Admiral Thad W. Allen interview

Friday, February 23rd, 2007 - 20:00
"I think the Coast Guard has got it right in our core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 02/24/2007
Intro text: 
Admiral Allen was selected by U.S. News & World Report as one of the 20 best leaders in 2005 for its America's Best Leaders issue.In this radio show interview, Allen discusses the: History and mission of the U.S. Coast Guard; U.S. Coast Guard's integration...
Admiral Allen was selected by U.S. News & World Report as one of the 20 best leaders in 2005 for its America's Best Leaders issue.
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, November 11, 2006

Washington, D.C.

Mr. Morales: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the Center by visiting us at the web at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Admiral Thad Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Good morning Admiral.

Mr. Allen: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And also joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Dave Abel, director of homeland security services.

Good morning, Dave.

Mr. Abel: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, perhaps you could share with us a bit of the rich and proud history of the United States Coast Guard as it celebrate its 216th anniversary as one of the oldest U.S. government agencies. Can you tell us who founded the Coast Guard, and how has it evolved into the critical component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security?

Mr. Allen: Well, the Coast Guard was really the brain child of Alexander Hamilton. And you can first find a reference to a Coast-Guard-like entity actually in the Federalist Papers, where he states that a few vessels stationed at the entrance to our rivers and bays would at very small expense be useful sentinels of the laws.

When the first Treasury Department was formed in 1789, and he was the Secretary of the Treasury, he envisioned a fleet of cutters that would enforce the new tariffs that were being applied to help us pay off the war debt. There was a lot of British smuggling going on at the time. So on August 4, 1790, there was legislation approved that would authorize the building of the cutters, and we take that as the starting date of the Coast Guard. We were the first Customs officers, and during the period in the late 1790s when we had disbanded the Continental Navy we were the only maritime force that the country had. And so we when had a quasi-war with France, our cutters were the line ships for the fledgling government. So right at the earliest possible time in our history we really started out as a dual character service. We were a member of the Armed Forces, the Naval Service. And we were also a federal law enforcement agency, and we are unique in the world in that regard.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, you talk about this uniqueness of having both the dual military and law enforcement status. Could you elaborate a little bit on the scope of your multi-mission agency? How is it organized, and tell us how large the Coast Guard is, and give us a sense of the scale.

Mr. Allen: Well, we're not very big. With our military members and our civilians we're anywhere between 45,000 and 50,000. We have 8,000 selected reservists. We have about 36,000 volunteers, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which are terrific and help us out a lot. But the basic -- I would call it the organizational genius of the Coast Guard is the fact that without having to have a bunch of different agencies do different jobs, we have one agency that can shift its focus and its people and its capability and its platforms to do a specific job one day, and then a different job the next day.

I recently visited Canada, and we had a summit with the Canadian Coast Guard, and they do search and rescue and law enforcement up there. But to meet all the different entities that do the jobs that we do down in United States, we had to meet with Transport Canada, the Department of Public Safety, and their military. So if you can imagine being able to cover all those different types of roles in a single agency, you don't have to build all those different agencies. That's our economic model that we offer to the government. We think we're pretty good value.

Mr. Morales: At first brush folks may think of the Coast Guard as having a domain immediately around the United States, but in fact you have a worldwide purview.

Mr. Allen: Especially as it relates to defense operations and our law enforcement capabilities. For instance, we have authority and jurisdiction over U.S. flag vessels anywhere they might be in the world for the purpose of enforcing U.S. law. And as we speak this morning we have patrol boats deployed in the Persian Gulf that are protecting the oil platforms off of Iraq which are their major source of revenue right now.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, let's talk a little bit about your specific responsibility as the 23rd Commandant of the Coast Guard. Can you tell us a little about your role within the organization?

Mr. Allen: Well, I'm the Chief Executive Officer. This is more like an aquatic holding company in some regards. We do search and rescue law enforcement. We deal with Homeland Security issues. We do polar ice breaking. Managing that portfolio and making sure you have the resources to be ready to do that and also to be mission effective is probably my number one job. And it takes a little bit of understanding, as far as how you run the organization, to know how to balance those various mission requirements that are on you, and make wise decisions on the allocation of resources as our field commanders have to do when they're deciding where they're going to put their cutter patrol hours. But I would say managing that portfolio of all of the tasks we have on the water is probably job one.

Mr. Morales: The Coast Guard is within the Department of Homeland Security. So you also have a relationship with the leadership in the departmental over all. Can you tell us a little bit about the nature of that role as well?

Mr. Allen: Sure. The way the department is organized, they have what they call operating components. And that would be like the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection and so forth. And then they have departmental entities like the under secretary for science and technology, the under secretary for management. So there are two lines that report to the deputy secretary and the secretary. The deputy and the assistant secretaries, and then the component commanders, there are seven of us. We call ourselves the gang of seven. And we have a direct reporting relationship with Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, and Secretary Chertoff.

Mr. Morales: That's great. Admiral, the Coast Guard has a strong reputation for leadership development, a long history of being in to develop strong leaders in government. Can you give the listeners a sense of your career path, and how the Coast Guard helped you to be able to develop your leadership skills?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think every job I've had in the Coast Guard has involved increasing responsibilities and exposure to leadership opportunities. In a way, the best way we can help the Coast Guard is to grow leaders, because we put people in leadership positions much, much earlier than a lot of the other services do. Junior officers coming off their first assignment on a ship can be assigned as commanding officers of patrol boats. We have pilots qualified very, very young; they're out there flying. And we put a lot of responsibility on folks' shoulders early on in their career. That's good, and that's bad. It's good in that we get them seasoned early on, and by the time they mid-grade and senior officers they've had a lot of operational experiences. The bad part is we've got to make sure that the organization is doing its part in preparing those folks to meet those responsibilities, and that's a tremendous challenge for us. The way we do that, we've developed 21 basic leadership competencies, and whether we're talking about enlisted personnel or cadets at the Coast Guard Academy or officers coming in through OCS, we try and train and teach to those 21 leadership competencies.

Mr. Morales: So how critical are the concepts of strategic intent and mission focus in this leadership approach?

Mr. Allen: Well, one of the things I'm trying to do as commandant is trying to get us to focus a little bit more strategically, and kind of look up over the dashboard to the horizon a little bit. One of the things I tell my folks -- and it's very, very easy to fall into this trap in Washington, as we get caught up in what I call the tyranny of the present. Those are the data calls, the questions for the record, the preparations for hearings, all the budget submissions that just pervade our daily life around here. And you get so caught up in the annual budget cycle, the annual hearing cycle, that it's hard to kind of lift your head up, look over the horizon, and see where you're going.

Since I was a one star Admiral back in 1998 and 1999 working for Jim Loy, who ultimately became the commandant, we have been trying to create a way to have officers think more strategic about the context the Coast Guard is in in government, what we are trying to do, and make decisions with strategic intent. If you think about it, when you enlist somebody in the Coast Guard, you're potentially making a 30-year decision. And I don't think we always realize that day with everything else that's going on, that we're laying out, where the organization is likely to be that far down the line. And I think when you take a small step, you ought to know the general direction we're moving towards. So I've stressed to the greatest extent possible to my flag officers and the folks who work for me that we have to develop the competencies in our senior leaders to think more strategically, and then when you're dealing with budget or anything else, you need to source the strategy or act with strategic intent.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, how have your experiences as previous chief of staff of the Coast Guard, and more recently as the principal federal official during Katrina, shaped your outlook and prepared you for your current role as commandant of the Coast Guard?

Mr. Allen: Well, first as chief of staff, I was the chief operating officer of the Coast Guard as opposed to the chief executive officer of the Coast Guard. So I handled most of the business end, and that included budget, the management of headquarters -- I was also the commanding officer of headquarters. And as part of my portfolio of duties there, since when I came into the job we were actually part of the Department of Transportation, I was the departmental executive who was responsible for transferring the Coast Guard from DOT to DHS, all the various line items of support, and services that we shared with DOT, and how that transition took place was my responsibility.

So I gained a great deal of insight into the structural underpinnings of the Coast Guard that had to be transferred from one department to another. I think that helped a lot in understanding our organizational context within the department. My assignment as the principal federal official to Katrina probably gave me the same type of insight, but in the operational dimension of the department, in that how FEMA, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection all work against the larger problems that are mission tasking, and how that all comes together, and that informed a lot of my thinking when I was interviewed by Secretary Chertoff to be the commandant on where I thought the Coast Guard needed to go under his leadership.

Mr. Morales: Fantastic. How is the Coast Guard partnering with other Homeland Security agencies? We will ask Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I am your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen. Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, director of IBM's homeland security services.

Admiral, how has the integration into DHS impacted the Coast Guard, and what have been some of the critical macro issues related to this integration, as well as the benefits?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think our integration into the department has been a great thing for the Coast Guard. We've had a hard time over the years finding a home because we're so diverse and multi-mission you don't find a perfect fit in any particular department. In 1967 we were moved from Treasury, our original home, and put in the Department of Transportation when it was formed, and then in 2003 moved from Transportation to Homeland Security. I think the integration is going along very nicely. We feel like we're a contributing member in the department. We think we add stability and maturity, because we were basically transferred over without any impact on our mission set or our resources, and I think we bring a lot of stability to the department.

I think that we're working very, very well with our component partners in the department. We always had relationships with Customs and FEMA, but those are stronger than they ever before. I tell a lot of folks I think that FEMA is better off because they are in a department with the Coast Guard, and I think the Coast Guard's better off because we are in a department with FEMA.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, we talked earlier about the deep culture and the leadership within the Coast Guard. How has this leadership style influenced the broader DHS?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think in a lot of ways. The example we set through our delegation of authority and putting responsibility at the lowest levels in the organization is something that I think everybody would strive to do, and hopefully we are an example in the department to do that. One of the things that allowed us to be successful during the Hurricane Katrina response is that we expect that our operational commanders will exercise what we call on scene initiative, and when we were cut off from higher echelons and communications weren't working down there everybody knew how to do their job, and they did the right thing, and they did what was expected of them. And I think in the long run, I think that's what the American public and the secretary would like to see out of this department.

Mr. Morales: Great. The Coast Guard has developed its maritime security strategy. Can you tell our listeners about this strategy, and how does it directly support the national strategy for maritime security, NSMS, and the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002?

Mr. Allen: One of the things that we've been working very, very hard on in the Coast Guard since the attacks on 9/11 is what this means in the maritime environment. And we were very, very pleased last year when the president issued the national strategy for maritime security that lays out an overall umbrella concept on how they intend to look at maritime security issues. We've never had an overarching umbrella document like that before, and we are very pleased with it. There are several supporting plans that are required under the strategy that directly either impact the Coast Guard or we are responsible for executing. The first one is maritime domain awareness. And that's creating a system by which you're able to sense what's going on offshore and create the ability to act so you can defeat a threat as far offshore as you can before it gets close to the coast. But to do that you need to have information about what's operating out there and you have to be able to know which vessels are legitimate and which ones aren't. So maritime domain awareness is a very big part of that national strategy for maritime security. The other one is maritime operational threat response. And that's how you actually put forces together and go out and deal with the threat that's out there.

And then global maritime intelligence integration, which is taking all the different pieces of information and putting them together into what we will call a common intelligence picture so you know why you're acting and you have good intelligence on which to base your operations, and finally there's a requirement for a maritime recovery plan. We hope we never have an incident in our ports, and we're going to try and prevent them, and then we're going to try and respond as best as we can if there is an event. But the reality is, if there's an event in a port, how you restart the waterway, how you deal with the impact on commerce is going to be very, very important. And there's requirement for us to develop a plan for that also.

Mr. Morales: I'd like to go from the very strategic topics that we just talked about in maritime security to one very tactical one, I think is at the forefront of the issues that you face. The Coast Guard must combat the potential threat of watercraft coming close to U.S. ports with IEDs, improvised explosive devices. How is the Coast Guard tackling this issue?

Mr. Allen: What we're tackling is part of a broader strategy on how to deal with maritime security regimes for the country. There's been a lot of focus on container threats, and container threats are important. I believe in the long run there is a technological solution to threats posed by containers either through tracking containers or non-intrusive inspection technologies, and all those are being worked right now. And I think you are going to see within a few years a fairly robust program that will address container security issues.

When you look at port security or maritime security, though, you have to look at the broad spectrum of threats and vulnerabilities that are out there, and you have to kind of allocate resources based on risk, and you have to try and mitigate the threats that are liable to cause the most damage. Based on the research that we've done since 9/11, and this includes extensive surveys of our ports regarding vulnerabilities and threats that exist, we do believe that more attention needs to be paid to improvised explosive devices carried by small boats.

And in general we need to look at the small boat population out there that is not as governed or regulated as well as the larger commercial traffic. This is in regards to how they're registered, how they're operated, what they might be carrying, how we can discern legitimate from illegitimate activities out there. This is anywhere from fishing vessels to small work boats to recreational vessels. And it's something that we're starting to engage in a conversation around the country, because I think we need to build a consensus about what constitutes a maritime security regime for this country that goes beyond containers and looks at a full spectrum of threats that we might encounter in our ports.

Mr. Morales: Let's shift gears from threats against assets to the assets themselves. The Coast Guard has embarked on a comprehensive recapitalization of its critical asset platforms through the integrated Deepwater System program. Can you elaborate a little bit on the Deepwater program?

Mr. Allen: I can. A few years ago, actually when I was a commander I was part of a program that extended the service life of our large cutters. And we engaged in a conversation way back then, that we did not have a good plan for when those ships ended their service life about what was going to replace them. As a result of those conversations we decided that it would good to take a look at our mission requirements in the offshore operating environment, and rather than going for a one-for-one replacement of these ship hulls to take a look at acquiring a system of cutters, aircraft, and sensors that were networked together, and focus on the entire performance of the system as opposed to a single platform. We thought if we did that we'd have more capable platforms, we'd have a more capable system, and we would be a much more intelligent acquisition of our capital plan.

Now, that ultimately evolved into our Deepwater System. We awarded the contract in 2002. We're into our fourth year of that contract. We recently launched our first major cutter, the National Security Cutter. Associated with that acquisition we recently have flown our first aircraft associated with that system. And what we're trying to do is build this architecture of platforms that are all networked together, and at the same time take the legacy platforms that are operating, the old cutters and the old aircraft, and backfit them with command and control systems that will allow them to integrate into the new stuff, and slowly phase the old stuff out as we build the new platform.

Mr. Morales: With the contract having been awarded in 2002, much of the requirements for Deepwater were developed prior to September 11, 2001. Has there been any impact from the post September 11th world to the requirements in Deepwater?

Mr. Allen: There was, and we were in quite a quandary. After the attacks of 9/11 we were faced with two choices, one was to withdraw the requests for proposals and start the acquisition over, or to go ahead and award the contract and then go back and look at our system performance specification, and go back and adjust the requirements for the platforms. A good example would be we had no capability in our cutters to survive a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack. Well, we know now, faced with the current threat environment, if you're going to operate in and around a port we may need a vessel that can go into a noncompliant or non-permissive environment and be able to operate in those environments. So we went back and we changed the requirements for the National Security Cutter, for instance, to include survivability against these threats.

When you do that, that changes the requirements that get rippled through, and there are some cost issues associated with that, and we're working through those now. But we generally have had those post 9/11 requirements validated through the joint requirements process at the department. We briefed up on -- it won't be in on the Hill, and everybody generally understands that; we rebaselined the program, and now our focus needs to be on mission execution.

Mr. Morales: Let's move from assets to talk a bit about people within the Coast Guard. In order to perform multiple missions, Coast Guard has developed specialized units that can be deployed on short notice. Can you elaborate on the plans to reorganize these units under a single command structure called the Deployable Operations Group?

Mr. Allen: I'd like to do that. That's a very important issue to me personally because I am vested in it, if you will. Over the years the Coast Guard has developed what I will call specialized deployable forces. But they've been developed within programs for specific program goals, and employed within a narrow stovepipe as far as operations go. For instance, we have oil and hazmat strike teams, and they're some of the best in the world. They can do level A entry. They participated in the anthrax attacks in the Capitol building. They have been employed traditionally only for oil and hazmat spills.

We also have port security units, which are reserve units that we have deployed to the Persian Gulf and other places that secure the ports of embarkation and debarkation to actually move military equipment in and out. Since 9/11 we've also been authorized to build maritime safety and security teams which are deployable into ports to provide on-water boat teams and then law enforcement tactical teams to lock down ports, and they include dive capability, K9 capability, and remote operated vehicles for searching underwater hulls.

All of those operated independently within different chains of command for different mission requirements. My intent is to bring them all together under a single command, not to move them, but to create a command structure by which we can optimize their employment and be able to what I will call adapt a force package. So if we have a particular event like a Katrina, taking down New Orleans, or a massive oil spell locking up a port, or an earthquake, let's say in San Francisco, you can take the elements you need for each one of those deployable teams, put them together, and deploy them through Coast Guard aircraft, and get the right force package on the ground, and be able to do that within four to eight hours, the flyaway package.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, earlier you used the term "aquatic holding company." And we understand that many of the Coast Guard's shore facilities date back to the 1915s. What are your plans to evolve and transform the shore-based forces in order to meet the new demands facing your agency in this post 9/11 threat environment?

Mr. Allen: Well, there are two issues. They are one of the shore-based forces themselves, and the second one are the facilities they occupy. We organized the shore-based forces into sector commands, and that was the right thing to do. And now we have shore-based commands that are capable of all-hazard response with a single commanding officer. Before, we used to have multiple commanding officers in and around our ports based on their mission assignment. We have done away with that and we have consolidated the command structure.

The challenge we have before us is we have very, very old shore facilities, we have search and rescue stations that date back to the -- some of them go clear back to the 19th century. And we have not done a good job keeping up with the recapitalization of what we will call our shore plan, or the actual physical facilities that our shore operators operate in.

There are three significant challenges that I don't think we have spent enough time assessing, estimating the impact of and then moving forward in the budget process, that I have to deal with as commandant. One of them is the condition of our shore facilities. The second one is the condition of our polar ice breakers. And the third one is, where are we going to go with our AIS navigation mission. And especially in a post 9/11 environment where we can be expected to try and reestablish AIS navigation in a port as we had to do following Katrina.

Mr. Morales: Great. What are some of the United States Coast Guard's key organizational priorities? We will ask Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen. Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, the director of IBM's homeland security services.

Admiral, can you describe to us some of your key organizational priorities for fiscal year '07?

Mr. Allen: I can. One of them is maintaining our legacy fleet while we build out the new deepwater fleet and making sure that it's supported. We have used our assets up faster since 9/11 than we'd anticipated. And the gap between our old equipment and the arrival of new equipment has created some problems, especially in air patrol hours and patrol boat hours for us down south. So I guess the number one priority would be to make sure we maintain our current fleet so we can execute our mission.

A second priority is to establish our new mission of air intercept for the national capital region which we started last week. Fiscal year '07 carries the resources for us to do that. And we'll be operating out of Reagan Airport, and we'll be intercepting general aviation aircraft that happen to stray into the national capital area. Continuing the deepwater project is important for us too to make sure we keep our capitalization on track. And we've had great support from the administration and Congress in that regard.

And finally, to make sure that we are sustaining our homeland security missions, there are also extra resources in the budget for us to increase our inspection of waterfront facilities and overseas ports.

Mr. Morales: Could you describe the Coast Guard's principles of operation as outlined in the publication America's Maritime Guardian? How do these principles empower and enable the execution of your critical missions?

Mr. Allen: Well, a few years ago we decided to boil down the essence of the Coast Guard, or quite frankly sketch out our organizational DNA, the doctrinal publication we call Pub 1, and it's very similar to what they do in the DoD side of the House. There is a joint staff Pub 1 that lays out this is what we expect, these are the principles by which we operate under. In the Coast Guard Pub 1 we have laid out principles of operation, and they include things like the principle of restraint. Since we are a law enforcement organization, when we're not operating with DoD we need to understand that the constitution applies when we're dealing with our fellow citizens, and so we need to treat them with respect. In fact, Alexander Hamilton wrote a great treatise admonishing his revenue cutter captains to make sure that they understood that they were dealing with fellow citizens in doing boardings.

Another one would be the principle of on-scene initiative that I mentioned earlier. That's the notion that if you're on scene, you have the resources, and you have the capability, and you're empowered to do that, we expect you to act, and do what you are supposed to do out there. And that was shown no better than in the skies over New Orleans.

Mr. Morales: Speaking of the skies over New Orleans, the Coast Guard received much praise in most post-Katrina assessments, rescuing over 33,000 lives. Is there something unique about the organization of the Coast Guard that allowed such an exceptional response to a complicated circumstance like Katrina?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think most folks in the Coast Guard would tell you that we were just carrying out our normal mission under our normal doctrine, but we just encountered an anomalous asymmetrical event that completely was off the scope in terms of scale. But we were able to get enough aircraft into the area to have a meaningful impact. We didn't rescue everybody down there. There were some wonderful people from Fish and Wildlife from the State of Louisiana and other folks that really contributed. But as a result of our air forces, our small boat forces in the evacuations of the nursing homes by our people there, we were able to save between 33,000 and 34,000 people.

The reason that was possible is that we have multi-missioned aircraft and we have multi-missioned people. We basically took every existing aircraft that wasn't being flown for search and rescue in the Coast Guard and brought it down to the New Orleans area, in excess of 40 aircraft. And in fact to the point where we asked the Canadians to come down and assume the Search and Rescue Guard in New England so we could take the helicopters and move them down there. Once we did that, because we train our people as multi-mission, we were able to intermix pilots, crews, and maintenance crews from all over the Coast Guards. One day I was flying on an 860 helicopter from Cape Cod with a pilot from San Diego, a co-pilot from Michigan, and a rescue swimmer from Mobile, Alabama, all in the same airframe working seamlessly because they operate under the same doctrine, and there's repeatable training and tactics that they use, and you can go to any aircraft, put the crew together, and they can fly.

Mr. Abel: One of the things that was very complicated in the overall response to Katrina was the necessity for communication and interoperability between federal, state, and local organizations. How has the Coast Guard's relationship with different levels of organizations changed or strengthened since the response to Katrina?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think it has changed and I think it has strengthened. This is not a Coast Guard issue, this is an overall federal issue, and there are two components to this. I testified recently on the Hill and I try to break this down into an organizational component and a technology component. The organizational component is interoperability at all levels of government, and then horizontally, and that's the ability to get into the same command center, share the same spaces, understand the doctrine, understand what you're trying to accomplish, and be able to work seamlessly across all the federal agencies and then down through the state and local governments. That's the organizational component of command in control.

There's a technical component to that, and that's interoperability of communications. And that's who's got what radios, what frequency they operate on, and who can talk to whom. That was probably the bigger problem in New Orleans than anything else. Number one, they lost the communications infrastructure in and around the city, and when they were trying to bring that back up, to have all the different first responders down there, sometimes operating on different radio spectrum was a problem, and it was identified as a problem. It's being worked right now as a result of the lessons learned, reports that came out of Katrina.

In relation to the Coast Guard, we operate under maritime mobile radio frequencies, and we have a coastal radio system that's set up to get the mayday calls when they come in. We were able to reestablish our system, but our system ultimately needs to be able to talk with the land first responders, which are in a different frequency spectrum. We're in the process right now of changing that, our Coast Guard radio system, under a project called Rescue 21, that will allow us to be more interoperable with state and local responders. And I would say that is an enduring challenge for the entire United States. And when the state and localities are buying radio systems they need to really think about the interoperability with the federal first responders.

Mr. Abel: You referred to the flooding of New Orleans as a weapon of mass effect unleashed on a city without criminality. It's an interesting view. Can you elaborate a little bit on that assessment?

Mr. Allen: I can. The reason I used that term is it invokes a different paradigm than normal hurricane response. And I think one of the failures in the Katrina response was the failure to understand that we weren't operating in a traditional mode against a traditional hurricane, as far as mounting a response, that something else had happened that made it more complex, that made it asymmetrical, that made it anomalous. And that was the breaching of the levees. If the levees had not breached in New Orleans, you would have found what I would call ground zero of the event to be Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, which were almost wiped off the face of the earth by a 25- to 30-foot tidal surge. But with the flooding of New Orleans, you had a different degree of a problem set, and what you're really dealing with was the equivalent of a weapon of mass effect being used on the city without criminality.

And the reason that I say that's significant is if there had been criminality involved, we would have known what to do. There would have been a senior law enforcement officer in charge. We would have been trying to fight the thing as a crime scene. We'd have been trying to deal with the implications associated with criminality involved in that. But since there was none, there wasn't a cue for anybody to understand that it was something different. And in the absence of understanding that there was something different and anomalous about it, we treated it as a regular run-of-the-mill hurricane, which was not the right response.

Mr. Abel: You mentioned some of the things that we can do going forward technically, to be able to prepare ourselves for similar responses. Are there things that we need to do organizationally or operationally to be able to do that as well?

Mr. Allen: There are and we're already working on those. For instance, FEMA is the federal coordinator for what we call mission assignments. If there's something that needs to be done, FEMA is not expected to provide that particular service. They're expected to go find it and provide it to the state and local governments. They do that through what's called a mission assignment. And they can issue a mission assignment to the Coast Guard, to the Corps of Engineers, and that's how they handle things like debris removal with the Corps of Engineers.

Between FEMA and the Coast Guard over the last year since Katrina, we have come up with pre-scripted mission assignments. So we come up with a scenario on which you need let's say Coast Guard airlift or Coast Guard surveillance of a coastline, we write it out. With the exception of filling in the date and the time, we both hold the piece of paper. When the event occurs and they need to move us, it's a matter of filling in the blanks on the paper, and we're gone. And we can actually launch on verbal notification, which is what we would.

It's this pre-negotiation of mission assignments plus we have trained Coast Guard admirals to be principal federal officials similar to the duties I perform, and have jointly trained them with FEMA's federal coordinating officers. And we have deployed as teams, we have evaluated evacuation plans, and we have tested the deployability of this folks. And that's way far ahead of where we've ever been before.

Mr. Abel: Admiral, with the very broad mission that the U.S. Coast Guard has, collaboration must be critical to your operations. How is the Coast Guard enhancing coordination and collaboration amongst all the other components of the Department of Homeland Security?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think the first big example is something I've been involved in for the first three years at the department, until I went down to Katrina last year, and that's the Joint Requirements Council. That's an entity that takes a look at all the requirements of the department. And as major acquisitions are being looked at at the department, they review them, see whether or not there are commonality requirements so you're not buying two platforms when you can buy one. And this relates to everything from aircraft clear down to -- one of the most successful projects that they ran was a consolidated handgun buy for the entire department, where whether you were Secret Service, Coast Guard, or Customs and Border Protection, we were buying off the same handgun contract with a tremendous cost savings.

They've done also the same thing for IT licenses, software licenses and things like that. And I don't think there's probably any end to the particular partnerships that we can form that will achieve better efficiency and effectiveness inside the department. But the Joint Requirements Council would be one example of that.

Mr. Abel: Along the same lines of collaboration, how does the Coast Guard plan to better integrate operations and assets with the Department of Defense, specifically the U.S. Navy? And how does the national fleet policy assist in facilitating this integration?

Mr. Allen: Well, you know, we have great relationship with the Navy, it's never been better. And we have an enduring requirement to be interoperable with them in time of war, and when we're needed for a combatant commander. Admiral Mike Mullen and I have a great relationship. And we believe if you take the Navy's fleet and the Coast Guard's fleet and you put them together you have a national fleet. We have the world's best Navy, and we have the world's best Coast Guard; together they make the world's best maritime force. So he and I are working very, very hard to operationalize this concept. And a good example of that would be Littoral Combat Ship, which was just launched a couple weeks ago. It has a deck gun, a 57-millimeter deck gun. It is the same deck gun that we will use on our large cutters. And wherever we can, we're looking that where we have commonality of requirements, to have commonality of systems or platforms, and that would be a good example of that.

And that's needed because -- you talked about interoperability with DoD, we have negotiated as part of the national strategy for maritime security, protocols under which the Navy and the Coast Guard and other forces will work together, and whether or not it's a Homeland Security or a law enforcement issue, if you will, or whether it's a Department of Defense homeland defense type of a mission. And under the agreements and the protocols that we have negotiated, you could have Coast Guard forces working for a naval component or you could have Navy assets working for a Coast Guard entity in trying to intercept a boat offshore, let's say, and do a boarding.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the U.S. Coast Guard? We will ask Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Albert Morales and this morning's conversation is with Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen. Also joining us on our conversation is Dave Abel, director of IBM's homeland security services.

Admiral, the role of the Coast Guard has evolved over the last five years. How would you characterize this evolution, and how do you envision the Coast Guard over the next five to ten years?

Mr. Allen: Well, I wouldn't say it's evolved so much as we've gone back and resurrected a mission that was given to us years ago that's become prominent again. A lot of people ask us about the maritime security mission we've got right now and how it impacts us, but frankly, we've had this mission since 1917.

There was a piece of legislation passed after a sabotage event by German saboteurs in New York harbor in 1915 resulting in something called the Espionage Act, which is some of the organic legislation that FBI holds right now. That is the original authority for our captain of the ports to be able to direct to close ports, protect facilities, and so forth. So, the port security mission is not new, it just emerges from time to time.

During World War II, the Coast Guard was over 200,000, and a good deal of our authorities then were to direct and control the ports. So it just happens to be a reemergence of a longstanding mission that we've had, that is what the American public needs from us now. And we're capable of diverting our resources, realigning them, putting them where they need to be, and be responsive to the American public.

Mr. Morales: What about the next 10 years, any major changes that you see in the next 10 years?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think the challenge before us is to come up with what the end state is for a maritime security regime in this country. We made a lot of changes since 9/11. We significantly improved port safety and maritime safety, but the question is what is the end state that we are driving to?

We have a very good example in aviation security where there's a 200-mile air defense information zone. If you penetrate that zone and you haven't called in or you're not using a transponder, you get met. We have never thought about the oceans in those kind of terms. And the water is very, very different. We have 95,000 miles of coastline with rivers, lakes, and everything else that are potentially -- have to be covered in this country. 95 percent of all the cargo moving from outside the hemisphere comes by vessel.

But we're not dealing with bright borders like we see in the land areas. What you see are layers of legal structures that overlap on the water because they developed quite differently. They have a 12-mile territorial sea. You have a 12-mile contiguous zone that allows you to enforce customs, immigration, and sanitation laws. Then you have an exclusive economic zone out to 200 miles.

We have never tried to manage the water like we do the air. But the question is how should the water be managed, and I don't think there's been a discussion in this country or an agreement on where we need to go. One of the things I'm going to try and do during my tenure as commandant is lay out what I propose would be a security regime for a costal nation state in the current transnational threat environment. And we're also going to have to make sure that we understand how to do this globally, because if we do it unilaterally and our other partners around the world don't, we're going to create an unlevel playing field, not only in terms of commerce, but in terms of reciprocity on how we're treated everywhere.

So the challenge I've laid down for my people in Coast Guard Headquarters is to start working on this, so when we deal with legislation, rulemaking, our agenda to the International Maritime Organization, which is where we handle international issues, our budget, outreach to stakeholders around the country, we can say here's what we're building to. Here's how we think we ought to regulate the waters, here's where we think people ought to carry transponders, and it's a discussion we need to have with the country. That's what we need to be doing in the next five to ten years.

Mr. Morales: You've been quoted as saying that your enduring goal is to lead a Coast Guard that is steadfast in character but adaptive in its methods. Can you elaborate on this, please?

Mr. Allen: I sure can. We don't want to lose that organizational DNA that goes back to 1790, that started with independent cruising cutters that has evolved into the principles of operation that we use right now, including on-scene initiative. We want to keep that always. But how those resources, how those capabilities are being applied in a different threat environment, what you have to understand, there's an entirely threat and political context that we're operating in right now, so we need to be adaptable.

For instance a few years ago, when Admiral Loy was the commandant of the Coast Guard, he made a very brave decision that was not always well received throughout the organization. He was bound and determined that we should arm our helicopters. That was something that was almost unheard of in some areas of the Coast Guard. But we did it. And it's been the single most effective drug interdiction capability we put out on the waters in the history of the organization. And last year we seized 150 tons of cocaine. Most of that was as a result of warning shots and disabling fire from our helicopters. So what you need is an organization that has the ability to keep those core values and that organizational history of being able to act and do the right thing but be adaptive enough to coming threats where you're able to bring in technology and manage change so the organization gets better every year, as far as dealing with the current threats.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, how does the Coast Guard grow and improve the competency of its workforce going forward?

Mr. Allen: Well, that's probably our biggest challenge, because the requirements are changing radically and we're inserting new technology all the time. And every time you hire somebody in the Coast Guard, you're potentially making a 30-year decision. Being flexible and agile in how you train people and how you develop competencies is extremely important.

I've got a team taking a look at our human resource strategy right now as it relates to the new mission set and where I'm trying to drive the Coast Guard. And within a couple months I've asked them to come back and tell me what the major changes we need to make as far as how we're managing accessions, how we're training them, how we track competencies.

A key thing for us right now is to get much better at training our junior people in law enforcement; we do a lot of that on the job, on cutters. We think a lot of that needs to be in the classroom. We need to have more of a professional certification for some of our folks that operate out on the water. We're closely aligned with what you would see with the CBP or other law enforcement organizations.

Mr. Morales: Picking up the discussion of the classroom, how valuable are service academies such as the United Sates Coast Guard Academy to your long term strategy?

Mr. Allen: Well, they're extraordinary valuable because you need a mix of officers, you need a diversity of background, and you need a diversity of education. One thing the academy does for us is it allows us to produce engineers. Engineers are in short supply; everybody's fighting for them, trying to recruit them and everything else. So there's a certain amount of capability and competency that you need to indemnify the organization against by home growing it, if you will. And the academy is one place where we can do that. It is also a place where we can take young people coming out of high school, give them a college education, but in the four years also imbue them with the history and traditions of the Coast Guard and create a nucleus by which we can build an officer corp. And then we can surge officer candidate school, which is much shorter, and we can vary the sizes of those classes to complement, to fill out the entire officer corp.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, earlier you described a relatively young workforce within the U.S. Coast Guard. But we do talk to many of our guests about some of the pending retirement waves and challenges within government. What are you seeing within the Coast Guard and how are you planning for the future?

