Miriam Browning interview

Friday, August 10th, 2001 - 19:00
Miriam Browning
Radio show date: 
Sat, 08/11/2001
Intro text: 
Miriam Browning
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Thursday, August 2, 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 of Government Hour features a conversation about management with government executives who are changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with Morgan Bantly, knowledge management coordinator in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Welcome, Morgan.

Mr. Bantly: Hello.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us is Miriam Browning, principal director for enterprise integration in the Office of the Army CIO. Welcome, Miriam.

Ms. Browning: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's begin by finding out more about your agencies. Morgan, could you tell our listeners a little bit more about the VA, its roles and responsibilities?

Mr. Bantly: Well, the VA consists of primarily three major aspects. One is -- and they all are involved in providing benefits to veterans, either cemetery benefits, benefits, such as compensation and pension benefits, housing loans, education loans. And then the bulk is health care services that we provide.

Mr. Lawrence: And I know everybody could describe the Army, but perhaps you could talk about its official responsibilities?

Ms. Browning: Officially, the Army is charged with safeguarding our national interests in war and peace. This is basically a nonnegotiable contract with the American people, grounded in the Constitution.

Just to give you an example of the size of the Army, we have an annual budget of over $74 billion; approximately 1.5 million people; and we have over 180 installations worldwide.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about your careers? Miriam, perhaps you could begin by telling us about your career.

Ms. Browning: I began with the Army over 30 years ago. Actually, at Fort Ord, California, during the buildup of Vietnam. I have worked mainly with the Army, but also at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta; the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General. I was also very fortunate to work 2 years as the director of the Center for Management Information at the National Academy of Public Administration. So I've had a broad spectrum across both government and in a nonprofit organization.

Mr. Lawrence: And in those different jobs, what type of positions did you hold?

Ms. Browning: Predominantly jobs in information technology and business management.

Mr. Lawrence: Morgan, how about you?

Mr. Bantly: I had -- I started out working for the Department of Veterans Affairs about 20 years ago as a medical illustrator and ended up moving up through the organization in terms of managing a graphics illustration department and then managing both graphics illustration and video production, and we were producing linear video products, as well as satellite broadcasts. And then I started -- added to those responsibilities managing new media, which includes web design and CD-ROM production. So a whole gamut of media-related products for education and communication.

And in the course of that, eventually moved up to managing one of the sites that provided those services for the Veterans Health Administration, as well as overall VA, and then was involved in a lot of business reorganization activities within our organization.

Mr. Lawrence: Now, your title is -- you're described as the knowledge management coordinator. What are your responsibilities in terms of knowledge management?

Mr. Bantly: Well, the organization that I'm in directly within the VA is the employee education system, which is the main educational arm of veterans health administration and the VA. There is a smaller unit within Veterans Benefits Administration that's responsible for education. But we're -- we consist of approximately 300 employees in the employee education system. And we, about a year ago, recognized the value of knowledge management and decided that we wanted to pilot some activities in that area so that we could demonstrate the value of that to Veterans Health Administration and the VA. And we created a position of knowledge management coordinator, and I was selected for that position.

And in the past year, I've been working on three initiatives with three different communities within Veterans Health Administration to establish knowledge management strategies.

Mr. Lawrence: Miriam, how about you?

Ms. Browning: Knowledge management in the Army is in the office of the chief information officer. And basically, knowledge management in the Army is about transformation and change. So it includes not only the traditional knowledge management aspects of collaborative computing and collaborative systems, but it also includes changes in governance, in infrastructure consolidation -- we have a major effort to do that for our IT infrastructure -- as well as building up our Army enterprise portal, which is Army Knowledge Online.

And like the Veterans Administration, we also started off about 3 years ago with several pilot projects which have come to fruition and have proved very beneficial in terms of knowledge sharing and bringing the Army into the Internet age.

Mr. Lawrence: What set of skills do the people have who are doing knowledge management in the organizations?

Ms. Browning: I would say the first skill is probably organizational and political savvy. You really need to know the organization, what areas should connect, what areas are ripe for change -- that's probably the most important skill.

The second skill would, of course, be organizational and interpersonal communications. And probably the third skill would be strategic and revolutionary thinking, because knowledge management can really be used to transform and to change how an organization does business.

Mr. Bantly: I would agree with all of those. And in addition, I think for enacting a knowledge management strategy, working with people -- the ability to work with people and create a sense of commitment and enthusiasm and clearly communicate the goals and final vision of what you're trying to achieve, so you can bring that into action and accomplish that -- along with, you know, some technical knowledge, because there's technical issues involved, as well as some librarian knowledge, in terms of taxonomy and control vocabulary, and project management skills.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm surprised it took so long to list technology, given the backgrounds you both describe. Was that intentional or --

Ms. Browning: Probably not intentional, but technology is not the dominant skill in knowledge management. It clearly is an enabler, because you have to have not only a good infrastructure to be able to collaborate and to share and access information across an organization. But first and foremost, the organization needs to focus on where it wants to go and how it wants to change and then apply the technology.

Mr. Lawrence: How would you describe the development of knowledge management? As you went through the skills there, sort of skills we've heard before, but now they've been collectively organized in this new discipline, I might suggest. How do you describe the development of knowledge management?

Ms. Browning: It actually is a -- the Army knowledge management team is composed of many, many types of skills. Many that we have mentioned, plus financial management skills, human resource skills, in addition to the project management technology skills. So on any single day, on Army knowledge management, we have a group of people with that blended skill set working together.

When we first started knowledge management, it was more about providing knowledge centers. The Army has over 30 knowledge centers. Some of them have won national awards. But as we expanded that to become more enterprise-wide, to develop our portal to bring in new governance ideas and to bring in new ideas about consolidation, we expanded, not only the scope of knowledge management, but also we expanded the types of people that we need to run this -- this is a major transformation in the Army.

Mr. Bantly: I think in general, knowledge management evolved because there was a recognition in the intellectual capital that organizations and corporations had that really wasn't being tapped. And I think one of the areas of focus in knowledge management is capturing the knowledge and experiences of employees that they get on the job, that help them accomplish their work.

And when you normally think of people retiring and the organization losing the corporate knowledge that those people have, that corporate knowledge is what we're trying to capture through knowledge management strategies, and make that knowledge available for everyone within the organization.

Mr. Lawrence: Which of the positions you just described when you were going through your careers best prepared you to be a leader in the knowledge management area and why?

Ms. Browning: I think the positions that have best qualified me are those positions where I sat high in the corporate headquarters -- that is, the Pentagon, and you could look out across the Army and see the interactions and see how the organization really works.

And I've had several opportunities -- one, when I was a very junior civil servant in the mid-seventies, I was fortunate to be part of a think tank under the Army vice chief of staff of the -- the vice chief of staff of the Army. And he let all of us in his little think tank walk around with him all the time and see how decisions were made at the three- and four-star level. That gave me great insight into how the Army operates: what are the informal processes, how people get things done. And basically you learn that the skills which are really important, of course, are knowledge of the subject areas, a high degree of integrity, common sense and just good communication skills.

So I think that early knowledge of an organization can help you craft a knowledge management program, because it is not about technology, it's just not about library science, it's not about project management. It's about all of those.

Mr. Bantly: And I think, from my point of view, having a background and an experience in providing education and learning for employees, we were able to see some of the gaps that existed from the line workers in a variety of areas, whether it was clinical or administrative. And to get a good understanding of the need for knowledge sharing that exists within the organization. And not just knowledge sharing within certain areas of focus, but knowledge sharing across communities and from high levels of the organization to low levels of the organization.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. That's a good stopping point. Stick with us through the break, because afterwards, we'll come back and we'll find out how technology supports knowledge management. This is The Business of Government Hour.

This is The Business of Government Hour. (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 Morgan Bantly, knowledge management coordinator of the Department of Veterans Affairs and Miriam Browning, principal director for enterprise integration in the Office of the Army CIO.

Well, knowledge management is a concept that's still rather new for many organizations. Can you describe knowledge management for our listeners?

Mr. Bantly: The way we describe knowledge management is that it's a blend of management practices and technology that provides a structured method to capture, organize, and share knowledge in a deliberate and systematic way to accomplish business objectives.

And one of the main points that we try to make with the people that we're working with and with our executive sponsors is that knowledge management focuses more on the flow of information or knowledge, rather than stockpiling of knowledge, because there's already a lot of information overload, and we need to make the information -- one of the goals of knowledge management is, not only share knowledge, but make knowledge easily accessible by the employees.

And to do that, we need to help filter that for them so they get exactly what they need when they need it.

Ms. Browning: In the Army, knowledge management is harnessing human capital, building and operating an Internet-age enterprise infrastructure, and effecting governance and cultural changes to accomplish mission objectives. And our main goal with knowledge management is to produce results. And the results that we are looking at are a number of classic knowledge-management pilots in our knowledge communities, in acquisition, personnel, finance, and in medical.

Another result we're looking at is our enterprise portal, Army Knowledge Online, which right now has 180,000, we are scaling that up to the full Army of about 1.2 -- 1.5 million folks within the next year.

And an interesting story is that Army knowledge management actually started with our portal Army Knowledge Online, about 4 years ago, when the Chief of Staff of the Army decided he wanted to talk collaboratively to approximately 300 of his general officers. And we developed a network for him. It was called at that time, America's Army Online. And we have an interactive network that the Chief of Staff used to effect decisions within the Army with his generals. And that reduced the time to many of our decisions on officer personnel management, on some high-level governance decisions in the Army. That was the basis for our portal. It has since grown substantially from those 300 people. And that's really one of the crown jewels in the Army knowledge management program.

Mr. Lawrence: How direct is the link between results and knowledge management?

Ms. Browning: In the Army, it's very direct. When we talk about knowledge management, we have developed a strategic plan that encompasses the goals that I've talked about -- the cultural goals, governance goals, infrastructure consolidation, the scale-up of our portal, strategies to improve the workforce -- especially in the IT area -- so we have very specific goal areas that we have initiatives linked to those with milestones and timelines. So the Army has put together our Army knowledge management plan in a very aggressive strategy to accomplish that.

Mr. Bantly: And as we both mentioned in our -- when we were defining knowledge management, one of the key points in both of our definitions was that it's linked to the business outcomes or business results and that's a really important point.

In terms of what we've been trying to accomplish through our pilot initiatives -- in measuring how effective that is in business outcomes, we found that to be actually a difficult area. And just as an example, one of the communities that we've worked with are patient advocates, who are the liaisons between the veteran patients and our staff. And the patient advocates are there to help resolve problems or answer questions that the veterans and patients might have.

And one of the things that we want to do with this initiative is to try to improve our customer service to those veterans and provide that information more accurately, more consistently, and more quickly across the organization. And when we came to trying to measure how effectively our knowledge management system was going to do that, in terms of linking it directly to customer service improvement, we found that it was very difficult for us to be able to do that because there are so many other factors that affect customer service satisfaction or perception among our veterans.

And so we had to -- you know, our goal is to try to link that as objectively and as directly as possible to the business outcomes. And that's going to be an areas where we're going to continue to have to do more work in trying to achieve that level of definite measurement.

But we're trying to do the best we can at this point in terms of measuring how that contributes to the patient advocates providing information more accurately and more quickly through this system of sharing knowledge. And also becoming more -- increasing their core competencies across the system, because they're very spread out, and administratively, they actually report to different types of organizations within the VA, depending upon how they were assigned that responsibility.

Ms. Browning: Let me cite also that, like the Veterans Administration, the Army also started off in knowledge management with several pilot projects. I mentioned one of them, our Army Knowledge Online portal. But there are two others that I think are worth mentioning because they did produce some results.

One was our acquisition knowledge center at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, which has won a number of national awards. And it is a very robust knowledge center. It has all kinds of archival capabilities, message capabilities, the ability to access subject mater experts, the ability to store information, it has instant messaging, white boards, video teleconferencing, access to documents. A very, very robust center that combines collaborative computing with access to knowledge and the packaging of that knowledge.

Some of the results or some of the metrics from there were, one, we reduced the time it took to get documents to the field; we consolidated a lot of archival information and put it in one place. As you all know, if you have a big PowerPoint briefing and send it to 500 people, you can choke up the airways. However, if you put that same PowerPoint briefing in a centrally accessible file, then you save on bandwidth and it's easy for people to understand where that is.

We also did some classic reductions in cost by the consolidation of a number of our IT facilities up at Fort Monmouth in conjunction with that. So that has been a very successful pilot.

Let me talk about a second pilot. That was in our military personnel career management system. Previously this was a very manual process. At certain points in an officer's career, he was asked to make career decisions in terms of which career field he or she would like to be in. That was done by mailing out thousands of envelopes with all kinds of questionnaires that you would fill in with a number 2 pencil. We totally automated that process. We put it up on our AKO portal. We cut the time it took, we reduced all the postage costs, but most importantly, as the officers put their information in, they could also get analytical results back that would affect whether or not that would be their final decisions.

For example, if someone wanted to be a computer specialist and they put that on in their report form, and it came back that we have many, many slots and these are all being filled, the person may say, I may want to go into another area where there's more opportunities and therefore make a separate decision. So we provided analysis, cut down the time, and it was actually a -- it's a good recruitment and a retention aspect, when our people can do that online instead of the old-fashioned way.

