over a 5-year period, EEOC has slashed its backlog which stood at one point at 111,000 charges by 70 percent. This year we came in at a 17-year low of less than 36,000 charges. We've increased all of our performance indicators in many instances, tripling and quadrupling our performance indicators. We have had two record years in terms of obtaining benefits on behalf of charging parties.

As I stated, our National Mediation Program has been off the charts in terms of the success. Both employers and charging parties have rated that program in the 90 percentile, which is a happy factor that generally government agencies get in any program, even when they give you money.

So this has been a really wonderful result in terms of all the things that we've been able to accomplish. For example, average processing time in the private sector used to be 2 to 3 years, and now it's all the way down to about 210 days, and we hope within the next year to reach our goal which is by regulation 180 days. Now we're within a real good distance, I mean, a very comfortable distance. It's a very achievable goal for us.

But more importantly, I think it's our reputation, it's our ability to be where we need to be when we need to be. It's the level of trust that we've developed with both charging parties and the employer community because we, for the first time, have opened up a very good dialogue with the employer community.

I am very, very confident that most employers want to comply with the law, and there's no reason for me to treat everyone as if they were evil or violators of the law. On the contrary, I want to encourage those employers that wish to comply with the law to work with me and help me think through the major challenges that the EEOC has been facing in the last decade and work with me to resolve them at the earliest possible point.

I would rather reduce my backlog by individuals not feeling compelled to come to my office rather than having to ask for more money or streamline more processes.

Mr. Lawrence: In addition to working through the private-sector charges, you've also reformed the federal-sector EEOC complaint process. Could you tell us about that?

Ms. Castro: Sure. I also focused on the federal sector which, by the way, had been neglected for years and years and years, and for good reason, I mean, in terms of the EEOC, not good reason but explainable. Let's put it this way because it's really not a good reason, but the workload of the private sector is so huge in the EEOC that often times the federal sector gets neglected.

I promised the federal sector I wouldn't ignore it so we pushed for federal regulatory reform. We reformed Section 1614. We streamlined significantly this process certainly from our perspective.

We also become an active part of the NPR Task Force to reinvent the federal EEO process. Although we ran out of time, we couldn't come out with a report. I do have the benefit of all the thoughts and the recommendations of all the stakeholders we brought together in that process, and we're currently looking at all of these recommendations and looking forward to continue to improve the federal sector both front and back end.

Mr. Lawrence: The EEOC is often in the news, and you indicated in one of your earlier answers that it undergoes tremendous public scrutiny. How do you deal with that as a manager and a leader?

Ms. Castro: Up front. I believe information is power and that it's very important to maintain stakeholders and the public full informed and aware of what is happening.

For example, given the fact that EEOC had been often criticized because its backlog, the perception of the public and discrimination is no longer an issue. The real problem is that EEOC just can't handle its work and all its paperwork. It's fair to say that that was a common perception.

However, our work is not just paperwork. We don't just process charges, regrettably, there are only too many instances of very crude and egregious discrimination. There are a number of other instances that certainly provide the basis, a sound basis and foundation for pattern practice claims of discrimination, and we need to work with all of our stakeholders to begin to resolve these questions. The media and our public perception is key in turning that around and making the relationship a far more positive one.

Mr. Lawrence: How does one prepare for such public scrutiny as a manager?

Ms. Castro: How does one prepare for it? Well, one needs to understand what are generally the concerns that the public faces. In the federal government in particular, people who pay taxes want to know that their taxes are going to efforts that are worthwhile, and definitely antidiscrimination laws are efforts that are worthwhile. I mean, I don't think there's a question about that amongst the American public.

However, the American public expects us to do our job and do it well. The employer community understands that violations to the law need to be pursued, but they expect us to do that and do it well. Charging parties who are victims of discrimination certainly expect justice and trust this agency with finding discrimination and doing it well. So what is our responsibility? We have to do it well.

So in that sense, unless you correct the issues that prevent you from really reaching your mission, you won't have a good relationship with the media, so to speak. It will be far easier for people to deviate at trying to address media crises concerns. It will be easier to find that one mistake, that one ugly case that you shouldn't have brought up that is being twisted in the wind, and it will be easier then for people to have the wrong perception of what your mission is.

So if you're results oriented, if you achieve the appropriate results, then rather than shying away from the media, you should be ready and actually willing eagerly, quite frankly, to get your message across so that the public understands the value of the mission of your agency and, therefore, then continues to support not just the agency but the staff that's doing the hard work.

Mr. Lawrence: EEOC often partners with other agencies such as the IRS or the Department of Labor. What lessons about effective interagency collaboration would you share with other managers?

Ms. Castro: Well, I think it's extremely important from the federal perspective to make sure that as a leader of an agency or as a manager that one understand what are the other agencies that would normally be involved on this question and bring them together so that you can provide an answer that "A" makes sense not just within the laws of your jurisdiction, but it makes sense for the receiver of your directive.

In my conversations, for example with employer representatives, the most common complaint has always been, well, the EEOC tells us to do X, and OFP tells us to do Y, and the other agency tells us to do A, B, and C � how does one keep this all together? I happen to agree with that. I mean, laws will be effectively applied, and laws will be complied with if they're understood so that is really the importance of coordinating policy and coordinating enforcement.

Mr. Lawrence: Time for a break. We'll be right back with more of the Business of Government Hour and our conversation with Ida Castro. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with Ida Castro, Chairwoman, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The type of jobs in the future and the skills and the abilities of the workers and even the change in the work patterns will require adjustments in how we address employment discrimination in the work place. What are some of the examples of these challenges, and how are we going to be thinking about them?

Ms. Castro: Well, there are a number of challenges that actually we don't have to look too far into the future to understand because we're already facing them, and we may be a bit unclear on how ultimately we will deal with them, and history will tell.

But for example, in the area of discrimination, as we increasingly use the Internet as a mechanism to find, apply, and acquire employment, it will become extremely useful then to prove for example and provide sufficient evidence that any particular individual might have been discriminated because of sex, gender, race, national origin, age, or what-have- you. Does this mean that it doesn't occur? No. But necessarily the issue of evidentiary thresholds begins to take a greater importance. How does one prove glass ceilings or plexiglass ceilings or glass walls or sticky, gluey, floors, whichever analogy you want to use?

The issue of evidence, the issue of how does anyone actually know why it was that you were deprived of this employment opportunity really becomes a question in a practical sense. But there are other issues that come about that present a series of challenges certainly for the agency and ultimately for anyone involved in the area of human resources or in the area of employment litigation.

That is the reality. We have such a large work force, which is almost kind of split in half, and half of our work force is already in the work place of the so-called future, while the other half is in your more traditional work place setting; the fixed hours, fixed place, and so forth and so on. And the conditions under which each group works is varying increasingly, and in one sector, meaning the one that's supposedly in the future but really is in the present, varies constantly and so rapidly even amongst itself.

So there are a number of learning curves in terms of us that are not necessarily a part of that work force in understanding what are the changes and understanding what are the realities. From our perspective, for example, I'll tell you in the information technology field a lot of anecdotal references to wage discrimination to glass ceilings to lack of hiring of minorities and women after certain levels and so forth and so on.

It's difficult to prove. Why? Because the level of fear of retaliation in that industry is so enormous that it's beginning to dwarf the level of fear that generally you see in the lower-wage industries that employ for example undocumented workers, that employ the most vulnerable in our work force even though in IT, you have higher paying individuals and so forth and so on.

The stress that's caused by discrimination, the stress that's caused by the uncertainty of the work environment, and the stress that's caused by the fear of retaliation, however, has the same effect on the work force on its productivity and on its loyalty, of course, to the employer. This should be concerns to any employer in that industry. If you want to recruit the best talent, if you want to retain the best talent, and if you want that best talent to give you all that it has to give, then you have to provide a work environment that really tells this talent that they should want to work for you.

That works across the board industry to industry, and it works geographically. It doesn't matter where you are located. It's just simply good business to provide those kinds of work practices.

How do we get involved with this new area, new industry that is constantly changing where people pop up almost as teenagers and become instant business owners and multi-billionaires with little or no training about how to manage a work force, et cetera? How do we do that? We need to do that by focusing on this reality, understanding it, and working together.

Certainly, as Chairwoman, I will do all that I can while I'm still in this position to reach out to the employer community and reach out to everyone so that I can understand what the challenges are that all these industries face and begin to work with the employer community as well as the employees to develop policies that make sense and to develop policies that get us where we want to go which is in a discrimination-free environment.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give a young person contemplating a field in your field?

Ms. Castro: I would certainly encourage young and old to look at this area, and certainly come forward and work within the area whether it's from a business perspective or a labor perspective, but perhaps even more importantly, from a public-service perspective.

Certainly, at the federal level and I'm sure that at state levels, this experience is replicated in a variety of commissions and like agencies. It's always important to not only contribute to your community and society but also to have the exposure of understanding of what are the competing industries, how is it that discrimination actually plays out at the work place, how do you identify it, and perhaps how is it that you can have an impact, a real impact, in making people's lives better for all. Because this is not a matter of preferring one group to the other, it's really a matter of creating a work force in America that will keep us number one in the economy globally.

Mr. Lawrence: One of the toughest challenges that public-sector managers face today is recruiting and retaining employees. Does the EEOC have this problem, and how do you deal with it?

Ms. Castro: Absolutely. We have this problem because the minute we train our folks and we get good investigators and good lawyers, the private sector comes running and takes them away from us. We deal with that problem by making sure that we have a sound fiscal program that creates the level of credibility that will then command the support of the executive and of Congress so that we can continue to have the funds that we need to train and to provide the opportunities for growth within the agency that will permit us to retain good staff.

Now let me quickly say, though, that we also have an advantage, and that is that many staff members come to us because of their profound commitment to our mission. We've been very lucky over the years in that regard, that even though we've not been able to reward them as they deserve, they've stuck it through with us because they really believe in that which we do.

Certainly, I think that that is a plus for our agency so I would suggest to any listener that is interested in serving his or her country like the U.S. that wants to get a job in this area, this actually is a good time. We received some additional resources, we're hiring folks, so look us up. The experience will be unforgettable.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you want to mention a web site?

Ms. Castro: The web site, absolutely, another pride and joy of mine. That is www.eeoc.gov, very easy to reach, and very user friendly.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm afraid we're out of time, Ida. I want to thank you for being with us today. I've enjoyed our conversation very much.

Ms. Castro: Paul, I'm really appreciative that you asked me to come, and at whatever time we can continue to discuss these important issues, I'm willing to do so. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much. This has been the Business of Government Hour featuring our conversation with Ida Castro, Chairwoman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. To learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com. See you next week.

Stephen T. Colo interview

Friday, April 20th, 2001 - 19:00
Stephen T. Colo
Radio show date: 
Sat, 04/21/2001
Intro text: 
Stephen T. Colo
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Arington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers and a co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment by visiting us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with government executives who are changing the way government does business. Our special guests today are Dana Brown, assistant director of administration -- welcome, Dana.