Mr. Allen: In relation to our military personnel, we don't have the pending problem that a lot of people are going to see, and that is the retirement of the baby-boomer population and the loss of intellectual capacity and intellectual capital in organizations. I think we've done a good job on the military side. It's more of a manner of how do you manage competencies and reshape that workforce as you need to once you have them for a 30-year career. We need to do a better job in recruiting and retaining our civilian workforce. If you were to take a look at where our shortages are now in the Coast Guard, our major shortages are in our civilian workforce, and our ability to recruit, retain, and then provide promotional ladders for these folks is extremely important.

We're challenged in our civilian workforce in that we don't have as many as other agencies. And they are commingled with the military workforce, so making sure that they have career progressions is very, very important. Our challenge is we may not have a critical mass of those positions that will allow us to be able to promote them up and allow them the virtual certainty they can stay in the organization and still work in their specialty and be promoted. And that's one of our big challenges right now.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, you've had a very successful and distinguished career. What advice can you give to a person who is interested in a career in public service? And in particular for that young person who may be out there who is interested in a career in the Coast Guard?

Mr. Allen: Well, whether it's a career in public service or the Coast Guard, you need to understand that when you're involved in public service, in addition to the compensation that you get that may not be as great as you would be able to enjoy in the private sector, you're being compensated psychologically for doing something for your country. And there's a notion of a service in serving something that's bigger than yourself when you do that. And I think that's embodied in public service. It's particularly embodied in service in the Coast Guard.

And the advice I usually give folks is that, number one, you need to understand that you're serving the country. Number two, you need to get up every day and go to work and enjoy it, and if you're not, then you should do something else. And number three, if you're coming home from work and you're not enjoying it, then you need to look at yourself and what's going on in your personal life.

I think the Coast Guard has got it right in our core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. And when people are looking to come in the Coast Guard, I would just say they need to think about those three core values. And I think of them as concentric circles when I'm talking to young folks in the Coast Guard. The first one is honor. And that's a compact you make with yourself on how you're going to conduct your life and the principles you're going to live by. Respect, which is the next one, is how you're going to conduct your life in relation to those around you, the compact you make with your teammates, your officemates, the people in your own organization. A devotion to duty is a compact you make with your country.

So honor, respect, and devotion to duty I see as concentric circles that build the individual from their self out to that larger sense of duty that's related to the blue uniform we all wear.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, that's a great model and great advice I think for all of us. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule today. But more importantly Dave and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country.

Mr. Allen: Well, thank you very much. I would just advice your listeners if they want to find out more about the Coast Guard, we do have a website, it's www.uscg.mil. You can also go to gocoastguard.com and you can find more information about our service.

Mr. Morales: Great, Admiral, thank you.

This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

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

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

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

Reflections on 21st Century Government Management

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007 - 20:00
Our goal with this report is straightforward: to begin thinking about the future of government and the trends and new ideas in government management that a new president should consider as he or she takes office in 2009. The intent of this project is to stimulate new ideas among several key audiences. We wish to spark the imagination of government leaders to look beyond their day-to-day "urgencies" and reflect upon the important challenges the nation will face tomorrow.

R. Allen Pittman interview

Friday, January 26th, 2007 - 20:00
"Where we need to move from where we are today, how do we transform ourselves -- it is moving from a personnel transaction-based organization into a human resources consulting behavioral-based organization."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 01/27/2007
Intro text: 
R. Allen Pittman
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, January 27, 2007

Washington, D.C.

Mr. Morales: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the Center by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Mr. Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Good morning, Allen.

Mr. Pittman: Good morning, Albert.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice, and former Acting Associate Director for Human Capital at the Office of Personnel Management.

Good morning, Solly.

Mr. Thomas: Good morning, Al.

Mr. Morales: Allen, perhaps you could start by giving our listeners an overview of the history and the mission of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Mr. Pittman: Be more than my pleasure to do so. Veterans Affairs actually was established through an Executive Order creating an agency by President Hoover in 1930. In 1989, we became a Cabinet-level department under President Reagan.

Mr. Morales: Could you give us a sense of the scale of the VA? Also, how is it organized, the size of its budget, the number of full-time employees, and its overall geographic footprint?

Mr. Pittman: Absolutely. VA has 235,000 employees, and that fluctuates every month, typically goes up to about 238,000, drops down to about 234,000, but we're currently about 235,000 employees. Of the 235,000 employees, just to give you additional information, we have approximately 190,000 employees that are members of the union. So that's taken into consideration. The VA itself is broken into three major operating groups.

We are kind of different than the rest of the government in that we're actually an operating company if you look at us as a business entity. We have Veterans Health Administration. That has the largest component of employees -- approximately 190,000 employees. Then we have Veterans Benefits Administration, and then we also have the National Cemetery Administration. The remainder would be the staff offices supporting those three operational groups.

We have 1598 locations made up of 156 hospitals, 877 outpatient clinics, 136 nursing homes, 43 residential rehabilitation treatment programs, 207 readjustment counseling centers, 57 veterans benefits regional offices, and 122 national cemeteries.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about your specific role as the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and also as the Chief Human Capital Officer. Could you tell us a little bit about the areas under your purview, the organizations, the size, the budget, the resources available to you?

Mr. Pittman: I have five program areas. There's human resources. There's labor relations management; there's administration; there's diversity management, and then the Office of Resolution Management. I have -- reporting into those five program areas, I have approximately 550 employees, and I have a budget responsibility for around $101million.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, I want to shift the focus now and ask you to describe your career path for our listeners. How did you begin your career? Could you talk about your experiences, and also what drew you to this critical position at the VA?

Mr. Pittman: Well, let me go back a little further than what you anticipate by that question, but I think I have to set the stage. I actually was a money and banking major in college, with the University of Arkansas. I had returned from Vietnam -- I'm a Vietnam veteran -- and I was on the G.I. Bill. And majoring through money and banking, I had reached the last semester of my eligibility out of the G.I. Bill and was running out of money. And I had to take one class which remained in my core criteria in reference to my major. Unfortunately, there wasn't anyone available to teach that class. So I switched to personnel management. That's how I got into personnel management.

Upon graduation, I started interviewing within the area that the University of Arkansas was located in, which is Northwest Arkansas. Unfortunately, the only jobs I was receiving came from Tyson Foods. And at that time, the offer that I was given was actually $2,000 less than the poverty level. And my dad, who was a family physician -- here comes a tie as far as health care -- suggested that possibly I get into pharmaceutical sales. So I ventured into that arena as far as that industry sector, and I went to work for American Cyanamid Lederle Laboratories, and eventually for Pfizer Labs.

So I became a pharmaceutical detail man. In my background in the military, I was a hospital corpsman. Again, you'll see there's a thread of health care. So I was able -- I was a caregiver in the Service, obviously, even though it was in a combat-oriented environment. But with pharmaceutical sales, I started understanding pharmacology. After I left Pfizer and went to work in the private sector, I went to work at a hospital, where I was a personnel manager.

I eventually went to work with Fluor Corporation, which was an engineering construction organization, and that was one of the best moves I made, principally because it was so fundamentally sound in reference to its training and development organizations. And from the human resources component, they soon put me into a fast track program where they wanted to make a general manager out of me. But in order to do that, I had to complete all the various disciplines within human resources.

And at Fluor Corporation, they had everything but labor relations. So therefore, I became a fundamental human resources technician, in that I've been in every discipline that there is within human resources, either as a technician or a supervisor or a manager. With that then I soon went on down the road in human resources, but I was soon contacted in the early '80s by a gentleman that I worked with for about 22 years. And we started two companies, both in health care -- both were ambulatory care, but one was home infusion, and the other one, the last one, was U.S. Oncology, which was a cancer-based community-based organization for the treatment of cancer. That's really helped me out. The background that I had created a situation for me in these operational companies that we started up not only in maintaining the direct responsibility for human resources, but also being the operating executive within those two organizations.

So I bring a different fit into the government in that I'm a true operational executive, and have been for over 20 years. However, I'm also a human resources professional. And I think that's always important. When you look at a career in human resources, it's unusual to have someone that understands health care to the degree that I do, and can apply it through a human resources aspect.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, with such a fascinating background and wealth of experiences, I'm curious: how have these experiences prepared you for your current leadership role, and how has this informed your current management approach and leadership style?

Mr. Pittman: Well, it's been beneficial from this respect. I think that you know I'm a political appointee. And with that, a political appointee comes into an environment that the majority of -- at least 98 percent or 99 percent of the employee base are career employees. At the VA, we only have 15 political appointees. We're treating veterans. This is not political, this is an apolitical environment.

So with that, the fact that I have this experience, that brings credibility. So when I talk, I bring credibility from the standpoint of -- again understanding the business, and being able to relate the business to a human resources decision or strategy. And that's been most important.

The other aspect, too -- in those two organizations in particular that I referenced about starting up, we had approximately 40, 45 acquisitions in those two organizations. So needless to say when you acquire an organization and try to transform and transition those two organizations together, it is very, very difficult. So it requires a lot of selling experience and being to sell the program, but importantly, you have to work collaboratively and participatively. I am a collaborator in reference to my management ability. In addition to that, I believe in participation.

That's where ownership comes in as far as whatever strategy or initiative you may have, and ownership by those that are participating in that initiative. I think that's been crucial, because there's such a short time to be able to come into the VA to hopefully impact and move that organization from a collaborative standpoint to where it should be.

Mr. Morales: Fantastic.

What is the VA's human resource strategy? We will ask Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer of the VA, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

Allen, could you elaborate on the four-part HR consulting model that you and your team had recently rolled out? And how does it frame your human capital strategy?

Mr. Pittman: Well, to give you just a little bit of background, first of all, VA, unfortunately over the years, has not kept up as far as leading edge technology or actually systems from a people perspective within the VA. And you might understand why. VA is mostly known for health care and also veterans benefits. So therefore, when the budget comes through, from an appropriation standpoint, it's typically for health care and benefits administration, plus for national cemeteries, of course.

So when you talk about overhead, which we are, it's very difficult to get those dollars that are necessary to move forward. What we've done since I've been there is to identify what we need to be within the future. So we're going through an HR transformation process. And I will tell you something that I think is somewhat funny. When I first came here and did an assessment of VA from the human resource perspective, I mapped out what I thought needed to be done before we sat down and did a collaborative strategic plan as far as human capital plan is concerned. Turns out that it matches the President's Management Agenda, and I would prefer to say that the President is following my lead, but unfortunately, that is -- that is not -- as it turns out, it's a pretty good fit.

And this is not rocket science when you look at human resources. If you look at the fact that fundamentally you're a personnel organization, a personnel department, even though we are 235,000 strong, then you'll soon see what we must do. And automation is almost non-existent to VA. We have a payroll system that has a component for human resources in it.

So taking a look at where we need to move from where we are today to where we're going to in the future, and the people involved, and how do we get there, how do we transform ourselves, a lot of it is moving from a personnel transaction-based organization into a human resources consulting behavioral-based organization. But you also need to have the tools that allow you to do that.

We went through that process and soon realized that if we're going to become a consulting organization, then what do we need to subscribe to? And you mentioned the four-step consulting model. Well, it includes the focus on customer needs, exploring solutions, developing and executing action plans, and closing the loop with our HR practitioners, but also the line managers that they work with.

So what we're trying to do is take those four components and develop core competency training programs so we can create an organization that is a consulting organization. We have a three-year plan in reference to that training and development piece as far as human resources and the human resource professionals are concerned. A lot of it's contingent also upon automation.

Mr. Morales: You talk about the scale of transition. Could you elaborate a little bit more on the VA's plan to transition to an HR line of business? And how does this move factor into your strategy, which you talked about, of moving your HR function to a more consultative and less transactional focus?

Mr. Pittman: Well, if one understands -- if you're a personnel transaction-based organization -- I'll give you an example of that: within the federal government, there is a Form 52, which is actually a change of status for an employee that's filled out typically by either the supervisor or human resources. And it's a paper form, and that's the way we do it at VA.

Understanding that that's a transaction itself, and then also understanding that our survey has shown us that approximately 36 to 42 percent of our HR professionals are transaction-based tasks, then you can see just how much labor it's taking in order to move an individual from one slot to another to perform any function within human resources. So just imagine if we automated those functions, then wouldn't that give us more capacity without even adding staff? And that is our strategy right there.

We want to automate, thus increasing capacity of our human resources professionals to allow them to do consulting without adding FTE. In order to do that -- that's where our HR line of business comes into play -- pretty much tells us where we need to go, and that's even better. Why? Because we don't have to build it. The HR line of business goes through a process through OPM. And OPM goes through the due diligence process of not only creating the project teams that represent all the departments and agencies within the federal government, to be able to select going through a due diligence process of who can perform these functions from a transaction-based piece.

Most people call these organizations "service centers." So a service center can offer, for example, classification. What we're doing is buying that service from either another agency and the agencies that have been identified within the federal government have been identified, and there's four that meet the criteria we need from the human resource information standpoint.

However, at the same time, OMB is going through a process of due diligence as far as the private sector is concerned, allowing them the opportunity also to become service center operators. So we're waiting for that one aspect to be complete. But by utilizing a human resource information system, this allows us to go into the database. And the database, in this respect, comes from a personnel file.

Once we automate that personnel file, the official personnel file, then this human resource information system -- an automated system can reach down into that database and pull out all these various aspects of an employee. And that will help us in managing our workforce.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, I want to talk a little bit about performance management. I want to know if you could elaborate on the VA's five-tier performance management system, and your experience implementing the performance appraisal plans. In particular, I'm interested in hearing what kind of findings, what your experience was under your performance management data site.

Mr. Pittman: Well, most people are unaware of this, that there is an awful lot of publicity in reference to the Department of Defense and Homeland Security and the issues they're having to train and to implement a five-tier performance appraisal system, which is absolutely crucial to performance planning. VA is the second largest agency and department within the federal government -- 235,000 strong.

All 235,000 employees are on the five-tier system. We had that ratified by the union six months ago. And we've worked with our union partners to get that. That was an essential piece. If we didn't do that, other than our Senior Executive Service who is on a five-tier system already, and that's approximately 300 of our executives -- if we didn't have a five-tier system, we'd still be on a pass/fail system. Now, the pass/fail system doesn't bode well for lots of different reasons. If you and I -- Solly, for example, are in the same classification and the same job title and we perform the same work, and you receive a pass and I receive a pass, but you work extremely hard and I work just enough to get a pass, then who can the supervisor and who should the supervisor invest in from a training and development standpoint for the future of this succession plan and also strategies of VA?

If the investment goes into you, I have every right to raise my hand and say, "How come you're not investing in me, I also have a pass?" We need to be able to distinguish between the levels of performance to give us a determination of who from a career path and career progression standpoint is going to move forward; also, who needs development, how can we invest those very valuable and scarce resources, dollars, that we get from the Congress, to invest in you?

So from a five-tier system, we started this process just this last six months, with the exception of the Senior Executive Service. So we have gone out and we've tested it, we've implemented it in all parts of the country. We are writing up the objectives as we just speak now that align with incentives, the incentives being defined as the strategies of the VA, strategies of the organization and also the objectives of the individual. So we can have measurable metrics that will afford us the opportunity to move people through the system based upon performance.

Now, the experience we have has been short-lived other than the Senior Executive Service. We've piloted this program and it's working extremely well. We had approximately three VISNs. VISNs are integrated systems within VHA. So it's Veterans Information and Integrated Service Network -- that's what a VISN is. So we've done that, it's working extremely well, and now we are doing a wholesale rollout in reference to the five-tier performance appraisal system. Unfortunately, we don't have that much experience to speak of.

Mr. Thomas: And you mentioned that you worked with the unions. I'm sure they raised some concerns at the outset. How did you address those concerns?

Mr. Pittman: Well, I speak very openly and short and to the point. And if I'm asked a question, I'll answer the question, obviously, but if there is a confidential situation, I'll explain it's confidential, I can't explain it. But in talking with the unions, I've been very, very clear about their relationship. When I first came into the VA, I read the master agreement with reference to the American Federation of Government Employees master agreement and saw that it was a pro-union master contract. In talking with the unions, I expressed that, and I said, well, what we need to do is not to create a pro-management agreement, but to create one that is equitable for not only the unions, but also for management, which would impact, obviously positively, the employees.

It's very, very difficult to manage an employee, the human capital asset, if in fact you can't do it directly. And if you have to give 30 days' notice every time you do something, whether it's a salary increase or whether it's a performance appraisal or et cetera. And that's what we talked about. We talked about how we could collaboratively develop a master agreement that would allow us the opportunity to manage the employees for the benefit of the veterans that we serve. Otherwise, we are too restrictive right now. In addition to that, I did talk about the fact that, you know, there's a trend within the private sector in particular that unions are becoming more and more minimized. And there is an opportunity to work with us in a partnership to develop an equitable plan, an equitable agreement to allow them to participate properly in the future.

You know, I talked about performance planning. Their concern was performance planning. And when there is an issue, whether it's positive or negative, but typically negative, then there is not a performance plan in place that allows the employee a good-faith effort to turn around and to continue employment. We have a philosophy at VA, I have a philosophy at VA -- it's our job to retain an employee. It's not our job to separate an employee. It's difficult enough bringing someone on board, so why not keep them. So through a performance plan request that they had as far as negotiations are concerned, I said absolutely, that's what supervisors are supposed to do.

Again, some of the very basic elements of labor management relations that should have been there were not there. We are creating that.

Mr. Morales: How is VA transforming how it manages its workforce?

We will ask Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

Allen, we often talk with our guests about the pending retirement wave in government and the type of impact that this will have on their operations. What are you seeing within the VA, and what plans are in place to mitigate its possible effects?

Mr. Pittman: This is one of the most important areas that not only VA, but also the government, needs to respond to and respond to very quickly. Director Springer of the Office of Personnel Management uses the phrase "retirement tsunami." And I think that's a pretty good graphic, as a matter of fact, when you start talking about retirement. At the VA, which is in parallel to the rest of the agencies, but speaking about VA, we actually have 60 percent of our employee workforce that is eligible to retire within the next five years, not 10 years.

And doing an analysis in reference to where they're at as far as their retirements are concerned -- they being the employees, we've done two things. One is we have started a program of actually asking the employees -- which is part of succession planning -- it really surprises me when I first came on this, has anybody ever asked the employee when they have an expectation of retirement? And it's not illegal to do so. And the reason behind that is anyone can apply for retirement. They have to fill out an application actually to retire. They can actually pull that application anytime they want to, even though they've said they're going to retire. But from a planning perspective, you need to understand that.

What's even more important, not only from a planning perspective, is also understanding the intellectual, institutional knowledge that they have. They maintain a lot of information that's not written down anywhere. And it's absolutely necessary that we try and transition that knowledge base to someone else.

And the way that we are trying to approach it is actually multifaceted. What we're looking at and doing an analysis, which was the first part of what I was starting to answer a moment ago, is we were looking at those eligible to retire from an age perspective. When is it that they will retire based upon tendencies? If you look back over the years and look at the individuals that hold certain positions, you'll see that the higher the level, the shorter the time they will have as far as an age perspective. They may retire at 55, they may retire at 58, depending upon the number of years and combination. But you'll find, for example, senior executives, they normally do not go to age 65. Our senior executives typically go right at 59-1/2. And the rationale behind that is they have their high threes.

But if you look at that, that's when an individual -- an executive -- I happen to be 59, just for your information -- I know that I have a lot of years left. You may not think so, but I do. And you're at your peak. So why in fact should we work hard on trying to retain those individuals, how can we retain those individuals, not just plan for future replacement of the individuals through succession planning, but why can't we -- from a legislation standpoint, why can we retain without impacting their high threes as an individual, moving them into another slot parallel for a year or two-year period, to be able to transfer that institutional knowledge they have, and also to mentor their replacements, et cetera. That's an example of what we're trying to do.

The other aspect as far as succession planning is concerned also: the federal government has a tendency of really spending a lot of time on workforce planning. It has been an exceptional tool for the last two to three years. But it is now time to move to succession planning. Director Springer actually has taken this under her objectives and strategies. I believe VA started that process.

Part of what we need is automation -- if you recall, we need to have a learning management system that catches the skills inventory of each individual, not only their skills, but also their educational licensures, to be able to create a database so we can at that point develop a gap analysis in reference to where their skills and where their experiences and professional knowledge are in reference to where we're going from the VA perspective.

The federal government typically does strategic planning on a five-year basis. We are moving to a 10-year plan. There is nothing that you can accomplish in the five-year period. So why don't you look further out, look out further and see what your lines of business are going to be, what your technologies are going to be, what skill sets are necessary to support those lines of business, and start looking not only internally through a gap analysis, developing those competencies through leadership development programs and/or skill development programs to be able to support the lines of business into the future. And also to sit down and review the strategic plan on an annual basis. Right now, there's legislation out there that you have to review your plan every two years.

Well, typically an agency or department will take that plan off the shelf every two years, dust it off, enhance it, put it back on the shelf. It needs to be a living document, where you are looking at it every year and determining that if your lines of business that have been identified in the future have changed, you need to revise your strategies, which means you revise your skill sets necessary to support them.

So one of the things we need to do is to develop career pathing programs. VA does an exceptional job, and I'm serious, an exceptional job, for the highest levels of leadership. That includes the Senior Executive Service. And we have a program that's called the Senior Executive Career Development Program, which actually is a feeder program into the Senior Executive Service. We also have another program called the Leadership VA. The Leadership VA is actually the first executive-level, usually GS-13, 14 and 15 level development program, that is a feeder into the SESCDP, which feeds into the SES program.

However, the void is this: we don't have anything universally across the VA for the GS-3s through 12s. How do you create the pools of talent, how do you create the developed pools of talent in order to succeed? And this succession plan itself identifies positions based upon not only skill sets, but also careers. We have a tendency of recruiting. When we recruit for future purposes, we don't really recruit for the future. What we are recruiting is for now, for the vacancy. We are changing our recruitment strategies, our recruitment strategies for the future development based upon the skill sets necessary to support the strategies of the future and also technologies in the lines of business. So when we go out and recruit, we actually are offering a career based upon a need for the VA, not the vacancy.

Mr. Morales: I want to go back to some of the earlier comments you made about the -- certainly the size of the VA and its geographic dispersion. I'm curious. How does the VA evaluate HR field performance as well as impart some of these best practices to the HR community? And what steps are you taking to ensure that the policies and procedures are documented and communicated in a timely and comprehensible manner?

Mr. Pittman: Well, this is twofold. Again, when I came onboard and did an assessment, I asked first of all, do we have the human resource information system? That system is absolutely crucial to anyone that is in the profession of human resources. Why? For example, when you are talking about field audits, you can do system audits if you have a human resource information system, it will save you a ton of time to ensure that you have compliance to various policies, to include, for example, veterans preference on the hiring process. So a system that we will have on board over the course of the next two to three years maximum will be on board to allow us to do that.

In the meantime, I looked at also again what OPM was requiring us to do to go green. And by the way, we have gone green. We went green approximately six months ago. So we are the largest federal agency that has a green status at the current time. And part of that process, and what we needed to do, is to create an accountability organization. The accountability organization functions like an audit organization that comes out of human resources.

So it's a manual process, and what we do is we started out with just one individual. And we now have 11 staff that's in the accountability office. That's how important it is to our organization, and also one of the most important strategies we've done to ensure compliance. I think that you know that first of all, we are Veterans Affairs. So therefore, one of our most and greatest priorities that we ought to have is the hiring of veterans. And as you well know, there is veterans preference from a legal perspective that needs to be complied with.

We are the second-largest department behind the Department of Defense, with 30 percent of employment being veterans. And we absolutely believe in the merit system to begin with. I'm a strong supporter of the merit system, which surprised me when I came on board, coming from the private sector. However, I'm a firm believer that that needs to be there and to be maintained. And the other aspect of it, too, is that any preferences that we have as far as legislation is concerned needs to be followed to disability, age, whatever it might be -- needs to be followed.

So this accountability organization has been absolutely crucial. What it does, it checks every aspect, every function of human resources, not only from a recruiting standpoint, but from a classification standpoint, compensation, disciplinary action, it ensures compliance. Unfortunately, being the size that we are, 235,000 employees, and the dispersion that we have geographically as far as our locations are concerned, needless to say, this is a little bit difficult when you have a staff of 11. What we are doing though is, we're now training up the field staff, field human resource organizations, coming out of each one of our administrations -- that's Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration and National Cemetery Administration -- their human resources staff, to function as a team with us.

We've taken an integrated team approach. Those individuals that come from field operations will now be auditing their own facilities or even in their own administration. Therefore, we will have more capability to be able to do that. That's how we do it currently. We are anticipating automation. It will help us as far as system audits.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, you had mentioned some changes you had put into place to focus on the recruitment process. Maybe you could elaborate in a little bit more detail. And on a related matter, does the VA use flexible compensation strategies to attract and retain quality talent?

Mr. Pittman: To answer your question in reference to flexibility, the answer is yes. We extensively use such things as recruitment relocation and retention incentives. We use special rate ranges to attract and retain quality employees that possess mission-critical competencies. So we use all the flexibilities that OPM allows, and we use them very aggressively. The other aspect, too, in mentioning the recruitment strategies, when I first came onboard -- again, and it seems like everything that I have done is being matched by someone else from an initiative standpoint -- either the President or the OPM, so they are following me extremely well, by the way. But I will tell you, we needed help as far as our recruiting strategies, in reference to bringing people onboard.

Our analysis of the general schedule, the GS classifications, in the hiring of the general schedule employees was that we were exceeding in the neighborhood of 95 days to bring on a general schedule. From a Senior Executive Service onboard process, we were in the neighborhood of 220 days. So can you imagine? We're sitting here trying to compete with the private sector, and a private sector employee has been offered a job from us for the Senior Executive Service probably has gone to work for three or four companies during that 220-day period.

So you can just imagine the talent that we were losing. So what we ended up doing is we sought help from the Office of Personnel Management actually. And they have a process; it's called a hiring makeover. We asked them to come in and help us. We are an operational organization, so we don't have that much staff to sit back and assess, analyze. We have to operate an organization, and at the same time try to do these assessments. So OPM offered their services; we took advantage. They came in, and it was most beneficial. From a general schedule standpoint, taking a look at what we were doing and how we were bringing people onboard, we have now gone down to 38 days in reference to the onboard process for the general schedule, which also helps us as far as going green and maintaining our green status.

Also from the Senior Executive Service standpoint, we've reduced the 220 down to 98 days, and we're on our way to an objective of 45 days. Now, one aspect that we've done just recently is the utilization of USA Staffing. USA Staffing is an application of recruitment that also enhances and expedites the process of delegated examining units. So the delegating examining function, which actually rates and ranks applicants and their applications, takes into consideration the preferences and creates a certificate. It's done automatically through the automated USA Staffing approach.

So that's been most beneficial in impacting what we are doing. Now we are in the process of rolling that out. We have 800 licenses that we are going to be going after pretty soon through the Office of Personnel Management, which will help us again trying to bring that onboard process down to something manageable, and therefore not losing the talent as much as we have in the past, because competition with the private sector is just huge.

Mr. Morales: How is VA planning for its future staffing needs?

We will ask Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resource and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

Allen, you talked about your movement to a 10-year plan. So as you look at this horizon, what types of personnel challenges do you think the VA will face?

Mr. Pittman: From a personnel challenge standpoint, if you're talking about human capital into the future, we have a huge challenge ahead of us. I'd just very briefly talk about succession planning. Obviously, you have to ensure that you have a flow of candidates for employment. That's absolutely crucial that we not only focus there but also understand what we are about in the lines of business that we're going to support in the future.

Again, mentioning our three administrations, if you know that VHA, Veterans Health Administration, is the largest component of our operating units and it is patient care-oriented, then that tells you pretty much the focus that we would have in reference to that administration. Doctors, nurses, health care professionals and health care technicians.

And we need to ensure that there is a constant flow, and we're taking steps to do that. We've developed, for example -- we're trying to brand ourselves within the minority community. It's an unusual approach; again, this is thinking outside the box. The private sector and the federal government typically go after anyone that they can recruit, but the most overlooked segment of our society happens to be the minorities. And that speaks very, very clearly. I mean, if you look at under-representation within the government, that speaks to where we are not getting candidates for employment from.

So why not become the brand within that minority community? I'll give you an example. We developed just recently and implemented in Puerto Rico a community prosperity partnership with one of the nation's largest Hispanic organizations, LULAC, and also the American GI Forum, which is a Hispanic veteran organization that's chartered by the federal government. And what the intent is is to look 10 years in the future and see what our job requirements are based upon the lines of business, the skills necessary to support those, and turn it right around and go into the Hispanic community through the storefronts that belong to American GI Forum and also LULAC; they're inviting us into their community.

The problem with our recruiting strategies typically is we don't understand the culture. So by working with them to develop those strategies, what we're doing is taking those job requirements into their youth development programs and developing that individual to where they are qualified for the job openings. The biggest barrier that we have is finding a qualified candidate for the job posting. So if we have a qualified candidate, that minimizes that barrier approach. Well, there's other approaches, too. Nursing; nursing shortages continue to happen. And it's not that there are not individuals that want to become nurses, the numbers are there. It's just that the nursing schools don't have the number of openings because they don't have enough instructors.

So therefore VA, has taken another unique approach. The Deputy suggested -- again thinking outside the box -- why doesn't VA have a nursing school, a national nursing school? Well, we're looking into that, so we can have people come to us. I also have been talking with the surgeon generals of the British Military Services. And they are very, very supportive of this. The allied health care professionals, for example, the non-nurses, non-physicians, those that have made the actual decision to separate from Service, why can't we bring them into our organization? Remember, we hire veterans. But also, we are bringing in qualified individuals.

If we had someone, for example, that was a hospital corpsman in the navy that wants to come to VA and become a nurse, we have a program where they can actually come in and we'll send them to a nursing school. We'll pay them 100 percent of their salary while they are going to school, and then whenever they get out of school, then they'll sign a contract with us for a number of years of service in order to pay us back for taking them through that process. But in talking with the military branches, they are wholeheartedly supportive of that. The one concern they have is that our program becomes so good that those individuals that were in the military or on the border, I mean on the edge of making decision whether staying in the military or leaving, that they may make the decision to leave or separate. So that's a concern we have is making sure we have a human capital for the future.

Mr. Morales: Along sort of the same lines, what challenges and adjustments do you foresee as a result of the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Mr. Pittman: There is a program that we have that's actually called Coming Home to Work Initiative. And for those young men and women, the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the theaters, that have been severely wounded or disabled, they typically would go through a process of rehabilitation assessment, for example, at Walter Reed -- or it could be Bethesda Naval or it could be in San Diego, it could be at Madigan in Seattle. There is a process they're going through where there's determination being made as to whether they can stay in the service, or unfortunately, from their perspective, being discharged.

And I would tell you, if you ask them, they want to stay in the service, they want to stay, and they actually want to go back to Afghanistan and Iraq. And it makes you so proud when you talk to them. But what we have is in the Coming Home to Work Initiative is actually a compensated work initiative. What that means is while they are going through rehabilitation and being paid by their military branch, by the Department of Defense, we have them come to work for us for 17 hours a week, and our one commitment is and the top priority is getting back for rehabilitation therapy. Any employment they had, we'll get them back. But what we're trying to do is during the 17-hour-a-week process, is to help them develop a new profession, a new occupation.

And we started that program about 2-1/2 years ago, and since that period of time, we have hired onboard with us -- mostly in information technology actually. It's about approximately 45 individuals, but we have more that's coming through the process itself. So we're trying to anticipate, from an employment perspective, those individuals coming back. From a network perspective, from a Veterans Health Administration standpoint, obviously we have health care needs also. And we're trying to adapt to that. And we're doing an extremely good job there. And particularly when it comes to brain injury and spinal code injuries, we actually have Centers of Excellence across the country, eight in number. And we're known now as a Center of Excellence for those severe injuries.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, I want to talk a little bit about technologies that are used in the Human Resources area. There's a lot of talk about commercial best practices, and certainly you have an interesting perspective coming in from the private sector. What emerging technologies do you think hold the most promise for improving federal human resource management?

Mr. Pittman: Well, I really think that what we need into the future is really what we are trying to do now through the HR lines of business. However, to take a step further, we need to have an opportunity to where we created a desktop management, human resources management approach for each manager and supervisor. If you look at the flexibility that we have by automating personnel files through the electronic official personnel file process under e-gov and also the human resource information system under the HR lines of business, the intent is to create an icon sitting on that desktop, that computer desktop, that not only sits there with the other icons you may have, like Word and et cetera, but to be able to tap into this icon that says H-R-I-S.

Now, through access rights to whatever applications may be within the human resources information system and also field rights, that supervisor -- as I had mentioned to you earlier, we have a Form 52 which is a manual process on an employee change of status of some sort -- if that supervisor wants to initiate an action, then they can just tap that icon, go into that -- the certain field of an application, fill out electronically that form and also transmit it -- if it requires upline management approval -- to transmit it.

It also has the learning management system that sits within it. For example, the individual development profiles of those employees that they supervise; what kind of training is necessary; what's necessary into the future? So it's to create a desktop approach that's absolutely essential for every manager in order to manage the workforce of tomorrow.

Mr. Morales: Allen, you have a tremendous passion for the business, and you started your career in the private sector and sort of had a variety of experiences. I'm curious and I'd love to learn, for those folks that are out there possibly thinking about a career in public service, what advice could you give them to get started?

Mr. Pittman: I think it's an honor to serve for the public, with the public, in any kind of opportunity that one may have, whether it's the federal government, state, local, could be the Peace Corps, could be the military. If one were to ask me 35 years ago what I would do for anyone coming out of high school, I would highly recommend having a two-year tour duty in public service. And I'll say the Peace Corps again, or it could be the military. I happen to be one of those individuals coming out of a process to where I was a little bit on the wild side, and I needed to have an understanding of a little bit more discipline in my life.

And what I understood in the military, as an example -- and this happens in public service, it's not about I, it's about we. It's a team. You cannot move anything to an outcome unless you have others to help you and to be part of that team approach. And just by the mere fact that you know that you're giving back to your community in one form or another, truly, truly excites me day-in and day-out.

Some say this is a sacrifice. This is not a sacrifice; it's an honor.

Mr. Morales: Great, that is fantastic. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule, but more importantly, Solly and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country and our veterans.

Mr. Pittman: Thank you very much. Again, I would just like to emphasize, if one has the opportunity for public service, please serve. I can't miss this opportunity to say something about Veterans Affairs; the Veterans Health Administration itself. If you have been reading anything about the VA over the course of the last two years, you now know that the Veterans Health Administration has the highest quality outcomes of any health care distributing system in the world. It's known for its quality care. What a change.