Mr. Bantly: I was just going to add that some of the things that we've established in our pilot have been very similar to what you've done, in terms of providing, you know, quick and easy access to information that's pertinent to the work that those community members need to accomplish. And we've provided a method also for them to contribute their knowledge and experiences into the system and a process, also, for the review of those before they're actually added into the system to make sure that information is accurate in specific areas, that it conforms to VHA and VA policy and other regulations, and that there's not sensitive information in there, for example, that we don't want to share -- for example, patient Social Security numbers or any of that information or even physician names or specific employee names. And make sure that also, descriptions of how people can do things -- accomplish things faster and more efficiently -- are written up so that they can be repeatable, and they're not, you know, missing an instruction that somebody assumes when they write it, but when somebody else reads it, they realize that there's a step missing that they don't quite understand.

So we want to make sure that the knowledge assets are really consistent, accurate and complete before they're entered into the system. And also, we have a bulletin board system for announcements so we can get information out quickly to all employees. We have an expert director so that we can connect with experts in different areas throughout the VA.

And also, there are other processes in addition to the portal aspects that we have incorporated as part of the knowledge management strategy, in terms of getting more sharing of information between people. And that is through other activities like conference calls, you know, audio conference calls, video conference calls, through satellite broadcasts and educational instruction that we produce that are distributed in that manner and through face-to-face meetings.

So we're documenting those kinds of collaborative activities that are occurring, also, in trying to measure the effectiveness of our knowledge management strategy on sharing information.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. Come back with us after the break and we'll ask our guests more about the challenges of implementing knowledge management.

This is The Business of Government Hour. (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 Morgan Bantly, knowledge management coordinator at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Miriam Browning, principal director for enterprise integration in the Office of the Army CIO.

One of the things we talked about in the last segment was the role of technology in knowledge management. Is technology robust enough to handle what's going on in knowledge management now?

Ms. Browning: Generally, yes, I think the technology is very good. It's a matter of making sure that you have an infrastructure that is capable of providing information access to all the members of the organization. And I think it's there, but there are a lot of areas, still, that we are working on. Let me just give you three examples.

One of the issues, of course, is Web mail. We're struggling with that right now in the Army. As you know, there's a difference between Web mail and client server mail, which is the typical Microsoft mail that you have. And the typical Microsoft mail is very robust in terms of providing you a calendar and the ability to move a document in there, et cetera. Web mail does not have that capability. And for those of you, of course, who have, you know, an Internet account commercially, you get access to people's e-mail with all the full range of functions that are there and in Microsoft you don't have that. And the technology really doesn't exist today in the commercial marketplace for a full robust Web mail.

So as we look at providing universal e-mail for all 1.5 million Army people, we are probably looking at this stage at a hybrid. Some will have Web e-mail, some will have full robust client server e-mail. So this is one technology issue.

The second issue, of course, is the last mile communications to remote sites. The Army has remote sites all over the globe. And we have very robust long-distance communications lines to the major hubs, but it's getting that last mile to the desk of the PFC in let's say, at Fort Polk, Louisiana and making that robust enough to go into the Internet and access our portal, which is an issue.

Now, it's not only an issue within the Army or the Defense Department, it's also an issue globally. I read the other day that only about 6 percent of American homes have high-speed access to the Internet. So this is something that everybody is working on. So we struggle with that, because it's an information access issue.

The third issue, of course, is information security. And that is especially becomes exacerbated with the proliferation of wireless devices. So the Defense Department continues to work on its defense in-depth strategy to make sure that we don't have any security breaches and we are also working with manufacturers with many of the wireless devices to make those devices a lot more secure.

But technology continues to evolve. I think you can start a knowledge management program clearly with the current infrastructure. The ideal infrastructure is not there, but those are issues that everybody faces for all kinds of applications within the organization.

Mr. Bantly: I agree with those, especially the point about being with access, for example, and with the security issue. For example, some of the communities that we're working with in the VA are going to require or want to have access to be able to provide access to extended community members that are outside the VA. And so there will need to be security issues around allowing community access to the information and knowledge that we've got internally. And that's -- we have people now working on providing patient record information to, you know, the patients that those records belong to so that they could access those records from outside the VA and get the information that they want to see about themselves without having to go through the VA to do that.

And that same technology or processes that are established to do that, we could apply to our knowledge management practices as well, in terms of providing that knowledge to people outside the VA.

Another issue that's related to the technology, but it's not -- I don't really see it as a technology issue at this point, and that is -- is really managing the knowledge the maintaining accuracy and currency in the knowledge. And the technology brings the knowledge to the fingertips to the knowledge, but we need -- another really major issue is to make sure that that knowledge is accurate and current.

And so there are a lot of issues around maintaining that and managing the -- that process that I'm really interested in and learning more about. And I think that the field has -- there's still a ways to go in that area.

Ms. Browning: There's also an interesting cultural aspect of information access. Typically, in any organization, there are areas that say my area and only my area can have access to this information. And if it is not a privacy or a security issue, which it frequently is not, then the question becomes, well, why can't everybody have access to it?

So it gets into the issue of knowledge is power and how people hoard knowledge. But I think one of the cultural changes that knowledge management forces, it forces us to review what kind of information we give to everyone. Again, that is not bounded by privacy or security issues.

So I think we're seeing more and more in the Army a real desire on the part of top leaders and we're beginning to see this in the middle management of people loosening the grip a little bit and providing information to the entire organization, but this does not come fast.

Mr. Bantly: Another issue related to technology, also, is establishing metatagging standards so that -- and that's the data that describes the knowledge chunks. And some of that data can describe, for example, copyright issues. So that that would enable people to determine to the extent to which they can reuse those assets in other ways. And that's an issue where, although there are standards that exist that have been developed by international standards organizations getting the vendors to incorporate standards in their products and even agreeing on standards between government agencies is still something that needs to be done.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, this was just -- you also just hinted at some of the organizational changes. Well, how does knowledge management affect corporate culture?

Ms. Browning: I think knowledge management has a good effect on corporate culture because what it does -- it evokes a different type of organizational model. One where you have more emphasis on including more people in the decision-making process, working in teams, I think that is becoming more and more the norm. Whether that's actual teams or virtual teams. Also, more of a constant learning and educating people on what are the concepts, what are we doing, what is the project management.

Within our own Army CIO office, we have started professional development sessions at our biweekly staff meetings. So not only do we find out what's going on, we also pick a topic and inform and educate people on that. So it's an opening up, if you will, of the cultural channels in terms of how we do business.

I will tell you, also, you say, well, how do you spur that on? How do you incentivize that? It was probably not a coincidence that the people during the last -- this performance appraisal cycle who got the highest awards were those people who were leaders in the knowledge sharing and in some of these changing cultural aspects. So those are the aspects and you do have to reward the people who are the early adopters and who want to do that.

Mr. Bantly: I think what a knowledge management strategy does is, it kind of turns on its side the initial tradition of having more of a top-down management approach to accomplishing business objectives, where managers determine what needed to be done and then they delegated responsibilities to others to accomplish those objectives.

And what this does, I think it brings more authority to the line workers to recognize and to advocate certain changes that meet certain goals and directives that management would identify. So the community leader identifies or sets the direction for the community. And then it allows the community members to come up with the solutions to achieve the business outcomes through, you know, to accomplish those goals.

Mr. Lawrence: Skeptics have suggested that knowledge management is difficult to implement. What have been your lessons learned that you might share with others?

Mr. Bantly: I think that, just to name a few areas off the top of my head, where there's -- where there's some difficult in establishing these.

First of all, it is very important, it says this in all the literature, and from experience, it's true, as well, from what I've observed from, not necessarily within the VA, but from other organizations, is that it's absolutely important to have corporate sponsorship or management sponsorship of those activities to get the commitment of all the others to allow the -- to provide the time to support those activities.

And I think to a lot of people, knowledge management is a confusing topic, and it's somewhat an abstract topic. And they don't -- it takes them a while to understand what that means and what the impacts will have on how they do business and how they will operate, because it is a changed behavior.

And so getting that understanding to the workers that you're working with, because you work with the community members to help design the strategy for the way they would use it to accomplish business objectives, is a little bit of a challenge.

Ms. Browning: Very simply, here's some advice. First, develop your own definition and your own political ends for knowledge management. Then weave it into the fabric of the organization, especially in organizational transformation. Obtain executive support; that's very important, and it's not just, okay, we'll do it. It almost has to be a visceral buy-in, a real active buy-in by the leadership.

And then develop a strategic plan with milestones and implement for results and hold yourself accountable. So it's like many other transformation efforts. Understand where you want to go. Use knowledge management in this case. It's sort of a buzzwordy thing, but kind of use it to get where you're going and then forge ahead.

Mr. Lawrence: Good stopping point for this segment. We gotta go to a break. But when we come back, we'll ask our guests to tell us their visions for the future of knowledge management.

This is The Business of Government Hour. (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 Morgan Bantly, knowledge management coordinator at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Miriam Browning, principal director for enterprise integration in the Office of the Army CIO.

Well, how will knowledge management help the government with the impending retirement wave?

Ms. Browning: Knowledge management can be used to capture both the explicit and the tacit information of the workforce so that new workers coming in can shorten their learning curve. We have actually done this in the Army through the development of a template that we have used both within the Pentagon and at some of our field organizations to do that. Where you can capture lessons learned, how to get to documented sources, who are the subject matter experts, where are some -- how to define a certain process, where archival material is.

And actually, in one of our case studies, we found that we really reduced the learning curve of a typical staff officer in this office in the Pentagon from about 6 months to about 2 months. So that was -- that was very helpful. I think, though, the larger construct of knowledge management as part of transformation, no only in the Army, but within government, will also be from a long-range perspective. I think the better legacy of knowledge management, it will make the government a more attractive place to work -- being more high-tech, being more close to how business is conducted in the private sector.

So I think it's that long-range aspect of knowledge management that will prove beneficial over the years.

Mr. Bantly: I agree. I think it's -- you can see it in our organization, in terms of relatively long-term effects in terms of getting all the portions of the VA more unified and consistent in access to information that they have.

And then, also, government agencies, as well, so that we become more of one network and the work of all the employees becomes much more efficient and in accessing, you know, the information that they need, because they're sharing information rather than duplicating efforts and recreating the same kind of information in different places.

Ms. Browning: It's very much an expectation issue. If young folks know in their private lives that they can access all kinds of things on the Internet. If people know they can do that in a private sector job, the expectation is that that should be the same in the government. So I think knowledge management helps move the government toward that direction, which is good.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give a person contemplating a career, whose perhaps thought about public service and maybe even is interested knowledge management -- what advice would you give such a person?

Mr. Bantly: My general advice is that they -- I think it's beneficial to have a perspective from a variety of topic areas or subject areas. Because you can bring experiences in seemingly unrelated areas -- you can bring those to other areas in more innovative ways. And I think that's a key way to create more innovation is to recognize similarities between what normally people would thing of very different areas of concern.

And, obviously, computer literacy, which I think is something that more people are getting involved with technology that's being developed. And I think communication skills is another key area in working with people.

Ms. Browning: The best reason to go into government, of course, is because of the challenging work -- there are jobs in the government that are absolutely unique and nowhere else in the world. So it's that challenging work and the ability to contribute to the nation. I think people who have that first and foremost in their minds will be the ones that really should go into government.

Clearly, also, the government is also good in terms of relative job security and benefits, so I think that that's an aspect that should be emphasized.

If someone wants to make a lot of money, I recommend that they do not go into the government. That's a personal decision. There are all kinds of people out there and, certainly, this nation holds employment opportunities for many.

I would also suggest that people interested in the government pursue some of the higher-level skill sets, such as, business skills and leadership skills. Because in the information technology area over the years, more and more of the technical skills will be outsourced. We have seen that trend in the Defense Department for decades, that will continue. So that we will need people in the government who are generally very highly educated, who understand business, the organization, and the leadership skills so that they can manage contractors, manage large horizontal projects, not only within their agency but, as Morgan has mentioned, across agencies. So we're looking at some really, really high-level skill sets and some absolutely fascinating work.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you think knowledge management will evolve in the next 10 years at each of your organizations? What's your vision for the future of knowledge management?

Ms. Browning: I think a lot of knowledge management tools and processes that we have right now will become embedded in normal business processes. Very similar to business process re-engineering. You know, in any process re-engineering endeavor, you can include knowledge management components, such as lessons learned, or best-practices, access to subject matter experts, knowledge templates, common archives, et cetera.

So I think that will become part of how we build applications, how we do business. I think that it will become common place.

Let me add one more item too. I think one of the -- some of the cutting-edge areas in knowledge management will be in the use of intelligent agents. We see them already on the Internet. Agents that help us make decisions. Agents that are intelligent agents that are embedded into how we select things and actually how we buy things on the Internet. You can weave those into how we perform processes and how to reduce the cycle times.

I also think that you will probably see a blossoming of some of the newer management concepts in the federal government. More self-service applications, you know, people can do more things online. There is still a gap between government and the private sector, in terms of simple things, like access to your benefits. Filing travel vouchers, it varies by organization. But in the private sector more and more of these things are absolutely automated.

I think you'll see more virtual teaming, more knowledge repositories, more knowledge portals, so there really will be a blossoming of a knowledge generation, not only in the government, but in the private sector.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think our concern for privacy will impede knowledge management? It seems as though we're always walking a fine line between having a lot of information to do the things you just described, but yet not wanting to have a lot of information out there?