Mr. Brown: Nice to see you.

Mr. Lawrence: And Stephen Colo, chief information officer. Welcome, Stephen.

Mr. Colo: Glad to be here, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: And both are with the United States Secret Service. Well, Dana, let's start with you. Most of our listeners know about the Secret Service as the agency that guards the president. But could you tell us about its other responsibilities?

Mr. Brown: Probably the least known aspect of the Secret Service is investigative responsibilities. People might know about the counterfeiting and credit card fraud. But we also have other areas of expertise as well that go beyond just the simple, straightforward processes of counterfeiting and credit card fraud. We are involved in many other aspects. And increasingly, we're involved in the globalization of crime, as opposed to what might have previously been indicated as domestic issues.

Mr. Lawrence: And I'm also under the impression that it's no longer just people investigating. It's much more elaborate in terms of technology and the new sciences being brought to bear.

Mr. Brown: Oh, certainly. Technology has changed -- for all law enforcement -- how we do business. I think the computer in particular has now become the repository of criminal information, the means to facilitate a crime or strictly the instrument to commit the crime itself. So in many respects, computerization of criminal endeavor has made identifying the criminal and locating him or her, again, from the global perspective, much more difficult than it might have been in the past.

Mr. Colo: You know, I'm fascinated. I always love to tell this. I'm a little bit of a history buff. I like to talk about the history of the Secret Service. We were actually founded in 1865. And in fact, it was April 14th of 1865, when then-Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch came to Lincoln and said, 'we need to start a federal investigative service,' because at that time the Civil War had just ended, and about one third of the currency was counterfeit. And so Lincoln gave his -- he agreed to go forward with this initiative, just before he went to a performance at Ford's Theater.

So, the irony is that the man who created the Secret Service, which is best known for presidential protection, that night was assassinated.

Mr. Lawrence: That is an irony of history. Let's spend some time finding out about your careers. Could you tell us about your careers?

Mr. Colo: Well, actually, Dana and I, our careers are very much parallel. We both came on literally within weeks of one another, and we both were local police officers before we came into the Secret Services. Dana was a Fairfax County police officer, and I was a Metropolitan police officer.

And for myself, you know, my career has moved back and forth from the protective aspect and the investigative aspect of the Secret Service. I spent most of my investigative time at our three largest field offices, which were our Washington field office, our New York field office, and our Los Angeles field office. My protective responsibilities included assignments at The White House with President Bush and President Reagan. I ran the presidential campaign, not this one in 2000, but in 1996. So, I feel that I have had a pretty diverse career.

Mr. Lawrence: And, Dana, how about you?

Mr. Brown: As Steve said it, there are some parallels, particularly the time on the job and the different perspectives of our employment. I also had three field assignments. I've also been assigned to the presidential protection division. I also had a position in liaison at the time. I was the Information and Privacy Act's officer for the Secret Service. And then the inspection division has been probably the bulk of my career in investigations, and then most recently in the office of protective research, and then now in the office of administration.

Mr. Lawrence: In describing your careers, it sounds rather traditional in terms of my perception of what Secret Service folks do, and yet now you are leaders and managers of the organization. What prepares you for that?

Mr. Colo: Well, my job as the chief information officer is certainly unique within the Secret Service, especially as being an agent. And probably how I came about being chosen for this position was really what I did during the last campaign. And I was very interested in finding ways to be more efficient and effective with how the Secret Service moves people from location to location during a presidential campaign. So I helped create a logistical system that tracked their movements, was interested in the storing of information on CD-ROM, which hadn't been done before. So after I got done with that assignment, they kind of looked at me and said, "We have an assignment for you." So, that's how I became the CIO.

Mr. Lawrence: How about you, Dana?

Mr. Brown: Well, my position probably is a little bit the exception to most agents' career tracks, in that it is largely an administrative position versus a protective or investigative position. I think the one thing, though, that probably helped me in coming to the position is that I had a great deal of experience throughout the assistant director's offices. We have seven different offices, and I had been a supervisor in five of those. So if anything prepared me for the opportunity to have this position, it might have been that, the greater perspective.

Mr. Lawrence: What drew you to public service?

Mr. Brown: As Steve had pointed out, we're both law enforcement officers at the local level. I've always been interested in law enforcement. I had previously been in the Marine Corps, which at that point in time, given the Vietnam War, most -- not most of us, but many of the people from the Marine Corps gravitated toward law enforcement.

And once there, the opportunity to look at it from a federal perspective provided me the opportunity to do this. And it has been an excellent opportunity. It is such a great job, in that you get to look at two different phases of law enforcement for us, which one is the protective and investigative, which is kind of unique in law enforcement. Plus the opportunities to travel and other things as well have been exception and extraordinary. And being in government in general has been a very good thing.

Mr. Colo: I would probably have to parallel what Dana has said. I think we are both children of the '60s, and Kennedy had a tremendous effect, at least on myself. So this was something that I can honestly say that when I look back at my career and I talk to my friends, and most of the people that, like, I went to college with are very successful. A lot of them are extremely wealthy. But when we compare our careers, I think that -- and they generally agree -- the satisfaction that I have gotten in public service, I think, transcends any monetary value. And I wouldn't change it at all.

Mr. Lawrence: In your careers in government, what qualities have you observed as key characteristics of good leadership?

Mr. Colo: Well, I think that a strong work ethic is very important, especially in the jobs that we are in, because you really have to put in long hours.

Certainly you have to be a motivator of people. I think it was Harry Truman who said something to the effect that 'a good leader is a person who can persuade other people to do what they don't normally want to do and like it.' So I think that being able to motivate other people to move forward in the direction that the leadership feels is appropriate is very important. I also think that you have to be approachable, and I think you have to be a good teacher to bring other people along. I think that's very important.

Mr. Brown: I would say that being responsible, being reasonable, and being affable in many respects. By being responsible, I would say that the ability to act responsibly, but also to accept responsibility for your actions; in terms of being reasonable, to be fair and equitable across the board as much as you can; and the affability issue really is that you can do so in a manner that -- with an even temperament so that you can bring logic to bear, as opposed to some less exact science at how you arrive at a decision, particularly when issues are contentious.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think these qualities are going to change for leaders in this century?

Mr. Colo: Well, being one that is involved in the technology field, I think that definitely knowledge and technology is going to be something that people of our generation might be able to get by right now, because truly there is a transitional phase. But I think that you will be -- I think leadership is leadership. But I think the ability to be able to grasp the vision of where technology takes you is very important for the leaders of the future.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. This is The Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And our conversation today is with Dana Brown, assistant director of administration, and Stephen Colo, chief information officer of the U.S. Secret Service.

After the Columbine shooting, the Secret Service started the Safe Schools initiative to investigate school violence. What does this project involve?

Mr. Colo: Let me start out and tell you how it started. Actually, a couple of years ago, the Secret Service completed an operational study of the behavior and thinking of people who attacked or attempted to attack major national figures or celebrities. And this study was called the "Exceptional Case Study." And it redefined how the Secret Service handled their threat assessment and methodology.

We were very pleased with the results. And in fact, after -- I think it was 1998 through '99, when we saw some parallels in what was happening in our school systems, that we started to take that same analysis approach and look at attacks in schools. And we had been partnered with Department of Education to study that.

It's really interesting, because I believe it was -- we have looked at 37 different attacks, and there are some parallels. Three-quarters of these attacks were planned in advance. And they also, the students, communicated what was going to transpire, or gave good indication to other students. And if that is the case, if this isn't students that are snapping, and if they are communicating with others, then certainly it is our belief that we can prevent these type of attacks. So it is an ongoing study. But I think that it really has some very hopeful results in the end.

Mr. Lawrence: I have also learned that the Secret Service announced a partnership with the FBI and South Carolina law enforcement to operate the Computer Crime Center. How has technology changed the way the Secret Service investigates crime?

Mr. Colo: That's correct. We just recently announced a partnership with the FBI in South Carolina and what they call the -- I believe it is the State Law Enforcement Division, or SLED -- to put a center in South Carolina. It will be manned by the three different law enforcement entities. And they're going to put a -- I think it is about a $2-1/2 million forensic lab in South Carolina.

I think what this partnership does, especially for local police, it assists, because many local police departments don't get a lot of, maybe, intrusion cases, computer cases, and so they might not have the expertise. So this allows us to assist them and improve the training and the forensics that they do in these cases.

So we believe this is going to be very successful, and we have been doing similar types of partnerships throughout the United States, to really rave reviews.

Mr. Lawrence: And speaking of partnerships, the Secret Service partnered with other law enforcement agencies to solve some high-profile computer crimes this year. What is the Secret Service doing now to fight electronic crime?

Mr. Brown: Well, as you can imagine, electronic is an evolving crime. What we have in place, Electronic Crime Special Agent Program, it's well over 100 agents now that have been very well trained in computer forensics. They have the ability to access computers, identify information in the computers that could be used to identify the individuals who took part in the crime.

Also, we have gone into -- as Steve just mentioned a few minutes ago -- a task force approach in many areas. Our New York Crimes Electronic Task Force is one of the unique task forces in the country. It's a partnership among many law enforcement agencies, federal, local, and state, as well as the industry.

Also, we have now taken, as I said earlier, a global approach to this matter. And these issues having to do with computer crimes and electronic crimes is -- again, the individual that is accessing your computer could be anywhere in the world. So it has changed the whole perspective on how we do business, and the effort now is to attack the problem globally as opposed to parochially.

Mr. Colo: Yeah. I want to follow up on the New York Electronic Crime Task Force, because truly, this is probably one of the most unique partnerships in this country in law enforcement. It is approximately 45 law enforcement agencies, to include things like the Federal Trade Commission. It is not just what you would think of as law enforcement, you know, which would be the Secret Service and NYPD, the FBI. You have the FTC, Customs, and the Postal Inspectors. But more important is the business partners that we have, 75 different corporations, to include places like Intel, the Bank of New York, Lucent Technologies. It goes on and on. Fortune 500 companies.

And they have gotten together to really look at electronic crimes and assist in how we approach this, because the passing of information has been a big problem when it comes to electronic crimes, because a lot of companies don't feel comfortable passing that information to federal agencies, and even local agencies. This partnership really works both ways, and it has solved some tremendously important cases.

Mr. Lawrence: Relatedly, credit card theft and fraud have increased significantly in the past decade. What advice do you have for our listeners with credit cards?

Mr. Brown: Well, generally speaking, it is best to protect the information as best you can; also, to be careful with anything that would relate to your identification that might make it easy for people to take identification and create counterfeit credit cards or otherwise obtain information that might be used to generate a credit card in your name.

Also, we do work with the industry to a great extent to identify best practices and to make those public as best we can. We aggressively pursue all the cases that we can. And generally speaking, we just have promoted a public information program to make that known to the public in general, that there are issues that they need to be concerned about, all types of information, not just credit cards.