And our Secretary has a tendency -- Secretary Nicholson has a tendency of saying this is the best story never told. And that's true. We're taking an approach now that every opportunity we have, like I do now, to talk about Veterans Affairs, talk about not only medical care, but the Veterans Benefits Administration, and also the shrines that we have for those veterans that are going be laid to rest.

And again, thank you very much. Again, it's an honor to be here and it's an honor to talk about the Veterans Affairs Department.

Mr. Morales: And it is a wonderful story.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resource and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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

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

For The Business of Government Hour, I am Albert Morales.

Thank you for listening.

Rear Admiral James J. Shannon interview

Friday, December 22nd, 2006 - 20:00
The Navy and Marine Corps' move toward Open Architecture; Technical and engineering aspects...
Radio show date: 
Sat, 12/23/2006
Intro text: 
In this interview, Shannon discusses: his role as the U.S. Navy's major program manager for Future Combat Systems Open Architecture; Open Architecture defined; The Navy and Marine Corps' move toward Open Architecture; Technical and engineering aspects...
In this interview, Shannon discusses: his role as the U.S. Navy's major program manager for Future Combat Systems Open Architecture; Open Architecture defined; The Navy and Marine Corps' move toward Open Architecture; Technical and engineering aspects of Open Architecture; Business aspects of Open Architecture; and the Benefits and key accomplishments of Naval Open Architecture. Missions and Programs; Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Technology and E-Government; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, September 9, 2006

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Morales: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the Center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Captain James Shannon, Major Program Manager for Future Combat Systems Open Architecture of the United States Navy. Good morning, Captain.

Captain Shannon: Good morning. How are you doing?

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation, is Bob Reeve, partner in IBM's DoD practice, and a retired officer of the Naval Supply Corps. Good morning, Bob.

Mr. Reeve: Good morning. Good morning, Captain.

Mr. Morales: Captain Shannon, for those who are unfamiliar with the Navy and Marine Corps acquisition community, can you briefly discuss the mission of the Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems, otherwise known as PEO IWS?

Captain Shannon: Sure. PEO IWS, still fairly new PEO, and it's not necessarily a traditional PEO because in the past all of our programs were aligned to platforms. And in 2002, the Navy decided that they had to figure out a better way to integrate across ship platforms, aircraft, and even submarines, and PEO IWS was stood up. Then the leadership was Mr. John Young, who was the Service Acquisition Executive. And the focus for IWS is to ensure that there is commonality among systems in what we invest in across platforms, primarily on ships and submarines.

Mr. Morales: Great. Can you tell us about your role specifically as the Major Program Manger for Future Combat Systems Open Architecture?

Captain Shannon: Yes, again, because we're still a fairly young PEO, I was in the summer of 2004 the Deputy Program Manager for Integrated Combat Systems, which was the program that brought together all of our AEGIS combat system, every combat system we have on all of our ships and also other various and sundry associated programs. When Mr. Young, in that summer, came out with a new policy that required that all Navy programs had to become open, in the sense of adopting Open Architecture principles, we were not necessarily aligned or to do that we had to reorganize the PEO.

So, PEO IWS 7, Future Combat Systems Open Architecture, was created. And I had been the initial Major Program Manager for that. My role is to look across the family of systems in the Navy and not just a specific system. And by a family of systems, my responsibility is to see how aircraft work with ships, how any elevated sensor may pass information to other elevated sensors. So I tried to work those kind of integration challenges. I also look at future in missile defense threats, and make sure we have the right resources towards building programs towards those things. And what's taking up most of my time is what we're here to discuss today, is this open architecture policy.

Mr. Reeve: Captain, can you give us some background about yourself, and how your career path led you to become the program manager for OA?

Captain Shannon: Sure. I'm a surface warfare officer by profession, and spent most of my career going to sea, primarily in cruiser or destroyer platforms. Early in my career, I was an engineer, below-deck engineer. And as I became more senior and served in different ship platforms, different types of combat systems, my training kind of led to combat system development and training. Eventually I commanded two guided missile frigates, and in between my executive officer tour and my command tour, I became very interested in the acquisition of systems. I felt that I could contribute in that way. After my command, I led a project, the evolved Sea Sparrow missile, and I've had a couple of other projects since then, and it's led to this program manager job.

Mr. Reeve: Excellent. You talked a little bit about your role as the program manager, but can you expand on that and tell us what it's like to be the Navy OA Program Manger?

Captain Shannon: Well, I'm defining it day by day. In my role as the program manager for Open Architecture, I'm trying to help establish policy and processes that other program managers can use and adapt to use Open Architecture to help them move forward and follow through RDA's policy, RDA being the Service Acquisition Executive for Research Development and Acquisition. My role as a program manager is to be a leader, to understand the vision of the Navy leadership, and make sure the people on the deck plates can go out and execute the things that we're told to do. We're treading new ground here. We're blazing a new trail. We're learning everyday on how to do it, but my role is to try to manage people in processes and new developments, new systems, new hardware even, and see how we can share that information across programs.

Mr. Morales: Captain, I realize that we've now been talking a lot about your role in the program that you manage. But we haven't specifically addressed what is Open Architecture. When we use that term, exactly what does that mean and what are the business drivers behind Open Architecture?

Captain Shannon: Right. I love that question, by the way, because I think the best way to describe Open Architecture is first to ask what is a closed architecture. And by closed, it's an architecture that only the developer will share within its own specific community or within its own specific company. And it won't be shared outside of that company or outside of that program. When you start talking about opening things, you're letting non-traditional partners develop, and you're allowing some sort of collaboration to happen. So, there is no single architecture in the Navy. There are many architectures to do the various things that the Navy has to do. How we share these architectures, how we understand the interfaces between them is only going to happen as we open them up, and let people look in and see those interfaces. And so the role in Open Architecture is to make that happen.

Mr. Morales: So it sounds like this is really a fundamental shift in the thinking of the way systems are built.

Captain Shannon: It's a big change in the business model, not just for the Navy, but also for industry, and that's what makes it really hard because it requires a cultural change. First thing that people respond with is, what's wrong with the way we're doing it now? Because, don't we have a great Navy? Don't we have great programs in place? Why do you want to break something that's good? And that's tough to answer because the fact is we do have very good ships, we have very good systems and very good programs. But the challenge is not in terms of performance. The challenge is in terms of cost. We simply cannot afford the fleet that we want, and to do that, to get that fleet, we need to change the way we do business.

We have to change it in-house in the Navy, and we have to ask industry to follow us along the way. And that's tough for industry. You know, we're not trying to dismiss this as something that's not important, because industry relies on stockholder investment, it relies on them being able to prove that they're making a profit that they have the right revenue, and for us to simply say, "Change your business," is really not that easy to do. So we're trying to work with industry to do it, but I always try to describe things as either an issue or a problem, or a fact of life. And when you have a problem, that implies a solution. If there is no solution, you have a fact of life, and the way we are doing business today, it's a fact of life we have to change.

Mr. Morales: Great. How is the Navy moving toward Open Architecture across systems? We will ask Captain James Shannon to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I am your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Captain Jim Shannon, Major Program Manager for Future Combat Systems Open Architecture of the U.S. Navy. Also joining us in our conversation is Bob Reeve, partner in IBM's DoD practice. Captain Shannon, why did the Navy decide it needed to move towards Open System Architecture and when was that determined?

Captain Shannon: Well, first there has been, I think, a movement at first in the technical community for several years about moving towards Open Architecture. But nothing in government really moves until there is an instruction or a policy that comes out, and first it came from OSD. The Department of Defense came out with a policy towards Modular Open System Architecture, and some of the listeners may have heard of MOSA, which is the acronym for that. And that requires some sort of test or evaluation of a program before any one of its milestones, and they run through a tool to do that. And the group under acquisition technology, ATNL, OCATNL, they have a program called the Open System Joint Task Force, and they lead this MOSA strategy. So that's how we've been ongoing, but the Navy particularly started looking heavily at Open Architecture in the '90s.

First, it happened in the submarine community.There is a program called ARCI, Acoustic Rapid COTS Insertion, and the Navy had a challenge in that we had an increasing threat to be concerned about, and at the same time an affordability problem on our submarine systems. And the investment in submarine systems is, first always in safety and in the hull and mechanical and electrical part of it. And we had to do some trades, system trades, in the combat system piece of submarines. So they looked at the acoustic processing, and wanted to figure out how we can improve performance there. And so they tested Open Architecture in that program and it was successful over a period of time.

As we learned from that program, the surface Navy then realized that they needed to be able to take advantage of COTS processors. COTS is Commercial Off The Shelf processor, computing technology. And they had to get away from the monolithic legacy development that we have done so well, and is to perform well for us in many of our ships.

And through a series of meetings in the 2002-2003 time frame, the Navy realized that we shouldn't just focus on the surface Navy community of interest, but we had to approach this as an enterprise, really looking at the Navy as a business, and across the whole Navy. And so that's when PEO IWS got the role in 2004 officially to do that, and we set up this enterprise and broke it down across five different communities of interest.

We call them domains, but a community of interest is probably a better way to term it.

One community of interest is the surface. PEO IWS is the lead for that, and we work with the other PEOs, and PEO Ships, PEO Carriers, and PEO Littoral Mine Warfare. Then on the air community of interest, that's the other domain, and that's led by PEOT, and they work with the other PEOs in NAVAIR, the Naval Air community. And then it's a little bit easier to break up the domains for the next three. One is submarine or undersea warfare, and that's PEO Subs. Then there is communications, what we call, C4I & Space and that's the PEO out in San Diego. And finally, PEO Space. So those five communities of interest were set up, and that's when we kicked off the effort that I laid down.

Mr. Morales: Captain Shannon, by any measure, we've established our Navy as the most technologically advanced in the world. And you referenced the AEGIS combat system earlier, and you did talk about some of these points. But why do we need to change the way we're doing things today?

Captain Shannon: You've probably heard the term "stove-pipes" before. The computing infrastructure we have today in the fleet is performance-limited, and it's very expensive to upgrade. And by a stove-pipe system, it's built from the ground up, and it doesn't take into consideration like systems on other types of platforms. The reason we had to change is because that's just too expensive, and we had to figure out a way to take advantage of what's going on in the computing industry. Instead of relying on building our own computers, the question is why can't we take advantage of what we're witnessing out in industry? The demand for computers is so great, that the speed of computers, the processing capability of computers, is better than many of the computers that we had onboard ships to do some of our most difficult combat system problems. So it didn't make sense to continue down that path. It only made sense to take advantage of COTS processors.

Mr. Reeve: This sounds like an awfully large endeavor for one program manager to be responsible for, and I understand you've recently picked some additional duties as well. And your office is setting up the infrastructure that will help change the way the entire Navy enterprise does business. What other organizations are a part of the transformation effort, and how do you manage all of this?

Captain Shannon: You're right. You know, a captain, by himself or herself, cannot do this alone. It requires everybody in the Navy, especially from leadership, making sure that everybody at my level and below are working together. You mentioned that I have a new responsibility. The program manager in Integrated Combat Systems, Mr. Reuben Pitts, was detailed down to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, to work some organizational challenges down there. And my PEO, Admiral Frick moved me over to fill that gap. So my responsibility in that role is I'm responsible now for the computing infrastructure onboard all of our ships, and also the integration effort of our sensors and our weapons through that computing infrastructure.

Again, one person alone can't do this sort of thing. One of the things that we set up in the OA side of the house was something called the OA Enterprise Team. And it's among the five different communities of interest that I already said. We have representatives at the captain or senior government level, GS-15 level. And we meet regularly and discuss things often because each community of interest has their own path forward, and it's too hard and too unwieldy to make everybody travel down the same path together. Somehow, we have to share information where we can build synergy. At the same time, we need to be able to go off and do what we're chartered to do, whatever that may be.

So we set up this organization, the OA Enterprise Team, and from that enterprise team, we've been able to work out issues. And it has required a lot of the typical new organizational challenges, the storm and form and norm kind of thing. But after two years a lot of same people are still around. We're working very well together. We've built a trust. It's, you know, like any family, sometimes there are problems, and sometimes we have to work out those problems. But the thing is we are all headed down the path together, and so that's the good news.

Mr. Reeve: What are the technical and engineering aspects of developing an open system architecture?

Captain Shannon: Well, I kind of described the legacy systems that you had, and when you have a closed architecture, typically the applications, the algorithms, the codes, the source code that's tied to that closed system are unique to that system alone. It might be a specific language. It may be some nuance just associated to that specific system. When you say, "Okay, we want to introduce COTS into the combat systems onboard our airplanes, and submarines, and ships," the companies out there, they're building computers today like Dell or IBM, or any other company like that, you know, they're not building military applications and selling them out to the general consumer.

So we have legacy applications which are unique military applications that we have to then write onboard these COTS processors. So the challenge there is how you make that happen, how do you translate the languages of something very unique and military-specific to write on something that's designed to be used maybe even in the workplace with a commercial technology. The way we do it today is first by breaking apart the operating system code from the unique military code, and we're using Middleware to do that. And we've been fairly successful in doing that. Even in the AEGIS Combat System today, the most recent baseline, they've been able to test that and out in the fleet today actually have systems that are open in the sense of modular openness. Not total business openness, but certainly in the technical side.

Mr. Reeve: And is OA just technical, or are there business aspects or business architecture that goes along with that?

Captain Shannon: No, again, I probably didn't say that well enough in earlier questions, but that was probably the biggest thing that we learned when we set up this OA process. When I took on the job and talked to many industry leaders and people within the Navy, and various engineers, they said, "Hey Jim, all you have to do is get the standards down. Just get the standards straight, and everything will solve itself." They made it sound very easy to me and actually very attractive. Unfortunately, nothing is that easy. And I found soon enough that that technical solution is exactly the way people have tried to approach it for several years, and they were failing because that's all they were trying to do.

Business in industry does exactly what we tell them to do, and they do it well. And that happens only by getting your contract language correct, your business models correct, and setting it up in the way that makes the ultimate product successful. The industry has always done exactly what we've asked them to do. But we have not asked them contractually to open up their business lines, and they're not going to do that until we get that business part set up. There is no forcing function. There is no incentive. There is no way to award them for that type of behavior that we want. So we have to change the business model as well. And it turns out, that's probably one of the key things in this whole policy as we move forward.

Mr. Morales: Typically, we also hear the words "Net-centricity" and "Interoperability." And it sounds like optimally that this effort around Open Architecture would extend beyond just the Navy and Marine Corps. And that the Army, Air Force, and other national defense and intelligence agencies should be doing projects like these as well. Are they, and do you work with them regularly?

Captain Shannon: Yes, and yes. Let me describe it this way. A few years back you may have heard the term Sea Power 21 when Admiral Clark came out for the future of the Navy, and kind of gave us a strategy to focus on the Navy of the future. And one of the elements in that was something called FORCEnet. And people at times have a very difficult time describing what FORCEnet is, but there's really a simple definition for it. FORCEnet is the integration of people and systems, and systems of systems, and family of systems to give some sort of distributive capability by the latter half of next decade.

So when this policy came out or when this strategy came out, there was time to figure what this all meant because we weren't even working the Palm processes or the budgeting process for the latter half of next decade, but we are doing that now. And the budget cycle that starts in 2008, it ends in 2013. And what you build in 2013 gets fielded in 2015, latter half of next decade. So with FORCEnet, the focus there is on this distributive capability which requires some level of interoperability. But you cannot engineer FORCEnet. It's too futuristic. It's something that we still truly do not understand. So you need some sort of tool. You need some sort of enablers to make FORCEnet happen, and Open Architecture is certainly one of those enablers, maybe not the only one, but we're out front on Open Architecture, and it's going to help us along the way.

Mr. Morales: Great. How is the current budget environment impacting the Navy system development efforts? We will ask Captain Jim Shannon, Major Program Manager for Future Combat Systems Open Architecture of the U.S. Navy, to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I am your host Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Captain Jim Shannon, Major Program Manager for Future Combat Systems Open Architecture in the U.S. Navy. Also joining us in our conversation is Bob Reeve, partner in IBM's DoD practice. Captain, what is the Navy's current budget, and how much do you expect the Navy to save through Open Architecture?

Captain Shannon: Navy's budget, what's appropriated, and really anyone of your listeners can get this information off the Internet I'm sure, is about $30 billion per year. That's in the fiscal year 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, and I think in 2007 it's going to be roughly the same amount. There is no single dollar amount in savings to the Navy that we'll be able to directly attribute to the implementation of Open Architecture. In fact, when you talk about Open Architecture and return on investment, sometimes people are overly sensitive. They're looking for cost savings to move money around and spend it on other things, but there are other ways to measure return on investment that Open Architecture can help.

And we've already talked about one of them, which is interoperability. Certainly greater interoperability is a return on investment. Cost avoidance is a return on investment. There's different ways to measure it, and one of my challenges is to come up with those metrics, which we're trying to develop now.

Mr. Morales: Are you beginning to see, in fact, some of these benefits as you deploy this program? And if not, what are some of the key accomplishments and specific efforts of the OA approach?

Captain Shannon: There are pockets of goodness throughout the Navy in Open Architecture, and I don't want to come off sounding like I'm the first one to be really leading the way in Open Architecture. There have been program managers before me who already understood the benefits of it and have preceded down a path to make Open Architecture work for them.

I already talked about the program ARCI, or A-R-C-I, the Acoustic Rapid COTS Insertion program. It's already there. They're leading the path, and actually they've evolved that into the Virginia class submarine combat system processes. So we're seeing that happen. We're seeing great return on investment in those areas. And in other programs, we're coming along the way. The Advanced Hawkeye Program, the E2Delta -- that's its designation. They've made some tremendous strides in mission computer development using the tenets of Open Architecture. And I would say, in most things involving the anti-submarine warfare communities of interest, they tend to be blazing the trail there because of what they learned from ARCI. And that is now crossing into the surface ship Navy because of sharing of information, being more open, and making our overall performance in synergy and undersea warfare across any kind of platform, because of this openness, improved.

So I'm seeing that. As far as key accomplishments go, I kind of just hit on a couple, but we've recently come out with a program manager's guide. In fact, it's on our website. But through this program manager's guide, which we just released, we had our legal and contract community to help us develop these guidelines, so that everybody has an equal understanding of what kind of things the Navy is looking for in terms of Open Architecture.

From that, and from all the efforts that led to that program manager's guide, we've seen improved coordination with and across domains to better aligned programs, and develop their domain-specific Open Architecture roadmaps. For example, the C4I domain is synchronizing requirements with resources and mapping programs to joint capability areas to better support Open Architecture. The air and surface domains are undertaking similar efforts. We are really working to build an enterprise view of Open Architecture. So we're learning as we go. And like I said, today there are many pockets of goodness. What we need is an enterprise view, and we're still not there yet.

Mr. Reeve: Navy and Marine Corps ships, planes, ground vehicles, and the accompanying combat systems last a long time. You mentioned the ARCI program. Is this the approach about how you integrate those platforms that are already in service as opposed to just working on the new systems in the future?

Captain Shannon: Yes, that technology insertion is really one of the fruits of our labor. We have to figure out a way to not just focus on new development, but also the legacy systems that we have. I actually don't like the word legacy. It implies old and used. Many of our ships and platforms are going to be around for many years. And we have to make sure that we have the tactical edge with these systems. We have to make sure that our sailors are on ships that are safe and can perform, whatever the threat may be. So we are trying to determine where are the opportunities to open up these systems.

In the surface Navy, we're looking at the AEGIS computing plan. We're focusing first on just breaking apart the hardware from the legacy applications. I mentioned that earlier. And we're finding success in that. But we're maybe not moving as fast as we would like to, and we have to, as we understand the technical openness and we are learning more about the business openness, we're moving out even faster. We're at a time now where we have to step on the accelerator in this process, and really take advantage of the opportunity. There are great challenges in budgeting. The whole nation is feeling these challenges and the Navy owes it to the nation to figure out the best and most efficient way to invest in our ships and airplanes and submarines.

Mr. Reeve: How does the Navy then evaluate which programs can cost-effectively be migrated over to open systems? You know, which programs are these that you're working on today?

Captain Shannon: Super question. One of the ways we are addressing that is we came up with something called the Open Architecture Assessment Model. This model was agreed upon throughout the Navy in the winter of 2005. And to make this model easier and user-friendly for program managers, we came up with a tool, the open architecture assessment tool, which helps baseline any discussion in terms of openness. So every program in the Navy has to run through this tool and from this tool you get a sense of how open you are on both the business and technical side. Any of our listeners will be able to have access to this tool through our website and I'll even say the website right now, just it's acc.dau.mil/oa and that anybody could get into that website and you can look at this tool and it walks you through, it's user friendly, and it gives you a sense of the questions that we're asking.

From that, a program manager then has to make a business case if he or she finds out that, "Hey, I'm not as open as I thought I was," or, "I may be less relevant if I don't open up more." They have to make a business case to move forward and that's the traditional way that program managers compete among themselves on where should the investment be. But in Open Architecture, as you open up and share information, the idea is to do your system engineering and make your trades in a more global manner.

To be able to make them so that everyone understands why this trade is better than that trade instead fighting each other to get the resources you need, making the best decision based on sharing of information and good collaboration, making the right investment decision. And that's going to be a great benefit and a change in the business model that the Navy should see.

Mr. Morales: Captain Shannon, we've talked a lot about the technical aspects of OA. We've even touched upon some of the business aspects. However, I would imagine that it takes significant amount of organizational and cultural change throughout an organization like the Navy and the Marine Corps to really bring this to life. What are you doing to help change behavior within the Navy? And I don't mean you specifically.

Captain Shannon: Yes. Well, it's very hard. Cultural change is always difficult. You see it your whole life, you see it as you grow up, you see how some people are left behind just because they won't make a change. We're working through a variety of outreach programs. Coming here today and talking to you is one way. Going to conferences is another way. Putting out the program manager's guide.

We've also developed a continuous learning module that Defense Acquisition University has helped us develop. That all of our workforce could get actual two hours of credit because we have the counseling due training and they could do that at home on a web-based tool. We have worked with the Naval Post Graduate School and one of their system engineering curriculums has adopted a lot of the things that we are advocating and actually getting some of our young officers to understand Open Architecture and how they can apply it.

So, you have to start at a young level. You have to get your current work force to change. And you have to go out and talk and help people understand what you're doing. It's not easy. But education training and a lot of outreach to our industry partners is important. And hearing good news and good stories from industry partners who have been successful by opening up their systems.

You know, that's always fun when I can sit in a room with a specific company who says, "I don't understand I could do it." I can say, "Hey, company X, you need to talk to company Y because they did it and if they could do it, why can't you do it?" And there's no one way to skin this cat. It's just a matter of trust, it's a matter of understanding that we have to get a little greater balance between intellectual property and intellectual capital.

Mr. Morales: It's interesting you bring that up, because based on what you've told us so far, it sounds like it's not just the Navy personnel that need to change, but really the entire defense industry that develops and builds these security systems as well. What has been the reaction so far of industry as you move down this path?

Captain Shannon: To answer that question, depends on which industry member you're talking about. All of them are listening. Some are more cautious. Some are very excited. Small business today is very excited at the opportunities to get into system designs or system work that they before felt that they were not allowed to get into. We are working this together. We're trying to understand the challenges that industry is facing. But they're listening to us and they're trying to answer our needs.

Mr. Morales: As you mentioned earlier, it's certainly a partnership, right?

Captain Shannon: It is definitely a partnership. We can't be successful without industry being successful. That's important. And everybody understands that in the Navy. You know, we don't want to see businesses suffer. We don't want to see companies suffer. But this is also a national problem. It's bigger than any individual company. It's bigger than the Navy. We have to change the way we do that for us to remain the edge that this nation is used to.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for Navy systems? We will ask Captain Jim Shannon, major program manager for Future Combat Systems Open Architecture in the U.S. Navy to discuss this with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Captain Jim Shannon, major program manager for Future Combat Systems Open Architecture of the U.S. Navy. Also joining us on our conversation is Bob Reeve, partner in IBM's DoD practice. Captain Shannon, what are the major challenges that you see our Navy and military in general facing over the next ten years?

Captain Shannon: The biggest thing, and you read this in the paper, it's weapons proliferation. Proliferation of rapidly advanced weapons systems based on low cost, ubiquitous technologies in the hands of unstable entities. I mean, we read about it in the paper every day. Potential enemies that are flexible and dynamic. That's what we're dealing with in the improvised explosive device challenge that we have in Iraq. Rising cost of our weapons systems to counter those threats. I think that in a nutshell is what the public reads about every day.

Mr. Morales: So this really is a lot of the impetus behind OA. So what are some of the biggest obstacles that you've encountered in your efforts to implement OA and can you share some of the lessons learned?

Captain Shannon: The most significant obstacle is frankly the fear of change, of the unknown. Naval Open Architecture and the things that we've been talking about today is disruptive. It represents a new business model for how our Navy acquires complicated systems. It requires a new way of designing these systems and demands new skills and processes from a wide variety of stakeholders. Communication is a critical element of change. Communication and documentation, I guess, for that matter.

Today, we've conducted a couple Open Architecture industry days. We've spoken to numerous conferences. We've held and attended symposia, and we've created and maintained a public Open Architecture website that had seen over 13,000 hits. And that's only 11 months since when we started it. So that's how we're learning from it, that's how we're implementing it.

Mr. Reeve: How does OA fit in with all the changes to, and modernization of the military that the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is interested in implementing?

Captain Shannon: Open Architecture directly supports defense modernization and simply put, we cannot continue to do the business the way it's done today. That's the message I'm giving you. Open Architecture breeds innovation. It breeds competition. It ensures that we get the best product out there at the right time. Beyond the considerations of affordability, the traditional way of doing business simply cannot react fast enough to get the new capability in the hands of our war fighters as quickly as it is needed in the world environment we have today.

Today's environment is different than the environment that I came in. When I was a young officer, I came in and there was a single threat. It was the Cold War. And what we face today is much more complex. The integration of all these challenges and all these threats and trying to solve these problems, I refer to as the mother of all calculus problems. It's incredible and it's hard and we need Open Architecture to enable us to solve these problems.

Mr. Reeve: Captain, you talked about innovation and competitiveness, and there is a lot of talk nowadays about how important that is to business and to American global competitiveness. That sounds like it fits very well with what you're trying to do in the OA movement. Does OA enable or inhibit that innovation and how can smaller firms -- as you mentioned, they're excited about this -- how do they participate in this movement?

Captain Shannon: Well, by adopting Open Architecture, the Navy and Marine Corps will be able to take advantage of the substantial ongoing investments by commercial industry that's driving advances in many areas in the computing technology. And I kind of hit on that earlier. Open standards and open business practices will lead to better compatibility between the Navy systems and the available COTS technology, the commercial, off the shelf products I mentioned earlier.

And improving compatibility will result in opening competition up to many new providers. Our efforts are focused at opening up opportunities for any qualified vendor to participate. Now the term, when I say "qualified," it's just not anybody coming off the street. There are certain qualifications that are listed in our federal acquisition regulations. But any qualified vendor, and any-sized company should be able to play.

Sometimes I hear people say, "We need small business," and I actually say, "any business." I like competition. David-and-Goliath-type competition is okay. The point is to get the best product out there. It's important that modular software components with fully disclosed interfaces give us the agility and ability for us to get the product that we need. When we talk about Open Architecture, I'm not talking about getting the source code or the niche product or that thing that's truly intellectual property out there.

I don't think that's fair to any company. But the interfaces to those modular systems we need to understand. The government should own the data to do that. We should be able to just provide that information to anybody we want to and we are walking down that path. We're trying to understand how to build our repository or our library, if you will. And this library will require people to have a library card. Some kind of qualification just like when you get a book out, you have to be a citizen of that town where you are.

Well, we need some sort of qualification and somebody comes in and we'll sign out a license and share this information with them, and the government ought to be able to that. And it shouldn't be by program. It should be across all programs. And we don't have that today. And that's one of the challenges in the requirement that I'm trying to define for leaderships, so that we understand how to do that.

Mr. Morales: Captain Shannon, you've enjoyed a very distinguished career in the U.S. Navy and in public service. And I understand that your son is embarking on an equally distinguished career. What advice could you give to any individual out there who is perhaps interested in a career in public service?

Captain Shannon: You mentioned my son. He's a midshipman at the Naval Academy. I'm really proud of where he is going and he joined the Navy in spite of anything I've done wrong in the past. So I'm really happy with that. But my advice to anybody who wants to embark on public service is public service is not just the military service. There are many ways to serve the public and it doesn't always have to be in a government position. You could serve the public by coaching a little league team or a soccer team.

I have three children, actually, and I tell all of them that they need to serve in some way and they need to dedicate their life with some level of service. Because that is the only way that we can work together, that we can survive as a community. So my advice is figure out what your talents are and figure out how to share those talents, and if government service is the way to do it, I encourage you to do it. And there is civilian government service as well. And in the business I'm in, there is more civilian government servants that there are military government servants.

Mr. Morales: Great. That's an excellent perspective. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time and so I do want to thank you for joining us this morning. But more importantly, Bob and I would to thank you for your dedicated service to the public and our country in the various roles you've held in the U.S. Navy.

Captain Shannon: Thank you very much for having me. This was a great opportunity for me to help get the message out. I'm proud to be in the Navy and I'm proud to continue to serve and help the Navy get on this path. I'd like the listeners just to write down this website if you didn't have an opportunity to do that already. The website is acc.dau.mil/oa. And thank you again.

Mr. Morales: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Captain Jim Shannon, Major Program Manager for Future Combat Systems Open Architecture in the U.S. Navy. Be sure to visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support. For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady interview

Friday, October 20th, 2006 - 20:00
"Our job is to make sure that we have the right airmen with the right skills in the right place at the right time."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 10/21/2006
Intro text: 
In this interview, Brady discusses: the Air Force's transformation strategy; Force development initiative; Personnel Services Delivery (PSD) initiative; National Security Personnel System (NSPS); Supporting Air Force families; and the Air Force's organizational...
In this interview, Brady discusses: the Air Force's transformation strategy; Force development initiative; Personnel Services Delivery (PSD) initiative; National Security Personnel System (NSPS); Supporting Air Force families; and the Air Force's organizational culture.
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, October 21, 2006

Washington, D.C.

Mr. Morales: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the Center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Lt. General Roger Brady, Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel, United States Air Force.

Good morning, General.

LTG Brady: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Bob Bleimeister, partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

Good morning, Bob.

Mr. Bleimeister: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: General, can you tell us about the mission of your office and how it supports the mission of the Department and the Air Force specifically?

LTG Brady: Well, as much as it might seem like a clich�, we like to say that our job is to make sure that we have the right airmen with the right skills in the right place at the right time. That's important for the Air Force; obviously for the individual as well. But we support Air Force commanders, and by extension also combatant commanders around the world, in the variety of missions that airpower is assigned.

Mr. Morales: General, can you give our listeners a sense of scope and scale, how big is the Air Force in terms of military personnel, Reserve civilians; how big is the manpower budget and how big is the overall personnel community?

LTG Brady: Well, it's rather large. When you add civilians and all the components that you talked about, active Guard and Reserve, about 700,000 people. About 350,000 of that is active, about 75,000 Reserves, 105,000 Guard and about 160,000 civilians. So it's a large enterprise of very talented people.

Mr. Bleimeister: General, could you focus a little on your role as Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel, and tell us more about your specific responsibilities?

LTG Brady: Yes, I'm responsible at the headquarters Air Force level. I guess you'd think of it as corporate headquarters in the civilian context for the Air Force's policy on education, training, development, benefits, compensation, also services; the services that we provide our people on bases for family support and recreation as well as manpower. We kind of handle a lot of the cultural issues of the Air Force, like we do uniforms and things of that nature, and currently, we're -- as you may have heard, we're working on a rather significant personnel reduction within the Air Force, which occupies a lot of our effort at the moment.

Mr. Bleimeister: You've had a pretty lengthy career. Could you give us some highlights of that, and perhaps what some of the most important things you did that may have prepared you for this role?

LTG Brady: Well, I think -- I'm not sure that anything prepares you for this role, actually, but I started out during the Vietnam era. I in fact went toVietnam as an intelligence officer, as a lieutenant, then later went to pilot training and flew in the mobility world for a number of years. Also, I was a training command instructor -- pilot training instructor for a long time. I've served in plans jobs, in acquisition and maintenance, personnel operations for many years. So I've seen a wide spectrum of the Air Force.

Mr. Morales: General, I'm curious, you mentioned earlier you have about 700,000 personnel in total in the Air Force community. About how many individuals are in your organization that service those 700,000 people?

LTG Brady: I have a little over 200 people here at Air Force headquarters, but then I have -- we also execute the assignment system for the Air Force, which is -- unlike most industries you would see, we move -- transfer about 160,000 of our people every year, and that execution process is accomplished by an organization in San Antonio that's another 2,500 people. That's our personnel center, and they're kind of the execution arm of Air Force personnel policy.

Mr. Morales: That's a large number. You surely don't see numbers like that in the private sector.

LTG Brady: That's rather large.

Mr. Morales: Great. You talked about some of your earlier experiences going back to the Vietnam War. How have these experiences, such as being a command pilot involved in a variety of major deployments, prepared you for your current role, responsible for Air Force manpower and personnel issues?

LTG Brady: Well, I think the most -- as I look back on my career, I don't think anybody planned back in the late '60s for me to be the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. But as it happens, I have a great background for doing this because I've seen so many parts of the Air Force. Obviously, being an aviator I think teaches you lots of intangibles about situational awareness and knowing what's critical and what's not and what decisions have to be made now and what decisions could be made later. But I think specifically for this job, I have pretty good familiarity with a lot of the different -- as we like to call them -- a lot of the different tribes in the Air Force, the different functional communities, and so they have a different kind of -- sometimes a thought process, cultures within the Air Force culture, and an awareness of those is very helpful in dealing with them in what can be very personal and sometimes emotional issues.

Mr. Morales: Well, I've got to expect with 700,000 people, it's probably several cultures within an organization of that size.

LTG Brady: Yes, there are -- there are.

Mr. Morales: Excellent.

How is the Air Force transforming, maintaining and shaping its force structure? We will ask Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel.

Also joining us on our conversation is Bob Bleimeister, partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

General, many pressing issues have required the United States Armed Forces to reassess and transform the way they operate to properly meet future challenges. Could you give us an overview of the Air Force's transformation strategy?