Mr. Bantly: I think the desire to -- for the access to information, actually, is going to drive knowledge management more than impede it. And I think that it will help others focus on defining how they can provide, you know, what the limitations will be to providing certain information -- allowing certain information to go to people that need it and keeping, certainly, private information private and only available to those who should have access to that information.

Mr. Lawrence: And how are the economics of knowledge management working out? Often the benefits are long-term and the costs are immediate, and that sometimes limits people's desire to go forward with things.

How are the economics being worked?

Ms. Browning: That's a classic technology problem, and I think one of the best things to do is what both Veterans and Army have done, and that is to start small and demonstrate with pilots. In other words, you need to put in a strategic long-term program, but as you're doing that, you must have some very short-term pilot projects that can produce results and that can gain organizational commitment to continue.

So that's typically how you go about instituting a change using information technology.

Mr. Bantly: I think a key part of that is identifying the communities and the goals that you're trying to accomplish through knowledge management. I think some things can be much more easily and directly measured. And I know that in some corporations, for example, some have set a limit to actually working on a knowledge management project. They won't work on one unless they can expect to receive a profit within 6 months from that initiative. And I've -- I'm familiar with cases where that's occurred and they've been able to demonstrate that profit through measurable, you know, through measurements.

I think within our initiative, that it's going to require more of a long-term effort to see true benefits because a lot of this is through organizational change. And we need to develop this and establish this more strategically across the entire organization.

So to see larger benefits, it's going to take a longer time before that's actually realized. I think in terms of trying to achieve the executive sponsorship to establish or continue to provide initiatives that use knowledge management. I think, like Ms. Browning, was saying, that, you know, you just need to identify ways in which you can accomplish that quickly and then be able to verify that so you can demonstrate value and continue to go forward with those initiatives.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, this is a good stopping point. Miriam and Morgan, I want to thank you very much for joining us this morning. This has been a great conversation.

Ms. Browning: Thank you, Paul.

Mr. Bantly: Thank you for inviting me.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business for Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Morgan Bantly, knowledge management coordinator of the Department of Veterans Affairs and Miriam Browning, principal director for enterprise integration in the Office of the Army CIO.

To learn more about the programs and research, visit us on the Web at endowment.pwcglobal.com. And at this website, you an also get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation.

See you next week.

John Dalrymple interview

Friday, August 3rd, 2001 - 19:00
John Dalrymple
Radio show date: 
Sat, 08/04/2001
Intro text: 
John Dalrymple
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Monday, July 30, 2001

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 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 Dalrymple, commissioner, Wage and Investment Division of the Internal Revenue Service.

Welcome, John.

Mr. Dalrymple: Thank you, it's nice to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Jim Cook (phonetic). Welcome, Jim.

Mr. Cook: Thank you, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, John, let's begin by talking about the IRS. Most of our listeners know the IRS as a collector and administrator of taxes, but they don't have a true sense of the scope of the IRS. Could you describe some of the other activities of the IRS for our listeners?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, the IRS actually is comprised of about 115,000 employees during our peak seasons. And, you know, we do everything from sending out the tax packages to people so that they can understand how to file their tax returns to actually processing taxes and then, ultimately, as you said earlier, collecting it and examining returns. We also have a lot of outreach activities that we do that allow us to help taxpayers understand what their obligations are.

So, you know, we really do have a pretty varied operation at the service, other than just collecting taxes.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the skills of the employees of the IRS? Again, I guess my perspective is accountants and examiners, but what other type of folks work here?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, you know, before I came to work at the IRS, I pretty much thought that was the case, too. I personally do not have an accounting degree, and there's a lot of people here who don't. On the other hand, there are also a lot of people here who do have accounting degrees.

Our revenue agents are all accountants. We have other people who are accountants and we have law degrees, a lot of people with business degrees. I, personally, have an economics degree. We also hire a lot of people who don't have degrees -- work in our submission processing sites and our service centers. So it's a really a very wide divergence of backgrounds and abilities that we hire for, here in the service.

Mr. Cook: John, obviously, there's been a lot of conversation over the years, especially in the last 3 or 4 years, about the fundamental reinvention that's taking place at the IRS, in large part to become a more customer-centric organization. Can you comment a little bit about what that really means in terms of the daily responsibilities of the people at the IRS, what type of impact does that have?

Mr. Dalrymple: Yeah, I think it's -- that's a great question, actually, because, you know, we're actually still dealing with that on a very real-time basis here at the IRS, because everybody has to internalize that to make it actually happen here. And I think from my perspective, it means actually that from now on -- from this point forward, we take into account what our actions -- impact our actions have on our customers.

So for example, if, you know, if we have very long lines for people to get help at our customer-assistance centers -- our tax-assistance centers in the field -- you know, we're trying to figure out ways to make that service faster for our employees. And our telephone sites, you know, if someone can't get in to ask their question, it's pretty difficult for us to serve them. So we're focusing a great deal of attention on increasing our ability to actually have people access our services.

You might think, well, gee, on the compliance side of the house, how does that fit, because, you know, you've got a particular role there, and it's not necessarily a customer-friendly kind of role. But on the other hand, if you think about the experience that people have when they go through those activities, which is some examination or a collection activity, you know, we're actually serving those people to find out, in fact, you know, A, were we professional, were we courteous, what things were important to you in that interaction? And then we're trying to make changes to in fact deliver on those things.

So I guess what I would say is, the main thing people would see if they were, you know, sort of stepping back and trying to compare us from where we -- the way we used to do business to the way we're doing business now and how we see ourselves in the future is, we're listening more to what our customers are telling us, and we're trying to react to that in real time.

And that's easily said; that's very difficult to accomplish.

Mr. Cook: Well, one of the things that I guess is most visible about the reinvention is the new organization structure. And you're the commissioner of the Wage and Investment Division. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what that really means and what the responsibilities are of your division.

Mr. Dalrymple: The Wage and Investment Division -- you know, there's about 40,000 people in the IRS that are in the Wage and Investment Division, give or take a few thousand, depending on which time of the year it is. There's about 116 million taxpayers that the Wage and Investment Division serves. And the whole concept behind the reorganization of the IRS was to segment our businesses. Before, we were set up geographically and any district director -- any location was responsible for all the taxpayers within that geographical area, and so it had broad responsibilities around that taxpayer population.

What we try to do now is segment that so that we're focused much more on segments of the population. So in Wage and Investment, it is my responsibility to actually provide -- to understand and provide the services and the activities, actually, that the public need in order to comply with the tax laws.

So no longer are we -- are we in a situation where our scope is so large that our focus is difficult to attain -- like a laser focused in on the Wage and Investment customer.

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

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, I started with the Internal Revenue Service in 1975. In fact, I just had my 26th anniversary with the IRS a couple weeks ago. I came on as a revenue officer, which is a collection officer with the Internal Revenue Service. My job was literally to collect taxes from people who had failed to respond to notices or our office collection activities in those days, and then they were turned over to revenue officers to collect the money from. And I started here in Washington, D.C. In fact, I was at the old 11th and E Street office -- I'm sorry, the 12th and E Street office, which no longer exists -- it's now part of the Warner building, which has a Pennsylvania Avenue address.

And, you know, I spent a number of years here -- I spent 5 years, actually, as a revenue officer here, and then I took different management positions in the IRS, primarily in collection, until I was selected for the Executive Development Program in 1990. And as an executive in the IRS, I've spent time as an assistant director, district director, in Los Angeles and in Hartford, Connecticut. I've spent time as a district director in St. Paul, Minnesota. I've been the deputy chief operations officer here in the national office and the chief operations officer here in the national office until I became the commissioner of Wage and Investment.

Mr. Lawrence: What's been the attraction of public service?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, you know, I grew up in the sixties, I got out of high school in 1968, so I guess I was influenced a lot by, you know, John Kennedy in a lot of ways. And there were a whole lot of people in my -- are a lot of people, I suspect, in my age group who grew up really internalizing the whole concept of, you know, asking not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. And also, the whole idea of being able to make change from the inside out. And so that's actually what drew me into government service. That and the fact that, you know, I wanted to get a job.

Mr. Cook: As you described your career, John, obviously, you've been in various positions of leadership for quite a while and in your current position you have some direct involvement in developing some of the future leaders in the IRS. Talk a little bit about what you look for in leaders, and in fact, in particular, when you set up your organization, what did you look for in your key directors and managers, as you positioned them?

Mr. Dalrymple: I looked for people who had vision, first of all, that's important -- very important to me. People who I trust, so trust is a very important thing. And you only get trust by -- through honesty, so I tend to look for people who have built up a long history of being honest and forthright. And then finally, people who have good technical skills in the areas in which they're going to be responsible for.

So if you can find that combination in a person, you know, my -- my sense is to grab onto them and then give them lots and lots of flexibility and room to do their job.

Mr. Lawrence: It's a good time for a break. So stick with us through the break, because when we continue our conversation with John Dalrymple of the IRS, we'll return and ask him about the IRS's efforts to modernize and innovate.

This is The Business of Government Hour. (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 John Dalrymple, commissioner, Wage and Investment Division of the Internal Revenue Service. And joining us in our conversation is Jim Cook, another PWC partner.


Mr. Cook: John, throughout the planning and implementation of the reinvention that we talked about in the first segment, I would imagine there was a number of creative and innovative ideas that came up and some that were adopted and some that were -- that were passed on.

What would you say were some of the more innovative ideas that came up and that have been implemented and what type of impact do you believe they've had?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, I'd say the biggest innovative ideas that came up had to do with establishing two organizations within -- one in small business and one in wage and investment -- that are outward looking -- looking at partnering with different segments in order to further tax compliance. And part of their activity -- well, almost all of their activity is in the pre-filing arena, so that the whole concept of it -- if you can really get people to understand what their responsibilities are and help them comply with the tax law, you'll have a lot fewer compliance activities on the back end. And so each organization, wage and investment and small business, have put, A, quite a few resources into that activity, and frankly, quite a bit of energy, because it's all about training people in things that we haven't done before, and then measuring outcomes that we haven't measured before.

So I would say that's probably the most innovative thing that I've seen out of the reinvention.

Mr. Cook: How well do you think the organization took to that change, because that's a rather significant break from --

Mr. Dalrymple: I think, actually, everyone intuitively knew that that was something that made sense and knew that for a long time. I think, though, that when you're swept up in your day-to-day activity, sometimes it's hard to peel away time and intellectual capacity, actually, to focus enough attention on that sort of thing to come up with a robust way to accomplish it. And what the re-engineering effort that we were going through -- we had enough people and enough capacity offline to actually think this thing through and put a plan in place that looked like we could accomplish it.

And so the old adage, if, you know, sometimes you step away from the things that are right in front of you sometimes, you can get a different perspective on them. And I think that's actually what happened here.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the lessons would you pass along to other government leaders who are dealing with modernization efforts?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, one of the things I would say is, don't undertake it unless you are fully committed to it, because this really is changing a tire while you're driving a car or living in a house as it's being renovated. It is incredibly difficult. And you still have a mission to accomplish, and so you can't just set aside the work that you have to do.

And we still had to process tax returns, we had filing seasons going on. I mean, it is reasonably celebrated that some of our compliance activities have fallen off. But aside from the reasons behind that, you know, we still had to have a focus on what our responsibilities were, and so you can't undertake something like this unless you really understand the scope of what you're going to do and then be committed to that scope, because if you're not, I think what would happen is, you'd only get partway there, and you'd probably just slide back to what you had before, because it would be easier to do that.

Mr. Lawrence: What does it mean to be fully committed? I mean, how long does it take to think through these things and who all needs to be involved?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, I think "fully committed" means that you have to have a process in place that will actually help everyone understand -- in your organization -- understand where you're going. And just an example of the way we did this, and I don't think that it has to be replicated for change, but Charles Rizotti (phonetic) actually helped us completely understand that you had to bring a process to do this, because we probably could have thought through this with a very small group of people and sort of instituted this thing top-down. But I don't think it would have worked, because what he helped us understand was that we needed to have a very broad base here.

We have a couple thousand people actually involved in the re-engineering effort. And we brought employees from the lowest-grade employees we have in the organization through executives leading teams that folks were on.

We partnered with our union NTEU to pull this off. And then we used all those people that worked on the teams as ambassadors to go back out and discuss and describe what was going on -- get feedback from the rest of the rank and file, bring that back into the organization so that we could figure out how better to communicate. So when I say that, I mean, it really has to be a process that you buy into that's going to ensure that everybody feels that they at least had an opportunity to be heard in the reorganization. Not everybody's ideas were accepted. But everybody had an opportunity to actually be heard and offer suggestions. And in the end, that's actually what I think helped us tremendously.

And, you know, we're not done yet, so I'd like to declare victory, but it may be a bit too soon for that.

Mr. Cook: Well, that's actually an interesting lead-in to the next question, because the -- I would imagine that many outside of the organization have tended to view the IRS as an organization that's kind of staunchly tied to the old ways of doing things. And you just described a process that engaged a lot of internal people to come up with some new ideas.

Talk a little bit about how you worked with the teams and the individuals that your brought in to get them to start thinking about things in a different way.

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, yeah. I mean, I actually described what we did with the internal folks. We got our internal folks focused on the external activities and our partners and stakeholders that we have to deal with. So as the teams were actually responsible for looking at best practices and finding out, for example, from the Federal of Tax Administrators, you know, how they wanted to interact with the IRS in the future and the AICPA and the bar association and the Chamber of Commerce. I mean, we reached out to, literally, hundreds of stakeholders that we felt had an interest in what we were doing and had an interest in us understanding what their needs were.