Mr. Colo: Yeah. I think that one of the big issues that we really want to emphasize is the issue of social engineering. I mean, there are a lot of really smart criminals out there that have really good technical expertise. But generally, especially when it comes to things like credit card fraud, they need to get some information from individuals. And oftentimes you may get a call from someone posing as a bank or a credit card company, and they say things like, 'we just send you out a credit card', or maybe 'something was stolen from the mail, and so we're just going to give you some information, and you need to just give us back, you know, to make sure that's true.' And they solicit PIN numbers from people. And all of a sudden, the person finds out that his bank account has a zero balance. So you have to be very, very skeptical about anyone asking you that type of information over the telephone.

Mr. Lawrence: And we also know that counterfeiting of our currency has risen in the last decade with the help of technology. How does the Secret Service help us recognize and protect us from that?

Mr. Colo: Well, I'll just add one thing before I turn it over to Dana. Actually, it has not risen. We have actually been very successful recent years. We had approximately $40 million passed last year. And in the government, you have a performance matrix that you must hopefully meet. And I believe that our -- what we had anticipated and we had successfully accomplished was a 12 percent reduction under what we had expected, so we are very pleased, especially in a campaign year, to see that type of reduction.

Mr. Brown: Probably the one thing that really has changed, though, is how counterfeit is produced. It is no longer the mainstream approach to what people might have some recollection of, whether it is a printing press involved. Much of it can be done now through computer generation or through photocopying processes.

And to work against those issues, we're working with the industry significantly to try to identify where they can be of assistance in helping us to modify the equipment or put into place practices and approaches and awareness that these computers and photocopiers can be used for legitimate purposes to produce counterfeit currency.

Mr. Lawrence: Okay. It's time for a break. We'll be back with more of The Business of Government Hour in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers. And our conversation today is with Dana Brown, assistant director of administration, and Steve Colo, chief information officer of the U.S. Secret Service.

Well, Steve, you mentioned that this was one of your jobs earlier in terms of protecting the president or the presidential campaign. What are the logistics involved in such an enormous task?

Mr. Colo: The logistics are formidable. Think about a presidential campaign, where the polls really oftentimes dictate where a candidate will be going from day to day. And the Secret Service is mandated to get to that site ahead of time, doing site surveys and putting up an infrastructure so that these people can be relatively safe, and yet we can't be so intrusive. So there is a balancing act.

It is very difficult, to say the least. And in this campaign, for example, the difference between the amount of sites and stops that we had done in the year 2000, as opposed to 1999, was almost a 30 percent increase in activity. So you can imagine, when you have a fairly static pool of people, and you need to improve your travel by about 30 percent, it is not only a logistical nightmare, but you are talking about a budget nightmare. And I can turn it right over to Dana, and he can answer that issue.

Mr. Brown: Probably the most difficult thing for us is that we can't predict travel. So much of that is depending upon the individual protectees and what their responsibilities will be, or what their interests are, where they are going to travel and world events, and world events influence a lot of the travel.

So while we can take a look at past years and come up with estimates, what we can't do is project factually what is going to be the next year's cost. And as Steve pointed out, airfare, hotel costs, overtime, all those are issues that are paramount in dealing with the protective mission. And again, we have very little independent influence over that. We don't necessarily tell people where they can or can't go, when or when they can't go there.

The urgency of the travel, the short notice sometimes, also curtails our ability to have more influence over some of the issues we might otherwise be able to control in terms of cost.

Mr. Lawrence: But how do you manage the balance between perhaps a candidate's desire to be out amongst the people and a need to keep them away from certain groups of those people?

Mr. Colo: Well, it really depends on the situation. If an individual is going someplace in some spontaneous location where there is not a lot of warning ahead of time, we have a comfort factor that you wouldn't have if it is well-known and it's published in the newspapers. And that is the problem in the democracy that we live. We need to make that balance, because in our political systems, the politicians need to be among the people. And we have to sometime realize that we will not get our way all the time.

And it's a matter of doing threat assessment. Once again, it depends on the circumstances, obviously, the crowd. And, you know, we certainly do -- we inform these different people that we protect of the situations that we go in, and we work with them to make sure that they get the exposure, but they are protected also.

Mr. Lawrence: What's protective research?

Mr. Colo: Well, protective research is the division of the Secret Service that handles most of the scientific and technical support programs. It consists of our information and resource management division, which I have direct oversight, which is basically our information technology part of the Secret Service.

It has our intelligence division, which they handle all of the threats or potential threats against the president, the vice-president, and the various people that we protect. It has the technical security division, which really handles most of the fixed-site security for our protectees; whether they are temporary at a hotel, they set up really kind of the perimeter and countermeasures, whether they are chemical or biological countermeasures, make sure there is radiation countermeasures in effect. They have a lot of really interesting programs, a lot of them which were classified, especially around the White House. So they are responsible for the alarms at the White House, all the cameras. And then we also have what we call the National Threat Assessment Center, and that's the staff that handled what we talked about before, about the school initiative and the violence in schools and also the exceptional case study project. And finally, the last division under that is really our emergency preparedness office, which handles all of the contingency plans for the Secret Service.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you describe the career path available to agents and the type of training they get?

Mr. Brown: New agents come on board through the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. That's their first introduction. It's a general criminal investigations background. They come up to the Riley Training Center, which is our facility at Beltsville, for their specific Secret Service training. Throughout that -- it is 16 to 18 weeks, I guess, now, it's quite a long time; it's very intensive. And we think it is probably some of the best training in the world, certainly specific to what we do as an organization.

From that, those agents are dispatched to various field offices throughout the country. Generally speaking, they can expect to spend three to five years in a field office before going to a second assignment. Generally speaking, that second assignment will be a protective assignment of some nature, either to one of the two large details or presidential/vice presidential detail or one of the support details for the former presidents. From there, they'll generally transition to a headquarters assignment somewhere in Washington, D.C., if they are in proximity, or back to the field.

We now have set into place a new career planning that has been developed over the last couple of years, and we are in the initial stages of implementing that now. And we feel, with the influx of new agents that we have had over the last several years, that our average agent in the field now probably has four to five years on the job.

The demographics have changed a lot over the recent past. We have hired more young people. We have lost some very senior people. So this will probably afford us the opportunity to provide these agents greater latitude than those of us that are more senior may have had in the past. And we think that there will be some kind of unique opportunities for those that want to remain in the area where they have started, provided it is probably an area that lends itself to it, principally an area with a larger field office. Perhaps they can do most, if not all, of their career in there. Of those that want to have a protective background and do that, they can do that as well.

Those that want to have an investigative career track, once you have done some protection, you can go back in the field and actually maintain a supervisory position back there.

Then you have the standard management track, where you would migrate through all the various aspects of the Secret Service, investigative, protective, as well as administrative, in the pursuit of reaching the higher levels in the Secret Service, going back once more to this well-rounded perspective, which we have somewhat prided ourselves on over the years.

Mr. Lawrence: Almost all agencies have developed strategic plans and performance assessments as part of GPRA implementation. How well is the Secret Service doing in meeting its performance goals?

Mr. Colo: Well, Dana and I are both very strong believers in strategic planning. And we really push this issue, because I think that's the cornerstone, which everything else falls under. Actually, after we completed the overall strategic plan for the Secret Service, I worked on and completed an information technology strategic plan and actually went back to all of the assistant directors and interviewed them to make sure that the business aligned with the technology. And we're very pleased on how that ended.

Now, as to the performance measurements, I talked about it a little bit before, about the counterfeit currency. And we're very pleased that we actually had a reduction of 12 percent in a very, very busy year. And although it is very difficult not to just show statistics, statistics, certainly, in the law enforcement community is very important, because you can gauge the amount of arrests from year to year. But also now, we are forced to look at really the quality of the arrests and the quality of the cases that we handle to say what impact they have on the overall population. So we really have changed the way that we use the statistics for performance measurements. And probably Dana can probably talk a little bit more about that.

Mr. Brown: All I would say is, we're trying to align the financial plan, I think, more with the performance measurements issues than perhaps we have in the past. We have set into place over the last year a number of mechanisms in the Secret Service that we think will provide us kind of a unique opportunity to develop more of a protocol for how we look at the strategic plan, performance measurements, and the financial plan by making the process much more inclusive, whereas in the past, the office of administration might have had pretty much independent responsibility for making some budget issues, whereas now we have included all the assistant directors' offices in making those decisions.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business Of Government Hour in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Dana Brown, assistant director of administration, and Steve Colo, chief information officer of the U.S. Secret Service.

One of the toughest challenges facing many employers is recruiting and retaining new employees. Does Secret Service have this problem?

Mr. Colo: Well, I can talk about it, especially on the IT side, because that's a major issue that is not just unique to the Secret Service, but the government in general, because you are competing for very technical skills against a private sector that has the capability of paying more.

Although I can say that the government actually has done a pretty good job of improving the pay issues, there is now a lot of pilot programs out there, such as pay banding, where especially an IT professional, they can eliminate the static step increases. And it is actually pay for performance, where a person who really improves his skills can be paid more than maybe someone who would be normally at the same grade level.

The government is also more willing to give out retention bonuses. In fact, the Secret Service has done that on a number of occasions to keep those people that have the skills that we need when it appears that they are leaving or maybe actually have had job offers. And there are some other type of pilots that we have been using: Telecommunicating, flexi-work schedules. Right in our IT shop, I just started a pilot; I wanted to try some people who were going to work at home who probably -- especially with maybe programmers or people who do not have to be at the workplace can spend some time at home. And obviously, you're saving funds when it comes to, you know, travel costs and parking.

I also have someone at a GSA-sanctioned location, and I put another person at another Secret Service location, just to test these types of programs to see how they would work.

And also, even on the agent population, especially when it comes to technical skills, it is very competitive out there. We are, as you have heard, very interested in computer crimes, and to get those people coming out of college with those type of skills, the best thing I can say is, fortunately, we have a very unique mission, and that draws a lot of people. So we're fortunate.

Mr. Brown: I'll just say a couple of things. One is that we have been very sensitive over the last several years to the quality of life issues, work life issues, for our agent personnel. We recognize that they were working excessive numbers of overtime hours. With the cooperation of the Department of the Treasury, we have instituted a study called the "Workload Balancing Study," which has brought us the opportunity over the last couple of years to hire additional personnel to address that issue, to bring those hours of overtime down. Also, I don't want to neglect the fact that we have a uniform division of the Secret Service as well. And the contribution of the Secret Service is unique and exceptional. They also have some very serious quality of work life issues.

We just completed a study on January 19th, with the department, again, identifying their issues, one of which again was the number of hours worked, having to take -- the lack of days off, being forced overtime hours, things like that. So we're also looking to try to improve their stature by increasing their positions. And both of those really have an impact on recruiting and retention. It is very difficult to get people to come places where they are going to have work forever and very little opportunity to have a break, those type of things as well. But also, because of the first program, it is much more competitive than it used to be. Agents and officers now are probably less inclined to stay for the retirement purposes and benefits than they might have been in the past, because they are pretty much general, as opposed to unique to this particular agency.