LTG Brady: Sure, I'd love to, but let me first spend just a moment telling you the environment that we are in that makes this transformation critical. We find ourselves in a situation, as you can well appreciate, fighting the Global War on Terrorism, which we refer to as The Long War. It's going to go on certainly for the rest of our careers, if not the rest of our lives, we anticipate.

So we have to win that war. We also have to be prepared for the next war, whatever that is. And so we find ourselves with a very high tempo operations tempo. We find ourselves with operating costs that are very high, and there is not much flex there because the tempo is so high, and we find ourselves flying very old equipment; the oldest equipment we have ever flown -- the most effective equipment in the world but old -- 23 years old on average -- we'll be over 30 years old, even if we get everything we are trying to buy in the next few years.

So we are way behind in our investment strategy, and people -- as any business will tell you, the cost is going out of sight, particularly health care. So where is our flex? We need to look at our portfolio of human capital and see what we can do there to be more effective, because we can't affect our operating tempo; we have to win. And if we don't want to fly 75-year-old airplanes, we've got to find a capability to recapitalize ourselves.

And so our flex is in people, and we also have to get -- people are our most important asset, and when I say that, you would ask, well, then why are you getting rid of them? I say because they are very valuable, but at the same time, they are very expensive. And the people we have have to be the most flexible, the most educated, the most appropriately trained, and we have to maintain the capability to sustain the benefit -- the benefits that our people have had over the years and have come to expect and deserve, including health care, et cetera.

So we cannot afford to have too many people. We got to have the right number. And so that brings us to the transformation that led to a reduction of some 40,000 full-time equivalents in our people over the next few years, which gets me to your question of strategy. What's the strategy for doing that? Well, again, warfighting is job one. If you do nothing else, you got to win the war. You can't get to be second place in our business. So we're focused on warfighting skills and those capabilities that deploy forward.

We then worked ourselves back from the deployed locations and said, okay, what does it take to sustain the institution, and as you go further back, what does it take to sustain garrison locations, and look at how efficient we are there. We do not want to take risk forward. We will manage risk in the rear, in CONUS, which drives us to seeing how efficient we can be in our organization and our processes, and the use of our very precious human capital resource to affect the future and to be as good and better than we have been in the past.

Mr. Morales: General, you alluded to these reductions in manpower, and I believe you alluded to the program name AFSO21, which stands for the Air Force Smart Operations 21. With all of these reductions and this change, what do you expect the impact to be on the corps airmen and women, especially those that remain?

LTG Brady: Well, I think that we're going to have -- as I said, we're going to have to use our people more efficiently, more effectively. Now, if we don't change the way we do things -- I mean, we can't just expect people to run faster. So we have to help our people learn to work smarter, and that's what AFSO21 is about. Air Force Smart Operations 21 is a combination of all those great management process improvement efforts that have been successful in industry and within the Air Force, such as lean initiatives and things of that nature, so that we can use the people that we have more effectively, help them work smarter and not harder to get the job done. And in many ways, we will broaden the capabilities of our people. We want to enhance their educations in every way that's appropriate, and I think we will make many of the jobs that our people have much more fulfilling. We will expect more of them, but we will prepare them to meet the challenge, and they will.

Mr. Bleimeister: General, given the reductions you've talked about, what actions are being taken to make sure that's the right number, and the shape of the force, once that reduction is taken, meets what you need to do for your strategy?

LTG Brady: Well, we have a -- as you know, we have a volunteer force, which is a huge challenge over time. It's the force we want. 100 percent of our people want to be with us, but they can also leave when their tour of duty is up, if they want to. So we have to be on top of taking care of our people, and we have to have some good analytics that tells us historically what our people are going to do -- you know, we always say it's easy to make personnel policy, but you don't always know how your people are going to respond to it in a voluntary environment.

So we have a very rich history, career field by career field, specialty by specialty of how a career field tends to behave over time, how it relates to market forces, et cetera, and obviously, this is -- I have to tell you, there is a lot of science involved, but it's frankly more art than science in my view. But we have a lot of people who have a lot of talent in this regard to determine, you know, what the force will look like, what it takes to maintain a certain force.

Some of our highly skilled technical people, for example, are the same people that are greatly valued in the outside world. So you find yourself having to perhaps recruit more of those kinds of people, because they tend to not retain as long because there are other attractive opportunities for them. So throughout your force, you have to look at all of those things to make sure that you have the right number of folks, and that you retain the right number of folks for the future to have your force structure look right.

Mr. Bleimeister: A lot of alternatives to work with, but you still have to meet mandated end strength targets each year. For our listeners, end strength refers to the limit set by Congress on the number of people the military can have on active duty.

General, how did you do on end strength in FY '06 as far as those targets went?

LTG Brady: Yes, at the end of fiscal year '06, which ends, of course, at the end of September, and we will -- we came in about 6,000 under, and that's good because we are going down. We're coming down at about 20,000 people in fiscal year '07, so being 6,000 ahead at this point is a good thing. So we would like to stay within one to two percent of our authorized end strength. Given that we are in a reduction mode, we are pretty happy with where we are at the moment.

Mr. Bleimeister: And will normal conditions get you to the '07 number, or are you going to have to implement other force-shaping actions? In the past, things like reduction boards have been held.

LTG Brady: Right. We will do some of that. We have greatly relaxed the requirements for people to get out in terms of -- we've expanded their opportunity to leave if they want to. We've relaxed some of the requirements to serve out commitments that they've made in the past. Career field by career field, as I implied earlier, you know how many people you need in each year group, because at the Air Force, unlike a civilian business, we can't go to another company and hire somebody of a certain grade, certain skill level and certain rank.

So all of our people are all homegrown, so we have to pay attention year group by year group to how big that force is. And so you know how many people you want to leave in each year group. We will provide some monetary incentives and some voluntary separation pay for some year groups, and for people who are already retirement-eligible; in other words, those people at 20 years and out, there will be a selective early retirement board. And again, we will allow some of those people to, who might not be eligible to retirement by virtue of a recent promotion, we've relaxed those rules as well. So we've tried to put together a portfolio, and with the help of the Congress, we are getting the authorities we need to shape our force by a combination of methods.

Mr. Morales: It sounds like there's many levers that you can actuate to meet those goals. I'm not going to ask you which is more complicated, doing that or flying an airplane, although I think many of our listeners may be interested in that answer.

In addition to maintaining and shaping the active duty force, we understand that you also spend a fair amount of time focusing on some of the specialties between the regular, the Air National Guard, the Reserve components as well the civilian components and the contractors, and this is usually described as the total force. Could you describe some of the total force initiatives being pursued to ensure that this balance such as Blue to Green and Palace Chase, among others?

LTG Brady: Right, yes. And I'm glad you mentioned the total force. We are extremely proud of all the components of our force. Our civilians are just absolutely top notch, and our Guard and Reserve are absolutely second to none. They are maintained -- we maintain them at exactly the same level of proficiency as the active force, and when we go forward there -- it's absolutely transparent as to who they are. You wouldn't be able to tell a Guardsman from an active duty from a Reservist.

So they are very critical to that. So we look at -- as you imply, we look at what size we needed those components to be. A lot of our young people that leave us from active duty will look for opportunities in the Guard and Reserve, and there are some opportunities for them to do that, because we need to keep them robust. We are also looking at opportunities for people who are perhaps in skill sets that are overmanned to stay with us as civilians, and there is some opportunity for people to do that and to stay in government service. So you're exactly right, we do pay attention to the size of each component and where those reductions are taken.

Mr. Morales: So it's really a very large portfolio management process in terms of managing the blends of all these characters of people?

LTG Brady: Yes, it is.

Mr. Morales: Excellent.

How is the Air Force personnel function specifically being transformed? We will ask Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel, to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel.

Also joining us on our conversation is Bob Bleimeister, partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

General, force shaping and reductions are only part of the equation. The Air Force is involved in numerous force development programs as well. What is its fundamental purpose of the force development initiative, and can you provide an overview of some of the initiative programs in place to enhance force development, such as the International Affairs Specialist Program.

LTG Brady: The fundamental purpose of force development is to deliberately connect education, training and experience with the goal to be, as I said from the very outset, producing the right number of airmen and with the right competencies at the right time. And recall what I said earlier about we can't hire somebody off the street, you know, mid-level in their career. So we grow our own. So the development part of the personnel business, the human resources business in the Air Force, is absolutely critical to us. And so through the force development initiatives, we want to deliberately develop a cadre' of airmen equipped to tackle our toughest challenges.

Now, before we instituted force development, frankly, it was more ad hoc. Members accrued the right sets of skills eventually, but most of the time the skills were required outside of a formal system, and perhaps sometimes even in spite of the formal system. So force development in its latest iteration, which began about 10 years ago actually, started with a realization that at some times at our most senior levels, our people were too stovepiped.

In other words, their background was too narrow, and so we had very senior people who were very deep in a particular part of the Air Force -- operations or maintenance or whatever -- and yet we needed them and their expertise in a broader set of skills. So the initial effort began with this realization, and the desire perhaps to develop along the way some second competencies for people. A primary competency perhaps and a secondary competency.

And that has become even more important as we find space operations becoming even more important, and now, of course, cyberspace operations. So we need a set of leaders and certainly mid-level people who understand the operational and the strategic level of war and can operate in the different media, the domains that we operate in airspace and cyberspace. So our efforts are along that, with that side picture.

Now, in terms of specific efforts, what we look at is, young airmen and young officers come into the force, and initially their focus is on technical competency and what you might call an occupational skill. But as they get further into the career, we need to broaden them so that they see more of the operation, so they understand how their particular specialty contributes to the overall joint effort within Air Force and with other services.

So when we do that then, we focus on education, we focus on training in schools in which you put all of these people together and they gain a renewed respect for the different talents that are in the Air Force, and they learn how to bring all the different talents of the Air Force to bring to bear combat capabilities that are required. And we have -- we send people to school. We spend a lot of money educating our people.

We send them to a school called Squadron Officer School, for example, at about the four-year point. Now, these are captains, essentially. We then have an intermediate school, when people have made major, and that's at about the 10-, 11-, 12-year point. We bring them -- and that's where they learn more about command and staff. In fact, we have a school called the Air Command and Staff College. Then they go usually and have their first command, squadron command, or go to a staff position. And they will come later to a senior development opportunity at our Air War College, et cetera, where they learn more about the operational art of war, and how you bring all the forces together.

These people are lieutenant colonels and colonels, and they've been in the Air Force around 20 years by this point. So we then continue even after people -- those people who go on and perhaps become general officers and senior leaders in our Air Force, we provide them educational opportunities within the Air Force and also in the civilian world so that we can be as broad as we need to be, at the same time be technically proficient.

Mr. Bleimeister: And how are you aligning these programs to support joint officer requirements as well?

LTG Brady: That's a very good question. As you may know, there was an act passed, I believe in 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which required -- which dictated joint service -- service in joint assignments with other services at certain times in your career, particularly for those individuals who were going to rise to general officer rank, to flag rank. And so there are times in your career -- that usually comes about the time, for most people, at the major, lieutenant colonel realm -- between, you know, 10 and 15 years, that's about the time that you would get into joint assignments.

And that's where you learn a great deal about not only your own mission, you bring to that effort the expertise of an airman, and so the services provide interdependent competencies that are unique to that service. And we feed the joint fight that way to be what we are, which is the best military in the world. So joint experience gives -- exposes our people to that environment where we see all the competencies of the services and the unique capabilities that they have to come together to perform a mission.

Mr. Morales: General, obviously you are making large investments in people, and whether you are in the public service or even in the private sector, you lose very talented people with critical skills at any given point in time. How do you go about correcting these potential skill imbalances, especially as a result of trying to drive towards a particular end strength requirement?

LTG Brady: Well, as I said earlier, first of all, we have some experience with what the retention rates you might say are -- how good we are at retaining different kinds of skill sets. Now occasionally, the economy will throw us a curve on that, but we have pretty good indications year-in, year-out on what people are going to do in the different skill sets. And quite frankly, we have some skill sets that are very difficult to retain because they have -- people have, with the skill sets, have lots of options. But we are able to deal with that now. As you get more senior, we are able to use people more broadly, so specific technical expertise becomes less -- relatively less important than managerial skills and leadership skills.

So as we get more senior, we can use people a lot more broadly, and we typically, just like industry would do -- you know, you might move a CEO from one company to another, where he really knows nothing about the business, but he understands business. It's the same in the Air Force; you can move many times a colonel or a general officer from one portion of the business to another, where he may not have a specific technical tactical expertise, but he or she understands the Air Force and how things fit together in the fight, and the leadership skills and certainly the talent of the people below you make you successful.

Mr. Bleimeister: General, I'd like to shift our discussion to the personnel function and the personnel organization. We understand there is a lot of transformation being worked with the organization itself called an initiative, Personnel Services Delivery. Could you tell us about PSD and what some of the goals are?

LTG Brady: Certainly. And this is perhaps one of the most challenging things that we've done, certainly in the personnel community, in a long time. To be quite candid, personnel services, or HR, as your audience might be more familiar with, in the Air Force has been and still is to a large degree very much a hands-on operation. If you want something done with your payroll, if you want something -- if you need to talk about benefits, if you want to talk about your next assignment, if you want to talk about another training opportunity, in the Air Force, you can go talk to a human being.

You can go talk to someone. And that's both good and bad, because in many cases, it means you leave your job, you get in your car, you drive across base, you find a person who knows something about what you want to talk about. It's very much hands-on. About 90 percent of our operations are hands-on. In the civilian world -- industry have kind of moved away from that model long ago.

So our challenge that we find ourselves in is how do we do that more efficiently without losing the personal touch and taking care of people? So we have really gone to school with looking at a lot of the civilian world and how HR has done, and so we are looking at how we use call centers, how we transform our processes so that we can reach back from overseas to get thing done. How people could go online and take care of a lot of the purely transactional things that have to do with personnel. If they need to change allotments in their pay, if they want to volunteer for an assignment, if they want to retire for that matter, they can now do that online.

They don't have to get in their car, drive across base, find a parking spot, et cetera, et cetera. So what this means is our personnelists, HR in civilian terms, our specialists in the human capital, are now going to be focusing less on transactional activities and more on being advisors to commanders as to how to train, develop, and take care of their people. So this means, quite frankly, that you are going to need fewer personnelists then we've had in the past, but I think it also means that it's going to be a richer job.

Something that is different in the Air Force that will not change, different from much of the civilian community, is again that cradle-to-grave business we have with our people. And so a large part of human resources in the Air Force is cradle-to-grave development of our people, and so a large part will be advising and being strategic advisors to commanders about how we take care of and mentor, evaluate, motivate, et cetera, our people. So I think it's an exciting possibility.

But it's changed, which means it's challenging, people view it with some suspicion sometimes, some fear, perhaps, a little uneasiness about something that is that significant -- because it's a very significant change in what personnelists have traditionally done in the Air Force. But our folks are starting to embrace it, and I think it's going to do great things for our people and for our Air Force.

Something that's very interesting about this is that the change is also generational. Those of us who are a little older in the force and were around before computers came -- as I like to say -- were used to having our hands held by personnelists. So it's a more difficult change for us to take care of ourselves online or in a call center. But the younger generation has never known anything but that, and so they are eager for it. So it's an interesting challenge, as you relate to the different generations in the Air Force, as to how we take on this issue.

Mr. Bleimeister: So it sounds like the personnel field isn't exempt from the reductions and force shaping initiatives that are going on?

LTG Brady: No. Absolutely not.

Mr. Bleimeister: And what about -- are there initiatives to better integrate from a total force perspective how you manage civilians, Reservists, even the contractor work force --

LTG Brady: Absolutely. In fact, we use our civilians and we use our Air National Guard and our Reserves interchangeably with active duty. And that means that you've go to be as consistent as you can in how you manage those people. So what we are looking at is, as part of our transformation, is when we transform a process, an end-to-end global process -- and because, as I said -- because we move about a third of our people every year, we have to have global processes, because if you move from here to Germany to Japan in your functional community, you need -- we don't want to have to retrain you every time you go there. So it's very important that we have global end-to-end processes.

And when we change a process, unless there is a legal or statutory or Secretary of Defense directive that requires that we treat a component differently, those processes need to be the same. So that's a change for us, but we will work through that. So unless there is a bona fide reason to do something differently in one component from another, we won't.

Mr. Morales: General, we've talked a lot about the focus on the core of the Air Force, and you talked about the 106,000 deployments that occur every year. With these ongoing deployment demands, I'm curious, how are you helping the airmen and their families maintain a total life balance? Are there any key initiatives focused on supporting the Air Force family?

LTG Brady: Now, that's great, that's a great question. It's long been understood in the U.S. military that you recruit the member but you retain the family. And regardless of how happy the military member may be, if the family is not, you're eventually going to lose that person. So families are absolutely critical to us, and unlike a military of generations before us, we are largely a married force. So we are principally a family organization.

So yes, we are. We have great programs in our airmen and family support centers that provide support to people when -- to their families, when they are gone. We have great programs where the individual is left behind, the spouse and family that's left behind, we stay in contact with them. They can always rely upon the service for support. We have sponsored programs that do that. We have capabilities to provide child care for people, to give spouses a break.

We have a very robust program when we reintegrate people back into a family after a deployment. Sometimes separations do interesting things to family relationships, and so if there are challenges or frictions, when that happens, we follow up with people and we do -- we stay in contact with people so that we can provide families whatever support they need, and so there just lots of effort that goes in to make sure that we take care of the entire family unit.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.

How will innovative change shape the Air Force of the future? We will ask Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel, to discuss this with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel.

Also joining us on our conversation is Bob Bleimeister, partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

General, as you look over the next 10 years, what type of personnel concerns do you think the Air Force will face?

LTG Brady: Well, I think there are a couple of challenges as we go forward. We are becoming more and more a technical force. We always have been on the leading edge of technology. But as we go into space and cyberspace, and as we operate in those domains, as equipment becomes more technically oriented, we -- that requires a skill set of people, that requires us to have really good people and to continue to develop, educate, and train them and provide them with a wide variety of experiences. We also find ourselves operating around the world in coalition environments. We need to understand whoever the hostile force is, in a cultural sense.

We also need to understand our partners; our coalition partners, and we will inevitably go to war in the future with coalition partners, as we have -- as we are now and as we have in the recent past. So continuing to develop our people to operate effectively, both in terms of the interface with the technology that we have and the equipment that we have, and also with our coalition partners will be increasingly important to us. And we're placing great focus on that.

Mr. Morales: General, in our time, we haven't had a chance to discuss in too much detail the BRAC and QDR, but I am curious -- how is Personnel and Manpower involved in helping ensure seamless transition to some of the new structures and missions while preserving its unique vital capabilities?

LTG Brady: Well, that's a great question. And obviously, when you move people around and you have units move as we have had associated with the Base Realignment and Closure activity, you have missions that change, you have particularly -- Guard and Reserve, you'll have units change missions. So you've got a lot of people that you've got to train for the -- retrain for the new mission. So there are challenges there.

And as we -- as we draw down also, as I said earlier, we have a reduced manpower pool, but at the same time, we have a mission that's demanding as ever. So that means that we have to pay even more attention than we have in the past -- what we call our tooth-to-tail ratio. So you've got to look at your management structures, because management structure's our tail. And so we have to look and see to make sure that within our processes at every level of the organization, we don't have redundancy in the things that we do.

And as we like to say, we can't have checkers checking checkers. And so a lot of work that we're doing is to make sure that our process is aligned and then we cut out as much redundancy as we can, and we make our organizations as flat as we can.

Mr. Bleimeister: General, I would like to shift to another force of change; the National Security Personnel System, NSPS. Can you give us your -- that will impact the civilian workforce. Can you give us your understanding of NSPS and how you think it will impact the Air Force civilian workforce and your own organization?

LTG Brady: Yes, NSPS is critically important to us. Our civilians are absolutely vital to everything that we do, and we're using them more and more, in fact, right up to a general officer level, and in many cases we're using them interchangeably with general officers, which gives us great flexibility in our general officer corps.

But what NSPS does -- unlike the system that we now live under, NSPS will give us the flexibility to reassign people more easily. It will give us the capability to reward our best people. It greatly cuts down on the bureaucracy associated with skill levels and reclassification of jobs and things like that that make reassignment of people painful for everyone; for the individual, for the organization, et cetera.

I think it will be a great boon to our people. It allows us to move our people around more easily and identify our best people with greater precision, and give people the development that they need so that those civilians who want to serve at higher levels have the capability to get development to do that. So I think it's a wonderful initiative and we're trying very hard to implement it now, and it will pay us great dividends, both to the institution and the people.

Mr. Bleimeister: Organizations going through large scale change like you're going through often conflict with the current culture of the organization. How do you think the Air Force will adapt culturally over the next coming years as this change is implemented?

LTG Brady: Well, we like to believe that we're the most adaptive of all military folks, but you raise an important question. We are a large organization, and some would say a large bureaucracy, and that's true. However, we're an organization that is used to change. We have been, for example, operating in the deserts of Southwest Asia since August of 1990, constantly. So a lot of our people have seen the sandbox.

And when you do that, from the people who have come from the various parts of the Air Force and perhaps grow up in a particular functional area, all of that -- to even a greater degree than at home base, gets melded together, because you are focused on a absolutely critical mission, you live together, you eat together, you work together, and there is a great bonding of airmen in that experience. You gain an incredible appreciation for what the services people do, for what the personnelists do, for what the fighter pilots do, for what the aircraft maintainers do. And if you didn't have that appreciation before, you come away from that experience understanding that it takes all of us to make this work.

So I think we're looking forward to this challenge. And it is change, and because we're humans, we tend to resist change, and change is difficult, but at the same time, I think we've proven over many years that change is something that we can accomplish and we'll thrive in this environment.

Mr. Morales: General, your passion has given us a window into the exciting personnel transformation going on in the Air Force. What advice can you give to a person who is interested in a career in public service, especially in the military? And finally General, what do you say to a young enlisted Lieutenant Airman about the career opportunities and climate of the Air Force in the future?

LTG Brady: I think we would like to say that we have a rich heritage and we have an endless horizon. We're a force that operates in air and space and cyberspace. It is the ultimate high ground. There are incredible challenges. We ask our young people how can we do things better, and they tell us. There is great opportunity for people who want to serve a cause that's greater than themselves. And it is an exciting place to be.

And when you go forward and particularly -- you go to the most difficult, what might be the seemingly most difficult place to serve in our Air Force, you will find the highest morale among our people, because they know they're serving a cause that's greater than themselves. They have come to trust, rely on, and respect each other. It's a wonderful thing to see. It's a very rich life, it's a very demanding life.

I think that many Americans -- young Americans are going to continue to want to do this. We need very talented people who are willing to serve this country and be a part of something very important. And so I think there is great opportunity across a whole array of educational backgrounds and skill sets, men and women -- women have done an incredible job in our force. They represent about 20 percent of our force now, almost, and they're involved in virtually everything that we do and are succeeding marvelously. It's an absolutely -- a great team to be a part of and I'm excited every time my -- every day I come to work to be with great young people -- and they're looking younger and younger to me -- but to be with young people who want to succeed, who want the Air Force to succeed, and want to serve this nation, it's very gratifying.

Mr. Morales: General, that's fantastic. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule today, but more importantly, Bob and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country in the various roles you've held in the United States Air Force.

LTG Brady: Thank you very much. And again, thank you for having me here. I always relish the opportunity to talk about our Air Force and the great young men and women who make it such a great institution.

Mr. Morales: Thank you. This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Lt. General Roger Brady of the United States Air Force.

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

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

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

Dr. Reginald Wells interview

Friday, September 29th, 2006 - 20:00
"We recognized that because of the retirement wave and the importance of maintaining our workforce, our competency, and our commitment to service, that we needed to revitalize our recruitment program and efforts."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 09/30/2006
Intro text: 
Wells discusses how SSA is assessing and planning for the pending retirement wave. He describes some of the solutions to the retirement problem that SSA is considering, including workforce transition planning, succession planning, and new recruitment...
Wells discusses how SSA is assessing and planning for the pending retirement wave. He describes some of the solutions to the retirement problem that SSA is considering, including workforce transition planning, succession planning, and new recruitment techniques. Wells also talks about SSA's training programs and the challenges facing new and long-time employees. In addition, Wells explains how the Office of Human Resources tracks and uses customer satisfaction information. Human Capital Management
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, September 30, 2006

Arlington, VA

Mr. Morales: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created this center in 1998, to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the center by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Dr. Reginald Wells, Deputy Commissioner of Human Resources for the Social Security Administration.

Good morning, Dr. Wells.

Dr. Wells: Good morning, Al.

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

Mr. Hess: Good morning, Al.

Mr. Morales: Dr. Wells, some of our listeners may be familiar with the Social Security Administration, but why don't we start with an overview of the history and mission of SSA.

Dr. Wells: I would be happy to, Al. The Social Security Administration came into being after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act, back in August of 1935, and it began as a board but then evolved into an independent agency, and over the years it has really been like most federal agencies. As our government tends to enact laws in very incremental ways with lots of amendments and changes, it has morphed into something much larger, serving many more people. The original mission was to serve and basically provide income security for individuals who retired from gainful work.

Over the years, it's evolved, continuing that basic mission, but also evolving into serving or supporting people with disabilities, so it's essentially a social insurance program aimed at making sure that people have the subsistence they need to live in our society. And we do a tremendous job, in my opinion, on carrying out that mission. Essentially, we provide, for example, some 48 million folks in our nation with benefits that, I believe, are worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $521 billion, so it's really evolved into quite a substantial program. A very successful domestic program, obviously.

The Agency has actually once again returned to independent status. It had been part of the AGW; then HHS; Health, Education and Welfare; and Health and Human Services, but in 1995, once again it became an independent agency.

Mr. Morales: You have teased us a little bit with the size of the organization, can you give us a better sense of the scale, in terms of budget, number of employees, and geographic footprint of the organization?

Dr. Wells: Right, the total budget in '06, was $595 billion and the workforce is 65,000. As I think most of our listeners probably know, social security, we estimate, affects at least 95 percent or more of the public, and that range goes all the way from getting a social security card to receiving disability benefits. The mission is carried out through a network of field offices, hearing offices, teleservice centers, and program service centers that essentially allow us to be in communities around the country. And the commissioner often says that social security for many people is the face of the government, because most folks know where their social security office is.

Mr. Morales: Great. Can you give us now, a sense of the role and mission of your office, specifically, the Office of Human Resources? How big is your team and how are you organized?

Dr. Wells: I am responsible for the Office of Human Resources, and that is a cadre in headquarters of about 400 people. Because we are so decentralized as an organization and because we have 65,000 employees scattered over the entire country and beyond, actually we have some international involvement, the Social Security Administration has to administer that HR or human capital role through those regional offices that we have out there. And we have another 300 employees who work technically for the operations part of our organization, but because of our responsibility to oversee the policy for human capital and human resources, we oversee them technically.

One of the things we do in order to ensure that we have consistency across the agency is to be responsible for going out and monitoring the hiring, retention, and support of employees in the field. And of course, we do a similar thing for headquarters under the supervision, in a sense, of the Office of Personnel Management. In addition, my budget is roughly $100 million that includes obviously a lot of the service that we render to the employees for things like training. I have the Office of Training under my responsibility, the Office of Personnel, the Office of Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity, and the Office of Labor-Management and Employee Relations. Then I have a very small, actually new, component, a very small unit we call the Human Capital Planning Staff.

That allows us to do a lot of the coordination between my components and also it tends to oversee the national recruitment for the Agency. The gentleman that heads that component is responsible for our national recruitment campaign and he works through the regional offices and with local managers. It's a relatively small group, given the demands on it, but it allows us to do some of the tracking that is necessary under the President's management agenda. That's one of the important initiatives that all federal agencies are engaged in right now. They are being tracked by the Office of Management Budget and the Office of Personnel Management on how they go about certain lines of business, human capital being one of those.

Mr. Morales: Perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about your specific role. Although, your title is much longer, many of our guests will understand your role as being the Chief Human Capital Officer at SSA?

Dr. Wells: I wear those two hats. My social security formal title is Deputy Commissioner for Human Resources, but the government has the role, similar to the Chief Information Officer and the Chief Financial Officer, a Chief Human Capital Officer for many agencies. In some agencies the HR lead is not necessarily the Chief Human Capital Officer. At social security, the Commissioner's thinking was that those responsibilities should be contained under a single individual who can then coordinate and make sure that what we are doing internally is certainly consistent with what we are being expected to do externally. I will explain that a little bit.

As Deputy Commissioner for Human Resources, obviously, I have the responsibility for managing those areas that I have described a moment ago, personnel training, civil rights and labor management. In addition though, there is an expectation I think with this administration to look across government to make sure that we are achieving some consistency in the way we administer our strategic management of human capital, and so the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, and the Chief Human Capital Officer role was established in 2002 to make sure that we are achieving some continuity and that we have Chief Human Capital Officers coming together in a central place and sharing issues and working on planning for things that will further our interest as a government.

Mr. Morales: And that's very interesting. We also understand that you come from a family of public servants. Perhaps you could tell us about growing up with a family culture of federal government work?

Dr. Wells: Yeah, I do. I come by this work, pretty honestly, through my mother who worked for the Internal Revenue Service for 44 years. And growing up, of course, I heard a lot about the importance of public service, and I was fortunate to have both parents. My father worked in a factory in the private sector, but my mother worked in government and so I heard a lot about what that was like, and I never envisioned necessarily going into a government work, but I guess that acorn doesn't fall too far from the tree.

I also have a brother who works for the Veterans Hospital System. He was a Vietnam vet, came home, and, wanting to counter balance what he had experienced over there, he went to medical school and is now working in the VA System.

Mr. Morales: That's a great history. You obviously have a very distinguished career, including running the District of Columbia's Department of Human Services as well as Associate Commissioner of the Administration of Developmental Disabilities, how have these roles shaped your current management style?

Dr. Wells: Well, it obviously impacted it a great deal. I grew up, if you will, a little bit every time I had a new management experience, a new leadership challenge, and all the way from my early days working in New Jersey in what they called citizen services, the equivalent of what Health and Human Services does at the federal level, and also in their Health and Rehabilitation area, I got a lot of opportunity to see how things work at the local level; how local issues and concerns from direct service to the public sort of challenge you and force you to do your very best and to deliver that service. And working through people to get it done, is what you learn obviously, when you have a team.

And I got a lot of experience with those challenges in New Jersey. And then when I came into the District of Columbia it was probably a good time for me to experience that. I started out managing one of their institutions located in Laurel, Maryland, and was later asked to come into the city proper, and manage some of the programs; initially, the disability programs, but later I was asked to serve as the Deputy Commissioner for social services, and it really was that everything that was in public health and mental health fell under social services, so it really was a challenge and a lot of crisis management. You learn very quickly how to adapt to situations.

And I guess what really impacted me and influenced me was operating without all the tools and all the resources one would ideally like to have. And I think that is one of the challenges that public servants, no matter where they are, whether at the federal, state, or local level are sort of challenged with. There is never enough money to meet the needs of the public, particularly when you are talking about the kinds of programs that we are responsible for and the types of populations that rely on our support, so my management style has evolved into one that's pretty participative. I really believe that we get things done through teamwork, through collaboration, through effective communication, and those have been hallmarks of how I have tried to conduct myself as a leader and as an executive.

Mr. Morales: Excellent. How is the Social Security Administration managing the government retirement wave? We will ask Chief Human Capital Officer, Dr. Reginald Wells, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Chief Human Capital Officer, Dr. Reginald Wells of the Social Security Administration. Also joining us in our conversation is Tony Hess.

Dr. Wells, not that this topic is immediately going to impact anyone in this room, but it is an important topic, and that's the pending retirement wave. What's happening now at social security in terms of staff retirement?

Dr. Wells: Well, and I'm glad you asked me that question, Al, because that is something we have been tracking as an organization at least for the last decade or so, maybe even a little longer than that. It was the foresight, I think, of the leadership at the time to pay attention to the baby boomers moving through employment and getting to a point in the not too distant future where they would be retiring in larger numbers. I think the leadership felt they needed to take stock of that and social security, maybe because of the role we play, tends to be an organization that is very data driven.

We have, just to give you a sense of the actuaries on staff who project well into the future, the solvency of the program and the service delivery trends and that kind of thing. So we started looking at how many folks are we likely to lose and at what points in time are we likely to lose them over a decade ago. So we do what we call a Retirement Wave Analysis. We update it every year. Right now, approximately 23 percent of our workforce is eligible to retire. Fortunately, most folks work a little beyond their eligibility and that's something that we have experienced at social security.

I think a lot of federal agencies have that. I think our rate beyond eligibility is something like 3.7 years. In five more years that number of people eligible will go up to 40 percent of the current workforce and in 15 years it goes up to about 54 percent, so obviously we had best be in a position to replenish that workforce and to have some sense of when they would be likely to retire. We do projections and we use a model for determining what those numbers are likely to be. And what we are projecting right now is that over the next five years we are going to lose about 21 percent of our workforce.

So it moves us to really pay attention to that and to have some strategies for keeping it from being such a spike. I think the way the model projects are right now, we are looking at the peak of losses between 2008 and 2010. We have been using some strategies however to try to flatten that curve so that we don't have a tremendous spike at any particular point in time over the next few years.

Mr. Morales: So you just referenced this wave of baby boomers retiring across the country, and told us a little bit about how this puts additional pressures on services that supported the SSA. How are you preparing for this perfect storm of resource challenges?

Dr. Wells: Well, it isn't easy, as you might imagine, and I knock on wood every time I talk about this, because we really have not had the difficulty yet. That's why I knock on wood, because I don't take that for granted, recruiting and hiring people. But to address your question about the baby boomers moving into those disability-prone years and moving into retirement causing a greater obvious demand for our programs, we are doing things like a lot of agencies. We are trying to automate as much as we can.

The Commissioner recently announced that we have new regulations for our disability program. We were making some disability service improvements, which should allow us to move them through the process more quickly in general, but where there are appeals, we should be moving people through that process a lot quicker as well so that they have an answer much quicker about whether they are going to be eligible and entitled to benefits. On automation, there has been some reform of some of our systems to try to make it less cumbersome, less labor intensive obviously for us. Technology is not going to be a panacea, but I think it is going to help.

More and more people are applying for benefits over the internet. We are pushing that and promoting that a lot. In my area, people will be able to apply and that's been something that the Office of Personnel Management has been working on as well so that the opportunity to apply for federal jobs is streamlined from what it has traditionally been. So we are using various techniques, technology, systemic reforms, and I guess speaking regarding the human capital issues. We are really emphasizing training within the organization.