And so I think by doing that, our employees then understood how important that was in order to move forward.

Mr. Cook: Got a different perspective. Good.

Mr. Lawrence: It's interesting, you've spoken a lot in terms of modernization right now about the people and the processes. And I would have guessed you would have talked about technology. How have you been using technology in the modernization?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, I mean, the organizational change was strictly a structural organizational change. And we did it in that fashion, in other words we did it without a dependency on technology for thee purpose of, if there were technology hurdles, it would not affect us reorganizing.

Having said that, our future is tied inextricably to technology improvements. I mean, I think it's reasonably well known that the IRS is tied to some 1960s architectural designs for their technology infrastructure. We're still batch processing tax returns and keeping our data in batch files. No one does that anymore that I know of and nobody, definitely no one does it in the scope that the IRS does it.

It's only been 3 years since we actually started routing telephone calls within our telephone system because prior to that we had stand-alone telephone sites out that handled geographic areas.

We are, without question, in order to make the kinds of inroads in services that we intend to provide to our customers, we have to make some dramatic changes in the way we -- in the technology that underlies that activity.

Mr. Cook: John, in general, what are some of the barriers to innovation, especially using some of the new technologies that you described -- what are some of the barriers you've run into and how have you dealt with them?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, our size, actually, has been an incredible impediment to anybody that's come in to try to help us figure out how to do things differently. Almost any contractor that's bid on any work for us has always been able to tell you, you know, how they've done things elsewhere before and how it would apply to the Internal Revenue Service, but when they get in here and actually start dealing with the problems because of the scope of the activity that we have -- we have probably one of the world's largest databases. And so clearly that's been an issue.

And so, I would say, actually, that is the biggest hurdle that we have is our size and the complexity of the work that we do has over and over gotten in our way.

Mr. Lawrence: It's a good stopping point. Stay with us through the break. When we continue our conversation with John Dalrymple of the IRS, we'll ask him about his recent recognition by Federal Computer Weekly magazine as a fed 100 executive.

This is The Business of Government Hour. (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 John Dalrymple, commissioner, Wage and Investment Division of the Internal Revenue Service. And joining us in our conversation is Jim Cook, another PWC partner.

Well, John, as I mentioned at the exit of the last segment, you were recently recognized by Federal Computer Weekly magazine as one of the Fed 100 executives for 2001, an honor that recognizes your successfully managing the Wage and Investment division.

What are some of the things that you feel were most important in your success leading the organization through this challenge?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, I'd have to say that, you know, my years in experience -- I'm a long-term employee with the IRS. I mentioned earlier, I have 26 years of experience. And I've also managed a number of different aspects of the operation here at the IRS over that period of time. And then I think, also, you know, listening to customers -- I think that's been incredibly important to me, because that's helped me reframe and rethink a lot of the old attitudes I had about how to do business.

So I guess if I -- I mean those would be the things I would say that helped me to be recognized here.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let me ask that question about experience. There's a lot of experienced people who aren't successful. So what is it about the experience that has enabled you to succeed?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, I actually think that the fact -- I'll say my varied experiences, because I've had a lot of different jobs at the IRS. I've lived in, you know, seven different states, and I've had, you know, eight or nine different jobs at the IRS. I've managed -- in the field, I've had the experience of actually having face-to-face activities with taxpayers and I was a collection officer when I started my career. So, you know, I've had the opportunity to sit down across the table from someone who owed taxes and talk about how they were going to satisfy those taxes.

I've also had lots of opportunities to hear feedback from our customers about what they -- what their experiences are -- at lots of different levels in the organization. And so I think that's really what I talk about when I say I've had a lot of experiences.

And I think the other thing is, I've also had the benefit of a lot of people helping me understand what it means to lead people, because leading people isn't always about, you know, pulling out your sword and your shield and marching forward. Most of the time, it's actually listening to the people that you work with and your customers to figure out what the best solutions are.

In fact, every management job I ever had, I've always felt that I learned more from the people who I was so-called managing than they ever learned from me. Now, I don't know that that's actually true or not, but it's definitely the way I felt about it.

Mr. Cook: Well, that's an interesting point, because you've mentioned the people aspect a number of times in the earlier sections. Talk a little bit about what you've done with your division to keep your people involved and to really lead them versus manage them.

Mr. Dalrymple: Yeah, I think what I've done is that I -- I'm out constantly in the field organization. I generally am in the field at least twice a month. And by "the field," I mean I'm at a center, at a call site. I have focus group interviews with employees and managers. I listen in on telephone calls so that I can hear the customer experience. I'll sit down with an examination employee in the center and go -- and literally sit through and work through an examination case. Or I'll listen in on collection calls and work an inventory by myself. I'll go out in the field to one of our tax assistance centers and actually have an experience helping someone across the counter during the filing season or off-filing season.

I mean, that's how I stay in touch with what's going on. And it's also how I stay in touch with what the real experiences our customers and our employees are having. So then when I have an opportunity to make decisions about things, I'm informed by what I've seen and what I've touched. And in addition to that, I have a little more credibility when I make a decision; it doesn't sound like it's the soundest decision by my employees, they tend to give me a little bit of benefit of the doubt, because they know that I understand what their jobs are.

Mr. Lawrence: We understand that the IRS has become a flatter organization in terms of management layers. What kind of benefits and challenges has this presented for the Wage and Investment Division?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, I mean, the thing that's made the most positive impact, without question, is getting messages out. I mean, anytime you have to filter messages through lots of layers, they get garbled. So the fewer layers there are, the more direct and clear the messages are.

In terms of challenges, the amount of work we have on our plate with a restructured organization, all the re-engineering that we're doing along our business practices and then trying to deliver a whole new IT environment, technologywise, there's a tremendous drain on our management capacity. And so, you know, that layer that we took out was somewhat comfortable in terms of having people available to fill some of the capacity needs that we have. So I mean, it's always -- the glass is only half full or half empty. It's neither full or empty here. So it's not without a bit of strain to lose the management level. But, you know, overall, long-term, I think it will pay big dividends.

Mr. Lawrence: What's the feedback from the staff below the management level that got taken out about the removal of that layer?

Mr. Dalrymple: That's a great question, because we've been actually sitting down and talking to them. Initially, they were pretty concerned that a lot more work was just going to sort of fall on them. And in fact, some work did shift to them, but what we tried to do is also take some other work away from them.

And we're actually still working through that whole activity about what's important to be done, what's not important to be done, what can literally be taken off the table? Also, we're trying to look at pay-banding for our first-line managers so that, in fact, they can be compensated at higher rates for doing more and, frankly, more challenging work than they've done before.

I think overall, they're starting to step into those jobs and appreciate them more. But there's anxiety still.

Mr. Cook: What about the performance aspect of that, with all the changes that you've talked about in flattening the organization? What have you done differently to measure the performance of the management and the staff level below management and make everyone accountable for achieving the new mission?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, we have a lot of new measures in place. And certainly, we have a balance measures approach in the Internal Revenue Service: employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and business results. And even the business results are balanced between a productivity and a quality measure.

And what we're doing, actually, is bringing those measurements as low in the organization as we possibly can with the management information systems that we currently have in place, and making people as responsible as possible for -- on the outcomes there. And frankly, we're pretty embryonic with some of this. Our customer satisfaction measures are really, in terms of our surveys and the -- and our measurement tools are only a couple years old, and we're still understanding a lot of the information we're getting back from them.

And even though we've had an employee satisfaction survey for the last 7 years, we changed it dramatically this year with a new contractor, so -- in fact, almost baselining that activity again this.

So I guess what I'd say is, we have some pretty sound measures in place, and we're driving them down as low as we can in the organization. But they're not as well understood as I'd like them to be. And I also think that it is going to take a little bit of time to ensure we've got the exactly correct -- especially productivity measures out there.

Mr. Lawrence: Adopting some of these new performance measurement systems means dropping some of the other indicators and targets, including collection or lien amounts.

What kind of activities are you undertaking to communicate these changes to folks who were perhaps used to the previous measures?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, we've actually done a lot around communicating the new balanced-measures approach. All of our first-line managers have -- and employees -- have been through balanced measures training about what it means, what we're going to be measuring in the future, et cetera.

We haven't thrown away all of our old productivity measures by any means. And in fact, many of them are very good measures; they're diagnostic in nature. But they're only numbers, and it's really getting behind those numbers that are important. So for example, no one is -- we're still looking to see how many liens we file. We don't hold individuals responsible for how many liens they file, but corporately look at how many liens were filed, and if the numbers fall off dramatically or increase dramatically, I want to know what's going on to cause that to happen, from an impact on our employees and our customers.

So it is really a matter of the use of the measures as opposed to what the measures are.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. Stay with us through the break. When we come back, we'll ask John Dalrymple of the IRS how the IRS is preparing its workforce for the future. With all the possible retirements, let's find out if anyone will be left.

This is The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with John Dalrymple, commission, Wage and Investment Division of the Internal Revenue Service. And joining us in our conversation is Jim Cook, another PWC partner.

Mr. Cook: Thanks, Paul. John, let's focus on the future for a minute. One of the things that we're hearing from a lot of agencies is the concern over the future of the workforce. And there's a lot being said about the retirement wave that's coming. Can you talk a little bit about the impact you expect that to have on the IRS and what you're doing to respond to that or mitigate the risk there?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, there's a couple things going on. First, the IRS was granted quite a bit of flexibility by Congress through the IRS restructuring their format. And it's helped us to actually fill quite a few key executive roles in the IRS. And that's a big help, because we have had a number of people leave the organization. And in addition to that, it's brought in a lot of new ideas to help us move forward.

And I think the second part to that has to do with, you know, how are we going to recruit people into the organization sort of the next generation of IRS folks to come in here? We haven't done a lot of hiring at the IRS, really, in the last 5 or 6 years, primarily because of the budget situation. And we're out -- we're doing a lot of recruiting and hiring this year. And I actually think the recent slowdown in the economy has helped us, actually, in some of our ability to recruit.

And we've been trying to use some best practices in private industry that we've -- that we've seen to have the -- to make sure that we've got recruits with the right aptitudes. In the past, we'd go out and recruit people for our telephone sites, basically, just put out an advertisement and bring in as many people who applied, interview them, and then put them on the telephone. We contracted recently with a couple of search firms to help us determine aptitudes for people for telephone work and we actually got that as a best practice from a couple of pretty successful call centers in private industry.

So, you know, we're doing things a little bit differently than we've done in the past in terms of making sure we got a correct match for the people when they get here -- the jobs we have.

Mr. Lawrence: How about the retention of the workers, especially the technology workers? Does the IRS have any special programs in place to ensure that?

Mr. Dalrymple: We actually have and have had -- and I'm, frankly, no sure what we're doing right now, today, but for a period of time, especially during the Y2K time frame, we were paying stipends up to 25 percent retention bonuses to a lot of our IT folks. And I believe, actually, that those have -- at least some, if not all, of those have expired. But, clearly, if we need to do that, that's something we're going to do.

Mr. Lawrence: Looking at people who may be considering coming into public service, what type of advice would you give to a young person who is considering a career in public service?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, I'd say, first of all, if you were coming to work for the Internal Revenue Service, that we're looking for people who like a good challenge. We have lots to do here.

I think, also, it's interesting -- and I suspect this is true of many agencies, although I've only worked for the IRS, there's a real feeling of family in these organizations once you come on the job and work. I've been to lots of retirements for different people over my career, and the one thing that people say when they leave the IRS, sometimes they're not all that unhappy about leaving the job that they had and coming to work on Monday mornings, but they're always sad to be leaving the people that they work with.

So -- and I think that's because we do have a difficult job. We oftentimes do have shots taken at us from outside the agency. People don't really understand what we're about. And so it brings -- it brings us, actually, close together, people who are working inside the agency. And I think people who like that kind of environment -- which really is sort of a family kind of an environment -- really do thrive in the IRS.

Mr. Lawrence: What type of skills would a young person need should they be interested in working for the IRS?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, I think definitely the ability to meet and deal with people is a very primary skill for working in the Internal Revenue service. A good number of our jobs are -- require that kind of activity.

And then, also, being a part of a team. People who can problem-solve with other people do well with the Internal Revenue Service. And, frankly, it's a skill that if you don't have it, you need to develop anyway, because I'm not sure you can be too successful these days without that skill.

So, you know, other than that, I wouldn't tell anybody that, just because you're not an accountant or a tax attorney, not to come to the IRS. I think, frankly, bright people who can deal with other people and who problem-solve in a team environment can work here and have very fruitful careers.

Mr. Cook: What's your vision over the next 5 years for customer service -- when you look out into the future, how do you think the IRS is going to be doing business with taxpayers?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, first of all, there'll be a lot less reliance on individual compliance activities and a lot more on helping people comply before they get into trouble. I mean, that's clearly going to be the case.

Then, in addition to that, I mean, I do have a vision on how things might work around here in the future. We're going to have an incredible amount of interactive services on the Internet. I mean, I think you'll see virtual offices, literally, online for people. Anything you could do in a walk-in center, you'll be able to do over the Internet.