So we're looking at those issues. Also, from support personnel in general, I think we're finding that we need to take a different approach to retaining and recruiting them than we have in the past, certainly in the technical field that Steve has mentioned, but also just generally. We're looking at different ways to try to make the Secret Service unique, make it a better place, and do that uniformly throughout the regions, uniform division officers and support staff as well.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career in the Secret Service?

Mr. Colo: Well, we do these type of speeches all the time, going to college campuses. And, you know, once again, fortunately, we have a really interesting mission and a very diverse career when you can move back and forth between protection and investigation. And I feel that the government certainly pays fairly well, and money isn't what it is cracked up to be. And I feel that, surprisingly, the people that we get in today are as qualified, if not much more qualified, than the people that came on the job with Dana and I. We were talking about -- we are probably lucky that we don't have to apply right now. We probably wouldn't make the job.

Mr. Lawrence: I was going to ask, what types of skills would you be looking for?

Mr. Brown: Pretty much, I think, as Steve has indicated. In some areas, certainly having some technical skills is an attribute. Since we do financial crimes, having some accounting or business background sometimes is an attribute. Having foreign language skills can be. We do have and have increased significantly the number of overseas positions that we now have. Generally speaking, though, I think just a well-balanced background, some previous job experience, not necessarily law enforcement experience, that might lend itself to success in the Secret Service in either its protective or investigative capabilities.

We are and have put a lot of emphasis, as I said earlier, on being well-rounded. And I think that that plus your willingness to work significant hours and be dedicated to the job is probably the single most important purpose.

Mr. Lawrence: One of the things I have heard in our conversation is the forming of partnerships by the Secret Service with other agencies of the government, perhaps, and even amongst colleagues. How do you partner so effectively, and what are the lessons learned?

Mr. Colo: Well, we're going to be forced throughout the government to partner more and more as time goes on. And I'll just once again use the area of information technology. You know, our mission is indeed unique. But our business process is not. What we do when it comes to financial management, when it comes to procurement, when it comes to the administrative process, is the same thing that other government agencies do. And in the past, we in government agencies have looked very myopically at what we do, and we have built these stovepipe systems. And to save money, we are going to now have to go and partner with other agencies and say, 'okay, we're not going to build this system, and you build this system. We're going to build one system, and it is going to be enterprise-wide. And in fact, you build the system, we'll fund the money to you, and we'll give the input as to how it best works.'

Partnerships are very important. We have some very good partnerships with ATF and throughout Treasury. And also, we are doing very limited partnerships, actually, internally. For example, Dana and I work very closely as the CIO and CFO. In fact, I'll let him talk a little bit about that.

Mr. Brown: Well, we did take a look at how we have done business in the past, and we looked to try to change that dramatically, particularly in terms of our financial management processes, from the particularly financial management perspective. In the past perhaps, financial management didn't have this kind of influence in being able to participate in the process they might otherwise have had. And we're trying to change this from being a bookkeeping situation to being more of a management consultant situation.

Steve and his colleagues had an excellent idea in setting up a council, a technology council to review what they wanted to do in terms of IT. When we reviewed it, we actually saw some opportunities for us in the financial management area to cooperate with them and change the tenor of the council to a technology and investment management council.

What we have done, then, is incorporated them into nearly all the assistant directors' offices into a cooperative effort to review everything that comes up of an IT and a non-IT nature, bringing them before the council. It gets considered. We have adopted a business case perspective for everything. We're looking to use the information technology and a portfolio system. We're looking at decision-making software.

We're trying to make what has been historically a very subjective process into a much more objective one. And I think that will benefit us all over time. The principal issue is to generate a methodology or a protocol that will be consistent over time, be defensible, so that when we bring forward initiatives to the department or to wherever, that we can defend them with some -- not only anecdotal information, which we're very good at, but also, now, some empirical data, which perhaps in the past we haven't been quite as capable in terms of producing.

So we're trying to do both. And working with Steve and his people has been outstanding.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, I'm afraid we're out of time. I want to thank you both for being with us. Thank you, Dana.

Mr. Brown: Yes, sir. Thank you very much.

Mr. Lawrence: Thanks, Steve.

Mr. Colo: Well, thank you, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Dana Brown, assistant director of administration, and Steve Colo, chief information officer of the U.S. Secret Service. To learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the Web at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

See you next week.

Ann Brown interview

Friday, April 6th, 2001 - 19:00
Ann Brown
Radio show date: 
Sat, 04/07/2001
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...
Missions and Programs
Complete transcript: 

Thursday, March 29, 2001

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment by visiting us on the web at endowment@pwcglobal.com.

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 Ann Brown, chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Welcome, Ann.

Ms. Brown: Thank you. It's delightful to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let's start by finding out more about the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Could you describe the activities for our listeners?

Ms. Brown: Well, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission is the federal agency that oversees the safety of 15,000 different kinds of consumer products used in and around the home. Everything from toasters to toys is under our jurisdiction.

When you get up in the morning, and you take a shower in your non-skid tub, until you go to bed under your electric blanket, we are taking care to make sure that families, and especially children, are safe.

Now, we have many tools that we can do that with. We can do mandatory and voluntary standards, or recalls, or civil penalties, education, publicity. And we have a very, very active hotline. We received over 4,000 complaints on our hotline and about 3,800 complaints over our website just last year.

So, one of the most important things that we have to do at the agency is to be in constant touch with our customers. And those are American consumers.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's find out something about your career. How did you start?

Ms. Brown: Well, let me tell you that right now I have what I call my dream job. I certainly was an outside critic of this agency for many years. I felt it was all burn, and no beef. I didn't think it really did what it needed to do to protect consumers.

I was a Washingtonian. I grew up here in Washington. And after I went away to Smith College, and then came back and graduated from George Washington my last year because I married my husband who I've now been married to for forty-two years, which is actually my greatest achievement.

I started working for a newspaper here in Washington. Then I went off to have my kids. And then I went back into politics. But I started a grassroots consumer organization. And we did many, many things, consumer advocacy kinds of issues. But one of the things we did was the safety and quality of toys and children's products.

And so I got to be a children's product expert and a safety advocate. And I started all those toy safety surveys that you saw in the 1980s. And when I got interested in the safety of toys and children's products, I got interested in the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

And I knew the President and Mrs. Clinton from being active in national politics, as well. And when Mr. Clinton became President, the President asked me, 'would I like to head up the Consumer Products Safety Commission?' And I said, "You bet I would."

Mr. Lawrence: What got you interested in consumer issues way back then?

Ms. Brown: Well, quite honestly, it was something I didn't have to go back to get an advanced degree for, if I tell you the truth. I had had enough of school. I wanted to be out in the world.

And I also knew that the people of Washington, D.C., by only having a local government, and not a federal government, really weren't represented on consumer issues. My father had been a merchant in downtown Washington. And I was a latchkey kid. I went to school and took two buses downtown and sat in the back sitting rooms of his store and watched the buying and selling mechanism.

And then I would walk on F Street and see people buying and selling. I got very interested in the process of buying and selling and equity for consumers.

And I also always had a good appreciation of the problems of the businessman. For, after all, my father was a small businessman.

Mr. Lawrence: You've had a lot of experiences in the different sectors. In the public sector, the private sector, perhaps your father, in the non-profit. Could you describe your perceptions of the different cultures?

Ms. Brown: Well, certainly government is very different. If you're in government, you basically have to be more careful about what you say and do because you wield more power. And so, you can't just mouth off anytime you think about it.

And you also have to be careful, because you can affect businesses in a very important way. So, you never want to do anything in government that isn't absolutely, firmly believable and well documented. That's a very important thing.

I think the similarities between the public and private sector are that I'm a very mission oriented person. At this agency, I have a great mission. I had a great mission when I worked out in the field as a consumer advocate and as a children's safety advocate. Mission defines me, and motivates me. And I think that's exactly the same thing as when you're in government.

Of course, when you're in government, you do have more power, and you have to use it judiciously.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you measure the success of your mission in government?

Ms. Brown: Well, one way that we do it is actually by seeing what has happened in numbers of deaths and injuries. I love it when people used to tell me at the agency, they gave out a million pamphlets. Well, you can give out a million pamphlets. How do you define whether people have taken those pamphlets, read the information, and whether they have absorbed it? And whether they act on it?

We can really tell one thing is by the reductions of deaths and injuries. And since this agency came into being, they have reduced injuries a third, and reduced deaths a third. We announced this year, for example, that we have seen a 20 percent reduction in injuries to children from children's products. The first time the agency has ever seen such a reduction. So, one of the ways we know we're successful is if we see a reduction in deaths and injuries. That's a result. And I'm a very result-oriented person.

We can also see results by the kind of connection we have with consumers. And we have seen consumers learning about our agency, knowing about us, contacting us. It's been a tremendous give-and-take.

Mr. Lawrence: What drew you to public service?

Ms. Brown: Well, I say what every other politician says in the world, but it's true. The ability to make a difference in people's lives. I'll tell you what didn't draw me to public service, and that was the money. But certainly, I was drawn by the possibility of making a difference. And I must say, I've been enormously gratified by that.

Mr. Lawrence: And what position or training best prepared you to be the leader of this organization?

Ms. Brown: Quite honestly, all my past life experiences have built up to taking this job. I mean, I joke that when I was a captain at camp, I learned leadership. And when I worked with my consumer group, I learned how to work with volunteers, and how to motivate people.

When I worked for a newspaper, I learned a lot about how you make an issue palatable, how you get attention from the public, how to use the press.

Certainly, as an advocate, I became enamored of a mission. And I was able to carry over that mission to the agency.

So, I think that specifically, my sense of mission, my knowledge of product safety, and press training, and media training, were my major attributes that qualify me for this job.

Mr. Lawrence: In your years of government service, what qualities have you observed as a key for good leaders?

Ms. Brown: Well, good leadership I think is ageless. We see the leadership qualities from over the ages -- from the 12th century, the 21st century -- it doesn't really matter.

I think of vision. I keep coming back with that. Commitment to a vision. Passion. Energy. Charisma. Teamwork. Flexibility. And responsiveness to change.

The worst thing anybody can say to me at the agency is when I say, why are we doing it this way? And they say, because we always have. That's death, as far as I'm concerned. So, the liveliness, the inquisitiveness. The ever being responsive to what needs to be changed I think is very important.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think those characteristics will change for the future leaders?

Ms. Brown: I don't think so. I think those are basic characteristics, personality aspects, that will always be the same. I think they were before. And I think they will be in the future.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm talking with Ann Brown. This is The Business of Government Hour. We will re-join out conversation in just a few minutes.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And our conversation today is with Ann Brown, chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Ann, given the limited resources, how does CPSC select products or industries for review?

Ms. Brown: Well, first of all, we are a data-driven agency. And we have built an extensive system for gathering information about dangerous and defective products. And we use that system to tell us where to focus our investigations.

We do spend a great deal of time looking at the safety of children's products. And about 40 percent of our budget goes to children's products because children are our most vulnerable, and one of our most precious, populations.