We want our employees to be the best they can possibly be. Part of that are the concerns about the loss of institutional memory when these very seasoned employees we have now move onto retirement, well-deserved retirement. We want a group of younger employees coming behind them to get up to speed very quickly. And I think, the retirement wave is a challenge for all federal agencies, and actually, is a challenge for all organizations, because it's not just a public sector phenomenon. But I think you really do have to invest on the front end to make sure you bring people into the organizations who really want to be there and want to do that kind of work.

Our training programs or entry-level training programs are pretty extensive. People can come in and end up in 16 weeks of training before they are even are allowed to attempt to serve the public and that's a substantial investment. So you don't want a serious retention problem early on. If people come into the organization and work five or ten years, and you get a really good service out of them and they choose to move on to other things, so be it, but to have someone new come into the organization, you give them 16 weeks of training and they punch out almost immediately would be a tremendous waste. And fortunately, particularly with new recruits, we have a pretty good retention situation.

Mr. Morales: Perhaps you could tell us a little more specifically about some of the activities your office is doing to develop and manage this kind of challenge? For example, what is the workforce transition plan?

Dr. Wells: The workforce transition plan, actually, was the precursor to the human capital plan. Truth to tell, it actually attempted to do a lot of the same kinds of things. It sort of, describes what the workforce is, what kind of succession planning we should be engaged in, where our greatest needs are from the human capital perspective. We have since adapted it to become really more like a tracking document for us, so we updated quarterly to see in specific detail what kind of activities we are engaged in, in our human capital work. And it just helps us stay on top of what we are doing and allows us to self evaluate whether we are doing all the right things and working on all of the important things.

Mr. Morales: You alluded to succession planning, and certainly this sounds like one of the keys to success in managing this whole retirement wave. Can you provide some lessons or advice to other government leaders who are facing this challenge of succession planning?

Dr. Wells: I think I can offer a little bit of advice. I think that it's very important, first of all, to know what your needs are as an organization. If you have a core mission that requires a certain competency or a certain classification of employee, then obviously you have a little bit of a sense of what kind of skills and abilities the people need and if there are logical pathways to hire or to work, obviously, you want to wait to try to identify the people who are most likely to do the best job there. Obviously, we always have to be engaged in merit principles and you want to never have instances where you regress into prohibitive personnel practices, but it is important to try to identify employees who are interested in moving up into other types of work that are important to the organization.

One of the mechanisms we used to do that, which certainly withstands the scrutiny of meeting merit principles is we have a number of career development programs which allow us to compete within the organization for identification into one or more of these groups where you would be on developmental assignments, getting training, doing this developmental work that allows you then to be a prime candidate for promotional opportunity down the road. We have four mechanisms that we use dealing with the various levels of our organization. For example, we administer our own senior executive service career development program, which is geared toward our GS-15 employees who aspire to be senior executives and they go through a year, or 18-month developmental process where they receive a lot of training.

Some of it is formalized training provided by the Office of Personnel Management at FEI, Federal Executive Institute. Some of it is actually working in areas outside of where they may have come from. So if you were a GS-15 working in operations, you might work in systems, or you might work in human resources and get a better appreciation for the organization as a whole. The next level down for our developmental programs is our advanced leadership program, and it's geared to our 13 and 14 graded employees.

A very similar program, it demands having a mentor, someone that can work with you around your development, developing an individual development plan so that you have some very specific skills you are expected to live up to and meet, and you identify through this collaborative process, what goals you are trying to achieve in terms of self development and professional development. We have a leadership development program, which is the next step down for 9 through 12 graded employees and it's very similar to the others. It is just the level of complexity for the work that you do and the exposures that you get. And then the Presidential Management Fellows is a mechanism we use to bring some pretty talented people into the organization. They may not have grown up in social security, but they have advanced degrees and are willing to come in and get on that track toward leadership.

Mr. Morales: This is a very extensive program. How is the Social Security Administration recruiting new talent? We will ask Chief Human Capital Officer, Dr. Reginald Wells to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Chief Human Capital Officer, Dr. Reginald Wells of the Social Security Administration. Also joining us here on our conversation is Tony Hess.

Dr. Wells, we spent a little bit of time in our last segment talking about the folks currently within the administration. What changes are you making to the recruitment process at the Social Security Administration?

Dr. Wells: We recognize, because of the retirement wave and the importance of maintaining our workforce both the numbers that the public, and the Congress, and the President expect, and also the competency, and the commitment to service. And so we, a few years ago, decided we needed to revitalize our recruitment program, our recruitment efforts, and we came up with a tagline: "Making a Difference in People's Lives and Your Own," as a way of branding social security, the service agency that it is.

It was very important for us to do that because, within our mission, the Commissioner, with our strategic plan, has identified four areas: service, stewardship, solvency, and staff, and it's extremely important to bring employees into the organization who bring a skill set that and an interest in service that allows them to really apply themselves to what we expect them to do and what the public expects in the way of service. So we developed this integrated marketing campaign, and we have really updated our materials so that they can be specific to individuals interested in particular career paths.

Social security is a huge organization, and if you have a systems background there is a place for you in one of the largest computer systems in the world. Collecting all of that payroll data, the information on payroll taxes, social security numbers, and the new disability system which is paperless, so there is obviously a lot of work going on in that area.

We have an agency that's large with a tight budget. We have a pretty large budget staff. And well…it's not large. When I say large, that's relative.

Mr. Morales: Be careful what you say.

Dr. Wells: Yeah, exactly. It's not large in the sense of large numbers of people, but they manage a large budget, and they have to be really good at that. So we obviously recruit and hire people who are very good at that. So if you have a financial management background, you are the type of person we would want to bring in to the organization. In that area, our largest operation obviously is our Deputy Commissioner of Operations component. And we need people there who obviously bring a very strong service ethic and who are very good in dealing with the public across the counter and across the desk and who bring an empathy for the types of people who rely on us for economic support.

And in the Office of Human Resources, where it's, as I said, relatively speaking, a small staff, we want people who understand and have a commitment to that type of work. My point is that it's a very diversified organization. And if a young person or even a mid-career person had an interest in this kind of work, we are trying to reach them, so we developed this integrated marketing campaign. We put an emphasis on communicating with people using technology, so we do as much work as we can over the internet.

And we try to get ads and magazines that cater to various populations, because we have to be a diverse organization. Diversity for us is a business imperative, because we serve the entire population. And in order to do that, you obviously have to be able to relate to them. We need that sort of diversity of thinking within our organization to be effective, and so that's very important. We've attempted as have the government as a whole to streamline the hiring process so that people don't have quite the cumbersome role they have coming in.

In fact, the Partnership for Public Service just put out some information from a study that they've done that is focused on college graduates. And what they reported was that people were basically very interested in doing public service, but they very often found it cumbersome or they didn't know where to go to pursue that interest. And so we do go out to colleges and universities and we do job fairs that try to let people know just what kinds of career opportunities there are at the Social Security Administration.

It really requires a lot of outreach, a lot of coordination, and we, because we are so decentralized, while we have recruitment lead and headquarters, we actually work through lead recruiters in all of the regions so that we can have a local presence. And they can cultivate relationships with local colleges and universities, and people who can refer the best and brightest to us.

Mr. Morales: You touched upon, in the last segment, some of the leadership programs that you have at SSA as well as potentially up to a six week training program for some of the new hires. Many of our guests across government share that a great deal of their focus is on ensuring that staff have these appropriate skills. With such a large organization distributed across the entire country and in some foreign territories, how do you manage this at SSA?

Dr. Wells: It's not easy, as you probably appreciate. It requires a lot of focus and attention. We have an office of training, as I mentioned at the outset of this discussion that is solely focused on trying to make sure that our workforce is receiving the best training they can possibly receive. And we've put a lot of emphasis, as you would probably hope we would, on our entry level folks coming into the organization. Our programs in one sense are very basic in terms of providing income security for people.

But in other ways, they're very complex, because there are a lot of rules around eligibility and assets that people bring to us when they come in requesting support. And so it's vital that we do that entry-level training and that we get our new employees up to snuff. But the employees who stay with us, and work with us over the years, and do an entire career with us, of course, have to be nurtured as well. They have to be kept as interested and committed in work. And so you have to replenish them, you have to give them support.

We have a significant e-learning mechanism that employees have access to. It allows them to go online and take over 2000 courses that are available in a variety of areas. Some of it is technical, but it can also be self development; it can be courses that allow them to perhaps make a career or transition to another part of our organization. It's really a tremendous resource, and folks can access it either from their PC at work, or from home. So that part of it is good.

We are really focusing on honing in this year and last year on our leadership training, because we like a lot of organizations when resources are tight, tend to not do as much of that as is really warranted by the needs of your management cadre. And so we have dedicated ourselves. And I'm really pleased that the commissioner in her foresight felt that in order for us to really be effective into the future, we have to cultivate that talent, and build a leadership cadre that will take us obviously into the next 30-40 years of this program.

Mr. Morales: Can you tell us about the role the Office of Human Resources plays in promoting diversity at the SSA, and do you have any advice you'd like to share with other government leaders?

Dr. Wells: Well, my Office of Human Resources plays a major role with the support and the commitment of all of the senior executives. As I said earlier, diversity is a business imperative for us in a lot of ways, and I'm defining diversity in the broader sense, not simply the EEO compliance focus that I think a lot of organizations focus on very appropriately. But we broaden it, because we feel that in order to be inclusive, we have to have a diversity strategy that encompasses all employees, not simply certain groups of employees. So we basically pay attention to the data. Once again, SSA has always been a data-driven organization.

We track, very closely our hiring, and promotions, and training and on a lot of dimensions. I am proud to say that as of today, because it's constantly changing, we are at parity with all of the numbers for all of our protected groups. And our workforce is comparable to a civilian labor force across the board. And that's something we're very proud of. In addition, we really do well hiring employees with disabilities. And it's not something we rest on our laurels about, because it is a very underemployed group of folks in this country.

But we feel, given that it is part of our mission to serve people with disabilities, that we really should have a workforce that also reflects and has empathy for that population. So we do real well there. Some noted magazines: Careers & the Disabled, have recognized us as one of the better agencies in this regard. And we put a lot of emphasis into things like reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

We are bullish about hiring veterans, and we're working as a matter of fact, with Veterans Affairs to basically step up some of the things we are doing in that regard.

One of the things we're talking with them about, because we do serve people with disabilities as a core part of our mission. We're really interested in some of those vets coming back from the war, who may choose to get employed with another federal agency. And we're hoping it can be us, because of the insights they'll bring, and the commitment that they have to service. But I think the important thing really is to pay attention to your workforce, understand the ways in which it's diverse, and the ways in which it is not and be deliberate in going about addressing that.

And obviously in doing so, you have to be sensitive, as I said earlier, to avoid prohibited personnel practices and maintain merit principles. Those are always a given. But I think within that, there's still a lot of opportunity to reach out and communicate to populations that you may not have traditionally talked to or approached about coming into your organization and being a part of it. The other thing we do, which is a little unique, although I think there are a few other agencies that do it, is we have a number of advisory groups that we charter and work with very closely.

Most of them represent those protected categories. But we have found that has been a really good resource, because at the Social Security Administration, those people not only advise us on how to recruit and hire members of their group, but they also do a lot of volunteer work in the community, building relationships with the community, and of course, that then accrues back. People who they may have helped, or people who may have observed them helping others will want to come and work for an organization that's willing to do that.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the SSA? We will ask Chief Human Capital Officer, Dr. Reginald Wells to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm your host Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Chief Human Capital Officer, Dr. Reginald Wells of the Social Security Administration. Also joining us in our conversation is Tony Hess.

Mr. Hess: Dr. Wells, we know that customer service plays an important role in the SSA's strategic plan. How do you track customer satisfaction within the Office of Human Resources, and what kind of feedback do you typically receive?

Dr. Wells: Well, Tony, we get a lot of feedback. Fortunately for me, most of it is very positive. There are no shrinking violets among the executive team at Social Security, and so I get a lot of weekly feedback. The Commissioner holds an executive staff meeting once a week, every Monday. We gather as a team and we share important things, we discuss things. Very often, before and after, and sometimes during those meetings, people are commenting on the level of support we offer from HR, and I'm fortunate, because as an executive, most of that feedback is very important.

And when there are issues, I think what they understand is that we are there to serve them. We are there to facilitate their ability to serve the American public, and so it's very important for us to meet the needs of our workforce. And that's not always easy, because we do have legitimate limitations in things that we can do. Certainly as a public sector organization, you're protecting stewardship which is one of the things I mentioned. It is very important to our Commissioner and our strategic plan, and you really do have to utilize the public dollar in a very responsible way.

So there aren't opportunities to do Cadillac things sometimes for employees. But I think the fact that we focus on their needs and we try to meet them where they are, and support them when meeting the needs of the public, I think goes a long way. We have a number of programs that we do under the group of work which we call "All Ages All Stages." And that is really a way of trying to address the needs of the workforce as an intergenerational group, particularly now, with a lot of new employees coming in, and a lot of senior folks, you know, moving to retirement.

So we do surveys of employees. We often get feedback unsolicited, good and not so good, when people feel that way. And we just remain very receptive to any and all feedback. I think that having me at the table as a partner goes a long way. And there are some organizations that don't have that opportunity. In fact, the Chief Human Capital Officer role was intended particularly for those agencies where the HR human capital interests were not always sitting at the corporate table. At Social Security, that has been true for a long time. They've had a Deputy Commissioner for human resources for a while, well before the CHCO was established. So it really has worked very well for us.

Mr. Hess: We understand that the Social Security Administration was involved in providing relief to the hurricane victims. Can you tell us about SSA's involvement, and what lessons did you learn that can provide insights into possible future emergency responses?

Dr. Wells: Well, I've been with the agency for over four years, it was four years in April. And I don't think I've ever seen a better example of public service than I saw with that particular crisis. Last year when hurricane Katrina, and then Wilma and Rita hit, I think everyone became painfully aware of the devastation in that part of the country. We have countless examples of where our employees, even though their houses were washed away, were, within a day or two, mobilized in meeting with hordes of people who obviously were reeling from the devastation of the hurricanes.

And it doesn't get any better than that as far as public service is concerned. They worked, 12, 14, 16-hour days, 18-hour days, or more. They were reeling back and forth between Baton Rouge and the New Orleans area in shifts, keeping around-the-clock service to the people, and we got checks out within a matter of days. It really was one of the success stories. I didn't get the sense it got a lot of publicity in terms of the main media, but within government, I think, we were recognized as having really hit the ground running.

And it really was not a surprise to us within the agency. I mean, obviously there was no storm as devastating as that one. It was a once in a lifetime kind of catastrophe. But that's what we do. Every year, there are hurricanes some place. Every year, there are earthquakes of some sort. Every year there are brush fires that may destroy the peoples' homes and displace people. And our agency always adjusts to it. It always has been on a smaller scale obviously, but we apply the same approaches in terms of this large scale catastrophe.

And really the lessons that we can offer are things like the importance of communication, making sure that people know what they're supposed to do and being prepared, having done that planning, or having that experience, even if it's on a smaller scale, addressing those kinds of needs is really, really important. And being visible, I think, one of the things we took away from it was that leadership really does matter, and our people stepped up when the need was there, to become the leaders for distribution of checks or whatever was necessary to keep people going.

Mr. Hess: Many in government encouraged folks who are starting their career to think of government as a stop in a long career. Do you encourage this philosophy and can you tell us what advice would you give a person who's interested in starting a career in public service?

Dr. Wells: There is a lot of discussion about that today. I know that Director Springer is trying to address that issue. Director Springer, the Director of Office of Personnel Management, she's doing a lot of very fine work, and she is looking at the fact that some people are not necessarily looking at government as their final stop in terms of their career path. At Social Security, we've had a little bit different experience, and again, I knock on wood, because it could change. But we've had a lot of young people coming into the organization.

And I think because we are so big, relatively speaking, and because we do direct service, which gives that sort of tremendous intrinsic reward feedback to people, we've had a lot of our young people coming, and saying, "You know, we think we do want to spend a career with you." Of course the caveat is, "as long as we're able to continue to progress in the organization and advance and move into areas that we really want to move into as we get older and more established in our careers." So we're really sort of shaving it that way. As I said earlier, we do a lot of training on the front end.

And we ideally don't want to lose any of those people even after 30-40 years. But where people are looking at us as maybe the first stop, obviously you've got to be prepared to address that too, and if you only want to serve for 10 years we're still interested. And, you know, it's not servitude. We happen to think if you come and work for us, you'll probably want to stay for a career, because I think there are a lot of opportunities working in the Social Security Administration.

Mr. Morales: That's great. So what advice would you give a young individual who's getting ready to launch their career?

Dr. Wells: Come work for us.

Mr. Morales: Excellent, excellent. This has been a wonderful conversation, and unfortunately, we've reached the end of our time. I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule. But more importantly, Tony and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the public and our country in the various roles you've held at the SSA and in the federal government.

Dr. Wells: Well, as a follow-up to your last question, I just want to offer to anyone listening, our website: it's www.socialsecurity.gov/careers. And if you go into that site, you will get a really good sense of all that we offer, and as I said earlier, I think there are a lot of opportunities not only in terms of direct service delivery to the public, but also all of those support roles behind the scenes, that infrastructure that allows our frontline workers to be so effective.

Mr. Morales: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Social Security Administration, Chief Human Capital Officer, Dr. Reginald Wells. Be sure to visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad, who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support. For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Lisa Schlosser interview

Friday, September 15th, 2006 - 20:00
"We are modernizing our backend infrastructure, upgrading our desktop computers, mainframe systems, and servers. We hope to have state-of-the-art technology using open standards platforms to be flexible in responding to our business needs."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 09/16/2006
Intro text: 
In this interview, Schlosser discusses: Modernizing HUD's business and information technology (IT) systems; "Getting to green" on the President's Management Agenda (PMA) e-government initiative; Adopting enterprise architecture and a service-oriented...
In this interview, Schlosser discusses: Modernizing HUD's business and information technology (IT) systems; "Getting to green" on the President's Management Agenda (PMA) e-government initiative; Adopting enterprise architecture and a service-oriented IT approach within HUD; HUD's IT system challenges; HUD's Technology Investment Board Executive Community (TIBEC); and HUD's future technologies and investment plans. Technology and E-Government; Managing for Performance and Results; Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, September 16, 2006

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Morales: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created this center in 1998, to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the center by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Lisa Schlosser, Chief Information Officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Good morning, Lisa.

Ms. Schlosser: Good Morning, Al. Thanks for having me.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation also from IBM is Pete Boyer, Director of Federal Civilian Programs.

Good morning, Pete.

Mr. Boyer: Good morning, Al.

Mr. Morales: Lisa, let's start at the beginning. Can you tell us about the mission and the history of the Department of Housing and Urban Development? And could you mention some of HUD's major programs?

Ms. Schlosser: Sure, HUD has been around really since the 1930s. Our mission during that timeframe has been pretty consistent, really, to open doors to homeownership to all Americans; to help to ensure affordable housing, and to help to build communities at both the state and local level.

We're really proud to say today over 70 percent of Americans do own their own homes.

Couple of the programs that HUD does focus on, we are very excited this year, we are focusing on our Federal Housing Administration, modernizing some of our programs to help support that -- that mission of HUD and that is to increase homeownership, and we're modernizing the program to ensure that all Americans have access to a safe mortgage product at a fair price. And we are building some flexibility into our mortgage insurance program.

Flexibility in terms of mortgage terms and loan terms, which again we hope to use to increase homeownership across the U.S. Also some of our other programs are Public and Indian Housing Area. We are providing housing authorities with more flexibility to help to service lower and middle income personnel, help them get affordable housing.

In our Community and Planning Development group, now, we're helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast by providing grants and loans and other support in that area.

Mr. Morales: Great, I do want to talk a little bit later on about your work down in the Gulf area, but can you tell us a little bit about the mission and scope of your office, specifically within HUD, and give us a sense of the size of the budget you have and how many employees are in your organization?

Ms. Schlosser: Okay. The Chief Information Officer, we have about $300 million budget which we spend on using technology to help support the mission and goals -- the business goals of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

We have approximately 300 folks who are providing the support, everything from developing policy, investment processes, developing an enterprise architecture, and supporting our businesses in developing the systems that help them provide support and also to accomplish their missions in supporting homeownership and some of the other goals I mentioned.

Mr. Morales: Now, Lisa, can you describe your role as a chief information officer and what are your official responsibilities?

Ms. Schlosser: My role as HUD's information -- chief information officer, obviously, is to ensure that HUD capitalizes on the use of modernized technology to support our three main goals and missions within HUD, that's to increase homeownership and ensure that everyone has access to affordable housing and also to build communities and provide support to community development.

So again, our primary functions there are we develop the policies and develop the -- and implement the investment processes to make sure that we are spending our money wisely and spending money on technology that's truly going to help us further our business goals across the department.

The other major goal and major role that we have within the Chief Information Office is to ensure the security and the privacy of the information that we hold and collect.

Mr. Morales: Lisa, we understand that you came to this role after serving as Associate Chief Information Officer at the Department of Transportation for both Security and Investment Management. How did these experiences impact your current role?

Ms. Schlosser: By serving in the Department of Transportation before coming to HUD, I was really able to see and get across agency perspective and really see how many commonalities, even though we really have different missions within the federal government architecture.

We really have a lot of commonalities among the agencies, so by serving in that role and then serving in the role at HUD, I was able to see how we could capitalize and work together and collaborate on different opportunities, both at the business level and especially, at the system level, by collaborating together on common systems as opposed to having to go out and build individual systems. We were able to work together with other agencies and see where there are commonalities.

Mr. Morales: Lisa, we also understand that you spend a portion of your career working in the technology field in the private sector. How has this affected your perspective at HUD?

Ms. Schlosser: Well, I think by working in the private sector always gives you an advantage as a chief information officer within the federal government. You are able to see both perspectives. You are able to work and negotiate better with the private sector, kind of, understand where both parties are coming from.

And I think you are able to negotiate better successes for both the private sector and the government side on the various partnerships we work, and it really comes down to a good partnership between your industry partners and the government is what equates to success on some of our big computer system development projects.

Mr. Morales: Lisa, prior to the show, you had mentioned that you were in the military at one point in time, and in fact, are still are in the U.S. Reserves. How is this experiencing adding to your capabilities at HUD?

Ms. Schlosser: Well, again, it's by seeing how different agencies operate you can kind of take the best of the best, take the best practices, the best solutions from the various agencies you've been to, and bring those experiences.

So for example, the Department of the Army has an incredible portal, Army Knowledge Online, and we've been able to capitalize on that model based on my experiences there to help lead us towards a better solution at HUD, so we are able to capitalize on that as opposed to having to reinvent the wheel, on using that type of technology.

Mr. Morales: Great. What steps is HUD taking on the President's Management Agenda? We will ask Chief Information Officer, Lisa Schlosser, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Al Morales, and this morning's conversation is with HUD Chief Information Officer, Lisa Schlosser.

Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, Director of Federal Civilian Programs at IBM.

Lisa, we understand that you've emphasized a few goals for your organization in 2006. Could you share these goals with our listeners?

Ms. Schlosser: Sure. One of the first things, really, that we wanted to tackle at HUD is to really improve our processes. Again, make sure that all of our investments in information technology really truly support our business goals at HUD, as I mentioned before. So one of our first goals was, you know, to improve our processes and I think that's been demonstrated by getting to green on the President's Management Agenda.

So, you know, as of last quarter, HUD was one of only five cabinet-level agencies that was at a green status on the President's Management Agenda in e-government.

So we are very proud of that and we think that reflects that we have really focused on improving our processes, improving security, ensuring that we have a good architecture to work against. So that's -- really, our first goal was to do that and we're continuing to improve those processes.

Secondly, we've been focusing on the modernization of our backend infrastructure, upgrading our desktop computers, upgrading our mainframe systems, upgrading our servers, making sure that we had state-of-the-art technology using open standards platforms so we are more flexible in responding to our business needs as our programs are changing, as our programs are being modernized.

The third goal was really to focus on implementing something we are calling Vision 2010, which is our information technology strategy, bottom-line being that we want to get off of our old antiquated systems over the -- by the year 2010, so that we are in a purely open type environment using web services capitalizing on service oriented architecture.

So that's the three main goals that we're focusing on within HUD in the information technology arena.

Mr. Morales: I like to expand a little bit more on the President's Management Agenda in your efforts to get to green on e-government. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the activities that you undertook to get there and what some of the next steps may be?

Ms. Schlosser: Well, I think with any initiative like that the first step is always to get the support of the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary and the key business leaders, the key executives in the organization. And one of the things, I -- since, I've been at HUD that I've noticed is that there are executives from the Secretary, the Deputy and each of our assistant secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries, they really truly understand technology, they understand the power of technology and how to use that to really improve the way they deliver their programs.

So right off the bat, they were very supportive of all the goals of the President's Management Agenda, you know, using e-government, using shared services where we can, investing in new modernized technology and helping us go through that changed management process and helping to get folks to accept the new technology within the organization.

So it was really the first step, and then we had a very, very clear outline, clear goals, clear milestones. We focused on our capital planning process, you know, again, making sure that we have good investments; we have a good process to evaluate how we are investing money in information technology.

We also worked very hard with Dick Burk in the Office of Management and Budget and adopted all the models that have been put out from there for enterprise architectures. So we have a real strong architecture, we build to a consistent architecture, consisting group of standards.

We've shared those standards with all of our partners across HUD on our various development efforts. The third thing in, not necessarily in priority of course, this was actually overriding, is we really worked hard to improve our information technology security program.

We focused on really understanding where all our systems were and what our systems were doing, where the data was within our systems, we focused on certification, accreditation of systems, i.e., assessing the risk to those systems in putting in the right solutions to mitigate those risks, whether it was new policy or other type of technical controls.

So we accomplished those goals, we got all our systems 100 percent certified and accredited, we spend a lot of time training our folks within HUD. 96 percent of our folks go through mandatory training every year. 96 to 100 percent of our contractors also complete security training.

So we focused on those main areas of the President's Management Agenda, and I think through that executive commitment as well as the clear focus on milestones and goals, we were able to accomplish the green status.

Mr. Morales: Lisa, you mentioned modernizing HUD's business systems, how are you prioritizing the systems being modernized, and related to that, how are you involving the business owners in the modernization process?

Ms. Schlosser: Oh, we are starting with the Secretary's Strategic Plan, so for the first time, HUD has actually incorporated a specific strategic goal within the Secretary's Strategic Plan that specifically states that HUD will use and capitalize on modernized technology to improve the way we deliver our services to our stakeholders, be it a business, be it a citizen, be it another government agency.

So everything really starts from that strategic plan, it starts from that strategic objective, and then we have a very sophisticated process where we involve all of our business leaders at the program levels, our Community and Planning Development folks, our Federal Housing Administration, our Public and Indian Housing.

We collaborate together to determine what should be enterprise wide solutions for HUD. For example, this year we invested in a new collaboration tool. We invested in enterprise wide Correspondence Tracking and Document Management System, and then we work with each of the individual business leaders, each of the individual programs to identify their key business goals.

So for example, Federal Housing Administration has just initiated these new efforts to modernize the way they provide loan insurance to citizens, again with the goal of increasing homeownership, so -- because that is the top goal -- one of the top goals of the Department, the top business goals of FHA.

We are also prioritizing their system development needs to ensure that their systems are ready to deliver those new innovative programs.

Mr. Morales: And how are you tracking progress?

Ms. Schlosser: We track progress several ways. Every single one of our programs is accounted for in our Capital Planning and Investment Control process, and on a monthly basis we do program reviews with our business partners with the system owners for each of the projects and the project managers, and we track adherence to cost, schedule, and performance objectives for each of those programs.

So if we see any variance in staying within 10 percent cost goal, or 10 percent schedule goal, or not meeting the business objectives, you know, we do that through a series of surveys through customer participation.

Then we would put a program on a watch list and just try to get it back on track by putting additional resources, whatever it took to mitigate the risks of that program. So that's the way we watch over them.

Mr. Morales: All right. Lisa, you're seen as a leader in adopting enterprise architecture. How are your enterprise architecture efforts supporting the speedy modernization process?

Ms. Schlosser: Well, if you do enterprise architecture right, you start with the business process, so by really understanding what your business processes are, and then what the key goals of the business leaders are, you can really take that then to the next level.

Understand where you have any gaps in providing good technology solutions to your business, identify where you have any issues with that technology, and be able to make fixes based on those identified gaps or issues.

And so by having a good perspective on your business process, by understanding where technology is or isn't supporting those business processes, you can really use your architecture to know where you need to invest or where you need to focus on for your business.

Mr. Morales: Lisa, we know that HUD has adopted a service oriented and component based approach to enterprise architecture enabling HUD to "build once and use often." Could you elaborate on this approach?

Ms. Schlosser: Sure, again, what we've done is, we've really used the enterprise architecture principles that have been set out by Office of Management and Budget and other professional organizations.

We've really analyzed our business and we looked for gaps that could be filled, you know, or closed, performance gaps that could be closed by the use of technology and as part of our process in doing that, we just don't automatically go out and build a new system. We look across our enterprise and determine if there is technology in our enterprise that can mitigate, you know, a performance gap.

Our second part of our process is that we go and look across the government, and look at different repositories, work with other government agencies, determine whether there is other good practice solutions that we can capitalize on, and take advantage of those systems. Instead of again building our own, we're happy to outsource to other services that exist across the government.

Mr. Morales: Okay. What lessons have you learned when developing EA blueprints that you could pass on to the other government leaders who might be listening?

Ms. Schlosser: First and foremost, the most important thing is that enterprise architecture is about your business, and you have to make it real to your business, and demonstrate to your business partners, both internally and externally that you understand what their business is, and that you're using their business to drive the systems that you're developing or the technology that you're investing in.

Mr. Morales: Lisa, on the scene of business, over the last few years, there have been a number of federal government initiatives, including lines of business and centers of excellence. Could you speak to HUD's involvement in some of the important new focus areas and how these initiatives are affecting HUD's progress forward?

Ms. Schlosser: As I mentioned earlier, HUD's strategy is to take advantage of crosscutting services anywhere in the government to help close our performance gaps and to help support our business. So we were happy to see e-government solutions and other shared services come about and in fact HUD was one of the early adopters of the pay and personnel.

We have outsourced our pay and personnel to the National Finance Center, very happy with the service we are getting there. We have outsourced our human resource systems and worked with the Department of Treasury, used their shared service for human resource systems, and we also take advantage of the Environmental Protection Agency's online rulemaking service.

So we are a big adopter, we share these services, we use these crosscutting government services, where it makes sense for our business, particularly, in non-core mission areas.

Mr. Morales: And you found that this has been a pretty good program for HUD?

Ms. Schlosser: It's absolutely been a great program. In one particular case, in one of these programs, we spent two years on development of a new system; when we decided to go to the crosscutting service, we had it implemented within six months.

Mr. Morales: Wow! That's incredible. How is HUD preparing its systems for emergency response needs? We will ask Chief Information Officer, Lisa Schlosser, to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Al Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Chief Information Officer, Lisa Schlosser from HUD.

Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is Pete Boyer, Director of Federal Civilian Programs.

Lisa, we know that HUD like many other organizations faces IT challenges from a number of fronts, including requirements to quickly respond to policy and result in system changes from events such as, in your case, FHA reform or natural disasters such as the hurricanes from last year.

How has HUD reacted to these challenges from a systems perspective, and how can industry help to prepare the Department to be able to react quickly and efficiently to these evolving IT changes?

Ms. Schlosser: Well, HUD's really been investing in standard open architecture using web services, using standard reporting formats, using standard information sharing protocols and formats as well.

And we've found, since we've been investing in this type of standard spaced architecture, we're able to share information quicker, we're able to make changes quicker to our systems to accommodate a lot of changes that are happening today. Everything from responding to various hurricanes across the country, other natural disasters, and program changes.

So I would say that's the first thing that we are really focusing on is using open standards, using commercial off-the-shelf products as much as possible, so that we can rapidly put in place new systems to adapt to these changing business requirements.

And also not from a policy perspective, we did, as we talked about earlier, invest quite a bit in ensuring we had a good business based enterprise architecture, so we know where to invest our funding, and we're investing in the areas where we anticipate we will have to make system changes quicker.

And that's where we are investing in the -- in the, you know, commercial off-the-shelf packages as much as possible, you know, where we're investing in web services and using web and portal technology to its fullest capabilities.

In terms of how industry really can support us, to continue to really understand our business, to understand our business processes, and to develop the commercial off-the-shelf products that we can rapidly integrate in kind of a plug-and-play type scenario into our environment.

So we can rapidly take advantage of technology so we can shorten lifecycles, you know, from the traditional years of development to the six months that we are starting to see.

When you have a new business requirement, you can capitalize on the COTS product on our web services, a portal type technology, so that's what we need to continue to have from our industry partners.

And a tight collaboration in sharing of best practices and bringing best practices that the industry has seen, you know, across the government, in other agencies bringing those solutions to us and helping us identify and capitalize on other shared services that could help to meet our business requirements quicker than before.

So for example, you know, HUD has, as I mentioned earlier, our Community and Planning Development group has really taken the lead in providing a lot of support in rebuilding communities in the Gulf Coast, and we rapidly put in place a web-based system with a series of controls to track and report on that funding, and to get the grants out, for example, quicker than we ever have before using again a web based technology, using open standards.

We can get that information out, we can get reporting and we can get access, secure access to the right people at the right time using that technology

Mr. Morales: Lisa, I'm sure one of the hot buttons for most CIOs these days is the issue around information technology security, and certainly, it's been in the news quite a bit these past few weeks and months with a variety of penetrations and stolen laptops, which cause a variety of major problems within different government agencies, and it fuels our citizen's concerns over issues such as identity theft. What does this mean at HUD and how has the Agency reacted to these types of events?

Ms. Schlosser: It's interesting about HUD, like I said, I think, earlier is, I've been there about a year-and-a-half, just a little bit more than that now, and one of my observations about the leadership at HUD is they're very aware of technology, capitalize on technology and not just technology itself, but also information security.

The Deputy Secretary who I worked for, Deputy Secretary Bernardi is very, very supportive of information technology security. In fact, when he started reading about some of these incidents, the first thing he did is call me, and say, "Lisa, what can we do to mitigate our risk?"

And fortunately, because we've had this support at that level, the support of our business leaders, we've actually been improving our security over the past, you know, since I've been there, certainly, at HUD.