We're going to have world-class telephone service here. We're really on the threshold of some big things with our telephone service. I mean, clearly, people -- we'll be in 90 -- 95 percent level service ranges. You know, a few seconds hold and wait times. And then very easy, accessible offices to provide the face-to-face services for the people who really need that. So, you know, my perspective is that there's just an incredible amount of new things going to happen in the IRS over the next 10 years.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the implications of that vision on the workforce -- does it have the right skills now, and will this mean more IRS employees?

Mr. Dalrymple: I don't know that it will ever mean more IRS employees. But I think -- what the commissioner has said over and over again is that we'll get more efficient. Our work is ever expanding, but we need to get more efficient so that we maintain the basic employee base that we have now. We're refreshing that base as we get attrition each year, which is important. But that we have -- we will be retraining our employees fairly constantly as new and better approaches deal with taxpayer population evolve here.

We're going to be going from a much less, I'll call it, almost factory environment, if you look at our processing centers, to a much more service-oriented environment for our employees. So we'll have a lot fewer people data entering things off tax returns in the future, because, frankly, most of that will come into us electronically in the 8-to-10 year environment that you asked me about here. And so those employees will migrate into jobs that are, frankly, a lot more interesting and challenging than they have now.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about -- how about in terms of the vision, then, for management? You talk about management saying -- managing the factory versus now the managing these knowledge workers doing these incredibly complex things. How do you see the management skills changing?

Mr. Dalrymple: Well, I think our management skills are going to have to evolve along with the workforce that we have, clearly, again, this whole concept of team environment, as opposed to, you know, managing a group of people who are just doing what you tell them to do.

You're now going to be managing people in an environment where you're going to be team problem-solving and then going out and implementing actions and activities that you, as a team, decided were the right things to do. And that is -- that is a different skill than a lot of people currently have and it is one that we're trying, even as we speak, that's a skill that we're trying to ensure that our management cadre is endowed with.

Mr. Lawrence: How about the general vision for the IRS over the next 10 years? Would you describe customer service? When we think about the IRS 10 years from now, will it be any different?

Mr. Dalrymple: That's pretty difficult to say. You know, our mission -- even though our mission statement -- we changed our mission statement, but our -- you know, the basic mission of the Internal Revenue Service is to collect taxes. That's not going to change.

The reason we're in business is to make sure that people pay their fair share. Now, how they do that, in terms of whether or not you help them understand their responsibilities on the front end so that they voluntarily comply, or whether you have a huge compliance workforce on the back end to go out and make sure they comply, I think is the basic difference what the future looks like and what the past looked like.

Mr. Lawrence: I think that's a great stopping point. John, Jim and I want to thank you very much for spending time with us today. We've had a very interesting conversation.

Mr. Dalrymple: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with John Dalrymple, commissioner of Wage and Investment Division of the Internal Revenue 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. And at this website, you can also get a transcript of today's very interesting conversation.

See you next week.

Mark McCloy interview

Friday, July 13th, 2001 - 19:00
Mark McCloy
Radio show date: 
Sat, 07/14/2001
Intro text: 
Mark McCloy
Complete transcript: 

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and 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 its programs 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 conversation today is with Dick Burk, Associate Deputy Chief Information Officer for IT Reform. Welcome, Dick.

Mr. Burk: Hi, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: And Mark McCloy, Director Office of Information Technology Reform. Welcome, Mark.

Mr. McCloy: Thank you, good afternoon.

Mr. Lawrence: Both Dick and Mark are in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at HUD.

Well, as you can tell from our introductions, today's guests are going to talk to us about dealing with technology but first let's start by finding out more about HUD. Could you tell us about HUD and its missions?

Mr. Burk: Certainly. HUD is the cabinet-level agency that's charged with the responsibility for providing a decent home and a suitable living environment free of discrimination for every American and a relatively small federal agency, only 10,000 in number, compared to most other federal agencies but we have a fairly large budget, 32 billion a year, to carry out this mission.

We carry this out through alliances with state and local governments, with nonprofit community-based organizations, with about 3,400 housing authorities around the United States, and with several thousand lenders. So it's a large operation even though we're relatively small. So we partner a lot which has implications for the technology we utilize and for other management decisions that we make.

Mr. Lawrence: And tell us about the office of the Chief Information Officer.

Mr. McCloy: Basically the Office of the Chief Information Officer handles the technology at HUD. We run the systems. We build a lot of the software along with our contractors. We're responsible for the operating systems, the technology of the future for HUD, the technology of the present for HUD, and we still have a lot of technology in the past at HUD.

Mr. Lawrence: And let's bring it all the way back, then. What are the activities under the purview of the Office of IT Reform?

Mr. McCloy: I think that's probably easily summarized. We try to make sound business judgments for information technology investments, things like software, things like hardware, things like tele-communications networks. What is the best return on investment for the government? What is the best investment for HUG in general? You can look at a lot of dollars that we actually do spend but those dollar are in short supply because they're appropriated dollars and the idea is to get the best for HUD on any given year and get a project that can improve the general welfare of the people who use our services, the people who receive grants from HUD.

So it's a challenging job because we don't have enough money in any one to do everything that we'd like to do so we try to figure out what's best. A group of us get together often and analyze information technology, what we want to do, what can serve the public, what can serve our other business partners, other government agencies, and how we would get from one place to another in a short period of time with a reasonable return on the federal dollars that we invest.

Mr. Lawrence: Give us a sense of the order of magnitude. How many people at HUD are working on technology and what type of people are they? Are they just the stereotypic computer science folks or are there other disciplines?

Mr. McCloy: A lot of our folks are not the computer scientists. A lot of our folks are people who run contracts. We have an incredible amount of contractors within our organization so our job is to clearly understand a requirement from a user community and to build the system that would actually make that job profitable for the federal government. "Profitable's" not maybe the right word but when can we get a system deployed, when can we get an actual benefit to the people that we actually work with on a daily or a weekly basis?

Mr. Lawrence: And tell us about your careers.

Mr. Burk: Well, my career with the federal service actually started back in 1974 at HUD. I tell people sometimes, you know, I came to HUD when Nixon was in office. I tell that to some of the interns and they almost die thinking how early that was. But I was in the United States Peace Corps overseas and knew I wanted to spend some time in public service, came back, got a graduate degree in public administration, worked for the City of Columbus, Ohio, and anytime you're in the public sector you ought to spend sometime with the feds. So I came to Washington, D.C., and came to work at HUD, mostly in the program area.

The majority of my career is in running grant programs, housing rehabilitation. Housing finance is probably my deep skill. And coming into the information technology field, which I only really did about six years ago, mid-nineties, what you come to is you really bring the program side to this. And I have a bias, obviously, toward the business end of our endeavor.

So getting IT, information technology, to support the business area is properly what I bring to this and I got started several years ago with a geographic information system that we developed at HUD and it was very successful and then parlayed that into enterprise-wide systems and now into a cheap architect role at HUD.

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

Mr. McCloy: A long time ago in a place far, far away at Social Security Administration I started to build the first COBOL programs for Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. So a lot of my early experience was with large master files and in the federal service. I'm in the federal service because it's a good job. It's an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. There have been very many long days. I mean, most people say well, when was the time that you were at 3:00 a.m. in the morning on the job and I can remember some of those days at IBM running benchmarks on computer programs.

From Social Security Administration I moved into the private sector for a short bit of time and then back into the government at the Department of Commerce. One of the projects that I was involved in at Commerce had to do with the NEXRAD (?) radar. NEXRAD radar is the weather radar that's used throughout the United States and in our territories which actually brings us day to day weather.

I think that the crowning achievement of that was that we were able to forecast weather fairly accurately. Within four hours we were dead center on accuracy. We were able to predict tornadoes before they killed people. We were able to save lives. So that to me was probably one of the crowning achievements that I helped manage.

I was actually the program manager and fielded the first ten units for the NEXRAD radar. And the other 162 units fielded at that time were throughout the country while I moved onto another project.

Went back into the private sector and played IPO in a time that might not have been a good IPO time. So I had a very good offer from HUD to come in and help run the Office of Information Technology Reform, which is an interesting commodity in government because now you're applying business rules to the federal government and trying to make wise financial decisions when you're going to invest money.

That's something that when you're looking at an IPO and some of the different problems that you have are very, very similar in nature. So if you put the two together I'm a dead ringer for something called IT reform and how do you do a project, how do you build the system.

I was fortunate because I'm one of the older folks that have actually done a real web-type program. I've been involved with the Internet and we've made some money through the Internet in the company that I was involved in which at that time became a little bit difficult as the market did its topsy-turvy things.

But smart business people can survive in any kind of a market. Why did I come into the government? It's a good job. Don't kid yourself. I mean, we make good bucks and we have a good time doing it and plus there's some incredible challenges in working with people and working with systems that are 20 years old and working with systems that are one minute old.

So it's an interesting place to be and the folks I work with are very interesting, also.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with Dick Burk and Mark McCloy about innovation at HUD, find out more about the information technology that they're using when The Business of Government Hour continues.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and our conversation is with Dick Burk and Mark McCloy of the Office of the Chief Information Officer at HUD.

We know that HUD has completed an enterprise architecture plan in the last year. Could you tell us what this is and how you went about completing the plan?

Mr. Burk: Well, I might take just a second to say we didn't complete the plan. We've just begun, in fact. There isn't really a plan per se when you talk about enterprise architecture as much as it is a process for bringing all the relevant parties together to make sure that the information technology appropriately supports the business mission and does it in a way, as Mark points out, that we get a decent return on that investment.

That return is that we're able to deliver the message, get the information to whomever needs it at the right time, and get the right information there. So the architecture helps you do that in the sense because it's basically divided up into four layers as we characterized it.

You have the business architecture itself. What is HUD's business from a functional point of view? Then what information does it need in order to support those business lines? So you have an information layer, if you will, and that is architected in a particular way, then the applications that those data are manipulated by, and then the systems and the technologies that are utilized that those applications reside on.

And you want to be able then clearly to interrelate those four layers and so one of the processes that we were able to develop to help was a tool that we borrowed from the Customs Office, where it was initially developed, and this was a way to give us a picture of our current state of the architecture. And then you could go into any one of those levels and look up, let's say, if I went in the applications layer and I took a look at all of the applications that HUD has. We have 241 information systems at HUD. That tells you something, a little bit.

So you want to be able to look up to see well, what data do those systems manipulate and in support of what business line and then look down to be able to see well, what is the architecture that it resides on. And you can come in at any layer and take a look at those aspects.

So if you want to then go in to modify the systems or develop a new system or eliminate one of the systems or achieve other goals, end obsolescence, reduce redundancies where appropriate, or introduce new technologies you then have an ability to be able to say okay, I want to carry out that project. How does that now impact my whole architecture, and how am I now bringing that whole system along because this is a moving target, we have additional drivers, we have new laws that get passed, new policies by the new administration.

You want to be able to accommodate those and to accommodate them quickly because you cannot have these long 12-, 18-, 24-month window of opportunity. For most of the folks that come to HUD that are in political positions that's their term here and they want to get a response fairly quick.

So you have to be able to be able to respond quickly. You have levels of complexity here within, as anybody who deals in this field understands, so responding to both of those plus the changing technology really force you to need to do this with engineer principles, with architecture in mind, and not simply happenstance as perhaps it has been done in the past.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the implications of enterprise architecture on IT capital investment?

Mr. Burk: Anytime you want to make a decision with regard to a particular project, and Mark really heads up this area, you want to be able to say is this in conformance with where we as an organization, as an entity, want to go in information technology. And you need to be able to answer that question at a variety of levels.

It may be in support of the business line appropriately but it's not in tune with appropriate technology. We may be collecting a lot of that information. As you well know, as most people in large organizations know, we collect a lot of different kinds of information and sometimes we don't even know the data that we collect.

And so in a response to developing a new system we may say okay, let's develop a whole brand-new system and we'll go out one more time to the public and we'll ask those kinds of questions and get that data in when we are already doing that. So we need to know already what data that we have. And in every one of these areas, you want to be able to do it as intelligently as possible, in line with new technology, and at a cost that is reasonable.

Mr. Lawrence: What lessons have you learned from this process?

Mr. Burk: How tough it is to get everybody on the same sheet of paper because this is a collaborative effort. This is not a group of architects who sit in the room and decide by themselves and then come out with a set of standards or guidelines. If anybody attempts to do that we know that will fail.

So it must be a collaborative effort with the business side as well as the IT side and, as I was saying beforehand, coming from the business side I appreciate that very much and in order to get buy-in from the business area they need to participate in the development of the standards themselves and then approve them.

So I think that is one big lesson that you learn, plus it's very important to make sure that there is a process, again I go into that, for having the individual business areas come together and see the commonalities that they have. So at HUD we have public and Indian housing, we have the Office of Housing, which is single-family and multi-family, and we have community planning and development. Lots of times they operate in their own particular stovepipes. The systems get built appropriately as well.

So to afford them the opportunity to come together to see some of the same common issues that they're dealing with some of the same clients and need to be addressed and need to be supported in IT with the common platforms, the common data elements, with common systems.

Mr. Lawrence: We also know that HUD has recently completed an e-government strategic plan. Could you tell us about this plan?

Mr. Burk: What we've done is gone out and taken a look at both our business partners and the citizens and HUD folks themselves internally and say how can we better connect with them utilizing the Internet. We did a couple of things, took a look across the entire panoply of programs that we have and identified certain particular areas that were appropriate that worked for us and then tried to project out into the future what are some other things we could do.