We gather information extensively from all around the country, from a myriad of sources. We have a wonderful system, called the NICE system, which gives us hospital emergency room injuries, product injuries, from all over the country every day. And so it's critical that we know what's happening. We work closely with coroners, so we unfortunately can hear about all the deaths.

Furthermore, we have eighty investigators around the country who follow up on any incident or complaint. In fact, I say, we're the only agency that still makes house calls.

And of course, information from consumers is critical to us. We don't wait for injuries to pile up. I have a data meeting every month, where my people take and mine the data, trying to cut it different ways, so we can see what we have in that data, and we can anticipate deaths and injuries. That's extremely important.

But even one complaint from a consumer can lead to a product recall. Of course, we investigate it seriously. Somebody just doesn't call us. It could be a kook, you know? Somebody just doesn't call us on the phone, and we recall something. We do a serious investigation. We have our own laboratories. But even one, one complaint can trigger a recall.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, we know that you have a special investigative unit to investigate defective consumer products. Could you tell us about that, and what they do?

Ms. Brown: I guess you're talking about Operation SOS. That's how we find, on-line, we find dangerous products. We started this special project, called Operation SOS. It stands for Safe On-line Shopping. And that's to find dangerous products before they are sold on the Internet.

And our investigators go undercover. They use secure computers. They use credit cards that can't be traced back to the government and anonymous P.O. boxes. They can find products for us that are being sold that are dangerous.

We have done some recalls from this, because products that are sold on-line have to have the same safety standards as those products that are sold in the bricks and mortar stores.

Mr. Lawrence: In 1998, the CPSC Fast Track Product Recall program was a winner of the Harvard University Innovation in American Government award program. Could you tell us about the Fast Track program?

Ms. Brown: Well, Fast Track is a marvelous program, and it came from staff in the Commission. It was not a "filtered down" program. We very much get our information and our ideas from our staff, who is right at the front lines, doing the work.

This was a great award. It even came with $100,000 from the Ford Foundation, who did it with Harvard. Fast Track is an innovation that gets products recalled faster. It encourages companies to come to us immediately when they learn of a product hazard. It cuts through the red tape, and speeds up that record process. With Fast Track, we can recall a product within twenty days or less, instead of going through a whole extensive investigation.

And you see, time is of the essence with a product that is out there that's dangerous. Because you absolutely need to get that off of store shelves, out of peoples' homes, before people get injured or possibly killed.

Mr. Lawrence: What does CPSC do once a product has been recalled?

Ms. Brown: Well, after a product has been recalled, we will keep track of what percentage of the recalled products gets returned. And we will see that if we don't think it's enough, we will encourage the company, or work with the company to issue another recall.

We make sure that we get around to as many people as possible. We have made major, major public relations efforts on recalls. We not only do the morning shows, more often than I can imagine, nightly news, also, of course, newspapers.

We've instituted something called a video news release that we do at the agency. When I got to that agency, quite honestly, they had one fax line in public affairs. The way they got their information out was what I call the paper airplane approach. You make a little -- take a press release and make a paper airplane of it. And float it through the outside window, and hope it hits somebody on the head below.

We do all these major efforts to get our information about recalls out. The video news release is something that goes out by satellite to local news shows, all around the country. And we traditionally hit about 60 million people, viewers, at a time, seeing this.

So you can see, getting our information out is crucial to us.

Mr. Lawrence: We know that CPSC has improved customer service through the hotline. Could you tell us about the hotline, and the recent improvements?

Ms. Brown: Well, our hotline has been improved immeasurably. We have added a number of consumer service reps and our hotline handles about 300,000 calls a year. It is answered by the voice of James Earl Jones, who comes to work free of charge every day.

And we have bilingual English-Spanish speaking operators, of course. And we can also handle inquiries in sixteen languages, through a language bank of our employees. So, our hotline has been a major connection with us, and our customers, the consumers.

But our website also is creeping up on our hotline as being something that's very valuable as a communications tool. Our website handled 3.7 million visitors last year. And in the year 2000, we had about 250,000 website visits a month, compared with 10,000 a month in 1996. Our website has become a wonderful interactive way of consumers both contacting us, and getting our recall information.

Mr. Lawrence: What's the Product Safety Circle?

Ms. Brown: Well, I can tell you a lot about this. The Product Safety Circle is a way to help companies make safer products. We often deal with companies only after they've had to recall something.

What we're trying to do is institute safety, and to praise companies, rather than to hit them over the head with a shovel. What we're trying to do is institute safety within their common work practices, as part of their business practices, so that we can head off problems before a recall occurs.

And we have gotten more than forty companies now, almost fifty, and they have pledged to make safety an integral part of their business. To build safety into their products, so they don't have to have a recall. Save them money, and the embarrassment of a recall. And make the world safer for consumers.

Now, there are ten principles, such as, build safety into a product design. Or, do product safety testing for all foreseeable hazards. Or keep informed about and implement the latest developments in product safety. And this has been, this Product Safety Circle has been very, very good.

We're having a conference about it outside of Chicago in the end of June, where different companies will show all of their safety innovations. And we know this encourages other companies, as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Does CPSC build partnerships with important corporations in other ways?

Ms. Brown: Well that's been very, very important. When I first came to the CPSC, the business community thought I was going to want to regulate everything that moved, since I'd come from the advocacy community. Well, that is certainly not the case.

Partnerships with companies are extremely important. That's why most of our recalls are voluntary. Why we've done five to one voluntary, instead of mandatory regulations. Because with limited resources, and with time being of the essence, you don't want to end up in court at the end of the day.

So, we've worked very cooperatively with dozens of companies, on partnerships, as well, with a common interest in safety. For instance, we have the safety expertise, and they have the resources. Nice marriage.

So, for example, Gerber has had a six-year partnership with us on baby safety. We've worked with Amazon.com and eBay. They've linked with us to provide consumers warning about secondhand products. We've got a list as long as your arm of companies that we've worked well with.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be back in a few minutes with more of The Business of Government Hour, and our conversation with Ann Brown.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And our conversation today is with Ann Brown, chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Does CPSC have any methods in place to reward excellence in product safety on the part of private companies?

Ms. Brown: Yes. We certainly do. Very early on, when I first got to the agency, I initiated something called "The Chairman's Commendation". And we've given twenty of them for special contributions for safety on the part of companies.

For example, Proctor and Gamble, who came out with the first senior-friendly child-resistant caps for children, so that children still can't get into the medicine, but it's easier for adults to open. You know? When you have a headache in the middle of the night, and you get a worse headache because you can't open the bottle.

But now, they're easier for adults to open, but still child-safe. But the nice thing is, Proctor and Gamble did this first, ahead of other companies.

That's what we're looking for: a company that does something ahead of when the government makes them do it, or ahead of their competitors. We gave another award to Toys-R-Us for their safety toy-testing program. That was so exemplary.

So, over the seven years we've given twenty of those awards. And they are highly coveted. And we like to encourage good behavior.

Mr. Lawrence: How does CPSC determine that regulation is the best solution for consumer safety issues?

Ms. Brown: Well, as I said, we like to work voluntarily with industry whenever we can. Most product safety standards are handled voluntarily by the industry. For every one mandatory we've done, we've done five voluntaries. And that, as I said, is the most efficient, cost-effective, and time saving way to work.

But when we find that a voluntary standard isn't working, then we can put a mandatory standard in place. For instance, bunk beds. There's a new mandatory standard that requires space in the bunk beds to be reduced, so children can get their bodies through, but their heads don't get caught, and we've reduced that.

But most of our recalls, as I said are, 99 percent of them are done voluntarily. We rarely have to go to court. And that is the way it works best.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you build partnerships with other government agencies, particularly those that regulate products and services?

Ms. Brown: Well, it's very important that government shouldn't be duplicative. It's not fair to consumers to spend the money if we're doing something, and another agency is doing it. We will prefer to work in partnership, so that you have the best use of your resources.

r we build partnerships with members of Congress. We've done baby safety showers with them, or home safety checks. That's another branch of government.

We have worked with EPA and HUD on lead paint in homes. And we've worked with Health and Human Services on child health and safety, on the problem of SIDS. So, we will very often work with another agency as often as we can. FDA, for instance, which will handle a device, when it is not a safety device but a health device, will give us the safety advice. They'll recommend something for us to look at.

So, we work in close cooperation.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the components of a successful inter-agency partnership?

Ms. Brown: Well, the first component is making sure that you're saving the taxpayer money, by working together. And not having a sense of turf, and wanting to do it yourself, no matter whether it's done by another agency, or not.

You have to trust the other agencies. They have to be efficient, and effective, and you have to work well with them. Those are the main things that you have to do, so that you're giving the taxpayer the bang for the buck.

Mr. Lawrence: The CPSC's involvement in, and the results of the preliminary review of gun safety locks was controversial. What lessons learned can you pass on to other leaders when faced with this level of controversy?

Ms. Brown: Well, the first thing you have to do when you pick up on something that controversial is, you have to research it to death. You have to have it absolutely right, and absolutely correct. Because you can tell if you have your ear to the ground, that this is controversial, but it's the right thing to do.

And you have to make sure that it's the right thing to do, and believe in it. And the best way to believe in it is to know that you have all your facts and data lined up perfectly; that you're not just making an emotional pitch.

Once you've got that all lined up, then hold the line, and do what is right. That's the main thing. If you know you're doing what is right, particularly with gun locks.

We tested thirty-two trigger locks, and cable locks from ten different manufacturers. These are the things that lock away from kids. And we found that in most cases, they simply didn't work. They could be opened without a key. You could open them with tweezers. You could open them with a paper clip. You could whack them on the desk, and they would open.

This gave a very false sense of security to gun owners, who were trying to do the best thing, and lock their guns away from others who shouldn't be having them.

You know, when you stop to think about it, controversy is not such a bad thing. It makes people think. It helps spread the word about a safety hazard such as a gunlock that doesn't do what it's supposed to do.

So many, many people find out about it. We were A-1 of The Post about our survey of gunlocks, and our going to do a standard about it. I mean, it's a tragedy when you think about it, that there are twelve regulations for every toy, but not one safety standard for a gunlock.

So, controversy can be a help in building up knowledge about a problem.

Mr. Lawrence: How has technology affected your ability to interact with consumers regarding recalls and other time-sensitive safety information?

Ms. Brown: Well, it has been an absolute blessing, and a boon to us. Consumers can get our safety information over the web. If they don't have a computer in their own house, they can go to the library.

We put all our recalls up on the web. And we can e-mail. You can get on our e-mail list, and have all the recalls e-mailed to you. We've used technology for the video news release, which is very important. Every TV station can pull down from satellite.

So, I think it's of crucial importance that you use all the high technology that you can. It helps the communication enormously.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice do you have for consumers who want to become more educated about product safety issues?

Ms. Brown: Well, the first thing is, to be aware of recalls. Be aware that they'll be on TV. They'll be on the morning shows. Look for them in your newspapers. Many newspapers have a column specifically devoted to our recalls.