And a couple of things that we've been doing other than the executive support, we really have focused on making sure we have a good solid inventory of systems, and eliminating redundant system, where we didn't need them.

There is not use having a system, just to have a system, so where we didn't need it, you know, we've decreased the systems or combined systems or reengineered to one platform, so less systems, obviously, I think you can have a better handle on security.

The other thing HUD really has an advantage on, and one of the really critical success factors, I believe, in protecting your data, is to have a centralized architecture, a centralized network, one helpdesk operation, one network, one way that you go ahead and implement patches across your environment by pushing a button basically.

HUD has that advantage, we are centralized. Again, we have one network, we have one helpdesk, we have one infrastructure, and I think that's been a real benefit to us.

We are able to have a standard image on every single one of our servers, on every single one of our desktops, so if a new virus comes out, we are able to implement the patch very, very quickly after we test it throughout our environment.

Other things that HUD's done obviously when some of these incidents started to occur, you know, we went out and we did a review of all our programs.

We updated our data architecture, just to make sure we truly understood where all our data was, where there was potential Personally Identifiable Information or PII, you will hear that term. And we made sure we had the right protection and controls in place.

We also went out and retrained all of our folks that had mobile access to HUD systems or to data, put in place strong policies about removing that data from HUD and had our user sign statements indicating that they realize their responsibilities in protecting that information.

So we've been very proactive as with most of the agencies now in putting in measures or enhancing the measures we already had in place to improve security.

Mr. Boyer: Lisa, on a different subject, one of your roles is to serve as both a member of the HUD Technology Investment Board Executive Community or TIBEC, and to coordinate the efforts of the TIBEC. Could you tell our listeners about the HUD TIBEC, for example, what criteria does the TIBEC use to evaluate the portfolio?

Ms. Schlosser: HUD has a governance process in place that's also embedded in policy where we have, what's called a, actually, a technology investment board working group that consists of individuals representing each of our key business areas within HUD.

This group gets together, establishes what our business goals are for the year, based on the strategic plans and others things we've talked about, and this group also goes out to each of the programs, asks for the programs, anybody who wants to invest in technology to put together a business case to justify why they need investment dollars.

The group then evaluates each of those business cases against the set of criteria as you just asked about, Pete, and in this case, this year -- this criteria change based on, you know, our business needs or you know, the direction of the Secretary or the Office of Management and Budget at the time.

This year, for example, we had a very clear set of criteria. Every single business case was evaluated against how well it met the new strategic objectives of the Department.

So, for example, did the proposed investment or business case support the FHA modernization program, did it support the Public and Indian Housing modernization programs, did it support some of our internal modernization programs, you know, or how well did it support those programs, was there a qualified program manager, you know, assigned or proposed for that project, okay.

If that project had been ongoing, was it meeting its cost schedule and performance goals? Was it showing value to the business of HUD and showing good business outcomes? And did the program or the project, is it taken into account, does it understand security and how it's going to protect the security of the data that will be embedded in that system.

Once that group pretty much puts together and evaluates each of the projects. In our case, we have about 13 major projects that get evaluated and another 50 non-major programs that are evaluated. The group gets together and decides which get funded and how much.

And then this is presented to what we call, as you mentioned, Pete, the Technology Investment Board Executive Committee, and that's the TIBEC. And the TIBEC is comprised of deputy secretary chairs that the CIO is a member, the Chief Financial Officer is a member, the Chief Acquisition Officer, and of course, each of our assistant secretaries is also a member and the General counsel.

So the budget is presented to that group and the group says, "Aye" or "Nay" on that particular budget and then the CFO takes that budget, and then incorporates it as part of the Secretarial budget, so everybody really has a say in where those dollars get invested and to what priorities those dollars get invested in.

Mr. Boyer: Now, how has this process changed the outcome of HUD's systems?

Ms. Schlosser: I think by having the business folks involved at a couple of different levels in the governance process -- it's not that just the Chief Information Officer obviously making these decisions, it's the business folks.

And so I think our systems are becoming more valuable or becoming more a critical part of the success of our programs, and I think you're starting to see some really positive business outcomes based on our enhanced use of modernized technology that's been derived from this process.

So I will give you two quick examples, I mentioned that obviously one of our goals in HUD is to increase homeownership. Well, we do that primarily through our loan insurance programs, so one of the areas that our businesses last year wanted to invest in was to automate or electronic the process whereby we get submissions on loans from the lender community.

It used to be that the lenders would submit a loan application to HUD in a paper-based format, which resulted in millions of pieces of paper a year. While, as of last year, we made that an electronic process.

So we cut processing time by 20 percent, cut costs by approximately 30 percent for that processes, so ultimately those reduced costs equate to quicker processing of applications, and getting loan insurance and ultimately loans to the citizen quicker than ever before.

Another quick example, I think, all government programs tried to increase efficiency in the way that we give out payments to recipients of our programs. In the past couple of years, HUD put in a system to help to ensure that our funding for various programs only went to qualified individuals or qualified organizations.

We put in a new database that we actually worked with HHS and SSA on, and we've reduced improper payments on this particular program by 57 percent just by using modernized shared technology.

Mr. Boyer: What are your next steps for the TIBEC?

Ms. Schlosser: We continue to improve the process in the TIBEC. We are increasing the representation of the business community, so our housing leaders, for example, Federal Housing Administration leaders are even more engaged than in the past in that process.

And I think you will ultimately see more and more our systems really supporting good solid business outcomes in measurable performance improvements in HUD's programs.

Mr. Boyer: Now, in our research for the program, we noticed your website includes significant information about the IT development cycle at HUD. Could you tell us about this information?

Ms. Schlosser: Well, we'd like to post the information to -- so that all of our partners really who help us develop these systems really understand what our processes are and how they can build systems to support, you know, to support HUD using a very standard, you know, standards based process.

So we do make sure we keep that updated, we make sure that it's out there so that anybody who would like to participate or bid on a HUD program has access to the methodology that we use and can apply that methodology to their solutions.

Mr. Boyer: Now, how has posting this information changed the activities or outcomes at the OCIO?

Ms. Schlosser: Oh, as we post more and more, we're finding that we're getting solutions that really fit into our architecture. We're -- it's really resulting in a fewer redundant systems. It's also resulting in better lifecycle delivery of new systems development.

Mr. Morales: Lisa, we also noticed that you've included a fair amount of information regarding privacy. What information is available for HUD customers? And when does your officer interact with the Chief Privacy Officer?

Ms. Schlosser: There are a couple of ways we get that information out. Number one, you will see on our website, we do post a privacy policy, so everybody understands what we collect, why we collect information.

Secondly, we also complete something called a Privacy Impact Assessment on every single one of our computer systems, so the documents, what information we collect, what might constitute privacy information, and we post the results of those assessments on our internet sites.

So anybody -- anybody in the public can have access and understand where and how HUD is either collecting or again using privacy act or personally identifiable information.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for HUD? We will ask Chief Information Officer, Lisa Schlosser, to discuss this with us, when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Al Morales, and this morning's conversation is with HUD Chief Information Officer, Lisa Schlosser.

Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, Director of Federal Civilian Programs at IBM.

Lisa, what trends will have the largest impact at HUD and its customers in the next ten years? And how will HUD need to adapt to meet these changes?

Ms. Schlosser: I think first and foremost, as I mentioned a couple of times -- several times throughout the interview, that our primary mission is obviously to increase homeownership opportunities, provide affordable housing, and help build communities, and invest in communities.

And so obviously the direction of the housing market and the economy related to the housing market really impacts our business first and foremost, and that's what we have to plan for and react to as time goes on.

Second major trend, of course, which none of us can predict is disasters. What kind of disasters are we going to have? What areas of the country, and how can we provide the quickest support to getting folks into temporary housing, working with various agencies to do that, and also to rebuild any communities that are impacted by disasters as we go through.

Mr. Morales: Lisa, HUD, like many other federal agencies, is currently dealing with a reduction in budgets. How will the OCIO's Office incorporate budget reductions into modernizing planning in other ITI efforts?

Ms. Schlosser: Well, obviously, we have to continue to get better and better and again as I mentioned earlier, we've really worked on our investment processes, and we've really made sure that we have included our businesses and our strategic goals of the Department into our planning process for Information Technology Investments.

We will continue to do that. We will always have a handle on what the business priorities of the Department are, what the key priorities, again, from the business perspective are, and we will invest where the priorities are the highest.

And also we will invest where it makes good sense on the technology side, where we can build once and service many different programs at once.

So the way we will confront those things is through again better understanding of the business and consistent understanding of the changes in the environment impacting our business and also understanding the technology that's available where we can share technology to get the biggest bang for our buck.

Mr. Boyer: Lisa, on a related topic, there are many exciting technologies that are vogue in the marketplace today, such as SOA, that promise significant advantage in cost savings and improve systems integration. Could you please describe HUD's plans for future technologies and investments?

Ms. Schlosser: Certainly, the service-oriented architecture principles as we talked about before are something we want to continue to look at, continue to invest in.

Obviously, we want to share services, build once and service many, capitalize on economies of scale, you know, actually, use the products in an environment to service multiple business needs is what we want to continue to do.

And specifically, from a technology standpoint, we want to incorporate web services technology. We want to web-enable all of our business applications, so any stakeholder, be it a business, another government agency, or the citizen can access the HUD information that they need when they need it, and customize it to their particular needs, and their particular requirements.

And government-wide, HUD is also going to, you know, ensure that we invest in moving towards Internet Protocol Version 0.6, and we're going to take advantages of smartcards and other technology solutions on the horizon, better and quicker encryption.

The third thing that we really want to do is capitalize on the power of wireless at many levels where we can. We have an increasingly mobile workforce. We have less funding for travel. We have less funding for government employees, so we really want to be efficient about the way we use technology.

I really see remote access web mobile type solutions, handhelds, some of the other technology that gets our mobile workforce connected no matter where they are, they can access securely HUD resources that they need to do their business.

Mr. Morales: Now, related to that, how much of HUD's workforce is mobile today?

Ms. Schlosser: That's -- it's hard to pin on an exact percentage of how much. I would say somewhere between maybe 30 to 40 percent of HUD's workforce travels to conduct inspections, you know, to promote some of our homeownership opportunities. So I would estimate, though roughly, 30 to 40 percent of our folks out there needs some sort of mobile capability, but you also have to consider really your whole workforce as a potentially mobile workforce really.

In the event of a disaster, and in the event that you have to deploy rapid response teams to a disaster area, you have to assume that anytime, anyplace, you can enable your people with a wireless solution, tele-working, obviously.

You need to build in remote access capability, so for example, HUD's implemented a web basis remote access solution. We use the mobile computers, obviously, that are wirelessly connected, so again, we do equip our mobile workforce and we are prepared to equip more of our workforce as more mobility is needed down the line.

Mr. Boyer: Now, Lisa, we talk with many of our guests about the government employee pending retirement wave. How are you handling the retirement wave?

Ms. Schlosser: Well, a couple of things, the Department overall has really an incredible intern program. We bring in -- I think we probably had a couple of 100 interns this year from various programs, from various universities across the nation, and we have a structured program where we bring these folks in, we offer them training throughout their time here as an intern. We really invest in the interns because we want them to come back, we want them to be HUD employees.

Within the Office of the Chief Information Officer, we have an Emerging Leaders Programs, where we meet on a quarterly basis with some of our emerging leaders. And we train them on various things, not just technology, but we train them on how to be good leaders, you know, what to expect from their leaders.

How to be good program or project managers and to understand the technology. We also spend a lot of time teaching them about the business of the government and about the business of HUD, so we want them to get invested, to be excited about the incredible mission and opportunities that we have, so that they come in and so we have a workforce that's ready to move up the ranks, you know, as some of our other members of our workforce get ready and actually do retire.

Mr. Boyer: Lisa, we also talk to many of our guests about the topic or on the topic of collaboration. What kinds of partnerships are you developing now and how will these partnerships between HUD other federal agencies or the private sector change over time?

Ms. Schlosser: Well, I think we're finally really getting into a mindset across the federal government that it does really make sense to collaborate on areas of commonality and I think collaboration will continue to grow.

I think e-government initiatives from the current administration has -- have really opened our eyes to wow! you know, we really do have a common need. We do have a common way we can do this particular business and of course, that translates into technology that we -- we really can capitalize more on shared services across the government.

I think a couple of areas where you're seeing even more collaboration is say in the disaster recovery arena, HUD works very closely with the Veteran's Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture on making sure that we can take personnel and get them into housing as quick as possible and help to build the community, so you're seeing a good collaboration occur there.

We've also -- in that particular case, we've also put -- worked together with those two agencies. We have kind of common housing mission areas.

We put together a website called homesales.gov, where we list any properties that the government owns that we would like to sell, we list it on those websites, and anybody is able to get to that website, make an offer on those homes, or at least pursue how to make an offer, if they're interested.

So it's been a very good opportunity to work together to get that information out. I mentioned a program earlier, Enterprise Income Verification, where the Social Security Administration, Health and Human Resources have gotten together and shared a database that has income data from various recipients of federal programs, and by building that database once and sharing it, we have increased the quality, we have reduced the improper payment.

So there is some real tangible, quantitative benefits of collaborating particularly as we've been talking about in the area of information technology. Again, you build it once let multiple folks use it and you can really create some efficiencies in your process and some cost savings.

Mr. Morales: Lisa, you've certainly enjoyed a very exciting and distinguished career and you've made the migration from the private sector over to public service. What advice could you give to a person who is interested in a career in public service?

Ms. Schlosser: Well, I'd say, first thing is to really understand what aspect of government you'd like to get involved with. There are various opportunities out there, specifically, in the area of security type career fields. Always opportunities in the information technology, and my best advice would be to capitalize on usajobs.gov.

It's a great website, a great resource. It lists opportunities, talks you through what a career in the government is like and it definitely lists all the different job opportunities that are available across the United States, you know, in a variety of different areas of expertise as well.

So I would encourage folks to periodically look at usajobs.gov, and take advantage of the opportunities that are listed there.

Mr. Morales: Great, that's fantastic. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule, but more importantly, Pete and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the public and our country in the various roles you've held in public office, as well as in the U.S. Army.

Ms. Schlosser: Thanks and I appreciate you taking the time to have me here today, and allowing me to share some of the things that HUD's doing. Obviously, HUD's continuing to, what we think, provide a great service to the American public, homeownership, that's the American -- that's America's dream, right, it's to own a home.

And the mere fact that now over 70 percent of the American citizens do own their own home, I think is quite a testimony to Secretary Jackson, Assistant Secretary Brian Montgomery, the head of Federal Housing Administration, and other key leaders within HUD, and I think you're going to see some exciting things coming out of HUD.

They are really going to help people even have more opportunities for homeownership, modernization programs within the Federal Housing Administration.

That's going to allow more flexibility to first time -- particularly, first time homebuyers, and I encourage everyone to look for those programs, look for those opportunities.

Again, I thank you for asking me to be here today.

Mr. Morales: Great. We look forward to your continued success. This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Chief Information Officer of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ms. Lisa Schlosser.

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

Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

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

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

Judy Davis interview

Friday, June 23rd, 2006 - 20:00
"We spend all day long writing, negotiating, and processing contracts and it's very easy to lose sight of why we're here. The mission statement reminds us that it's not about contracts. It's about supporting the Agency mission."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/24/2006
Intro text: 
Davis discusses making the OAM EPA's preferred acquisition-services provider. Davis also describes how her office is streamlining the procurement process at the EPA and shifting procurement decisions to the agencies' contracting officers.Contracting;...
Davis discusses making the OAM EPA's preferred acquisition-services provider. Davis also describes how her office is streamlining the procurement process at the EPA and shifting procurement decisions to the agencies' contracting officers.Contracting; Green
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Friday, March 17, 2006

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Morales: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Judy Davis, director of the office of acquisition management at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Good morning Judy.

Ms. Davis: Good morning.

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

Mr. Boyer: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: Judy, although many of our listeners may be familiar with the EPA, perhaps you could share some history with us. When was the EPA created, and what is its mission today?

Ms. Davis: Sure. EPA was created in 1970, actually by Richard Nixon, who was President at that time. Matter of fact, we just celebrated our 35th Anniversary. And the current mission today of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.

Mr. Morales: Can you give us a sense of the overall size and budget of the EPA?

Ms. Davis: Yes. EPA has roughly 18,000 people and an annual budget of $7 to $8 billion.

Mr. Morales: Can you give us a sense of the responsibilities and duties as the director of the Office of Acquisition Management? Can you tell us a little bit about the area under your purview?

Ms. Davis: I have broad responsibility for all matters of procurement at the Agency. We have roughly 350 folks in our contracting shops around the Agency. Two hundred fifty of them are in my shop, which is the Office of Acquisition Management, and we call that OAM for short. And in Washington we have three divisions, two operations divisions and a policy division. We have an operations division in Cincinnati, Ohio. An operations division in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, and we have roughly 10 regions around the Agency with approximately 100 folks, contracting folks, in those regions.

Mr. Boyer: Now, Judy, how does your office, the OAM, support the mission of EPA?

Ms. Davis: Essentially, we buy the stuff that EPA needs to carry out the mission, mostly services and supplies. EPA depends very heavily upon the private sector; we're very heavily leveraged with our contracts. We buy primarily services, technical services, support services, emergency response support. We obligate $1.3 billion per year, and we process somewhere in the neighborhood of 120,000 contractual actions per year.

Mr. Boyer: Wow. Now, could you describe your career path for our listeners? And specifically, how did you begin your career?

Ms. Davis: Well, if you ever want to hear an interesting story, just ask your friendly neighborhood contracting person how they got into contracts. Because, I don't know too many people, and you probably don't know too many people that, when they're six years old, they sit on their granddaddy's knee and say, "I want to be a contracting officer."

So my story is, I took the PACE test, that was the Professional and Career Entrance Exam, many, many years ago, and that test measures aptitude and potential. Then the Navy called me and said, "We have a job for you in procurement." And I said, "Great. I'll take it." And then I went home, got out my dictionary, and looked up "procurement" because I didn't know what it was. That's how I got into the job of government contracts.

I spent the first 13 years with the Navy as a civilian. Navy turned out to be an excellent training ground. They gave me all kinds of experience: headquarters experience, field experience, major systems procurement, and what I call real procurement, which is what we do here at EPA.

And then I went to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under Department of Commerce. There I was supporting the National Weather Service in their modernization of their contracts. I was there six or seven years. Then I came to EPA, first as the deputy director of contracts, and now as the director.

Mr. Morales: Judy, we understand that you sit on the board of directors for the Federal Acquisition Institute. Could you tell us about the Institute and specifically, your role on this board?

Ms. Davis: Sure. The Federal Acquisition Institute has a very, very, critical mission for the federal government, and that is to promote the development of the professional civilian acquisition workforce. Organizationally, it falls under GSA. Its parallel in DOD is the Defense Acquisition University, the DAU. There is no comparison between FAI and DAU in that the FAI has a very small budget and a very small staff -- only three to four folks. DAU by comparison has, we think, a huge budget and a comparable staff. It's headed by Frank Anderson.

The Board of Directors provides, as most boards, general direction to the Institute, and one of the things that we instituted was to leverage DAU's experience and expertise. FAI has physically moved down to Ft. Belvoir to be co-located with DAU, so they can partner more with DAU and learn from their experience. In the federal government there is a broad movement toward standardizing the contracting series across all the agencies, the idea being that a contract specialist is a contract specialist and the qualification requirement should be the same among all the agencies. That hasn't been the case in the past, and so one of the biggest challenges for FAI is to have a comparable qualification program for the civilian agencies as DAU has for the Defense agencies.

Congress recently saw a need for new skills and a new perspective in the acquisition arena, so that we could adapt to the challenges of the 21st Century. And as a result of that, they came out with the SARA legislation. SARA stands for the Services Acquisition Reform Act. One of the results of the SARA was the creation of the Acquisition Workforce Training Fund. That fund is one of the biggest challenges that FAI faces right now and that is because they are managing that fund.

It's a brand new fund, it's a sea change for FAI in that they formerly had virtually no budget and now they have a budget to create developmental opportunities for the civilian workforce. One of the challenges that we had on the board is, what is the most effective use for this newly created fund that came out of SARA?

So FAI in partnering with DAU, now today is offering courses, free of charge to agencies and departments, so that they can further Congress's vision of the new skills and the new perspective. And I would tell you as a person in an agency, in the contracting shop; this is a very welcome change to agencies as we struggle with our own positive resources to maintain a competent workforce.

Mr. Morales: Certainly, anything that has the word "free" in it sounds like it is probably a good venture. How is the EPA involved in disaster relief? We will ask EPA Director of the Office of Acquisition Management, Judy Davis, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with EPA director of the Office of Acquisition Management, Judy Davis. Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer.

Judy, the Office of Acquisition Management lists a vision, a mission, and strategic goals on its website. Could you describe these management tools and how your office developed them?

Ms. Davis: It is a well-established fact that the highest performing organizations are the ones with a vision, and that have all the folks in the shop are on board with the vision. So about six or seven years ago, we took our managers off-site and we said, "All right, where do we want to go in OAM, the Office of Acquisition Management, at EPA? What do we want our vision to be?" At that time, in our world, in the contracting world, there was a lot of competition going on, and organizations like GSA were marketing different agencies to get their business, and it really made us sharpen our pencil. Competition is a very healthy thing and it made us sharpen our pencil and we realized we were actually losing business to GSA.

So the vision that we came up with was we want to become the preferred business management partners for the Agency. And the way I translate that, there are a lot of big words, but I'd translate that into, "We wanted OAM to be the go-to organization for the Agency, not the go-around organization." And that's how we created our vision.

Then we said, okay, so what are the three biggest challenges to achieve that vision? And that's how we created our strategic goals. And we said first and foremost we have got to have a competent qualified workforce, because our business is very technical. You got to know how to spell contracts. You got to know how to jump over hurdles and tear down barriers to get the job done. And having a competent workforce is not a small feat. So our very first strategic goal is investing in our people.

Then we said, another challenge is, you know, one of the reasons that we think we're losing business is because we don't really have a great corporate image around the Agency, our contracting shop. And so we got to boost that up and we got to show what we're really made of. So our second strategic goal was enhancing our corporate image around the Agency with our customers.

Thirdly, and I'm sure this will come as no surprise to anybody in any kind of business world, is keeping pace with IT. Our IT systems are legacy systems and it's a big challenge for us. So our third goal is investing in information technology. That worked for us for a few years, and like all good organizations, it's always a good idea to go back and revisit your strategy. So, a year or two ago, we did just that.

We had another management off-site. We revisited our strategy and we said, okay, is it still working for us? What's working, what isn't working? Will you tell me the vision is working for us? We've made great progress. We've turned around a lot of business and we've gotten a lot of our customers coming back to us and we're getting lots and lots of kudos from our customers, so that's still working for us, still a good vision. We kept the vision to be the preferred business management partners for the Agency.

On goals, we actually decided to revise some of the goals but we kept the first one, investing in our people. Our view is that if we take care of our folks and we make sure we have a sharp, high-qualified workforce, they would take care of our customers and they'll take care of the rest. So that is still our first strategic goal.

Our other strategic goals, we decided, okay, the workforce, we made a lot of progress, but we need to broaden our focus now and be actually more outwardly focused, because enhancing our corporate image was kind of inward. What can we do to do that? And IT is inward looking. So, to be more outwardly focused and broader, the enhancing of our corporate image goal turned into providing business leadership.

We recognize it's very critical for us to be business leaders to achieve our vision. Investing in IT, we said, you know, we can broaden that too. Why are we focusing only on IT? We should be optimizing all our business processes. So our third strategic goal now is to optimize business processes.

We added a fourth one. The fourth one we added is strengthening our link to the Agency mission. Why? Because we realized that, you know, we're contracting types, we spend all day long writing, negotiating, and processing contracts and it's very easy to lose sight of why we're here. And this is to remind ourselves that it's not about contracts. It's about supporting the Agency mission. The contracts we write are a means to the end, not the end in and of itself. So that's our fourth strategic goal.

Every employee in OAM is familiar with our vision statement, and it's incorporated into our performance plans and as a matter of fact, in deciding to put our money where the mouth is, our awards are directly tied to our vision statement and our strategic goal.

Mr. Morales: Excellent. Certainly developing a vision, mission and goals is critical to the success of an organization, but many would argue that the real challenge is ensuring that employees have bought into the vision and the goals that you set out. What have you done in this area and what advice could you give to other leaders who are thinking about establishing a new vision and goals for their organization?

Ms. Davis: That's an excellent point. How many of us know organizations that have vision statements that end up in a file drawer or some place, and the next time the subject comes up, it's "Yeah, we had one of those. Let me see if I can dig it out." Well, once we had our vision statement, I was on a mission. We were not going to become one of those organizations. So what we did was we established some groups of our staff, we took a cross-cut of OAM, that means all levels, all different levels of OAM were involved, and we established one group for each of our goals.

And our groups, which were the staff, our employees, came up with how they thought we as an organization could implement these goals. They came up with some fantastic ideas. For example, in terms of enhancing our corporate image, besides a lot of our outreach that we do with our customers, they came up with an idea, like, we could have a periodical, a publication that tells stories and advertises successes and focuses on our customers. And we have that now and our folks came up with the name, Buylines, that's b-u-y lines. And so that's done a great job. It's a good way to communicate with our customers. Matter of fact, there's a section in there that's called "Captain Contracts," that's the humor section, and it seems like when we issue a new Buyline, that's where everybody goes, to the "Captain Contracts," to see what kind of humor we have.

Mr. Morales: Does he have a cape?

Ms. Davis: He has a cape. He has a cape. And I got some feedback, that some of our customers didn't realize that we had a sense of humor in the contracting shop, so that was a great idea. And they actually came up with the idea of the Director's Awards. We have a Giraffe Award for those stick their neck out. We have a Light Bulb Award for innovation. We have a Wings Award for one who mentors another. We have the OAM Customer Service of the Year award. We have Mission Made Possible Award, and the Circle of Excellence Awards and our folks came up with those ideas.

So they're very, very, actively engaged in coming up with how we're going to implement these goals. To maintain that, to maintain the goals, we do a number of things. First of all, our vision statement is posted all around our organization -- you can't walk into our organization without seeing it. And I personally meet and greet every individual who walks in to OAM, to work in OAM. I do that for a number of reasons, but not the least of which is to give my stump speech, if you will, on the vision and goals and what it's all about. And so I take great pride and I challenge anybody to find a single individual in OAM who is not familiar with our vision statement and our goals.

Mr. Morales: Most leaders take a top-down approach to vision, mission, goals and it sounds like you've taken a more collaborative approach, which has certainly solved a lot of the issues around employee buy-in to those points. You mentioned customers. So, did you share the goals with your customers?

Ms. Davis: Absolutely. That's how we keep ourselves honest. It not only is important for them to know what we're trying to do in OAM, but it's also important for them to give us feedback on that. We have shared with them at all levels, starting with the top levels. We do an annual outreach to our customers at the deputy assistant administrator level, and in the regions at the assistant regional administrator level. And in those outreach sessions I meet with those levels and bring them up to date on current areas of the contracting arena. And that was one of the first things we shared with them after we had our vision statement. We laid it out and discussed it with them.

At the division level, our division directors share it with them. They've done that annually and in other forums with their customers at the division level. At the staff level, we have a Contract Customer Relations Council that we do outreach with. We meet monthly with our customers and talk about new policies and new evolutions in the contracting world, and so we shared it at that level with them as well. So we shared it all around the Agency. There is no secret. It's very, very public.

Mr. Boyer: And Judy, we understand that EPA's playing a role in response to Hurricane Katrina. Could you describe this role and what results EPA has seen?

Ms. Davis: Oh, yes. When EPA responds, in general there are two modes in which we respond. The first is usually the response mode, in which we do emergency risk assessments and initial air and water monitoring. Longer-term, we do the recovery mode which is, we continue the role of monitoring the air and the water and we add to that handling and collection of hazardous material. And in the case of Katrina that was from households as well as what was out in the environment.

We initially started out in the response mode, and we provided very specially trained personnel to conduct the emergency risk assessments in Katrina. One of the things that is little known about Katrina is the magnitude, for example, of the oil spill. We worked very closely with the Coast Guard in the oil spill. That oil spill, as a result of Katrina, is second only to Exxon Valdez. Most people don't know that because it was overshadowed by the sheer enormity of Katrina and the other issues. Had there been just that oil spill, and not the rest of the impact of Katrina, that would've gotten wide publicity, but it didn't, because of everything else that was going on.

Now, we're in the recovery mode, in which we continue to monitor and remove the hazardous waste. A big focus is on white goods. White goods are the appliances, refrigerators, that sort of thing, that have hazardous contents. And removing the white goods and computers, the household computers, that's been a huge chunk of what we've been doing down there.

From a business perspective, from a contracting perspective, I have to say that EPA had an unprecedented response, and I could not be more proud of the Agency's acquisition personnel. We essentially moved mountains overnight

We were there dealing with unprecedented challenges under extraordinarily intense scrutiny. It's no secret, just a couple of days after Katrina, the media enquiry started coming in, the GAO scrutiny, OMB scrutiny, IG scrutiny, every body was scrutinizing. You couldn't turn on the news or read a paper without learning about scrutiny and all the bucks that we're pouring in to Katrina.

I have to say that in EPA we managed an extremely well-disciplined approach. We were meeting unprecedented emergency demands, while doing that with a very, very, well-disciplined contracting approach. And I'm proud to say, and maybe I shouldn't say this on the radio, but let me knock on wood, you haven't read anything in the papers about abuse of the contracting process in EPA's response to Katrina and that's because of the quality of our folks and their ability to respond as well as they did in that emergency.

Mr. Boyer: Well, that's really terrific, and I think most folks don't realize EPA's role as a first responder. Now, we also understand that EPA has a role in providing emergency response activities for other natural disasters, including tornadoes and snowstorms. Could you share some information with our listeners about this role?

Ms. Davis: Sure. Actually for EPA, more routinely than natural disasters, we respond to local disasters. We've had a few natural disasters like the California earthquake, couple of things like that, but more routinely we respond when the disaster or local disaster is too big for the local responders, that is, the police, the fire, and the municipalities, for them to deal with the response. That's when they call in EPA.

Some examples of that are local tire fires or a methane lab find, or a tanker car wreck with chlorine gas release. You probably remember the Columbia Shuttle disaster. We were a huge player in that one. So essentially, I think in most natural disasters FEMA plays a bigger role than we do, but we get involved in the local disasters a lot of times when there's hazardous material that needs to be addressed.

Mr. Morales: Judy, can you tell us a little bit about what steps you and your staff are taking to streamline the contracting process and what types of results you're seeing to date?

Ms. Davis: Sure. The real big one we did was empowerment of our staff. You know, when I took over as director, five or six or seven years ago, however long that's been now, there was a lot of stuff coming across my desk and I'm like, I'm asking myself, "Why am I signing this? Why is this coming to my desk? There are folks that are much closer to this that can handle this and I don't think this needs to be coming up to my desk."

So we took on this huge empowerment initiative, which is still ongoing. But my philosophy of leadership is, you put the right people in the right jobs, you push the decisions down to the lowest level possible, and you give them the right tools for them to be successful and then you get out of their way and let them do their job. And that's exactly what we did in OAM.

We've eliminated layers and layers of bureaucracy. We revamped the entire agency procurement regulations accordingly. What that did was, it freed up the senior leadership of OAM so we could be focusing on the strategic direction, where are we going in OAM, making strategic decisions, and our contracting officers, who are closer to the work and closer the customers, make the procurement decisions.

From a procurement perspective, we're doing a lot of things that I think a lot of other agencies are doing. Nothing earth shattering there. We're using a lot more umbrella vehicles, we call them Government-Wide Acquisition Contracts or GWACs or multi-agency contracts, the GSA federal supply schedules. We use them to reduce lead-times and increase efficiencies. That way when a customer comes to us and says, "Okay, we want you to buy this for us," we don't have to reinvent the wheel every time, we don't have to generate a brand new contract every time, because we have an umbrella vehicle in place that we can tap into, and it saves an awful lot of time and expense to the federal government.

Mr. Morales: How is the EPA greening government procurement? We'll ask EPA Director of the Office of Acquisition Management, Judy Davis, to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with EPA director of the Office of Acquisition Management, Judy Davis. Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer.

Judy, in the last segment, you gave us a good overview of the streamlining activities in your organization. Can you tell us a little bit more about the specific benefits and results that you derived from this?

Ms. Davis: Sure. Actually, if I can brag about that a little bit, we've all heard the trite phrase, "doing more with less," I mentioned that I have roughly 250 staff in my immediate shop. We used to have over 300 staff, and that was only six or seven years ago. We had over 300 staff, and today we have about 250. We are still obligating $1.3 billion every year. We are still awarding roughly 120,000 contract actions every year. And that doesn't account for the new initiatives that we've taken on in addition to our normal everyday business.

Concomitantly, we've had a tremendous improvement in our customer-service satisfaction rate, while the dissatisfaction rate has gone down. And equally importantly, our employee morale has dramatically increased, which is very rare in times when your staff levels are being reduced. So I think that speaks volumes for how well our streamlining initiatives have paid off for the Agency.

Mr. Boyer: Judy, what is strategic sourcing? It's something we hear a lot about. And what impact does this have on your office?

Ms. Davis: Strategic sourcing is a structured process that uses historical experience to buy certain goods or services and leverage that experience. An example would be volume buying. The ultimate goal of strategic sourcing is to reduce the cost of taxpayers. At EPA, we have a head start on strategic sourcing. OMB has asked each department or agency to identify three commodities that would be good candidates for strategic sourcing and to make it happen.

The three commodities we selected are green office supplies, "green" meaning environmentally friendly, not the color green, recycling and disposal services for IT equipment, and lab supplies. The first two are ones that we were already doing, and that's why I say we have a head start at EPA. We were already doing strategic sourcing for the first two areas. We have a green BPA. BPA is a Blanket Purchase Agreement, which is one of those umbrella vehicles I mentioned, and that green BPA is the first of its kind in government, and we have made it mandatory since May of last year.

What it means is everybody buys office supplies. And so we are EPA, and so we concluded that it would be a really good idea if EPA buys green office supplies. So that's a way of leveraging the buying for the entire agency into one vehicle and reducing the footprint, the environmental footprint, on the country as well.