For example, we sell 70,000 properties a year at HUD that come into our portfolio and we have a lot of people who come to our Internet page and say gee, I've had a life-changing experience. I've got divorced or just got out of jail or something along that line. Can the federal government help me in terms of does it have a house that I might be able apply to?

So having that connection with the public directly is part of our Internet strategy. As I mentioned beforehand, most of our business, though, is done through outside organizations, business partners. So the whole issue of how do we work with those business partners to serve citizens becomes critical for us.

So for us it becomes very much government to business or government to government and our e-strategy emphasizes those areas in particular.

HUD is very location-specific. We are in 90,000 locations every day. So knowing where we are working across the entire enterprise is critically important so one of the things that we have developed and we'll just be rolling out this month in fact will be a presence on the Internet on our home page, geographic information system, that ties together a variety of data sources within HUD and answers the question what is HUD doing in my area, in my congressional district, or my city, or even my neighborhood? And go in and zero on down to that, answer those kinds of questions across the entire range of HUD's programs. That's useful. Those are some parts and elements of the strategy itself.

Mr. Lawrence: HUD has also taken steps to improve its financial management of the IT capital investment process. Could you tell us more about these activities?

Mr. McCloy: I think I can help on that. Last year we really got into it heavy. My boss, Deborah Stoffer, actually was the leader in putting the programs together supported by our Chief Information Officer, Gloria Parker. But the idea in capital planning and what we've done over the past is we try to establish a baseline.

A baseline's established on schedule, a baseline's established on cost, and a baseline is established on risk and technical involvement. And effectively every quarter we sit down with about 200 different projects and their project managers and find out how folks are doing against those plans that they originally created and we use a term called "earned value."

The term "earned value" means where are you when you said you would be someplace in time and dollars expended. If you're behind schedule and have got some problems then we try to help by slowing the project down some. If you're ahead of schedule and you need more money then we're happy to try to move more money around within the organization so that you can make the day and your project a little bit better.

So it's an involved process. It's checked often through technical reviews and these control reviews, and we try to do what's best globally for HUD.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Today's conversation is with Dick Burk, Associate Deputy Chief Information Officer for IT Reform, and Mark McCloy, Director, Office of Information Technology Reform, in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at HUD.

Well, let me follow up on our last segment. The Information Technology Reform Office supports the Technology Investment Board Executive Committee. Could you tell us about the Technology Investment Board?

Mr. McCloy: Yes, and maybe the way to describe it is through a process. I had mentioned on a quarterly basis we got together and reviewed projects and on a yearly basis we get together and review what is going to be funded. But after we review it we make recommendations to what we call the Technology Investment Board Executive Committee. This is the committee headed by the Secretary of HUD and all the assistant secretaries are members of the Board.

So once we've made technical decisions these folks can sit down and apply whatever decisions or priorities they wish. If they disagree with us then they change whatever they want to change.

It could be that the Secretary of HUD decides that he wants to put emphasis on Project X or bring in his own project and he wants to apply different funds for that. Obviously that is a go at that point but the issue would be we only have so many dollars. So we try to figure out where the dollars will be subtracted and how we can do a secretarial or an assistant-secretarial initiative at that point.

So we recommend to the Executive Committee exactly what we think is best for HUD and they either agree or disagree. Most of the time they do agree but, as I said, if they have some priority that they want to make happen or put more emphasis or more dollars on something then they do it.

And the system actually works. It gets a little difficult because there are limited dollars and on an average year we probably have 30 to 40 percent more requests for dollars than we actually have dollars so obviously we've got to figure out what is the best process to make this happen.

We try to do it. We recommend where the best returns on investment are and the Executive Board chaired by the secretary actually make it happen. Until their approval, nothing is real.

Mr. Lawrence: We understand that the Office of IT Reform is charged with developing and implementing an IT performance measurement program. Could you tell us about the program you're currently using?

Mr. McCloy: Basically we're in the process of developing the performance measurement program. That is the tail end of the process. When we put together an investment portfolio what we sit down and say is that we need X dollars and at some point in time something will happen. That something is measured after the system is delivered.

We're in the process of trying to put it together with other federal agencies, how you measure performance at the end of the process, but it really isn't the end. This is the many years, the operational dollars that are important to the government on a year to year time frame.

If we said that we're going to process 10,000 new housing applications in six months are we doing that? Does the system meet up to that? Does it need more dollars to do it? Is the system that we have in place the wrong system, meaning that it might have been aged technology because it takes a while to field some of the systems out there and we might need new technology.

Obviously there's new software released every day and we might have to upgrade it.

It continues the process through the entire life cycle by measuring it when we actually have an operational system and it's done by establishing a baseline and then reporting against the baseline that you've already established.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let me skip back to the beginning of the process because the Office of IT Reform is charged with conducting economic and risk analysis of proposed IT projects. What lessons could you pass along to other government leaders about undertaking these types of reviews prior to committing to an IT project?

Mr. McCloy: First thing, pay attention to your mission. Don't go outside of the mission of the department. A lot of folks we talk about creeping requirements. Don't do that. I mean, do what the mission says.

If it's housing, stick with housing. If it's safe housing, stick within the parameters of safe housing. Understand clearly what your requirements are and don't go monkeying around with them and get user buy-in. Too many projects in the federal government we haven't had a clear understanding of what the user said and we chase the project all the way around the scoreboard and can't figure out what the actual requirement was.

You have to put those in concrete and you have to make sure that senior management has a positive buy-in, they understand what you're going to do, and then do it, and don't keep changing the requirements. So effectively the lesson learned is hold the folks to the task that they agreed on before they got the capital venture from the United States Treasury.

That's it. They made a deal with a requirement and you don't go changing it in the middle unless you get senior-level approval that you're going to pitch a different way. And, I mean, when you don't it doesn't work. I mean, we have too many projects in government that just don't work.

Mr. Lawrence: Other guests have discussed the difficult --

Mr. McCloy: Of course, we don't have them at HUD.

Mr. Burk: No, that's right. Yes, HUD to the contrary notwithstanding.

Mr. Lawrence: Other guests have discussed the difficulties in implementing large IT projects or even halting the momentum of an expensive project. How do you deal with those two issues?

Mr. McCloy: One of the things that we've learned about building software over the last ten years is small teams work very, very well; large teams don't work. To me if a project is off-track cut the dollars, slow it down, get different management running the project.

Bring in a superstar or two or a technical wizard or genius. They're few and far between but when you bring them in, I mean, there are folks that are gifted and talented in the government doing fellowships, et cetera, or you could bring in a Lincoln Lab. You can bring in a very, very credible organization that has faced the same problems in another place and let them help you and don't be so "prideful" is the right word that you won't listen to some of the advice that they give you.

Go back, make sure that your users are happy. If your user is unhappy, take a hike. I mean, it's the bottom line. Dick?

Mr. Burk: Well, I think experience is the key factor here that you're looking for. Even if somebody is terribly bright and understands a particular field, whether it be data warehousing or whatever it happens to be, but if they haven't walked through that once before, if they haven't walked through that in a pretty good-sized organization and understood not just the technology or it but the other side of it, how do you get and maintain user buy-in to the project at hand and extend it over a period of time?

Some people use it as terminology is marketing. I don't know if I would really talk about that but there's an educational process in it and there is a constant feedback loop back to the business owners and to the people affected that has to happen as you move through the development of the project in order to sustain that kind of support.

In those instances where the project is going South you can have the best policemen in the world but I will tell you that the end user, the project buyer, will let you know soon enough if that thing is going wrong.

Then what you need to have is a mechanism in place so that issues around that project can get surfaced and get dealt with. Some folks talk about having an enterprise-wide project management office, some office where you can go to say hey, I've got a serious problem here. I've had changing requirements or the user-owner has changed and therefore has a different set of requirements or we've run into a snag here technically and we need to get this resolved.

We either need to bring in somebody stronger or we need to reconfigure the integrated product team or a whole variety of other factors. We need to take a look at the new technology because something's gone wrong with the firm or something's gone wrong with the technology in a place where the project director can get that resolved and then move on and do it quickly.

So much of the real problems that I have experienced and seen, some firsthand, I might admit, have been simply that these things have let go and there's not a resolution of the issue quickly.

Mr. Lawrence: What's the relationship between strategy and IT modernization?

Mr. McCloy: I think when you're trying to do a strategy you're trying to look at a process that will get you to a location in time and place and equipment. Where IT modernization is you just might have to crank something up that actually is more compatible to the technology of the day. You really have to sit down and think before you act.

I learned something from NASA a long time ago. And what I learned is if you have ten seconds to solve a problem use the first nine to think about it and do it in the tenth.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good point for a break. Coming up, we'll discuss the expected wave of retirements and find out whose going to be running HUD. More of The Business of Government Hour in just a minute.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Today's conversation is with Dick Burk, Associate Deputy Chief Information Officer for IT Reform, and Mark McCloy, Director, Office of Information Technology Reform, in the Office of the Chief Information Officer of HUD.

One of the many challenges facing organizations is recruiting and employees, especially in the technology sector. How do you find this at HUD?

Mr. Burk: Yes, it is a serious problem, to restate it. We lost a large cadre of our technology folks several years ago as HUD moved from approximately 17,300 down to 9,300. Similarly, at that same time, as I mentioned earlier, you go from 3,400 loans per day to 5,400 loans per day. In an earlier time we were not making any homeless grants. We now make close to 5,500 grants a year.

So the work has gone up exponentially while the staff has been cut in half and if you really have IT supporting the business that means IT grows, the number of systems, the size, the complexity of them enormously, and the need to move quicker and at the same time you don't have the people around.

So we've relied heavily on contractors. We've made certain issues clear to the contractors who do come on board with us and that is that we are in a partnership role. We will try as best we can to define precisely what it is we want, the deliverable out of every task and contract, and hold contractors responsible.

We ask them to take a little bit broader view of the role. We can't write into every contract exactly this partnership role, although we try to articulate it, but, as one of the examples I used earlier, when you think about well, what is going to be the buy-in to this particular piece of technology that I am preparing and developing, how is that organization going to adapt accordingly, I expect a contractor to think through that. I expect a contractor to make suggestions to me with regard to all right, now would be an appropriate time now to begin to approach these levels. At HUD we see that they are responding or have the potential to respond or need to buy into the technology or buy into the solution right now and so that's what we do.

Mr. Lawrence: There's a lot of talk about partnership and even you talked about it broadly when you said think broadly. What does partnership mean to you?

Mr. Burk: Well, to understand HUD in its broader context, not just the 9,300 people in the 88 field offices, to understand our business and our business is working with these business partners and so when a contractor comes in I expect them to understand that concept.

It is a special relationship. I don't know if it is unique in the federal government but certainly working with state and local government folks we offer them maximum feasible participation in deciding where those dollars go and how HUD business is developed and worked. That is a critical piece to the way we work. Understanding that is part of being a business partner.

I think there are other aspects to it as well. I suppose maybe it's similar to other areas of the government where you really are sitting side by side at the table together and you ask them to participate, be critical. This is not just a one-sided relationship. I expect this is a two-way conversation. I will be critical of them but I expect them to also come back to us and say we don't see it that way at all. Here's the way we see it type of thing.

That's an honest relationship. That's an honest partnering relationship and we look for it. I might add I think that's exactly what we've gotten from PWC and other contractors.

Mr. Lawrence: Are you concerned as the skills of the technologists at HUD change from perhaps people who were hands-on doing all the work before to now the people who monitor contractors?

Mr. McCloy: Our skill base has changed. I mean, clearly I grew up in an environment where I was a programmer and now I'm having to give those instructions to a contractor and it's difficult because there's a ton of rules and regulations and codes that have to be followed and the penalty for not following some of those can be career-ending.

And it's important, this partnership, that you work with a team, that everybody understands the same general guidelines, the same general rules, that you have to play by and then you try to make it work the best.

I mean, I always try to explain it like the 4 by 100 relay. When you pass that baton the Olympic team's done it 1,000 times and when you're passing information, data requirements, hopefully you're passing it friendly to the contractor, the contractors are working in a friendly environment with you, and that it's a team effort.

And every once in a while I always like to say when I've screwed up something my team knows what to say. They say what Mark really meant to say was, and that's the indication, Mark, you just blew it. Let's try something else.

And it has to work that way. You can't be afraid to say if something is really off the wall or something is really good, and they don't want to be in a position when something's really good to let it go by the board. I mean, you don't want to have somebody in a meeting who's a dynamic super-star but out of his field for that day dominate a meeting. So it's interesting.

Mr. Burk: Getting back to that issue about the partnership, there are times when a contractor needs to come in and say look, for the dollars that you're asking for and for what you're looking for you're not going to get there, given our best experience. Now, that is very tough for a contractor, particularly because they're going to say well, the likelihood here is they may terminate the contract and I'll be out and I just spent a lot of money bidding on this thing.

So I fully understand the pressures on the both sides. There is another day and this is a relationship that is being built between a contractor and HUD and we want to maintain that and I think the contractor does, too.

The worst thing that can happen is for the contract to go forward, HUD not to be satisfied or the government entity not to be satisfied, and the thing falls on its face. And you go back to the contractor, the contractor says well, this is what you asked me for. You've articulated and you say well, okay, fine, we'll deal with someone else from now on, thank you.

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

Mr. Burk: Oh, come in. It's very interesting. Everybody's talking about the dearth of folks who want to come into the federal government. I don't believe that's true at all. We announced 700 positions, I think, back in the fall or back last year and we had 27,000 applications. I mean, it was just phenomenal.