Check our website often. Get on our e-mail notification list and then check your home. Check your day-care center. Check your caregiver's home. Make sure you don't have a recall product lurking in your attic, or your basement.

And also, be cautious about secondhand products, both in the secondhand stores, and in those garage sales. I always see people going to those garage sales to buy other people's junk. Well, you can do that if you want, but make sure it's not dangerous junk.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you have any advice, any special advice for new parents?

Ms. Brown: Well, the most important thing that new parents can do is to have a new crib. And even if you can't afford a new crib, when you have that baby shower, perhaps, get your friends and relatives to get together. And instead of giving you all those puffy blankets, and things that you may not use, and those little silver cups, see if you can get them to pitch in together so you can have a new crib because an old crib can be dangerous. It can be repaired wrong. It can be faulty. The screws can be loose. It cannot meet all the current standards. The slots can be too wide, and a kid can get their -- a little baby can get their head in it, and get strangled. But with a new crib, we know all the new cribs on the market meet our safety specifications.

So, and the other thing of course new parents should do is be aware of all our recalls of baby products.

Mr. Lawrence: I understand that CPSC recently issued its annual performance plan for 2001. Could you tell us about this plan?

Ms. Brown: Yes. Each year we issue a performance plan that guides our product safety work for the upcoming year. It outlines the agency's activities that will help speed progress toward our goals of reducing deaths and injuries from consumer products.

And we have several goals in that plan. One of them is to reduce the fire deaths in the United States by 10 percent in ten years. You know, children are particularly vulnerable when fires occur. Each year about 900 children under the age of fifteen die in fires. And about 600 of these deaths to children, fire deaths to children, are children under five. And we're on track to reach our goal.

Some of our other goals: head injury, reduce head injury to children by 10 percent in ten years, poisonings, reduce poisonings to children under five, carbon monoxide, reduce deaths by 20 percent in ten years, carbon monoxide poisoning, and electrocution reduce deaths by 20 percent, deaths and injuries. And we are on track with our goals. These motivate us. And we don't just use these percentages just to come up, pull them out of the air. These we take very seriously, and plan to meet.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour, and our conversation with Ann Brown.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Ann Brown, chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

One of the toughest challenges that employers are facing now is recruiting and retaining new employees. Does CPSC have this problem?

Ms. Brown: Well, luckily our life-saving mission is very motivating. And it helps us recruit and retain a highly skilled and dedicated group of employees at CPSC. The agency is just a wonderfully fulfilling and gratifying place to work, because people do keep their attention on this mission. We keep focused, as I say, all the time. If they don't keep focused, they often hear from me, our eyes on the part of reducing deaths and injuries from consumer products.

And so, by that mission orientation, we don't have quite the problem. In recent years, we did have some difficulty finding specialized technical staff to work at the agency. And what we did, this was sort of a clever -- I think we addressed this problem by hiring a number of well-respected senior scientists. And these scientists, in return, have helped us recruit lower level staff in their area of expertise. So, the word of mouth has been very, very helpful.

You know, the scope of retirement at CPSC is a problem, just as it is in other parts of the government. We face that, as well. And we are experiencing a higher number of retirements. Our turnover has increased from five percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2000, largely due to retirements, but we're putting into place a suggestion of planning and aggressive recruitment offers, and efforts to deal with this rising number.

And sometimes it isn't all bad. Sometimes some tired folks leave, and some newly re-invigorated folks are hired. So we've found that in the turnover at our agency, our agency really looks like the face of America now.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in entering public service?

Ms. Brown: Well, first of all, I'd say, "just do it." It is enormously valuable, and it's fun. People really, even though they may not know it, depend on their government, particularly an agency like ours. They want their products safe. They want safety for their parents, for their children, for their grandparents.

In fact, when the government shutdown took place, one of the nightly news did a program on three important parts of government that weren't working. One was the National Parks. One was people getting their passports. And the third was our checking on the toys for Christmas, so the toys would be safe under the Christmas tree.

People want what we do. And the wonderful thing is, you can have fun doing it.

You know, I would suggest that public service is the most rewarding work. I can imagine, and I would advise young people to consider coming to work in the government, maybe coming to CPSC. We have a great mission.

Mr. Lawrence: What type of skills would you be looking for?

Ms. Brown: Well, first of all, what you need, you absolutely need a college degree. And then you, beyond that point, there's a whole range of skills and knowledge that places like CPSC need: scientists, mathematicians, lawyers, engineers, investigators, negotiators, communicators, writers.

So, you have a broad range of things that you can do.

Mr. Lawrence: You just mentioned that part of what CPSC does is very important. And yet, there is a move afoot to figure out what the government should be doing, and what it might have others do. What progress is CPSC making in reviewing positions for competition through the FAIR Act?

Ms. Brown: Well, the FAIR Act, in case people don't know, stands for the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act. And it requires federal agencies to produce an inventory of positions that are commercial in nature, and could be contracted out. And also to make determinations about whether those contracting -- that works on a cost-benefit basis.

The majority of CPSC employees are engaged in governmental public safety occupations that is not appropriate for contracting out. However, we do contract out some of our administrative services, such as the mailroom, drivers, the laborers, copy room, library services. Our toll free hotline and some of our computer program positions are also staffed with contract employees.

And we've found contract employees to sort of get the same sense of mission that our other employees do. So, it's worked very well.

We've identified some positions in our inventory that we're going to review next year, to make sure that we are doing the best we can with the FAIR Act.

Mr. Lawrence: What's your vision for the next ten years of consumer safety and protection?

Ms. Brown: Well, I think if we talk about how CPSC will evolve, we're talking about technology. I think that is -- there's going to be more sophisticated technology in products. We see it all the time -- from toys, to washing machines -- everything is a higher technology. And new products keep coming out all the time.

So we need ever more sophisticated ways to check products for safety, to meet this higher level. For instance, we have just gotten new testing equipment that McDonalds gave us recently that they developed in conjunction with RAM. And it gives CPSC additional tools to assess safety hazards.

For instance, we got a breathing mannequin. This is a lifelike mannequin that helps evaluate suffocation hazards to children. We got a virtual child, which is a three-dimensional computerized model that simulates obstructions to a child's airways, and tests for choking. One of the common ways a child dies.

Also, we've got a simulated baby jaw. It tests to see if biting and tearing of a product presents a choking danger. That's the kind of way that the agency is going to keep up. Our vision for the future is to keep up technologically.

Mr. Lawrence: How about in terms of the employees? What type of employees will be needed in the future? It sounds like many of the things you have described are very technical in nature, so I was imagining more scientists, and more hard researchers, as you described them.

Ms. Brown: Well, we certainly need people who can work technology. And we do need just all of what you've said. But we also need people who are going to be able to analyze what children will do with a product, and when they do it. The human factors part of it is still very important. I don't want to make us sound like we'll be an agency of robots testing, because there's a lot more of judgment that comes to the fore, as well.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about in terms of any technological advances in the future helping CPSC communicate with consumers?

Ms. Brown: Well, of course, the web has changed the way we do business. And we will be using the web even more in the future. And we'll continue to use new communication tools as they come out.

You know, we started notifying the public by automatic e-mails, and doing video news releases. Our website is interactive. We can get complaints from the public via Internet.

As anything new is reported, we will continue doing it. Our website won an award as one of the three best websites in government from Brown University.

So we are developing that, and committed to that. And while I've been talking about our website and our hotline so much, let me give you those addresses. The website is www.cpsc.gov. And our hotline is 1-800-638-2772. So, write those down, and communicate with us. Everybody out there in the public works with us to keep all of our country safe.

Mr. Lawrence: I want to ask you another question. As you've been describing this, you've been describing two different roles. One of working with the private sector, and also one of watching over them. How do you balance those two different roles?

Ms. Brown: Very carefully. That is a tightrope that we have to walk. I think we've managed to do it successfully. We want to work voluntarily with industry. That is of crucial importance. But of course, the stick is always in the closet.

So, I think that industry doesn't want us to use the stick, and we don't want to use it. So industries work cooperatively with us. And that has been our most -- where we've had our most success.

You know, I think of product safety is a triangle. On one side is the industry. On one side is the government. And on one side is the consumer, because the consumer has a responsibility, too. If any one part of that triangle isn't working, the whole thing falls apart. That's the product safety triangle. And it works very well.

Would you like to mention the website and the hotline one more time?

Ms. Brown: Of course I would. Our website is www.cpsc.gov. Our hotline is 1-800-638-CPSC, or 2772.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much. This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Ann Brown, chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

To learn more about the endowment, our research into improving government effectiveness, visit us on the Web at endowment@pwcglobal.com.

See you next week.

Michael Smokovich interview

Saturday, March 10th, 2001 - 19:00
Michael Smokovich
Radio show date: 
Sun, 03/11/2001
Intro text: 
Financial Management Managing for Performance and Results...
Financial Management Managing for Performance and Results
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the Endowment for the Business of Government. We created the Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the Endowment by visiting us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business in Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with Mike Smokovich, Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Welcome, Mike.

Mr. Smokovich: Good to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Patty Fisher, also a PWC partner. Welcome Patty.

Ms. Fisher: Hello, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Mike, let's get started by finding out more about the U.S. Agency for International Development. AID administers economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide; we know that. Can you tell us more about the agency?

Mr. Smokovich: AID's been existence for about 40 years. We operate under the Foreign Assistance Act. We have a budget of about $7.8 billion. Our programs are worldwide. We have about 2,000 people composed of Foreign Service officers and Civil Service personnel who are the mainstay of our program. About one-third of those people were overseas, and we're also supported by Foreign Service national personnel. These people are employed as personal service contractors.

The agency's got many diverse programs and we work to develop both institutions and people. We have programs in health, food and nutrition, we are involved in humanitarian assistance in training and education. And we also work closely with governments to strengthen their institutions in terms of good governance and democracy, and in terms of the environment. So, we're a fairly broad-based agency with a fairly robust agenda delivered in many nations by many people.

Ms. Fisher: Mike, let's spend some time talking about your career. You served 30 years with the Department of Treasury. Can you tell us about your various positions at Treasury?

Mr. Smokovich: Yes, I served in many positions at Treasury. I came to the Treasury from the General Accounting Office in 1967. And I basically worked in all of our operational staff positions there both as a young person in those days and as an older manager. My first senior executive position was in managing all of our accounting and reporting operations which were the essence of the agency at that time.

Over the years, we attempted to grow the agency and it's a small agency of about 2,000 people. And we tried to turn it into a financial management service organization that would help government managers and program people understand how to do cash management well, how to administer grant programs, credit and debt collection services and basically to be better managed from the financial management perspective. My management positions at the agency involved, basically, running most of those operations at one time or another and for a seven-year-period, I served as our chief operating officer. And my last year there, I ran a consulting and training organization, which was a good exit from the Treasury and a good way to get to a CFO position in another agency.

Mr. Lawrence: How did those experiences at Treasury prepare you for the CFO job at the USAID?