Our READ service is also an award winning contract. It stands for Recycling the Electronic and Asset Disposition. That's a fancy way of saying recycling IT equipment, and the READ services is something we were already doing for the disposal services for IT equipment around the federal government. So those are two that we are already doing that meet the criteria for strategic sourcing.

The third one is lab supplies. It's no secret that EPA has a lot of labs around the country and we buy a lot of lab supplies, so we thought that would be a really, really, good candidate as well. That one we're not so far along on. We just established something called a Commodity Council for the lab supplies and what we're doing there is, we're beginning the process of the spend analysis, which is part of the process for strategic sourcing.

Mr. Boyer: Well, you guys are clearly involved in greening the government procurement. How many other agencies are participating in this?

Ms. Davis: Actually, in addition to the regulated green procurement programs that have evolved from executive orders for all agencies we have these two landmark vehicles that I mentioned, the READ services and the green BPA. The green BPA right now is just for our agency, the EPA. It is, by the way, did I mention, it's an award winning contract as well.

Mr. Morales: Yes, you did mention that.

Ms. Davis: It won the 2005 White House Closing the Circle Award, which is a very prestigious award. The Closing the Circle is symbolic of recycling and it's a very prestigious award in the world of green. Right now it's just in EPA, but OMB is actually using our green BPA as a benchmark to promote green buying throughout the federal government, under the strategic sourcing initiative.

The READ service, which is the other one that I mentioned, we're also very excited about that one. In fact, I could take all day and talk about READ services, if you want to, so you may have to cut me short on time for that one. But it is also the first of its kind in government, and we're excited about that one for a number of reasons.

First of all, just the way it evolved. The normal process to get a government contract is a program office comes to the contracting office and says, "I have a requirement. Will you please buy this for me?"

This one actually was the brainchild of the contracting shop. We said, "We want to do something to promote green. That's part of our linking with the mission." And so we in the contracting shop said, "You know what? There is a market here to recycle IT equipment in an environmentally friendly way, so why don't we do that?" We went to the program shops and solicited their help. So that's one reason we're very proud of that, because it's not the normal model for how our contracts evolve.

Another reason we're very proud of this is because this is the first GWAC, Government-Wide Acquisition Contract that EPA has ever had. And that's significant, because the first hurdle we had to jump through to get it was to get OMB authority. OMB retains authority and it issues authority to do the government-wide contracts. That took us about a year, but OMB thought it was a very good idea and gave us the authority in March of '04. By the end of that year, we had seven contracts awarded to small businesses, and at this point in time, the READ services contract is widely used within EPA, and we're just starting to branch out to other agencies. We've had orders from FEMA and the Department of Education, to name the first couple agencies that are on board with that.

'05 was the first year we ramped up. We recycled around 300 pallets of IT equipment in '05. A pallet is a 4 by 4 cube which weighs approximately 10,000 pounds each. So this is a way that we contracting types have been able to impact the mission and serve the mission of EPA.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the EPA? We will ask director of the Office of Acquisition Management, Judy Davis, to discuss this with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with EPA Director of the Office of Acquisition Management, Judy Davis. Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer.

Judy, on the theme of people, which you've mentioned a couple of times already, we talk with many of our guests about the pending wave of government retirement. Is this an issue for the EPA? And if so, how are you positioned to handle this?

Ms. Davis: Actually, I would say EPA probably has an older workforce than most other agencies. But nobody ever leaves EPA. When I first arrived at EPA, I went around and asked everybody, "How long have you been at EPA?" And I get, 20 years, 25 years, 30 years, and I started wondering, why doesn't anybody ever leave? And so I had asked people, "Why doesn't anybody ever leave EPA?"

The most frequent answer I got to that question was EPA's mission. People are absolutely passionate about EPA's mission and very committed to accomplishing that mission. And the second answer I got, quite frankly, was EPA is a great place to work. EPA takes care of its employees and is very people-focused.

A friend of mine, a colleague, says that you know, we shouldn't be so concerned about who is eligible to retire. What we really should be asking people is, "When does your last kid graduate from college?" And we'd have much better metrics about who's going to retire when. Bottom line is, yes, EPA has as many folks that are eligible for retiring as the other agencies, but it's just not happening in the droves and droves that people have predicted.

Mr. Boyer: Now, Judy, you've made it clear, the number one goal within your organization is competent employees, and clearly EPA is people-focused. How do you ensure that your employers have the appropriate training and skills?

Ms. Davis: Well, it's a huge challenge for us as well as the rest of the field. Matter of fact, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy just came out with a recent policy called "Developing and Managing the Acquisition Workforce." So it is very widespread among our discipline trying to keep a competent workforce, and of course, with the shrinking numbers, it's no secret that the contracting arena has hugely shrinking numbers, more so than a lot of other disciplines.

In my shop, we take a multi-pronged approach. First, we have the hardcore technical skills. How do you spell contracts? What does it mean to be a contracting officer? And these are very regimented classes that are taken. I mentioned trying to have the normalcy of the discipline across the entire federal government. Department of Defense has the DAWIA requirements, and so this is pretty regimented.

Besides the hardcore contracting courses, what we do to maintain our technical skill is we do a lot of sharing of best practices and lessons learned around our shop. Beyond that, we say we want to make sure that our folks are well-rounded. It's not enough just to know how to spell contracts and to be good technically. It is equally important to have what we call "life skills." Some people would call these the soft skills. Things like leadership, communication skills, conflict management, and those sorts of things.

And so we've taken on a very large initiative in our shop to ensure that our folks get the people skills and the leadership skills that they need to be solid, well-rounded staff employees and future leaders. It is my view that the best leaders are ones who grow new leaders, and that's why we focus so much on the life skills as well as the hardcore contracting skills.

We try to make sure our folks have other developmental opportunities as well. We have a big emphasis on rotations and details. It's important for our folks to walk in the customer's shoes to understand what it's like to be in the program office. We've had rotations inside and outside EPA with other agencies and yes, even with industry. There are some ethics concerns there, but you can work around those and we've actually had some folks who've had the opportunity to do a stint with industry.

In addition to all that, we do routine in-house training. At different levels in the organization we do training for the staff members on contracting issues to keep current, GAO protests, couple of things like that. And we do management training. One of the big mistakes that people make, I think, in organizations is they take people who are very technically skilled, they put them in management positions, but they don't give them any new tools to be successful and then they wonder why the management isn't a dynamic management team.

It's very critical for our managers to stay current, as well as our staff, and so we have in-house management training. We just had training; just within the past couple weeks, on the generational differences in the workplace which is very, very interesting.

Mr. Morales: Fascinating.

Ms. Davis: Very interesting training, right, because we've got a lot of the different generations, and let's face it, we are different. It's important to understand, recognize and manage to those differences. The whole result of all this is that OAM takes great pride in turning out very, very, high quality talent.

Mr. Morales: Judy, you told us a wonderful story of how you started your career. What advice would you have to a person starting a career in public service, or perhaps just reflecting on that day they sat on their grandfather's lap?

Ms. Davis: I would say what you've got to think about, if you're considering a government career, is to step back and consider the difference between the government and the private sector. Let's face it; the government and the private sector do not exist for the same purposes. Industries, the private sector companies, exist because they want to make a profit. That's what drives their bottom line. The government is in the business of solving the most challenging and significant problems of the nation, and, yes, of the world.

And so I would advise folks that you should take that into account if you're choosing a career in public service. If you're looking to make the most money that you could make during your career, during your lifetime, don't come to the federal government. I would say, go to the private sector, because you can have the same level of responsibility and make a whole lot more money in the private sector than you do with the federal government.

If you are looking for a place where you can have an enormous amount of responsibility, you can have an impact on the world around you and tackle some very, very tough worldwide problems and challenges, you can have a reasonable standard of living and maintain a quality of life, but you can have an impact with significant responsibilities, I would say then consider the federal government. You make a decent living, you have a balanced life, and you can tackle some very difficult challenges.

The government has a public image problem. There is no question that the government has a public image problem. We've all heard the phrase, "good enough for government work." It may come as a surprise that that phrase when it was originally formed was an indication of the high standards that government was held to. Today, we don't get that sense when we hear that phrase.

And so my advice to you is if you are a talented, energetic, dedicated individual, find an agency with a mission that you can be passionate about. Come join the world of federal service and make a difference.

Mr. Morales: Judy, thank you very much. We've reached the end of our time and that'll have to be our last question. I want to thank you for fitting us in to your busy schedule today, but most importantly, Pete and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the public and our country in the various roles you've held at the EPA, NOAA and the Navy.

Ms. Davis: Thanks a lot. I really enjoyed the conversation and I appreciate the opportunity to be here today. If anybody in the listening world out there would like more information on EPA, come join us at epa.gov.

Mr. Morales: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with the director of the Office of Acquisition Management, Judy Davis, of the Environmental Protection Agency. Be sure to visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad, who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support. For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

David Combs interview

Friday, February 10th, 2006 - 20:00
"Globalization, advances in secure communications, and customer expectations for electronic access have prompted the department to assess its infrastructure and explore options for accommodating these trends."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 02/11/2006
Intro text: 
Combs discusses how the USDA Office of the CIO works closely with each of the CIOs in the department's various agencies, develops project management training programs, and works toward the electronic government goals in the President's Management Agenda....
Combs discusses how the USDA Office of the CIO works closely with each of the CIOs in the department's various agencies, develops project management training programs, and works toward the electronic government goals in the President's Management Agenda. Combs describes how USDA's Information Technology Services (ITS) provides service and support for more than 40,000 employees in the USDA's "service center agencies," such as the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
Complete transcript: 

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Arlington, Virginia  

Mr. Morales: Good Morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I am Albert Morales, your host and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the center by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org. The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is David Combs, Chief Information Officer at the Department of Agriculture. Good Morning, Dave.

Mr. Combs: Good Morning, Al.

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

Mr. Wasson: Good Morning, Al. Good Morning, Dave.

Mr. Combs: Good Morning, Mike.

Mr. Morales: Dave, can you begin by telling us about the history and mission of the Department of Agriculture?

Mr. Combs: Sure. In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln founded the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He called it "The People's Department." In Lincoln's days 58 per cent of the people were farmers. They needed good seeds and helpful information to grow their crops. Well, today, USDA continues Abraham Lincoln's legacy by helping America's farmers and ranchers. But today we also do much more. We lead the federal anti-hunger effort with programs like food stamps, school lunch, school breakfast and the Women, Infants, and Children's, or WIC, program. We are the steward of our nation's 192 million acres of national forests and range lands. We are the country's largest conservation agency. We encourage voluntary efforts to protect soil, water, and wildlife on the 70 percent of America's lands that are in private hands. We bring housing, modern telecommunications, and safe drinking water to rural America. We are responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products. We lead research in everything from human nutrition to new crop technologies that allow us to grow more food and fiber per acre using less water and pesticides. We help ensure open markets for U.S. agricultural products. We provide food aid to needy people overseas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture touches virtually every aspect of rural life in America.

Mr. Morales: Dave, that's a very, very broad mission. Can you tell us about your office specifically, the Office of the Chief Information Officer? How many people work there and what kind of skill sets do you have?

Mr. Combs: The USDA is a very diverse organization as you just saw from our mission. It's comprised of 29 agency and staff offices. And my office, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, is responsible for managing the IT assets and the direction of IT investments needed to improve the quality, timeliness, and cost effectiveness of service delivery by the many agencies of the department. My organization has more than 1100 information technology professionals. And as CIO, I am responsible for nearly $2 billion a year that is spent on information technology to support the entire Department of Agriculture. Our information professionals come from very diverse backgrounds: project management, finance, programming and analysis, policy, telecommunications, and security. But most importantly, we need folks that know how to leverage technology to deliver services. Several of my senior managers do not have technical backgrounds. But they do possess the leadership and customer skills that will get us where we want to go and need to be.

Mr. Morales: I understand that you've been in the Office of the CIO at USDA for some time but you've recently been appointed to the CIO position. Congratulations. Can you tell us a little more specifically about the responsibilities as CIO, and to the extent that you have a typical day, what your typical day looks like?

Mr. Combs: Well, thank you very much. This has been a wonderful opportunity for me. But I want you and the audience to understand upfront that this is not about me. It's about getting results and establishing the people processes and tools that will support the mission of USDA long after my tour of service is over. And under my watch the OCIO has taken an integrated approach to ensure that all technology disciplines are woven together. These disciplines include capital planning, cyber security, e-government, telecommunications, and enterprise architecture. This integrated approach is intended to create a strategy that provides customers with access to the information that they need, protects the safety of USDA information resources, and strengthens the management and use of USDA information technology resources.

This past fall, I took my executive team on a retreat, to take a fresh look at what we do and where we're going. We took a look at the foundational legislation that established this office. And we found that according to the Clinger-Cohen Act, we needed to do several things. We needed to insert ourselves into the USDA agency, CIO selection and evaluation process which we now have done. We've developed performance standards to be used as a critical element in the evaluation of every agency's CIO's performance. We have also established performance standards for agency project managers. And speaking of project management, USDA is leading the federal government with its project management training program. So far we have graduated over 500 students. 200 of these students have received their Project Management Professional or PMP certification. This professional training is critical for USDA as the demand for skilled project managers increases. The President's management agenda is without question my top priority. As the CIO, I am considered the owner of the expanding electronic government initiative. And in this initiative we're evaluated in seven major areas: Enterprise architecture, acceptable business cases, earned value management, IT system certification and accreditation, implementing electronic government lines of business and smart buy initiatives, privacy impact assessments, and systems of records.

And USDA continues to make tremendous progress in moving this initiative forward. The scoring method is simple: Green, yellow, red. The President made it clear to me in a recent meeting that he does not like red or yellow. And neither do I. We're scored in two categories: Status and progress. And I am proud to report that USDA continues to be green for progress. Right now we're yellow in status but we're closer than ever to green. We're doing well and our goal is to be green by the end of June this year. This is truly a team effort involving a very talented and dedicated team of USDA agency CIOs and IT professionals that I'm proud to work with every day. We're also fortunate to have at USDA the full support of Secretary Johanns and Deputy Secretary Chuck Connor.

Mr. Morales: Dave, you have held several high level positions in federal agencies in the past. Which has best prepared you for your current role?

Mr. Combs: Well, we're all products of our past experiences, and my 30 plus years of experience in the private sector, in IT and telecommunications, and as an entrepreneur, were a great foundation. Serving for a year as acting deputy CIO here at USDA, and working with my good friend and colleague Scott Charbo was also great preparation.

Mr. Morales: Dave, you referenced a little bit of your past. You spent 23 years at AT&T prior to your service in government. And then you also spent some time in your own music business. This is sort of a fascinating background. I'm curious what led you to government and how has your leadership style changed over the years.

Mr. Combs: Well, I came to government primarily to -- first of all, to be in the same town with my wife. She, as you know, works in the federal government as well, as controller at OMB. And, rather than me living in Winston-Salem and her up here I decided to rearrange things in North Carolina and come up here and see what I could do productively as well. So that's how I ended up here. But, in asking about my leadership style, obviously, you know, years of experience certainly have been helpful in my leadership style, and I've come to appreciate the importance of selecting and depending upon an executive management team that will carry out the mission of my organization without being micromanaged. I've learned to delegate more, and always though with the motto of President Reagan: Trust but verify. I have surrounded myself with seasoned professionals and they know what is expected of them. I have a great team.

Mr. Morales: Dave, we talked a little bit prior to the show about your music business. I was hoping you just share a little bit about that business with us.

Mr. Combs: Well, it was basically one of those things, it was a hobby that turned into a career and now back into a hobby for the time being anyway. I come from a musical family and happened to be fortunate to have written a song called "Rachel's song" which kind of took off. Everyone that heard it on the radio and wherever they heard it just fell in love with it, and it's now been played millions of times around the world. And that one song launched me into a career of writing music and I have written over 150 songs and now have 15 albums of music. But that was, it's basically a hobby that kind of took on a life of its own and I had to catch up with it and enjoyed 10 years of doing nothing but my music as a support for my wife and myself.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. What is the information technology service? We will ask USDA CIO Dave Combs to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Albert Morales and this morning's conversation is with Department of Agriculture Chief Information Officer David Combs. Also joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson. Dave, what is the Information Technology Service, otherwise known as ITS? Who are its main customers and how do you ensure that your customers are satisfied with the services provided by ITS?

Mr. Combs: Well, the information technology services, or ITS as we call it for short, was born into OCIO on November 28, 2004. On that date it became the in-house provider of information technology service and support for over 40,000 USDA service center agency employees. ITS supports all their networked computers, IT equipment, and the shared infrastructure that their agency networks and applications run on. The shared infrastructure is also known as the common computing environment or CCE for short. Our customers are the three service center agencies and their partner organizations. They are the Farm Service Agency, or FSA; the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS; and Rural Development, or RD. The Farm Service Agency, FSA, administers farm commodity, crop insurance, credit, environmental, conservation, and emergency assistance programs for farmers and ranchers. The Natural Resource Conservation Service, NRCS, is the primary federal agency that works with private landowners to help them conserve, maintain, and improve their natural resources. And Rural Development, RD, creates partnerships with rural communities to fund projects that bring housing, community facilities, utilities, and other services to increase rural Americans' economic opportunities and improve their quality of life. The service center agencies use many sophisticated applications to provide over $55 billion in vital programs to over 6 million farmers and thousands of rural communities across the country. These programs include loans, grants, technical assistance, and basic information.

The goal of ITS is to keep the computing environment operating flawlessly so customers at the service center agencies, offices throughout the country, almost don't even know that it's there. Our goal is for their computers, applications, networks, and communications technologies to do what they're supposed to do and let the agency spend their time supporting the efforts of farmers, property owners, and rural communities.

ITS was formed by combining the service center agency's highly skilled IT specialists and support teams with a core team from OCIO into one organization of about 800 people. These folks are distributed in agency offices all across the country. I believe that this convergent plan is unique in the U.S. government. ITS is adapting best industry practices to organize IT resources and personnel efficiently and deploying them where and when they are needed. The point of creating ITS was to have one unified organization dedicated to supporting both the shared and the diverse IT requirements of the service center agencies and their partner organizations. On the one hand the agencies were already sharing and investing in a common computing environment with its infrastructure and network systems and associated hardware, software, and training. But on the other hand, each agency had to manage its own distinct computer system, software, and IT support teams. By converging both the technology resources and the skilled IT staff into one organization, ITS efficiently focuses on a broad range of technology, investment, and diverse support planning and management services spread equitably back to the agencies replacing what might be considered triplicate efforts. ITS has formed a customer-service support system based upon a central help desk that can flexibly and efficiently dispatch technical support specialists who are co-located in teams at many agency offices.

Mr. Morales: What kind of telecommunications services are provided by your office? And how does centralization impact the costs of services, and what other impacts does centralization drive?

Mr. Combs: During the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2005, we completed the launch of our new wide area network telecommunications infrastructure known as the "Universal Telecommunications Network" or UTN. It's a new corporate data network backbone for providing our customers with more secure, robust, and flexible telecommunications capabilities, and enhanced network support services. The UTN project team worked collaborative with USDA agencies and offices to transform the old USDA telecommunications environment into one that is state-of-the-art and well better to meet the delivery challenges of today and tomorrow.

Telecommunications voice and data services are increasingly critical to successful delivery of USDA programs and services. Since 1998, USDA's Internet access capability has increased 20-fold. The ability to interconnect systems and entire local area networks via the web has created increased demand for telecommunications capacity to carry information in multimedia formats to increasingly sophisticated USDA customers. And greater reliance on the Internet to conduct business and deliver services is also generating requirements for improved access, speed, reliability, robustness, security, and related standards.

In recent trends towards globalization, advances in secure communications, and growing customer expectations that electronic access will be made more widely available by the federal government within a five-year time span, have prompted the department to assess its current state of infrastructure support and explore options for accommodating these future trends as we move further into this century. The Universal Telecommunications Network Project is meeting those challenges.

Mr. Morales: It certainly sounds like a lot of bandwidth that's going to be required.

Mr. Combs: Yes, and very flexible.

Mr. Morales: We understand that your office is taking steps to innovate in the area of asset management. What are the goals of this effort, and what's its current status? And how does an organization called the IT Management Advisory Committee support this effort?

Mr. Combs: USDA has a vast number of IT assets, as you can imagine, and they are currently managed de-centrally, through disparate approaches. These dissimilar approaches present a challenge for managing USDA's IT infrastructure. USDA can gain significant efficiencies and productivity increases by establishing a uniform IT asset-management program that provides the information necessary to manage these IT assets from an enterprise perspective. We are in the early stages of this effort. Our goal is to implement an IT asset-management program that supports the establishment of standards-based technology architecture for USDA.

The IT Asset-Management Program will implement an automated system for managing USDA's IT assets from both an agency and enterprise perspective. Having a good inventory of USDA's IT assets will better enable enterprise approaches for procuring commonly used products. The Information Technology Management Advisory Council, or ITMAC as we call it, is a group of professionals representing many agencies throughout USDA. The ITMAC advises OCIO on best practices and approaches to enterprise issues. And one of the key roles of the ITMAC in this effort is to identify key issues and concerns and management decision points to ensure successful completion of the IT asset management initiative.

Mr. Morales: Dave, we understand that many of the forms at the government have now gone electronic. What role does your office play in supporting the forms? What are the benefits of the electronic processes, and what lessons could you share with other government leaders about your experience?

Mr. Combs: Well, that's correct. Over 500 of the department's most commonly used forms are available in an electronic format to provide citizens and businesses with an alternative to traditional paper-based processes. My office plays the lead role in coordinating this effort in several ways. First, we manage the paperwork and reporting burden that USDA imposes on citizens and businesses. To participate in our programs under the Paperwork Reduction Act, using online forms may reduce burden by permitting customers to compile information when it's most convenient for them, and to reuse information from prior submissions of the same or similar information. Electronic forms may also reduce travel time associated with completing the forms at a USDA office.

Further, USDA's participation in the President's interdepartmental E-Government initiatives has provided integrated access to forms required by multiple agencies within specific business areas. For example, businesses may locate forms required to apply for permits, and report compliance in a single location at http://business.usa.gov, regardless of which government agency requires them. Grant applications will find both the common and unique forms required to apply for grants at www.grants.gov. And USDA's export-related assistance and market information has been consolidated with similar information from our partners in the federal and private sector in one location at www.export.gov. There are many other examples.

The demand for electronic interaction in government is continuing to grow at a steady pace. But it isn't for everyone served by USDA. Government is striving to consolidate the presentation of its information and services in a seamless online manner similar to what many state governments have already accomplished. Forms will ultimately be replaced in this venue by fully electronic transaction tools that further simplify interaction with government by reusing information from prior transactions. However, many of the department's program beneficiaries prefer to visit a USDA office, or they do not have easy access to computers or sufficient bandwidth to make using electronic forms a viable alternative.

USDA will continue to offer the more traditional interaction methods for this group of customers. And many of our forms, though, are now electronic. Not all are electronic, but the amount of information we generate has increased exponentially over the past few years. The expectation is that over the coming few years we will generate even more information. There will be commensurate expansion of records, and much of this will be electronic. And my office plays a lead role in coordinating this effort across the department.

Mr. Morales: How do you ensure that customers are involved in technical decision-making, and what role does the Capital Planning Investment and Control play in this effort?

Mr. Combs: In the past, agencies and IT personnel across the department were not used to collaborating on IT. Although the Clinger-Cohen Act required greater coordination of USDA's IT budget at the department level, agencies still planned many investments and activities independently. They often did not collaborate even when other agencies were planning similar investments, usually for the simple reason they did not communicate with other agency IT staffs, and did not know that collaboration opportunities even existed.

Through activities such as what we call CPIC, USDA has been working to increase coordination across agency and department IT activities. This included developing a shared vision and purpose for IT collaboration, as well as developing the enterprise-wide governance structures to integrate coordination into all aspects of the USDA's IT activities. At USDA we have a very active internal CIO council that we call IT Leadership. This council is made up of all of the agencies' CIOs and IT leaders. We meet twice a month with the purpose of communicating on all IT issues, both technical and non-technical.

The foundation for IT portfolio management at USDA is the Capital Planning Investment Control or CPIC process. CPIC is a structured integrated approach to managing IT investments. It ensures that all IT investments align with the USDA mission, and support business needs while minimizing risks and maximizing returns throughout the investment's life cycle. CPIC relies on a systematic pre-selection, selection, control, and ongoing evaluation process to ensure each investment's objectives support the business and mission needs of the department.

Mr. Morales: Dave, how do you ensure your customers' data is secure? And perhaps you can share with us a little bit of the experiences during the recent hurricane disasters.

Mr. Combs: Well, securing USDA's IT assets is of paramount importance to the department and an integral part of USDA's enterprise architecture and IT transformation activities. Cyber security considerations are included at every stage of USDA's CPIC process. All proposed investments are required to develop robust and detailed security plans before they are even funded. Systems in the development require creation of adequate security infrastructure and the obtainment of a certification and accreditation, or what we call CNA, for continued funding. Annual security reviews are also required for major investments to receive continued funding.

And the recent experience with the hurricanes and the Katrina certainly emphasize the need to secure the data that we have. For example, at our National Finance Center in New Orleans, to make sure that that was securely transported to our backup site in Philadelphia, brought up, and which was done within a two-week period. And they actually just didn't miss a beat and actually brought on two new customers at the same time. So security and protection of our customers' data is of paramount importance to us.

Mr. Morales: It's a great story. How is the department ensuring data quality? We will ask USDA CIO David Combs to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Department of Agriculture CIO David Combs. Also joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Dave, we understand that your office has implemented a set of quality guidelines for information. Could you share a bit about the guidelines with our listeners? And what was the process that was used to develop and implement them?

Mr. Combs: Sure. The quality guidelines apply to all types of information disseminated by USDA agencies and offices. Now, I won't read them to you, but the basic premise is that USDA will strive to ensure the maximum quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of the information that its agencies and offices disseminate to the public.

Well, what do I mean by "objectivity"? USDA offices and agencies will strive to ensure that the information they disseminate is substantively accurate, reliable, and unbiased, and presented in an accurate, clear, complete, and unbiased manner, and to the extent possible, consistent with confidentiality protections, USDA agencies and offices will identify the source of the information so that the public can assess for themselves whether the information is objective.

And what do I mean by "utility"? USDA offices and agencies will assess the usefulness of the information they disseminate to its intended users, including the public. When transparency of information is relevant for assessing the information's usefulness from the public's perspective, the USDA agencies and offices will ensure that transparency is addressed in their review of the information prior to its dissemination. USDA agencies and offices will ensure that disseminated information is accessible to all persons pursuant to the requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

And what do I mean by "integrity"? USDA agencies and offices will protect information they maintain from unauthorized access or revision to ensure that disseminated information is not compromised through corruption or falsification. USDA agencies and offices will ensure their information resources by implementing the programs and policies required by the Government Information Securities Reform Act. And USDA agencies and offices will maintain the integrity of confidential information and comply with the statutory requirements to protect the information it gathers and disseminates. And these include the Privacy Act of 1974 as amended, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, the Computer Security Act of 1987, the Freedom of Information Act, and OMB Circulars A-123, A-127, and A-130.

Mr. Morales: Dave, we understand that your office has a role in records management for the department. Are all your records stored electronically? And how does your office manage risk and redundancy in storing these records?

Mr. Combs: Yes, as I mentioned earlier, my office leads this effort at the department, and no, not all records are electronic. But the amount of information we generate has increased exponentially over the past few years. The expectation is that over the coming few years we'll generate even more information and much of this will be electronic. We manage the risk and redundancy in storing these records in various ways. We do it through continuity of operations planning, periodic exercises for the deployment of operations. We do it through vital records exercises, where records are positioned at primary and an alternate site. And through ongoing training of our records officers and project managers.

USDA is in the process of evaluating an electronics records management application. And after evaluating this application, we will be conducting a proof of concept pilot. By approaching electronic records management from a department perspective, USDA will benefit from reduced development and maintenance cost as well from the standardization of processes that will support e-records management.

USDA understands the need to manage a project of this magnitude at the department level to ensure conformity of standards across all USDA agencies to manage risk and redundancy.

Mr. Morales: Dave, how is the enterprise architecture that is already in place at USDA impacting operations, and where are you in the process of implementing the target architecture?

Mr. Combs: USDA's IT transformation framework, has better enabled USDA to manage its IT investment portfolio and select the best combinations of IT systems to effectively and efficiently support USDA's mission. Using the department's blueprint for the vision provided by the USDA enterprise architecture, USDA has conducted an extensive review of IT investments during the fiscal year 2005 budget process.

All USDA investments, major and non-major, were evaluated to determine whether they aligned with the enterprise architecture and provided a necessary and efficient service. The process particularly focused on consolidation with systems providing similar functionality identified using the tools and structure provided by the USDA and the Federal Enterprise Architecture. This careful review allowed USDA to eliminate nearly 150 of its 500 IT investments through consolidation and realignment, saving around $160 million annually. USDA's IT transformation activities have resulted in additional IT portfolio improvements as well. This was accomplished by having the department focus on developing enterprise-wide systems and services to serve business needs and replace the duplicative agency-specific approaches previously used. This activity has increased from 24 major investments to 66 over five years, nearly a 200 percent increase. And at the same time the number of small and generally agency-specific investments has declined significantly from 605 down to 330.

Mr. Morales: What is the directives system, how did the system evolve, and what can you share with us about the results that this office has seen in making directives centrally available and electronic?

Mr. Combs: The USDA directives system is basically an online repository of all USDA departmental regulations and notices, manuals, and secretarial memoranda. The old process was paper intensive, and a great deal of time and effort was put into copying and storing those paper forms. Well, that process was transformed basically into a print-on-demand function, online, and our customers now have access to the information they need without having to go through any other organization, pretty simple.

Mr. Morales: David, earlier you mentioned the programs you have to support the development of project management skills among your technical staff. I think you mentioned you had somewhere on the order of about 500 folks going through these programs. How have your efforts improved technical outcomes?

Mr. Combs: The USDA IT investment project management training program provides participants with the tools and techniques needed to manage IT projects effectively with an emphasis on the issues encountered in managing within the capital planning investment control process and other federal guidance.

This training program was initiated in response to the results of a survey of USDA IT executives which indicated the need for more training in project management. And the Federal CIO council as well as industry leaders considers project management to be a critical competency for IT managers. As I mentioned before, USDA has graduated over 500 students from this five-week course, and over 200 now have their project management professional certification. And our multimillion dollar IT development projects demand professional, experienced, and effective project managers.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the Department of Agriculture? We will ask Chief Information Officer David Combs to discuss this with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I am your host Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with David Combs, chief information officer at the Department of Agriculture. Also joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Dave, we talk a great deal with government leaders about the pending retirement wave. Can you tell us about the steps that your office has taken to manage the retirement wave within the USDA, and what lessons learned could you share with other leaders in government?

Mr. Combs: In an effort to address an increasing shortage of skilled information technology workers at USDA, OCIO and our Office of Human Resources Management work closely together to provide USDA managers with recommendations and solutions on how to continually improve their IT work force.

The increased focus on the strategic management of human capital dates back to the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. And one of the requirements of this act is the mandate for all federal agencies to perform an IT workforce assessment. The act requires the federal chief information officers to implement a professional development strategy to ensure that IT staff possess the knowledge, competencies, and skills necessary to meet agency requirements as they relate to information resource management.

In partnership with our Office of Human Resources Management, we've established a USDA IT HR working group. This working group closely works with every other team within the OCIO to achieve the goal of recruiting, retaining, and training the most qualified team of IT professionals. In addition, this group meets monthly with representatives from numerous agencies, IT, and HR specialists within the department. The working group is focused on developing, implementing, and promoting recruitment and retention strategies to ensure that USDA maintains a quality IT job force capable of leading the department to meet its mission objectives.

Working group members are briefed regularly on all activities occurring at the federal level in the area of IT workforce improvement. They're responsible for achieving USDA's IT and HR leadership, in planning for and implementing effective recruitment, retention, and training strategies. The USDA IT HR working group is the department's only forum for active IT HR collaboration in the area of IT workforce planning.

Mr. Morales: Dave, you touched on this a little bit, but is your office also working on recruitment and retention activities, and how does this fit into the overall HR strategy for OCIO?

Mr. Combs: Yes, this ties directly to the overall HR strategy I just mentioned. We clearly recognize the issue of recruitment and retention. And we've been working very hard over the last year to recruit strong talent to fill these critical vacancies at all levels.

Mr. Morales: Dave, how do you envision the operations of the OCIO in five to ten years? Is the OCIO considering expanding its customer base through shared services or other methods?

Mr. Combs: Well, absolutely. We've already begun to move in that direction. Just last December USDA's executive board granted my office permission to move forward with three major initiatives, a single electronic mail system, a consolidated network with centralized support, and a consolidated data center and disaster recovery infrastructure.

Mr. Morales: Earlier, Dave, we talked a little about enterprise architecture, but can you discuss what impacts will the enterprise architecture planning have on the long term capabilities of the department?

Mr. Combs: The USDA-wide enterprise architecture supports and reinforces the goals of the President's management agenda. The USDA-wide EA repository and EA program is a catalyst for creating easy to find, single points of access to government services. It encourages automating internal processes to reduce the costs. It enables reducing cost by disseminating best practices and coordinating approaches across USDA agencies and staff offices, and it results in reducing duplication of efforts to build similar software systems. The USDA EA program supports the coordination of USDA's participation in the E-Government presidential initiatives.

This year, in its first year of use, the USDA EA repository and program will support initiatives such as FirstGov portal, Recreation One-Stop, e-authentication, e-loans, and e-grants initiatives. This support is in the form of the development of standards, the development of common data sets and structures, identification of common processes, and identification of common technologies. The EA repository also supports the federal architectures being developed for finance, human resources grants, and federal health.

And finally, the EA repository and EA program closely align the E-Government initiatives defined in USDA's E-Government strategic plan leveraging e-authentication, enterprise shared services, web-based supply chain management, and other initiatives. This alignment advances USDA's EA goal of using common enterprise-wide and intergovernmental systems when possible.

The EA repository directly supports the achievement of USDA's EA vision. The information it provides will help the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the executive board to make informed IT investment decisions based on a clear understanding of the department's existing and planned architectures at both the agency level and the federal level. Further, it will help agency and staff office personnel to identify opportunities to leverage existing systems or contracts already in use elsewhere in the department, helping to avoid redundant IT investments.

Mr. Morales: Dave, you've had a highly successful career starting in the private sector. You've turned a passion into a business, and now you're in public service. What advice can you give to a person who is interested in a career in public service, especially in information technology?