So I think people do want to come into public service. It's a challenge. Where else would you find this kind of breadth moving from all of the different fields that are represented even just in one agency like, HUD?

I've found it fascinating over the years as I've moved around within HUD from policy development and research to the program areas into IT, into the Office of Administration. And the ability to move around and move up and have increasingly challenging positions, I think, is very appealing.

Mr. McCloy: Let me sum it up maybe a different way. Federal employees led the mission to put a man on the moon and federal employees put thousands of people in homes along with our partners in government and in housing authorities have put thousands and thousands of people in homes. What an incredible challenge to make the planet a tad bit better.

Mr. Lawrence: What kinds of skills would you recommend a young person have or what were you looking for in those 27,000 applications?

Mr. Burk: Well, the breadth of capabilities. It's hard to be specific about that. I don't think it's any different from in the private sector. You're looking for some deep skill, some skill that a person feels associated with and comfortable with, whether that be budgeting or finance or IT in a particular area but some grounding and then the ability to remain flexible and the willingness to continue to learn because I hate to hear this but when I came into the federal service the thought that I would be in IT later on was the most foreign thing in the world.

And so the willingness to learn and the ability to then stay current, those are some qualities. I think you have to be creative and that's a funny word to use. A lot of people don't think about that in the federal government but I think you have to be creative, particularly, like, in the scenario I painted beforehand where you have twice the work and one half the people and you still need to make things work and work better than they had earlier. You have to be creative to be able to do that.

Mr. McCloy: And they would be working with dynamic personality people like Dick and myself and that is a real plus.

Mr. Burk: Oh, my gosh, we just lost thousands of people who potentially would come to HUD, Mark. Watch out.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, that's probably a good point to end because I'm afraid we're out of time. Dick and Mark, I want to thank you very much for our conversation today. It's been fascinating.

Mr. Burk: Thank you, Paul, very much.

Mr. McCloy: Thank you, have a good day, and Go, Redskins.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Dick Burk and Mark McCloy of HUD.

To learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness visit us on the Web at endowment.pwcglobal.com. And at the site you can also get a copy of today's transcript of this interesting and insightful conversation.

See you next week.

John Helgerson interview

Friday, July 6th, 2001 - 19:00
John Helgerson
Radio show date: 
Sat, 07/07/2001
Intro text: 
John Helgerson
Complete transcript: 

Washington, D.C.

Monday, June 4, 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 its programs 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 John Helgerson, deputy director, National Imagery and Mapping Agency.

Welcome, John.

Mr. Helgerson: Good afternoon, Paul. Happy to be here.

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

Bill Phillips. Welcome, Bill.

Mr. Phillips: Paul, thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: Well John, let's start by finding out more about the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, or NIMA. I understand it's a relatively young organization. Could you tell us about it and its mission?

Mr. Helgerson: You're absolutely right. NIMA, this fall, will be celebrating its 5th birthday. We were created in October of 1996, and to this day we're the newest, youngest therefore member of the intelligence community, and also the newest combat support agency within the Department of Defense.

We have a kind of an unusual situation in that we have two masters. We're an agency who is, as I say, in the intelligence community, and in DOD, and interestingly, our budget comes in about equal parts from those two sources.

NIMA has at the moment something on the order of 7,000 employees, almost all of whom are civilians. But we have a critical minority of military employees as well, and probably 4 or 5,000 contractors who work with NIMA full-time. So it's a substantial operation.

Our headquarters, Paul, are in Bethesda, Maryland, but we have a big population of the workforce in Northern Virginia, in the District of Columbia, in the Navy Yard, and also about 2,500 employees out in St. Louis. So it gives me an opportunity to get around the metropolitan area here, and also out to St. Louis regularly.

You asked about our history. In fact, the two largest components that came together to make up NIMA were the former Defense Mapping Agency, which was headquartered in Bethesda, and substantially smaller but still a big operation, CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center, a lot of people know as NPIC.

But in fact � and I won't give you much of our earliest history � we like to say that our heritage goes all the way back to the founding of our republic. There was a fellow named Colonel Erskine, who was George Washington's mapmaker, and our headquarters building is named Erskine Hall.

So we've a rich heritage, and now NIMA tries to capture it all.

Mr. Lawrence: What type of skills do these 7,000 people have?

Mr. Helgerson: Well, the workforce, the largest single group are cartographers, and what we now call geospatial analysts, and probably the next largest group would be the imagery analysts. They make up the bulk of the workforce, but in fact, they are complemented with a whole lot of experts in acquisition, and computer science, and attorneys, and finance officers, and everything it takes to keep a modern government agency going.

Mr. Phillips: John, you've used a couple of words here. You've mentioned imagery, geospatial information, imagery intelligence. What exactly are those things?

Mr. Helgerson: Bill, there is a little bit of jargon that goes with our business. But those words are not as complicated as they might seem. Imagery is our catchall phrase of saying, really, photography. The imagery that NIMA acquires and exploits is mostly acquired with satellites that are built and launched by the National Reconnaissance Office, our critical mission partner.

But we also use imagery that comes from aircraft that the military collects, in some cases civilian firms collect. We also get imagery from aerial vehicles, or drones. So whatever may be the source, NIMA collects it all, tries to archive and exploit it and get the fruits of that to the people who need it.

Which brings me to the second category related to imagery, and that is imagery intelligence, or imagery analysis. I guess the simplest way to put this, Bill, is that while we provide raw imagery to ourselves in NIMA, and particular to military forces, usually deployed, but also the services in the Washington area and elsewhere, the real payoff from our enterprise is the imagery intelligence.

That comes from the work of our experienced analysts who look at this raw material, and make something of it. So if you or I were to look at an image, we might be at a loss about what good it might be. But a highly trained imagery analyst would say, "Hey, you know, what really is here is a newly constructed nuclear plant in Country X, or a missile facility in North Korea, or even a terrorist training camp elsewhere."

So the imagery itself is of use for certain purposes. The imagery intelligence, or analysis, is infinitely more valuable, and that's where the skilled personnel come in.

The third general category that you mentioned, and that I had mentioned, is what we call geospatial information, which really is the modern term for what used to be mapping and cartography. Basically, geospatial information is about any feature on the earth, natural or man-made, and its location and significance.

So, together, these really are the heart of our business: imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, John, tell us about your career. I understand that you have come to NIMA fairly recently. So I'd be interested in knowing, how does one get there?

Mr. Helgerson: You're right. I have not been at NIMA all that long. I am delighted to say now that I've been there 15 months as the agency's deputy director, and I've enjoyed every minute of it.

The "how I got there" was probably not typical of NIMA employees. I began my professional career � I'd been a political science graduate from Duke University, and I had advanced degrees there, and then had gone off to be on the faculty at the University of Cincinnati, a professor of international relations.

But one thing led to another. And I have spent most of my career as a CIA officer, primarily but not exclusively in the analytic ranks. And I spent also one assignment in a State Department job in London.

And in all of these capacities, but particularly as a CIA analyst, and later as a mid-level manager, and later still as one of CIA's deputy directors, I was always a user of the imagery and the geospatial product that came from these legacy organizations that now make up NIMA.

So I was a great fan of imagery and geospatial work, and a promoter of it. And so when the job of deputy director of NIMA came open, the director of Central Intelligence and the deputy secretary of Defense wanted a civilian deputy to complement the military director. Our director is a distinguished Army officer, Lieutenant General Jim King.

And the thought is that given our complicated relationships and situation within the Washington Department of Defense and intelligence community, as I say, the thought was to have a director who is military, and a deputy who is civilian or in principle, perhaps, vice-versa.

But this led to my going to NIMA. And as I say, I have enjoyed every minute of it.

Mr. Phillips: John, you mention a number of different jobs in the course of your career. Which had the biggest challenges, and offered the best preparation?

Mr. Helgerson: Well, Bill, that's a tough question. I've had a great variety of jobs over the years in government and academic world before that as I mentioned. And each has been challenging in its own way.

But I think if one applies the test of what was most relevant to the job I now hold at NIMA, I would refer to the one I mentioned briefly earlier, and that is when I was deputy director for intelligence at CIA, I headed an organization of fairly substantial size, and with a fairly substantial budget.

But more important, I had that job during the earlier George Bush administration, at a time when we were going through great organizational change. I had a fundamental role in standing up the unit that is the CIA's counter-narcotics outfit, and I had a role in much of the downsizing of the people and resources that had been devoted to analyzing the former Soviet Union.

So it was a period of very profound change. And I think that job, probably more than any other, gave me a real advantage as I came to be deputy director of NIMA.

Mr. Lawrence: We're talking with John Helgerson, deputy director of NIMA. This is The Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Break)


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and today's conversation is with John Helgerson, deputy of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. And joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Bill Phillips. Bill?

Mr. Phillips: John, in the last year or so, what was the most innovative or dramatic development involving NIMA?

Mr. Helgerson: Well Bill, there's been a lot going on at NIMA over the last year, but if you forced me to mention one specific item, I guess the thing that would come to my mind first would be the Endeavor Space Shuttle mission that flew now almost exactly a year ago, a little over a year ago.

This was a cooperative effort between my agency, NIMA, and NASA, which of course does most of the space work. But what it was, was a truly unique undertaking in which we together put into space a modified radar system, that mapped the earth in a way that has simply never been done before.

So this was the highlight of NIMA's year, and indeed the highlight of a scientific year, in many respects. There were also some kind of fun aspects to it. We had, for example, on that crew that NASA assembled, a group of astronauts that came from Germany and Japan as well as the U.S. And it was a crew that included two female astronauts.

But what they accomplished was truly incredible. We mapped or measured approximately 80 percent of the planet. That is every mountain and valley and hill and dale. Owing to the orbitology of it all, so to speak, we did not get good radar mapping of the polar regions, but we did capture the area of the earth, about 80 percent of it, as I say, where 95 percent of the world's population live.

And this exercise took some 11 days and got even higher quality data than we had dared expect. To give you some sense of what was accomplished, an area the size of Alaska, for example, was mapped in about 15 minutes. And the state of Florida, with this radar system, was mapped in about 90 seconds.

All this was done with a � as I say, a radar system. And part of it extended out on a 200-foot mast that was the longest, rigid structure ever deployed in space.

So we were really excited about this. And in large part, excited because of the payoff that will come down the road. Needless to say, we got a mountain of data from all this, and we have another mission partner, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory out at Cal Tech, who are doing the processing of this data.

But over the next two or three years, we � NIMA � and the civilian scientific community and the military community, will get the data and the information that will allow them to deal with things like floods and earthquakes, and analyze ecological zones, do better weather forecasts, climate change, and so on. And even such pedestrian but critical uses as land use planning, or where best to put the towers that make our cell phones operate.

So we in the defense community think of it in large part in terms of mission planning for defense operations, or what it will do for missile and weapons guidance systems. But I think, really, the larger and the basic payoff from this mission will be in the humanitarian, scientific, civilian areas.

So, NIMA's really proud of this. And it was clearly the highlight of our past year, because we feel we've made a real contribution to so many enterprises, both in and out of government.

Mr. Lawrence: John, in preparing for our discussion today, I was surprised to learn of your role in the unclassified arena of safety of navigation at sea. What can you tell us about your role in this area?

Mr. Helgerson: Well, Paul, your reaction there is typical. In fact, safety of navigation at sea is a major mission of NIMA, and it's one that's been mandated in legislation going back far beyond our own history.

We have on the wall in one of our offices, for example, a message that was sent by the radio operator on a ship at sea in the North Atlantic to the Titanic, prior to its sinking, after it struck an iceberg. But interestingly, that message about icebergs in the area did not get from the radio operator on the Titanic to the captain of the ship, nor to others, on a timely basis.

So, without reading too much into that lesson, we of course take from it the critical role that timely provision of information related to safety and navigation is absolutely critical. Now, we have within NIMA a component called the Maritime Safety Information Center. And its job is to run a worldwide navigation warning service that broadcasts information to ships at sea, military and civilian, 24 hours a day.

In fact, our customers in the modern world don't wait for a message from the Titanic or anybody else. They access our Maritime Safety website 9,000 times a day, free of charge, to get maritime safety information.

So, what does it really translate into? If you were not working at PricewaterhouseCoopers some weekend, but were sailing in the Caribbean, you can, through this website or otherwise accessing our information, get the latest information on broken buoys or inoperative lighthouses, or even activities of pirates in the area.

So we are very proud of this work. I should say it relates almost entirely to foreign waters and ports outside the U.S. As an intelligence agency, there are certain restrictions on what we can do within U.S. territory.

One other aspect of our business related to maritime safety that I should mention, we of course are putting all this information in digital form as quickly as we can, so people don't rely only on the paper publications. And thinking again about your earlier question, Bill, about the last year, another highlight, again about a year ago, was that a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, the USS Healy made the first transit around the famed Northwest Passage north of Greenland, relying entirely on NIMA's so-called digital nautical chart. That is, they had no paper charts at all � or at least they were directed to keep them hidden. And they used the digital nautical chart to make this passage.

I have to say we at NIMA were immensely proud that this project has progressed to the point where the Navy and the Coast Guard can do that. But frankly, we were also relieved when they had completed that passage.

But it's a big effort. And down the road, U.S. Navy is at the forefront of this transition. They will go entirely to digital nautical charts. The civilian sailing community will be close behind, or, in some cases, even ahead. And we support both.