Mr. Smokovich: Well, from the first or for the last 20 years in particular, either working on the Treasury agenda or the OMB agenda or the GAO central government agenda for making government better managed. I was often the chief negotiator for the Treasury or for the central government in working with agencies to make financial systems better to work on credit programs on cash management programs, so uniquely. What we did at Treasury was to urge the CFOs to do certain things according to the OMB five-year plan. And now, while I'm at AID, this issue has kind of turned around. I've got to help our agency to respond to all those standards and initiatives so, it was a good experience.

Mr. Lawrence: How would you contrast the two cultures, Treasury and then USAID?

Mr. Smokovich: There are many parallels, we're both relatively small agencies. The financial service where I worked is roughly 2,000 people, like AID. The Treasury is a finance organization, obviously, USAID is basically a program organization, but both organizations are dedicated to making government better managed. At Treasury, we were fairly centralized. AID is highly decentralized. We operate in 75 countries, provide developmental services in another 39 and our people are highly technical people and they are program people, not finance people. So those cultures are different in that regard.

Treasury has a lot of backroom operations and, as you know, a lot of our programs are on the front page. We're providing assistance to people in disasters and we're trying to improve the lot of people and nations across the world. So, there are some differences in the cultures.

Ms. Fisher: You've just articulated a number of different things that you've done throughout the years. What drew you to public service?

Mr. Smokovich: Largely the opportunity to have an impact. I came out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and it was the coal belt, or the rust belt, you could see that happening if you looked ahead. Coming to Washington provided an opportunity in the 1960s to have an impact on the whole country, and at the Treasury, we had an opportunity to affect government. And you don't get that type of opportunity in a lot of the jobs that you might go into. If you look at the career aspect of government for young people in particular, if you have a vision and if you're interested in people and if you're interested in improving the country and you feel pride in the country, there's a lot of opportunity there to make the world a better place. And that's what draws people to Washington.

Mr. Lawrence: You've described working for leaders as well as being a leader and I'm curious, in your opinion, what qualities are the key characteristics of good leaders?

Mr. Smokovich: All good leaders have to have courage, maintaining the status quo doesn't require leadership. Seeing that things need to be changed takes a vision, it takes an energy and good leaders and strong leaders quite often have to keep working at it for a long time. So, having a vision, having energy and stubbornness are important but also, I think, seeing the need that change doesn't come easy and working with people, finding followers is essential. I used to say to a lot of our people at Treasury when they would ask me, "what's it take to be a leader?" I said, "well, you have to find at least one follower and build on that."

Mr. Lawrence: Have these qualities changed over time, do you think?

Mr. Smokovich: No, I think those are pretty fundamental. You know, the situations that we have to manage and change quite often. In Treasury, I had one situation, at AID there's another situation. If you're in the corporate environment or in the government environment or university environment, the situations change, but those basic capabilities of seeing the need for change, having the will power and the staying power and building consensus and followers, I think they're essential.

Mr. Lawrence: How about looking out into the future, I mean, we are in the twenty-first century now, but do you think in the future those qualities would change?

Mr. Smokovich: I don't think they're going to change, but some of the issues, I think, are more significant and more dramatic. I think, particularly, for CFOs and even leaders of organizations, whether you're number one, two, or three, I think, is less relevant than being a part of the management or leadership team.

In the past ten years, we've seen a lot of change in the way we do business and government quite often is slower to change than industry. I think the issue of seeing what needs to be done to transform the organization, to transform the agency about the way it does its business. My charge was to put an accounting system but the types of changes that are needed in the next five-to-ten years require more than putting in a system. I think they require a commitment and a need to transform the business so we can connect with the customers our suppliers and our stakeholders and in ways that we haven't done before.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm talking with Mike Smokovich of USAID. This is the Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and tonight's conversation is with Mike Smokovich, Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Agency for International Development. And joining me in our conversation is Patty Fisher, another PWC partner.

Well, Mike, let's find out more about your position as the chief financial officer. What are your main responsibilities?

Mr. Smokovich: As the chief financial officer at USAID, I'm charged with managing all of our accounting and reporting systems and in my particular case, managing the development and integration of our accounting systems, and making sure that when we have any systems initiative underway, whether it's procurement, personnel, payroll, what-have-you, that it all comes together. So there are a lot of CFO, CIO, IT aspects tied into my job, at least in the present that may not be tied into other CFO jobs at that particular moment in time.

The other big area of responsibility that we have is that we are an operational CFO organization, both in Washington and in the field. And we're providing direct accounting support and financial management support to people in Washington and to the 75 missions where we have operations. Because of the nature of our business, which is developmental, there is a large role that we play with our inspector general in making sure that audit recommendations and audit solutions are implemented in a timely fashion. So, we spend a lot of time with OIG and with our program people making sure that our processes for integrity, audit follow-up are in place.

Because we're highly decentralized, we spend a lot of time, and this is something we need to do more of, is investing in the training and education of people. Because of modern systems implementations and because of the downsizing of government, the financial management role has been dispersed among more and more people in operating the agencies.

And as I said earlier on, our people tend to be, you know, engineers or doctors or economists, and one of the challenges is to educate them to the fundamentals of financial management and to make sure that when we're making a grant or making a contract or executing its management, that we're following sound management principles. So, we have a large educational role in the agency.

And because we are investing systems, there's a large responsibility for the CFO at USAID, as well as the CIO, the procurement official. We have a management or team responsibility to make wise investments in systems and to make sure that when we make the investment, we get things implemented on time and on schedule for both the technical people but, also, for all the users, be they inside the agency or outside the agency. So, it's a fairly, fairly broad job.

Ms. Fisher: Mike, can you tell us a little bit more about the system that you're referring to? I know that it hasn't been very long ago that you just went live on that system and then, also, embellish about the modernization plan related to the integration of all the financial systems, if you would.

Mr. Smokovich: Right, I was hired 23 months ago to basically do two things: To acquire and implement an accounting system and to develop a plan for the ultimate role out of that system and the integration of all of our systems in USAID. And we had some fairly finite objectives. One of the things we wanted to do was have an acquisition that we could accomplish within a very short time, namely, by September 30 of 1999. So that was a major objective.

And we needed to have a plan and we worked on the plan of the acquisition simultaneously. The plan was almost as important, if not more important, than the accounting system's implementation. Because it gave us the opportunity to set, not the CFO priorities, but the agency's priorities to invest in and fix our accounting systems both in Washington and across the world to do the same thing with our procurement systems, and to lay out the priorities for investments we needed for our telecommunications and computing systems. So there was the process of setting these priorities and then moving along fairly rapidly on the implementation.

We've been successful in getting a plan established. We continue to work on that plan and we've been successful in the implementation process of getting the acquisition out the door and having it done without protest and having it done timely and getting a system implemented. So, it's been a fairly finite schedule and set of priorities that we've managed these past 23 months.

Mr. Lawrence: I understand that the strategic vision for this implementation incorporated several best practices in financial management. What are these practices and how did you adopt them?

Mr. Smokovich: One of the best practices was to read and follow and believe in all the guidance that the CFO council and the central agencies have developed, which is to acquire an off-the-shelf system and to implement an off-the-shelf system. Now, typically, what most agencies will do is they will buy an off-the-shelf product and then they will develop their plans to customize it.

We had a different plan. We're going to buy an off-the-shelf system and we were going to make zero changes to that system. That was key to our strategy and that is the best practice. I would recommend to everyone that as an agency or as a management team you keep it at zero. If you can't keep it at zero, keep it in the single or double digits at worst.

The other thing we did is to really look to our users both in the acquisition and the implementation process. We spent a lot of effort on defining our requirements very precisely and very finitely. That helped us in the acquisition because both we and the vendors understood what we were buying and that enabled us to essentially have numerous understandings and avoid protest, which can be troublesome and mean automatic delays in schedule.

The other thing that allowed us to do with our users and our developers is to schedule the developmental process very tightly from a developmental perspective and in terms of working users that when we had a certain developmental phase completed, they could check in and check out fairly quickly. We spent a lot of time with users in bringing them on-board. And this comes down to the negotiation process.

In USAID, we have many offices and they all have diverse needs. One of the issues in the agency was standardized reporting. We spent a lot of time with the management team both policy people and program people deciding that we would have a standard account coding structure down to a point. But then that we would let our operating units define their business needs and processes and we would accommodate those. That created a lot of work for everybody, but it also bought us loyalty and buy-in and confidence and pride in the result.

And for example, in working on our data migration process, defining the types of data that would go into the system and working to have people understand their needs and the system's capabilities. We worked with, I believe it was 26 or 29 distinct units who had a different cut or a different spin on the product. But the result was that those people owned that data and when it came to migrating our data, nearly 100 percent of that data migrated, which is very unusual in the federal environment.

Ms. Fisher: In addition to all of the work around the systems, I understand that you recently released results of a benchmarking study. What were the findings in that study and how do you think that those findings will help aid you in the financial management tasks ahead?

Mr. Smokovich: Well, the benchmarking study was something that I thought we needed to do when I walked in the door 23 months ago because we appear to be short-staffed in many cases. The agency has gone through a lot of downsizing, so our performance was a mystery in some respects. And I was not used to that. At Treasury, I either had operating units, and I had been an operating manager and I knew what I could produce and couldn't produce, so we got into the benchmark to kind of benchmark and validate and verify what we were doing. The benchmark helped validate some of our ideas and priorities in the modernization plan. We need to invest systems more, we need to train and educate people more, and we have opportunities for achieving cost benefits, both in Washington and in the missions. So, we've let all of our people in Washington and in the missions get involved in using the data to target improvement initiatives.

Mr. Lawrence: We'll be back in a few minutes with more of the Business of Government Hour, and our conversation with Mike Smokovich of the USAID. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and tonight's conversation is with Mike Smokovich, Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Agency for International Development. And joining me is Patty Fisher, another PWC partner.

Well, Mike, we came to a short end of that last segment, so let me double back. What I found interesting in that last segment was that you talked about benchmarking, measurement and also implementing new financial systems successfully. Two things that many people don't try or can't do and so I'm curious, how were you able to do this?

Mr. Smokovich: In our case, it was fairly easy because in terms of the accounting system, we didn't have a lot of choices. AID's needed an accounting system for more than a decade, and when we got our management team to make this the first priority, it became relatively easy. We then had to look to ourselves. And we said, "how do we support that priority?" We didn't have a lot of people, so we simply took our best and brightest and that meant our number one and number two managers from our operating units and from our systems organization and from our CIO organization. So we had a fairly tight team. We also knew that we couldn't manage it all ourselves, so we used a public accounting firm. We used the vendor for our accounting system and we used our integrator to build a team of people who would focus on getting the system implemented.

The other consideration we had was that this was not a small effort for us or for anyone and we looked at it from a risk-management perspective. The objective was to get operational in Washington and we developed a strategy that would allow us to do that by saying, "okay, how do you make Washington operational?" And the way you make Washington operational is to turn the vendor�s product on.