Mr. Combs: Well, if you're looking for a rewarding and challenging opportunity, you need to look no further. It's truly an honor and a privilege to be in public service, and the demand for information and the technology to create it, organize it intelligently, and communicate it efficiently and effectively is growing exponentially. The future for informational professionals is bright. Unlike my generation, children today are exposed to information technologies before they can even walk.

IT has become engrained in their everyday routine. From the time they enter kindergarten, sometimes sooner, children are exposed to computers and electronic knowledge. These experiences translate into capabilities that can be applied to future careers in information technology. But you don't have to major in computer science to have a career in IT. The federal IT organizations are always looking for smart, energetic people who are good thinkers and good leaders and not afraid to tackle large and difficult problems. If that description fits you, then there are several people in the federal CIO community that want to talk to you.

Mr. Morales: That's great advice. We've reached the end of our time, and that will have to be our last question. First, I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule. Second, Mike and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the public and our country in the various roles you've held at the Department of Agriculture.

Mr. Combs: Thank you Al and Mike; it's been a pleasure and an honor for me to be here this morning, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss our many missions and areas of -- that we are working on at USDA and it's a big department with a wonderful service mission to the rural parts of United States of America, and actually to all of it, when you consider the food safety protection and everything. So there's hardly an area of American life that we aren't intimately involved with, and it's a real honor and a privilege to work in that department.

Mr. Morales: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with David Combs, chief information officer at the Department of Agriculture. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's www.businessofgovernment.org.

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

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


Thomas Cooley interview

Friday, January 27th, 2006 - 20:00
"Our system enables program managers to tick down their funds throughout the year. Every morning you can log on, see how much money you’ve got. Then, if you’ve made some award recommendations and commitments, you can see how much you have left."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 01/28/2006
Intro text: 
Cooley discusses the process of managing grants and research priorities across the NSF and working to support and nurture the future scientists and engineers of America. He discusses the NSF’s efforts to understand the impact of technology, especially...
Cooley discusses the process of managing grants and research priorities across the NSF and working to support and nurture the future scientists and engineers of America. He discusses the NSF’s efforts to understand the impact of technology, especially nanocomputer technology, on American lives.
Complete transcript: 

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Morales: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the center by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Thomas Cooley, Chief Financial Officer and Director of the Office of Budget Finance and Award Management at the National Science Foundation. Good morning, Tom.

Mr. Cooley: Good morning, Al.

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

Mr. Watson: Good morning Al and good morning Tom. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. Cooley: Thank you Steve.

Mr. Morales: Tom, can you begin by telling us the history and the mission of the National Science Foundation, and more specifically, the Office of Budget Finance and Award Management.

Mr. Cooley: Sure, but I don't want to take a whole lot of time. I could spend an hour just talking about that. The National Science Foundation is a branch and arm of the federal government. It was created in 1950 after World War II, after they found out how important science was -- research and development was to the mission of carrying out that war effort. Our fundamental mission is to support basic science and engineering research and education, primarily through colleges and universities, but we also have activities that are engaging the profits and non-profits as well. We currently have a budget of about $5.8 billion each year. We are waiting to get our fiscal year 2006 budget through Congress right now. What that translates to is roughly thirty-five thousand active awards every year. We get about forty-four thousand proposals from principal investigators at universities and colleges throughout the country. We put them through a rigorous external merit review process. Each year we make about eleven or twelve thousand awards. The typical duration of an award is about three years. Hence we have an active award portfolio in the neighborhood of thirty-four to thirty-six thousand awards each year.

Mr. Morales: Can you tell us about some of NSF's research priority areas?

Mr. Cooley: Well, fundamentally you have to understand that research covers everything from anthropology through zoology, and fundamentally, that is our role, that is our mission, and we do do that. So we have a directorate for biological sciences, we have a director for math and physical science, there's a director for engineering sciences, for example. But there are priorities in any era, and right now some of those priorities are in areas such as nanoscale science and engineering. The public tends to think of that as nanotechnology, and how that may help manufacturing processes in the future, how it may help the healthcare industry in the future, for example. We also have a very interesting research priority in social and dynamic behavior of people and organizations. How do we get things done? How do we get them done more effectively? How do people interact with technology, and what impact is technology having on our lives? There's also a very -- there are some broad national kinds of things going on right now, we call them administration priorities. One is in the National Information Technology Research and Development Program called NITRD. One is in the Nanoscale Science Initiative, that's called NNI. There is also a very broad research program across the federal government in global climate change supported by the administration. It's important for policy to be set by the best science that we can get, and so in order to understand what is really happening with global climate change, it's important to get the research done. These are integrated government-wide programs where the National Science Foundation, NOAA, NASA, Department of Energy, the United States Department of Agriculture, they all collaborate and coordinate and carve out a unique piece that fits their mission and then put an integrated program together.

Mr. Morales: Tom you mentioned some of these other organizations, how does the research in science supported by NSF complement the research supported by organizations such as NASA or NOAA and the National Institutes of Health, and how does NSF work together with these science organizations?

Mr. Cooley: I think the answer is actually a fairly simple one. When one thinks of NASA or NOAA, one thinks of the mission that they have. NASA, space, to put it very distinctly, NOAA is oceans and atmospheres. So in carrying out their missions, they have specific things that they're interested in looking in to. Our mission is about basic research, so we don't have a mission that's directed to a particular component of the environment, the world, the population. What we try to do, and a very fundamental part of our mantra, so to speak, is the training of the future generation of scientists and engineers, so that we're not only helping to fulfill other agency's missions by training people that are going to be the scientists or engineers that work for those agencies, but we also do the kind of basic research that those mission agencies draw upon in order to carry out their own missions. So, for example, one of our partnerships is at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. We collaborate with them. We are interested in generally, you know, what is causing climates to change, how do you map weather, how can you use super computers to model weather changes and predict and forecast weather at a microscale, which is going to be very difficult, but that's ultimately where people want to go. And so, when storms are coming up, I'm not interested in what's happening in the general D.C. area, I want to know exactly what's going on in Columbia, Maryland where I live, and I think a lot of people feel like that. So many of the National Weather Service activities that are carried out and for which NCAR in part participates -- NCAR, as I said, is the National Center for Atmospheric Research is through a collaborative set of activities that we have working with this center out in Boulder, and with the National Weather Service, with NOAA, whatever.

Mr. Morales: Tom, thank you. That's a fascinating and certainly a broad set of issues, and I would certainly be interested in understanding the weather patterns just around my block. You talked about the budget of $5.8 billion dollars, can you describe a little bit just the overall size of NSF and the skill set of the employees there?

Mr. Cooley: Sure. I think the audience would be surprised to find out how small we actually are. We're about twelve hundred federal employees with about three hundred fifty contractors who help us. Those contractors assist us in classification for our position descriptions. The bulk of our contractors actually assist us in the development of our hardware, software, and maintain those electronics systems for us, and then they do other things, such as the mailroom, delivery into buildings, support services of various kinds. So, within the building over there at 4201 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, we've got roughly fifteen hundred people, about 75 to 80 percent are full-time federal government employees. The mix of that staff, you know, you've got it all the way down from a GS-4, 5, 6, 7 kind of secretary, program assistant. Usually, traditionally, there are people who are born raised right in this area here. And then at the top end of the system, you have got PhDs, scientists, and engineers working in NSF from Harvard, Yale, MIT, Cornell, the University of Maryland of College Park, Wisconsin, Madison, Charlottesville, University of Virginia, we draw them in from all over. We have a mix right now of about 50 percent full-time program managers and about 50 percent rotaters, and that ensures that about every two to three years those rotaters turn over. These are people who are actually bench scientists. They are out there at the universities, they're on the cutting edge, and they really know what's going on. So that when we get proposals in from the principal investigators, the people who are looking at those proposals, evaluating them and trying to find people to review them, other scientists and engineers in the community. Our staff is really plugged into that community, they know what the hot topics are, and they who are the best and most highly qualified reviewers are. From my perspective as the chief financial officer, that means I can tell the American public the proposals that we fund have undergone the most rigorous external merit review process that we can envision. Many people on the hill refer to it as the gold standard. So that when we make an award with American taxpayer's dollars, my confidence that this is going for something that's really cutting edge, that could really impact our lives, ten, twenty, thirty years from now is really great. I mean, when we look at the fact that research on transistors was done fifty years before transistors were ever used. Sometimes the concept doesn't lead to a product for a very long period of time. And some concepts don't lead to any products at all. They're dead ends. I mean there's value in finding out that there's a dead end out there. It saves other people time and effort from pursuing what ultimately would be a dead end, and then go in a different direction.

Mr. Watson: Tom, you're the chief financial officer, and also the Director of the Office of Budget Finance and Award Management. Can you tell us a little bit about the roles and responsibilities of that position?

Mr. Cooley: Sure, Steve. First of all, I think it's important to understand what it means to be the Director of the Office of Budget Finance and Award Management. I have five divisions that report to me. One is the budget division, so we work with the administration and the Congress to propose a budget and then implement a budget once the Congress has passed it. We have the Division of Financial Management that oversees the internal controls and the financial practices that we use to ensure that every dollar that goes out the door goes to the right person for the right reason. The third division is the Division of Grants and Agreements. They're the division that does the bulk of the business at NSF because we are predominantly a grant making entity. The fourth division is our Acquisition Procurement Division, the division of contracts, and they have the very complex agreements, things where we have a much more hands on relationship with the entity that we've made the award to. And then, the fifth and the newest division is the Division of Institution in Awards Support, and its focus primarily is on audit resolution where we have issues that have been raised through the audit process and we have to find out how much money does the government get back because you didn't spend it all appropriately, or maybe even misused it. And then our largest and newest activity, which is post-award monitoring and oversight. The focus of that is to ensure that if you get an award to do X, that you've actually done X, and that the money that you spent on X was relevant to X. It's important for the accountability of the taxpayer's dollars. I think it's also important to the accountability of the Merit Review System.

Mr. Watson: Tom, that's a lot in one position. What was your experience and what path did you take to prepare yourself for that?

Mr. Cooley: Well, there is a long story. When I was a young man, many years ago, I read a couple of books by some fairly famous authors who were doctors and physicians at the time. It got me very interested in a field called microbiology. And I was more interested at that time on potential for microbiology to help me understand how I might help humankind. As I got older, I discovered that microbiology touched all fields, plants, animals, human beings, soils, et cetera, so I majored in microbiology at the University of Maryland, College Park, came out, went into a job and told myself, oh my goodness, what have I done to myself. I didn't enjoy the work experience. I really did not. I was very fortunate, as I have been at three or four critical times in my career, to have a mentor at that time. He was not my immediate boss, but he was a partner with my boss. And my mentor came to me and said, you know, there's something that's not gelling here for you, I can tell. And he encouraged me to go back to graduate school, which I did. I pursued the field of botany. I got married. Things change when you get married. We had a little girl. And I had an opportunity presented to me, it was a career choice. I had one path or another. I could go to a post-doc at the University of Montana, or work part-time for the summer at a place called the National Science Foundation in 1979 to write an environmental impact statement for what at that time was envisioned as the Ocean Margin Drilling Program. My family is here, my wife's family is here, and our daughter was six months old, and the pay here was twice as much as the pay in Bozeman, Montana. So I thought, well let me go with this and see where it goes. They extended it two more times for a year and a half, after which they hired me full time as a GS-11. I worked for some great people. I worked for Sandra Toy, Al Shin, Joe Cull, all of whom had great influences on my career development, basically gave me some advice, pointed me in a direction, and then left me alone to see if I could really do it or not. And a couple of years ago, the Director of the National Science Foundation, at that time Dr. Rita Colwell, turned to me and said, how would you like to be the CFO, and I said, only if I can dot, dot, dot. And she said, fine. So I've been there for five years in this role. There are days when it's a lot of fun, and there are days when I'm glad to get home. But I think all of our jobs are like that.

Mr. Morales: Tom, that's just a fascinating start to just a wonderful career. How is NSF working on the President's management agenda's five government-wide initiatives? We'll ask NSF CFO Tom Cooley to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Tom Cooley, Chief Financial Officer of the National Science Foundation. Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson. Tom, can you give us a brief overview as to how NSF is working on the President's management agenda's five government-wide initiatives?

Mr. Cooley: This is not an easy question, and may actually end up being probably one of the most difficult questions you will ask me. First of all, I have answer with a very honest and straightforward one that my staff will recognize, and that is a lot of very hard work. This is not easy. It's one thing when you set your own agenda, it's one thing when someone else sets it for me, and then continually raises the bar so that you do better and better and better. I buy into that philosophy, it's basically a philosophy of continuous feedback, you do something, you do it well, you get feedback for improvement, and then you go off and make improvements based on that feedback. And then I think it's fundamentally the tenant that underlies the President's management agenda. We were very fortunate in that the President's management agenda had two key areas where we had already invested a lot of time and effort -- financial management and e-gov. And it was actually division of my predecessors and now I have to go back to the 1980s to talk about this. My predecessors had thought that it would be good if as many of our paper systems were electronic as is possible. And there were two key vision statements back in the '80s. One by Al Muellbower, who was the Division Director for Financial Management, and he wanted a financial management system that was totally electronic, where on a day to day basis, he knew exactly how much money was left in the bank. On the other hand, Connie -- oh, and I can't think of her name, she was the head of the Division of Information Systems, and her vision was one of how to enable our PIs, or principal investigators, to submit proposals to the foundation electronically rather than in paper copies. When you used to send a paper copy proposal, each proposal was about a half inch thick, and you were required to send twenty of them. So we had stacks of paper in the mailroom. The vision was, if you do this electronically, you can flip them out to your reviewers electronically, you can handle the paperwork electronically, and make your awards electronically. Those visions were put in place in the 1980s, and we were totally electronic by the end of the 1990s. So when the President's management agenda came along, in these two particular areas, it was very natural for us to go over and talk with the President's people in the White House and say we think we're green in financial management because, and we think we're green in e-government because. So when the very first scorecard came out, we in fact were green in financial management. They gave us a yellow in e-gov, because they had some questions for us that we needed to resolve and finish answering. So the next quarter, I believe it was, we did go to green in e-gov. The very interesting thing about the process though, is that they're -- those two do tend to be integrated, and the key integrating function is the other third PMA initiative, the integration of budget and performance. If you're going to integrate your financial system's data with your budget request, your justifications, what we call the budget execution plan, and you want to be able to tell the American public exactly what we are doing with that money and how you're doing, i.e., performance, then these three initiatives are all integrated. What we had not had a vision for was the integration of budget and performance. This agenda item caused us to really think in terms of a vision, we got working on that. My Division Director, Marty Rubenstein, really pulled a great vision together and pulled it off and we've got green and BPI, I believe, three cycles ago, something like that. The other two though were the more difficult ones. We at the National Science Foundation, frankly did not have a vision for human capital. We bought into the system that existed. It seemed to work very well for us. When you look at human capital as the fourth item and competitive sourcing as the fifth item, we were able to take advantage of a concern that we had had about four years ago that we really didn't have a vision for human capital, and we didn't have a vision for how all of the processes of the foundation needed to be integrated to get the most bank for the buck. And we had hired a contractor at that time to do an in depth, integrated assessment of absolutely everything that we do, and everything that we touch at the National Science Foundation, including this very critical piece. The staging of that meant that we needed to understand our human capital needs before we went down the road of trying to figure out what we needed to competitively source. Now part of the background here is that things that the other agencies are competitively sourcing today, we outsourced in the 1980s. I was around, we outsourced mailroom functions, we outsourced all of our IT support functions, we outsourced many, many different things. So where agencies today are looking to outsource those things, we've done other things. So we're on the cutting edge of what do you do after you've done that. Having just gotten to green -- yay, on human capital this last quarter, it allowed us to also integrate our vision for getting to green in human capital with the first steps of competitive sourcing. So we have our first competitive sourcing out on the street. Now we've moved from red to yellow in progress, not in status, so that we now have four greens and a yellow on the progress report card. We're very pleased with that, and I think that in general, while the PMA does take a lot of hard work, if you don't integrate your team across your agency, and you can't be successful if you buy in and set your own vision for yourself, because doing that means that you've got that community integrated within your agency. They see it as part of their vision, and therefore, it's the right thing to do.

Mr. Morales: In the fiscal year 2002, the National Science Foundation established the advisory committee or GPRA performance assessment that is structured internally to report PMA activities to the director of NSF. Who is part of this committee, and how does the committee evaluate NSF's progress on the PMA initiatives?

Mr. Cooley: Well, let me go to ground zero on this question. I think the audience that may by listening in could not necessarily know that the Government Performance and Results Act requires every agency to do its own self-assessment. There's a bit of a conflict of interest in my view with that self-assessment. It means, you know, if I think I'm doing a good job and my staff who work for me tell me that, because they're afraid to tell me otherwise, you know, for whatever reasons, you don't have some independent benchmark. So, a couple of years ago, the foundation agreed, you know, reporting performance was important to the community at large, whether it's a taxpayer, whether it's our principal investigators, whether it's the reviewers that are out there, whether it's the scientific community at large. In order for us to satisfy ourselves, because we have this independent review process that we rely upon to tell us how good a proposal is. The vision that I had was we need an independent group to come in and tell us how good we really think we are. We'll give them all the data, all the information, we won't preload it, we won't prejudge it, or prejudice it. And when they look at that, they have to give us feedback. If they think that we've prejudiced something, or have been lacking and providing them with information in a particular area, then the next time around we'll do better there. So, we came up with this advisory committee for GPRA performance assessment. They do want you here because they review our programs on an annual basis. What we do is we bring in experts in all the fields that we support, they all sit on this, they look at the portfolio of awards that we make, they look at annual reports, they look at collections of reports, they look at our Committee of Visitors reports, they look at National Academy of Science's reports, workshop reports, they look at everything, and they write a report to us and say this is good, or they say this is not so good. We've been very fortunate the last -- at least the last three years that I can remember, they have said that everything that they have seen indicates that the investments that we make to support our mission have been very good and satisfactory, we're making satisfactory progress, they support the mission of the agency, they support the strategic vision and the strategic plan and more importantly, in each annual plan, they support each annual plan in trying to get from point A to point B.

Mr. Watson: Tom, you mentioned you're green already in four of the five key PMA areas. What is your plan for staying there? Is it as difficult to stay there as it is to get there, or do you have processes in place that carry it to this point forward?

Mr. Cooley: The answer is yes, it's as difficult to stay there, and as I had mentioned earlier, it is as difficult to stay there because once you pass a bar, what the government is saying to itself is we need to move that bar higher. If we really want to be an effective and efficient organization, and I think most organizations buy into this concept, you need to do everything that you can through some process of continuous feedback loops, to figure out where you can still improve. It does take a lot of hard work, it does take a lot of effort, and people do pull their hair out, I'll be the first to admit that. But fundamentally, the only way that I, as the CFO of the agency can do it, is to set up a system of trust and integrity, and I think most of us in the government have tried to do that, let your people who are in charge with these activities run with them, get reports periodically on how they're doing, hold them accountable, but fundamentally trust them to do their jobs. Once in a while I find that I have to set a due date to make sure something continues to move along and it doesn't languish. But I think that if you trust your staff, and realizing that they trust you, whatever job you're asking them to do, they'll do their darndest to accomplish for you. And I have seen that time and time again. I've got a -- oh, I guess it's about one hundred twenty-eight or one hundred thirty people that work for me right now, small by most departmental standards, but nonetheless, I know most all of them by their first name. I know something about their history, their family, what their interests are. When I pass them in the hall, I always say hello to them. They always say hello to me. There's a sense of camaraderie, but I think fundamentally underlying that, we each share core values. For the Office of Budget Finance and Award Management, and that's posted on our BFA website. We talk about it at all of retreats to make sure that it's still the appropriate kind of core value and vision for us. And the last phrase in there is have fun. And as long as we don't lose our sense of humor, and we try to find ways to have fun in doing our job, then I think everybody has that little blowout patch available to them on a daily basis.

Mr. Morales: I think I'd certainly like to see that as one of the new initiatives on the PMA having fun. How has NSF successfully linked financial data and performance data? We will ask NSF CFO, Tom Cooley to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Tom Cooley, Chief Financial Officer of the National Science Foundation. Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson. Tom, I understand that NSF is one of the agencies that excel in the performance assessment report, which links financial data to program performance. What are some of the factors that have lead NSF to successfully articulate and link financial data to performance data.

Mr. Cooley: Well, I think that one of the most fundamental successful factors is the integrity of the science process itself. It starts with the person, man or woman, who has an idea, wants to put it forward, and hopes to get it funded by the federal government. What they want is an excelling research project that is going to make into the scientific literature because after all, these people are -- have the ability to become a tenured faculty member at a university or college, and I think that's part of their own career path. In establishing their research record, while at the same time they're establishing the fact that they teach well at a university or college. That helps them move up the ranks from an assistant to an associate professor, ultimately to a fully tenured faculty member. They have a vested interest themselves in making sure that the results of their research, their education project -- we fund things in informal science education at museums, for example, is known nationally. It's name recognition. You know, they want to become a recognized name in the field. So they want to publish their results. That's an effective way of measuring their performance out there with the taxpayer's funds. If they've got a successful project and it's been successfully published, then taxpayer funded information is now in the public domain for other scientists, engineers, and educators to use around the country to influence not only their own teaching and what information they impart to their undergraduate and graduate students, but their own personal venues of research. Then there's the internal piece of performance, how are we, as members of the federal government, performing with the taxpayer's funds. And in that regard, I think we do a very, very good job. We have one of those systems that, at the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, you fundamentally load up whatever your appropriation is, and then we start ticking it down. Our system enables every program manager who has a slice of that pie, they can start ticking down from whatever their amount is throughout the fiscal year. Every morning you can log on, you see how much you've got at the beginning of the day, and at the end of day, if you've made some award recommendations, those funds get committed, and you see how much money you have left at the end of the day. The other thing that we have, are online progress reports. PIs are required to submit an annual progress report so you can review it and see how it's doing. They tell us how many graduates students they've got, how many they've trained, did any of them get their Master's, did any of them get their PHD, have they submitted any publications, what's going on in your lab, have you had any kids in, did you talk to them, all of that kind of information is embedded in these so that you get a real picture on an annual basis of what's actually happening out there in the lab. That helps you as the program manager assess whether this project is performing well, and the person who writes it up, generally speaking, the principal investigator at the other end, goes through this thought process once a year. Yeah, I'm doing this and this and this and this and this and stop some things, but I'm not doing so good over here. I need to reach out more to let people know what I'm doing, and you know, some of the area high schools maybe reach out to them, offer field trips for people to come in where you can talk to them about your research and a lot of these PIs do that kind of thing, they tend to get really plugged in to the community around the university.

Mr. Morales: Tom, to dabble a little bit more into the secret sauce over at NSF, how is NSF moving to adopt new technologies in business processes and maintain financial integrity in internal controls?

Mr. Cooley: Well, I would like to think of it as driving business processes rather than moving business processes. We are a homegrown e-system, so what we have are legacy systems that are our contractors built and maintained for us. That comes with a heavy cost in terms of maintenance and operations and upgrades. And I think in the area of financial management there are commercially off the shelf software technologies that are getting better to address the federal needs, but they were built to address private sector needs, and they need some refinement, quite frankly, but I can see those refinements coming. So, where the federal agencies are beginning to go into cuts packages and work with those providers, the providers are learning how to improve the cuts packages. That's fine from my perspective. But in the grant making world, there are no such cuts packages. In order for us to do electronic grants administration, we had to build our own legacy system, that's what we've got. In terms of driving the future, what I would like to see is the government through this new grants management line of business, send a signal to the private sector that if we're really going to do this, we're going to need cuts packages. The grants business alone is something like $560 billion a year that go out in grants. So if the private sector starts building some of those cuts packages and offering them up to the government agencies, then there should become a point in time when we don't have to worry about legacy systems, where we can have integrated systems for grants management across the federal government, some of which may be a legacy system at a huge agency, such as HHS, might be. Or they may have cuts packages that are shared by multiple agencies. So I would like to see the government act a little bit more like the private sector in terms of trying to drive improvement by laying it out there to the private sector, you know, $560 billion a year is a big chunk of change, and if we really want to see if we can do some cost savings government wide by using cuts packages, you guys need to start building those and offering them to us.

Mr. Watson: Tom, you touched on the line of business concept, which is a current push in government and a number of areas. How is that impacting the National Science Foundation?

Mr. Cooley: It's really impacting all government agencies, not just NSF. But if I use NSF as the example, it's forcing us to make key decisions about, do we provide a service or do we go find a service provider? I think it's a key fundamental issue for the government. In the old days, one used to think -- and I'm talking fifty, eighty years ago, the Office of Personnel Management provided all of the personnel functions for the federal government, and everything you did went through OPM. That was disbursed -- probably for very good reasons at that point in time. What they're looking at now is rather than every single agency, and within major departments, every separate bureau having its own system, you name it, classification system for personnel, financial management system, procurement, contracts. Rather than having everybody have to duplicate that everywhere, you can get economy of scale and efficiency of operations by offering that service at a key few touch points. So that ultimately, like we did with the payroll, NSF had its own separate payroll system. The government went from something like twenty-six major providers for payroll to four. And the intent eventually is to get down to two. That created some streamlining, and there were good benefits that came out of that. Were there bumps along the way? Of course, there were bumps along the way. You don't bring any system up without bumps along the way, nothing goes absolutely smoothly. But in terms of trying to turn the government into a much more efficient and streamlined operation, there are shared operations across federal government, grants is one of them, where we need to start thinking strategically about how to do the front end, which we're already out in the front on with the grants.gov find and mechanisms, and how to do the back end, which is, you know, grants management within the federal government, and how to streamline that, make it more effective, make it more useful. One of the criticisms that we hear from -- well, let's say the governor's office. There is a lot of federal money funneling into the states, but there isn't any single portal where anybody in that state can figure out, well, how much is coming in on an annual basis and where is it going. How much is going to our Department of Transportation, how much is going to our public universities and colleges that we support in the state, and for what reasons? So, what's lacking and what is the value added here is the possibility that in the future that information allows you as the governor or as the state legislator, or as a single PI in the university to start to begin to integrate those efforts to get even greater value added our of the integration of those efforts. I've got an award over here and this guy over in the Department of Transportation has an award over here, I got to talk to him about what he's doing and let him know what I'm doing because maybe we have great information to share that may be of value to both of us.

Mr. Watson: Tom, you have mentioned using some of these lines of business, payroll for example. Any areas where you envision the National Science Foundation becoming a center of excellence providing a line of business?

Mr. Cooley: I would like to see us be able to do it for the grants management line of business, but we have a legacy system. It was not built with the intention of having a lot of capacity to it. We're not stretched right now in receiving forty-five thousand proposals a year, but on the other hand, we certainly couldn't handle the volume of proposals that comes in to the National Institutes of Health. If we did want to pursue becoming a center of excellence for the grants management line of business, we would have to bite off a discreet chunk that we felt that we could handle appropriately. Small bureaus, small departments, people in the federal government that already operate similarly to us, so if a portion of USDA, maybe EPA, maybe the National Endowment of the Humanities -- if I were to just take three random organizations, my guess is those three just about fill up our capacity. So then our concern would be what do we do if all of a sudden state funding dries up, and even more proposals -- say our proposal load goes from forty-five thousand per year to sixty thousand per year, that would saturate our capacity, we wouldn't be able to provide the service that we're supposed to be providing to the other agencies and the whole system could come crashing down. So, you know, we still got some homework to do, but I think that there would be value in pursuing that. The government is right now asking agencies to consider if they want to be a service provider, do a business case for yourself, and at the end of the business case, make a decision. So what I'd like to do is do the business case and see what it tells me.

Mr. Morales: Certainly a challenge, but an opportunity. What does the future hold for NSF? We will ask NSF CFO, Tom Cooley to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Tom Cooley, Chief Financial Officer of the National Science Foundation. Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson. Tom, how is NSF promoting partnership with academia, government industry, and international stakeholders?

Mr. Cooley: That's an easy one. Person to person contact. Without that personal contact, things just aren't going to get done. This is one area that I would say NSF has excelled in the past fifty-five years of our existence. The very nature of research is global in scope. That caused the agency when it was first forming itself to worry about how do you touch all the bases, how do we touch the Office of Naval Research, how do we touch the United States Department of Agriculture and their research programs? So many of our program managers that reside at the National Science Foundation know the other program managers that work at the Office of Naval Research, or the Defense Advance Research Agency, DARPA, or the USDA. So there's that inside the government natural connection that already exists, and we frequently invite them to be reviewers on our panels and they invite us to be reviewers on their panels. In terms of working with academia, that is the fundamental tenant of the Principle of Operation at the National Science Foundation. The relationship between the foundation as an arm of the federal government and academia is one of partnership. We expect them to put something in, you know, they turn on the lights everyday for the PIs, and they make sure the water is running. The PIs give something back to the institution, sure they're being paid a salary, but they're expected to teach and do research, find time to mentor students, graduate students, post-docs, find time to talk with undergraduates, bring undergraduate students into the laboratory and have an undergraduate research experience those students who are thinking about a science or engineering career, reach out to the community, visit high schools, that is just a nature of our business. Even our own program managers in NSF do science fairs, participate in research at nearby universities, keep their ongoing research programs going. Industry has been a bit more of a sticky wicket, and I think that our real outreach to industry started about in the 1970s, but really solidified under our director for six years from -- I think it was about '84 to '90, Dr. Erich Bloch promoted a lot more partnerships. He envisioned a couple of very key programs that required industrial participation. That has. We have some centers -- I remember one that's up in Rochester, New York, where for a long time, I believe it's still in existence, Kodak was a partner because it was research on -- in the whole field of photography. And then international, well, we have several ways to do that. First of all, government-wide, you've got the State Department. So you'll always need to be concerned with working through the State Department, particularly in some sensitive countries, but we have our own Office of International Science and Engineering, and they have their own connections to their counterparts in -- out in the other countries. So, for example, my boss at the time who was the Chief Operating Officer, Joe Bordogna and I were invited to go to Beijing about a year and a half ago because the National Science Foundation's counterpart in the Chinese government located in Beijing was undergoing a strategic planning and envisioning exercise, and they wanted to know how NSF did it, and how NSF implemented it, and sold it to their own administration. Well, we found out about that because there was a very natural relationship between the people in those -- in that office in Beijing, and our people, here at NSF and the Office of International Science and Engineering who are always going back and forth and touching base and finding out what's going on in each other's countries, so we do that with virtually every country on every continent, and of course with cell phones now, it's instantaneous, call up, dial up, email, whatever. Then there are some research communities which by their very nature are international in scope. The astronomy community comes to mind, the ocean sciences community comes to mind. But you see more and more of this internationalization of research, biosciences is probably the hottest topic right now, and that's the sharing of information across borders about what's going on with the human genome and plant genomes, and how to worry about getting better crops that are drought resistant, or other kinds of things, that's very important on a world-wide basis.

Mr. Watson: Tom, looking into the future, what are the major challenges you see for the National Science Foundation, generally, and then more specifically, for your office?

Mr. Cooley: Making sure that people can actually go home at the end of a very busy, hard day. We all work more than eight hours, we know that now. Email has made it -- you work virtually twenty-four/seven. I get home, I take off my tie, and in the summer time put on shorts and go around in flip-flips because of the heat, but after dinner I logon. Do I have any important messages, did somebody need to give me a heads up about things the next day, is there something I didn't get to today because I had meetings all day long and I didn't have time to actually sit back and think? I think that in my own opinion right now, the biggest problem that we, as a nation are facing is that there is so little time left to be proactive or reacting to everything because it's information coming at you twenty-four/seven, whether it's TV, radio, email, people in the halls, and having that quiet time to stop and think strategically about where you should go right now is lacking. So, I guess the answer to the question is, the biggest significant challenge is carving out a piece of time to yourself, and letting your employees carve out a similar piece of time to themselves. One of the ways I do that, I refuse to have an iPod or a Blackberry or a cell phone. If you want to reach me, I log on to email, you can leave me a message. If it's really that important, you have that venue, but I don't want you calling me on my cell phone at 11 p.m. at night, nothing's that urgent, I'll deal with it in the morning when I get in. And I think that as long as people wherever they work feel like they still have that little safe spot they can go to, you know, you can keep pushing yourself along, you can bring home the paycheck, you can do what you need to do for the family, but we all need that little safe spot.

Mr. Watson: Tom, earlier in the program you told us a wonderful story about how you got started. What advice can you give a person who is interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Cooley: Understand what you're getting into. I think that was the real wakeup call for me when I got into my first real job. Like many of us, we had part-time jobs in high school and college. I worked my way through college. But, you know, you see multiple career paths, and sometimes you have to actually get on that path and find out for yourself whether you're going to be happy or not. In terms of the basics, I think most people who are worried about any kind of future career need to be thinking about to what extent am I going to be happy, and to what extent is my earning power going to support my family if I'm the kind of person that wants to have a family, big or small. So, good high school education, certainly go to college, because I think having a college degree opens up your earning potential as you get older. If you really love college, stay in college, get a Master's, get an MBA, go on for a PhD if you're interested in pursuing education, if you're interested in pursuing science or engineering. I'll tell you one thing about having a well-rounded, educated background, whether it's just a Bachelor's or a Master's, is I do think it prepares you to take advantage of the opportunities. As we all know in life, doors close and it's up to you to find out where that window is open, and trust me, based on my own personal experience, when a door closes somewhere, there's always a window open somewhere, but you've got to find it. And then when you find it, you have to have confidence in yourself that your background, your education, your experience, your training allows you to leap through that window. And frankly, if you're not sure, leap anyway, take the chance. You can always go to the supervisor and say, you know, I thought I really understood this, I need some more training in this area. And if you've got a good supervisor, they're going to say, absolutely, go do it. I'll pay for it.

Mr. Morales: Tom, that is just great advice. Unfortunately, that will have to be our last question. Steve and I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule and joining us this morning. And we also want to especially thank you for your service to our country, both first at the Department of Agriculture, and now at the National Science Foundation.

Mr. Cooley: Well, that's great. I really do appreciate that. I'm third generation in service to this country, so over the past one hundred years, I've loved living in Washington, D.C., all of my life. If anybody wants to find anything else about the National Science Foundation, a very simple website, www.nsf.gov. Thank you.

Mr. Morales: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Tom Cooley, Chief Financial Officer of the National Science Foundation. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's www.businessofgovernment.org.

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