Mr. Phillips: As if that's not enough, we also understand that NIMA works in the area of aeronautical safety. John, can you tell us a bit about your activities there?

Mr. Helgerson: Well, happy to, Bill. I'll say a little less about this, because unlike the maritime area, less of what we do in the aeronautical area is available to the public. We don't provide information, for example, directly to commercial users. But a good deal of our information is available for purchase through the Commerce Department, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But basically, what we do is provide the information that enables every U.S. military aircraft to operate safely in takeoffs, or landings, or en route navigation. Last year, for example, we produced 12 million charts for the cockpit. These are things that fold up in a complicated way, so you don't have it spread all over the cockpit.

But the truth is, once on the ground, you can unfold it in such a way that it will cover the cockpit and give you some shade on the parking apron. We hope our products are useful for more than providing shade. But here, as in the maritime area, the trick is to move from the 12 million paper charts, to all digital formats. We're well down that road, but as I say, this effort relates primarily to the military, rather than to civilian and commercial users. That's more indirect support.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, 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 John Helgerson of NIMA. (Break)

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 Helgerson, deputy director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. And joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Bill Phillips.

Well John, we've learned through the trade press that you've been modernizing your information handling capabilities. Can you tell us about that?

Mr. Helgerson: We've talked earlier in this hour about what NIMA does in the imagery business, and in the geospatial business. That is, the mapping side, and how the two are coming together.

Nowhere is this more the case than in this effort you've referred to to modernize how we handle all this information. It's kind of hard to know where to start here in a way that's most useful, except I might tell you a fact I try sometimes to keep hidden, and that is that last year, NIMA produced on the order of 30 million paper maps.

At the same time, we've built up a so-called gateway where our users � that is, deployed military forces or civilian analysts in government, whoever they may be � can, with a click of their mouse, access our geospatial mapping information, and create -- on the spot -- their own map from this digital data so that the area of operation is not where the four maps come together, or in the fold, but it's right in the middle.

So we get now tens of thousands of hits per month on this NIMA electronic gateway. Our aspiration, of course, is to get to a situation where we no longer produce the 30 million maps, but everybody gets their information through the gateway or similar systems. Getting from one to the other, of course, is a challenge.

Now, related, just to use a separate example about modernizing information handling in the imagery business, it's no secret that imagery is a bandwidth hog like no other. And we at NIMA have created and are building and deploying a whole set of digital libraries, both large and small, to handle the classified imagery that we deal with, as well as imagery that we are now acquiring and will be increasingly acquiring from commercial sources.

So we supply data, for example, to national-level analysts, up to and occasionally literally including the President himself, from huge data sets. And at the same time, we produce and market our imagery information in very compact forms to enable someone deployed in the field to get it with a handheld computer.

The overall effort in this process, Paul, is that we're trying to move this system of libraries � and we are � almost exclusively, on the order of 95 percent, to a situation where it rests on COTS hardware and software. That is, commercial off the shelf.

Going the COTS way is not always cheap, but it does keep us in NIMA and all of our users in the military and civilian communities abreast of current technologies. It sharpens our partnership with industry and enables us to change with changing times in a way that we could not do when we used idiosyncratic government solutions to these kind of problems.

In addition to these libraries that we've built and are deploying, I should not fail to mention that we are also providing systems supports to military services, military commands, civilian analysts literally around the world. And again, I keep thinking of your earliest question about what happened that's important over the last year.

One of the other things that's just really critical in my mind is that for three of our major unified commands, we have now replaced all of their government-built exploitation capability � imagery work stations, and so on � with a modern commercial-based capability that's superior in performance and cheaper to maintain than those Legacy systems that they replaced.

So this is another real highlight of our business. We at NIMA, in addition to delivering the imagery and the geospatial substantive information, deliver the systems that enable others to use that information, now cheaper and more reliably than ever.

But modernizing the information handling, is one of our greatest challenges. But we've got a lot of partners, both in government and industry, and we'll clearly continue this.

Mr. Phillips: John, at the outset of our conversation, you mentioned that NIMA was formed by a combination of several different organizations and agencies. What issues and challenges did you face as you tried to manage the changes inherent in reorganization, and what lessons could you pass along to other leaders going through similar reorganizations?

Mr. Helgerson: Well Bill, that's another tough question. And it was a tough challenge initially for NIMA, because we did inherit components, sometimes very substantial components in terms of manpower and budget, from both the civilian and military legacy organizations.

There were enough differences that it was a challenge. And clearly, the only way to go � and I claim no credit, because it was largely accomplished before I came to NIMA � but managers and employees at all levels realized that they all had to be involved. So, transition teams were formed that included representatives of all these organizations, each focused on one or another specific area of activities under NIMA's charter.

And they established the sort of top-level organizational framework for whatever functional area that was, and then other groups took care of the implementation.

I guess if there's one obvious lesson that I'd pass along to any other leaders or managers grappling with this kind of thing, it would be that obvious one that I've mentioned already, namely, involve personnel at all levels in all areas of the reorganization. You have to have the buy-in. You have to provide the direction, but everybody's got to get involved to make it work.

I'd have to say, concluding thought on this question that although it's now five years down the road, the process of change never ends. I hope we'll have a chance to talk in a few minutes about our human resources system, for example, which we created as a part of all this change that we believe really is a leader in government.

Additionally, another example is that in the coming two, three, four years, we will be consolidating dramatically our physical facilities footprint. We're going to close down, for example, the facility that we have in the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington, so that we can consolidate in our Bethesda location all of the East Coast operational elements of NIMA.

That will bring together the old imagery and the old mapping enterprises, so that they can more effectively do the melded, common leading edge work that we need to do as we move into this digital age.

As part of that, of course, again, the consultation process as we consolidate our facilities and continue this change � we're dealing with the Congress, we're dealing with local civic organizations where these changes occur. We're dealing with local governments, doing the environmental impact studies and the rest.

So the lesson I draw from all this is you have to involve an awful lot of people in and outside your organization to make fundamental organizational change the success that it has to be for mission accomplishment.

Mr. Lawrence: John, NIMA recently announced negotiations to privatize the work done by 600 people. What are the potential benefits of this venture, and where are you in the process?

Mr. Helgerson: Well Paul, we're well into it. We discovered at NIMA the same thing many other government agencies have discovered, and that is a great proportion of what is done in the information services and information technology areas is not unique to government.

The same things need to be done in your firm, throughout the private sector, and throughout government. So these areas where we do not have a comparative advantage, we're turning over to the private sector. The work done by approximately 300 people in the Washington area is affected by this, and the work done by approximately 300 people in St. Louis is also affected.

Now, what we've found is that there is a way that we can do this that allows this effort to be phased to the private sector over a period of the next few years, so that we expect that we will not need any mandatory reduction in force. But we have a workforce-friendly approach to this, I believe that will allow the change to occur entirely through retirements and routine departures.

The overall point of it is that commercial vendors have shown that they can do this kind of work faster, and easier and with a comparative advantage that government does not have.

Mr. Lawrence: We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour, and our conversation with John Helgerson, deputy director of NIMA. (Break)

Mr. Lawrence: We're back with The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with John Helgerson, deputy director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. And joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Bill Phillips.

Well John, we finished the last segment by talking about future outsourcing � or outsourcing efforts. And so I'm just sort of curious about the future of such efforts at NIMA.

Mr. Helgerson: Paul, that is an important subject. We were talking about outsourcing or privatization that NIMA's doing, primarily in the IS/IT areas. But it is worth coming back to, because we do a lot of such work, even in our fundamental mission area unrelated to IS and IT.

For example, we've talked this afternoon about the geospatial or mapping work that NIMA does. And many of our overseers, and indeed even our own employees, are surprised to find that almost half of all the geospatial work that NIMA does is in fact produced by private contractors.

Now, this trend undoubtedly will continue and expand, although it's frankly impossible to say just how far it will go, because it's largely a function of the capability of industry to take on this responsibility. But industry has become steadily more capable, and we are happy to outsource as it becomes competitively sensible to do that.

I should say, in this general connection of talking about privatization and outsourcing, that it's not only the support operations and even the mission analytic work that's being outsourced, but increasingly, NIMA is relying on commercial imagery providers to provide even the raw material with which we do our work.

The commercial imagery industry is a new one, and is still maturing. But each of the last couple of years, NIMA has spent on the order of $35 million on commercial imagery or related processing capabilities. And we have no doubt that the tempo will increase here.

The commercial imagery potentially is a wonderful solution to providing much of the raw material that we need to do our mapping mission. And more than that, it provides important back-up for intelligence uses as well. So that if we have areas that are high priority, we are more than willing, we are delighted to turn to the commercial sector.

Right now, there's one U.S. vendor, Space Imaging, that has its own satellite up. And there are other U.S. vendors that sell commercial imagery product. We are heartened by their initial successes, and we certainly look forward to a more robust commercial industry connection with additional launches by these other vendors in the future.

This clearly is a growth industry. So we use and rely on the private sector in a great many respects.

Mr. Lawrence: John, let's talk about the people at NIMA, and specifically the fact that I understand that you have a very innovative human resources system. Some have said in fact you're at the forefront of government and commercial best practices. Can you tell us about that system?

Mr. Helgerson: As part of the change that we have gone through forming up NIMA from half dozen or more different agencies, we were virtually forced to come up with a whole new human resources system. And as long as we were doing it, we really went after the fundamentals of it, and have come up with a system that we are just very proud of.

The easiest way to describe it probably is that we have simply got away entirely from the 15 GS grades in the normal civil service system. We have in NIMA a paybanding system, with five bands that capture all of those 15 grades. So employees have many fewer promotions from one band to another, but within each of those broader bands, good work is rewarded.

So we have a pay for performance system that allows employees with strong performance to move ahead more quickly, and to be recognized for the contribution that they make. We put a great deal of effort into the paybanding, the pay for performance, and the ancillary efforts that are associated with it.

If there is any caution I would offer to other agencies or firms exploring such a thing, it is to think through very carefully the bureaucracy involved. We in NIMA built a system so that we could be absolutely confident it was fair and equitable. It is. We're proud of it, but it is also a bit cumbersome. And we are now working with teams drawn from employees at every level, to simplify it and to calibrate it in such a way that we retain our confidence that it's fair, but also we don't have to spend as much time, either as employees or managers, in implementing it.

So, we're proud of it, but we continue to refine it. We're glad we did it, but again, it's still a work in progress.

Mr. Phillips: There's a lot of press coverage about the impending wave of retirements, large numbers of retirements in the federal service. How is NIMA approaching that issue and that problem? What solutions have you put in place?

Mr. Helgerson: Well Bill, we are experiencing the same things that most other agencies are. Ten or 11% of NIMA's civilian population is eligible to retire today. Some 25 to 30 percent will be eligible to retire over the next five years.

What this translates into, or at least has in recent years, is that NIMA as a whole has an attrition rate of something like 5.6 %. Now there are those who argue that this is a problem. Frankly, I am of quite another school, and I believe that it's healthy to have attrition in that range.

If it were substantially larger, I would worry because of the cost of getting security clearances and bringing on board the technically qualified employees we need. But as far as NIMA's concerned, the attrition we now have, and the attrition that we foresee I believe is a healthy one. And we look at it frankly not as a problem, but as a grand opportunity to strengthen our organization.

Happily, and this is probably the most heartening thing of all, I have found in these 15 months I have been at NIMA that we have absolutely no difficulty in attracting the very highly qualified young people we need to join our organization, whether they're imagery analysts, or computer scientists, or whatever.

It just requires continual monitoring and effective programs, which we believe we have, to hire and retain the best.

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier in our conversation, you talked about how change would continue in government. So I'm curious. How will NIMA fit into the larger national security apparatus in the future?

Mr. Helgerson: Well, Paul, I am, again, very optimistic as we look ahead to the future, and in particular how NIMA fits into it. As I mentioned at the outset, we're a unique organization in that we live in both the intelligence community, and among the combat support agencies in DOD.

The history of these communities has been frankly one in which we've been stovepiped. That is, each done our own thing. The future clearly is one of more seamless integration among us.

To put it another way, if a national policymaker or war fighter wants information on a given country, or a region, or if they want information on a functional issue, whether it's terrorism or narcotics, or whatever, they should not have to go separately to the State Department, or to CIA for information on human source intelligence. Or they should not have to go then to NSA to say what does signals intelligence contribute, or to NIMA for imagery.

The consumer needs to be able to go to one place, like you do with your personal computer on the Internet at home in the evening, type in the country or region, and find out what they need to know from all these disciplines.

We believe that NIMA, because it produces geospatial information, and imagery information and intelligence, provides the real basic, common reference framework that is the basis on which you can layer all these other kinds of information.

So looking at the future, I think NIMA's role is a critical one, in that we provide the basic common reference framework. But more than that, our recent history has given us a lot of experience in how to bring different cultures, different missions together. I believe we really can help lead the way forward into the future.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, I'm afraid we're out of time, John. Bill and I want to thank you very much for being with us today. We've had a very interesting conversation.

Mr. Helgerson: Well Paul, it's been a pleasure. Bill, enjoyed talking with you.

Mr. Phillips: Thank you, John.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with John Helgerson, deputy director, National Imagery and Mapping Agency.

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.

G. Martin Wagner interview

Friday, June 29th, 2001 - 19:00
G. Martin Wagner
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/30/2001
Intro text: 
Contracting ...
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

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.