And part of that strategy was to delay some of the automated interfaces. And so, and in a short- run, you can live with manual interfaces. You can get things done that way. So we made those kinds of decisions looking at the team, looking at our skills, our strengths and weaknesses and say, no changes to the software, stick to the schedule, make decisions. A lot of these projects get off schedule because the vendor and the government cannot make a decision in a timely way and the clock turns. So, some of those types of things are what enabled us to take on the accounting thing.

In terms of some of the measurement issues, we know that we process a lot of transactions, both on the accounting side and on the procurement side and we're looking for ways to really improve our practices. And one of the things we said, "if we can engage people and provide them with information about the results of their business practices today, we can engage our whole work force, begin to manage the change process, and to also begin to look forward to implementing the systems."

You know, one of the things that motivates us right now in that way is that part of our plan involves implementing the system in Cairo and San Salvador. So, we spent time there building energy both in Washington and in the field to the challenge of making a system operational in Washington. I know measuring scares some people, but in the CFO business, in particular, if you don't know what you're doing and don't know where your opportunities are, you can't defend your organization and you can't fine tune it. So we've used these things, I think, in very, very positive ways to engage the work force.

Ms. Fisher: Mike, it was in 1990 that Congress created the CFO position within the government, but you've been involved in financial management for much longer than that. How has the field changed over your 30 years and what has been the impact of that Act, the CFO Act?

Mr. Smokovich: Well, the field's changed in this way. Twenty years ago, for example, we wouldn't be doing this show. The visibility for CFOs has increased dramatically. The CFO community whether the CFO was called a controller or whether the CFO was called an assistant secretary for management in the old days, the community worked very hard to get visibility. Well, we've gained visibility.

The other thing that's occurred, and it's just not in the government, it's across the world is that there's been a tremendous increase in the demand for accountability. How many CFO types or program types or CIO types talk to you without raising the issue of accountability?

The other thing is performance, with the changes in the ways services are delivered, people expect more. So, I think CFOs are more visible from a management perspective and they're certainly more visible from an operational or service perspective. These are the changes that, I think, all of us are dealing with and that we're all challenged by. And they're going to continue to be a challenge.

Mr. Lawrence: What skills are needed to be a federal CFO?

Mr. Smokovich: Well, if you look in the organization chart or in a textbook, every CFO is going to have to have some credentials for accounting, budgeting, credit-debt management. Those are the skills that all the people in these jobs bring to the job from their set of experiences. But the real issue, I think, today for CFOs is understanding how business works and understanding how systems work.

If you're a CFO of an agency, just as in the case of the private sector, you have to understand what generates your revenue. In our case, it's mostly appropriations, but it can be enterprise funds, too, where you're actually conducting business day-to-day with people and earning a revenue stream. So, those things are fundamental. Understanding the business, understanding systems, but more understanding the changes that are needed today, that's what, I think, any CFO has to bring to the table for the next five- to-ten years.

Ms. Fisher: You just mentioned one example of how a private-sector CFO might look at financial information that differs from a federal CFO. Are there other job differences between the public sector and the private sector CFOs?

Mr. Smokovich: I think there are some, but really I don't think there are that many. In fact, I looked at a magazine called "CFO," and it's oriented toward private-sector CFOs. And if you look in this month's issue or last month's issue and you look at rating or managing effective CFOs, all the issues look the same: managing revenue stream, managing working capital. You might say in the government, "well, what is the government's working capital?" Well, we just obtained a working capital fund from the Congress, which will allow us to run more of our operations in a businesslike way.

We just spent a year, going back and mining and reviewing our unliquidated obligations and we were able to basically take funds that were tied up in stale accounting and budget information and turn that into budget authority that can be used in our programs. These are the types of things that a CFO in a private-sector organization would do, the business of managing investments. Every CFO's involved in managing investments in one way or another. In structuring deals, every CFO in the private sector is involved in structuring deals. Federal agencies don't work in isolation, they work with contractors or vendors, they work with other governments or other agencies, and memoranda-of-understanding or deals are always being formed. So, I think, when you try to compare the two there, I think there are more similarities than not.

Mr. Lawrence: You are also a member of the CFO Council. What's the council and what does it do?

Mr. Smokovich: The CFO Council is composed of all the statutory CFOs and, in recent years, the deputy CFOs, which has been a good thing. The CFO Council develops a five-year plan in cooperation with OMB. It's been a place where CFOs can come together to share experiences, good and bad. The Council has been effective in working with the central agencies in this way. Many times a standard or law is proposed for implementation but it's the CFO community that has to actually implement the process. In the Council, we come together and we work on issues to improve systems or improve processes. We spend a lot of time trying to help ourselves in the recruitment and training and education area. So, it's those types of things the Council tends to try to make implementation effective and try to make CFOs more effective as a group of people.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of the Business of Government Hour, and our conversation with Mike Smokovich of the USAID. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and tonight's conversation is with Mike Smokovich, Chief Financial Officer, U.S. Agency for International Development. And joining me in our conversation is Patty Fisher, also a PWC partner.

Ms. Fisher: Recently, Mike, the CFO Council issued the statement on the twenty-first century CFO. Can you tell us about this statement?

Mr. Smokovich: Yes, there was some interesting process involved here. The Act's been in place, the CFO Act's been in place for ten years, and what we did is to go back and look at the results and the implementation of the Act and to look at the CFO community at large. And a number of focus groups were established. The document that you're talking about here, is a result of CFOs talking to CFOs and considering what we've accomplished and what we haven't accomplished.

CFOs are visible today, they have accountability, they have responsibility and, clearly, that's one of the things that CFOs need to have in the future. I think all of us are aware that there's a great change going on in the way we conduct business. A CFO cannot be successful today, nor can an organization be successful today, if we continue to think of our business processes as a collection of organizational boxes that really separate us. I think the issue of how CFOs will help organizations change in the new economy is one of the things that's highlighted in this document.

The other issue we're all well aware of, is that it's not systems that solve problems, it's people do and the CFOs, in particular, have a lot of competition for a quality work force. We need to train people, we need to educate people and we need to acquire and retain people who can deal with the new business processes.

The report also talks about compensation. I mean, it's a fact, if you're working in the federal government, you're not going to make the salary that you might have in the private sector. But still, CFOs are at risk in the sense that they, today, are challenged to take on issues that require performance and part of the thesis of the document is that CFOs ought to be compensated based on performance. And it's something that, I think, is a point that needs to be made. But I think, fundamentally, what is done with the document is to pose to all of us, both those of us who are in the career community and in the new administration to ask the question, what is the proper role for the CFO and how can CFOs and other officials help make the government a better operating in-service organization.

Mr. Lawrence: We hear a lot these days about the forthcoming retirement wave of federal employees. How has this impacted your office?

Mr. Smokovich: It is a really big issue that every organization has. I will be 58 on my next birthday, which comes in March. I did not help the average age at AID. But our foreign service are 49 years old, or Civil Service are 47 years old and we have an aging work force. The other issue that we have in the work force is that because of the downsizing of government, there just are not many people in the pipeline.

And so the lack of a pipeline is an issue and, again, because the way we have to conduct business, both in the present and more so in the future has changed. We'd have to acquire people with different skills. And the whole CFO Council and CFO community is heaving invested in this, but if, without the right people, we're hard pressed to provide the right services.

Ms. Fisher: What do you think the government should do to attract more young people to public service?

Mr. Smokovich: One of the things we can do, and we've worked on this in USAID because it's very expensive to hire people, but it's more expensive not to hire them. If, particularly when you think you might have hired them and this has to do with expectations. One of the things we can do in organizations is recruit people based on what we believe their career will be. There are many jobs in government. There are many jobs in industry, but the way you attract people is to convince them that you're a good place to work, but then sell them on a future. And I believe if we can break down some of the barriers that relate to time-in-grade, for example. People should not be promoted based on how long they've been in the organization, they should be based on how well they're performing. And that's what happens in the private sector. And CFOs in particular.

And the document we were talking about a moment ago makes this an issue. If we cannot attract and retain and reward people based on a CFO's management assessment of the priorities and performance of the types of people we need in the organization, we're going to lose out, not to industry, but we're just going to lose because we will not be able to retain the people.

Mr. Lawrence: What types of skills and knowledge will this future federal financial and management work force need?

Mr. Smokovich: The future work force has to be able to communicate. Being an accountant or a computer technician is not sufficient, being trained in a particular skill. We need to hire people who communicate and can understand how business is conducted. The business model that we're looking at today relates to buying products or services so that you can deliver your products or services and managing the internalities and the externalities. If we can't communicate with our customer, our supplier, our stakeholders or our regulators in effective ways, we won't get the job done. So, I think, understanding the business of government is probably the most important thing we have to work on with all these people.

Mr. Lawrence: What other challenges do you think the future CFOs will face?

Mr. Smokovich: I think the biggest challenge is having to deal with the fact that business has changed dramatically in the past decade. The PC was something that was not common in the work place, even in many computing firms. The Internet was not here, and those things are ubiquitous now and we're all pressed to transform the way we do business. Well, unfortunately, we haven't hired a lot of people who are conversant with those technologies and those business processes. So, I think for the next few years, CFOs are going to be really challenged to get people on to be able to deal with these business issues.

Ms. Fisher: What advice would you give a young person considering government service in the area of financial management?

Mr. Smokovich: If you want to come to work for government, and I do recommend it, been at it for 36 years, I believe you need to have a personal plan. You need to to know what your priorities are. The first thing you want, obviously, is a job, but you need to have a plan for what you want to have happen in a three-to-five-year time frame. Do you want to be a manager? Do you want to be a staff person? Do you want to be a negotiator? Do you want to have your career and/or mature in your technical line, or do you want to aspire to be a general manager, so to speak?

And you have to have that contract with yourself. And when you're interviewing for jobs in government, I think that's going to be part of the interview and if you interview the right agencies and you get that handshake, I think you'll find a career in government that will satisfy your job interest and your career interest.

Mr. Lawrence: We've talked a lot about technology in our time together today, and, I'm just curious, what's the role of technology in the work of the CFO?

Mr. Smokovich: Technology enables a CFO in an organization to get work done. Without technology, you can't process your transactions. Without technology, you don't have productivity. But, more importantly, for the CFO and for all managers now, you don't have good technology, you don't have good information and that means you don't know what's happening.

Very few operations can rely on a monthly report. Most of us have issues that involve success or failure every day. The more informed we are about those successes and failures, the better we can manage.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's a good stopping point, Mike. Patty and I want to thank you for spending time with us today. It's been an excellent conversation.

This has been the Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation on management with Mike Smokovich, Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Agency for International Development. To learn more about the Endowment's programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com. See you next week.

Managing Across Boundaries: A Case Study of Dr. Helene Gayle and the AIDS Epidemic

Monday, January 1st, 2001 - 13:00
A major challenge facing the public sector in the years ahead will be to manage across boundaries. To better understand the challenge of boundary-spanning management, this report profiles Dr. Helen Gayle, Director of the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHSTP) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In her role as Director of the Center, Dr. Gayle is responsible for working closely with the United Nations and other international organizations and nations in combating the AIDS epidemic. Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships