Originally Broadcast December 15, 2007
Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by The IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created 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.
And now, The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Good morning. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government.
Today, the U.S. Department of the Interior has evolved into the principal federal conservation agency, managing the protection of many of the nation's special natural, cultural and historic places. With us this morning to discuss his organization's leadership in conserving habitats, species, lands and waters, while effectively managing its fiscal resources, is our special guest, James Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Good morning, Jim.
Mr. Cason: Good morning.
Mr. Morales: Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Seike, director in IBM's federal civilian industry.
Good morning, Steve.
Mr. Seike: Good morning, Al.
Mr. Morales: Jim, perhaps you could share with us the sense of the history and mission of the U.S. Department of the Interior. When was it created, and what is its mission today?
Mr. Cason: The Department of the Interior is a wonderful organization. It has a very broad mission within the United States. Somewhat unusually, when we think about the Interior, it's really the Department of the Outside as opposed to the Interior, because most of the agencies that are involved within the Interior manage the outdoors within the United States.
For example, within the Department of the Interior, we have the National Park Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Organization, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, Indian Affairs, and a number of other agencies, and collectively, those agencies manage about one out of every five acres in the United States. We have wonderful vistas, watersheds, critical and endangered species habitat. We manage coal mining, oil and gas developments; we manage water, and water development and distribution. There's a host of programs within the Department that have direct impacts upon the lives of many people within the United States.
The Department of the Interior was created back in 1849, and over time has had an evolvement of its mission and an accretion of duties. And today, it has a huge duty in both preserving our environment and conserving our environment with our partners, and it also has a very large contribution into the economic fabric of United States through energy and minerals development, through timber harvesting, grazing and a number of other things.
Mr. Morales: So with such a broad mission, can you perhaps give us a sense of the scale of the organization in terms of the size of its budget, number of employees, and the geographic footprint?
Mr. Cason: The Department of the Interior is a pretty large organization within the federal family. We have about 70,000 employees that are scattered in large part all over the world, but mostly in the United States, western half of the United States. We have about 2,400 offices of various sorts: some very large ones, some very small ones. We are typically a rural-based organization, because we do manage the outdoors so much, but we span many time zones in the world. Some of our interests like Insular Affairs, we have responsibility for Guam and American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands for example. And then we also have many of the lands in the West.
Mr. Seike: Jim, now that you've provided us with the sense of the larger organization, perhaps you could tell us more about your area and specific role within Interior. What are your specific responsibilities? And can you tell us how your area is organized, the size of your staff and budget, and how it supports the mission of the Department?
Mr. Cason: Well, that's an interesting question. The position I hold at the Department of the Interior is called the Associate Deputy Secretary. On an organizational chart, I report directly to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and that person is named Lynn Scarlett. Lynn is the number two person within the Department, and the number one person is obviously the Secretary. The Secretary is a cabinet officer, his name is Dirk Kempthorne. I report directly to the Deputy Secretary, and my role overall within the Department of the Interior is to assist the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary to manage the affairs of the Department.
In terms of immediate staff, I'd have to give you two answers on that. One answer is in an informal way, the entire staff of the Department is part of my portfolio and managing along with the Secretary's office. In another way, I also have another duty, that has been assigned to me by the Secretary, and that's to be the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget. And in that capacity, I have a staff of several thousand people who are focused on the task of providing administrative services, policy services, framing the budget and a number of other things that support the broader mission of the Department of the Interior.
Mr. Seike: Well, it sounds like your hands are pretty full.
Mr. Cason: They are.
Mr. Seike: Let me ask you another question about responsibilities and duties. What would you see as the top three challenges that you face in your position, and how have you addressed those challenges?
Mr. Cason: Well, within my position, I would say it's a mix of a couple of things, and what I mean by that is, I have for me personally a task within the Department of the Interior that is a huge challenge, which is managing what we call the "Cobell litigation."
Cobell is a litigation and it was filed by individual Indians against the Department about the stewardship of the Department over the last 100 years of trust assets. It's been a very contentious litigation. We've spent hundreds of millions of dollars in working on this issue, and we've had extensive periods of time in court managing that issue, and I have the principal responsibility for the Department to manage the programs within the Department that are implicated by the Cobell litigation, and to work with the Department of Justice and the courts on this issue.
Secondly, I would say the next major challenge really is I would say coordination among the various parts of the Department. Many of the things that we do cross organizational lines, and it requires someone to coordinate those activities so that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Let me give you an example with our fire program. Within our fire program, we have several agencies that participate in our fire program, and that's the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. And when we have fire issues that involve policy or deployment of resources, we need to make sure everybody is on the same page about what we are doing and why we are doing it.
We have a number of those types of things that involve initiatives of the Department that cross the lines within the Department, or we have problems that involve several parts of the organization, so that's a piece of it. And then the final thing that I think is the biggest challenge is communication among all of the parts of the Department, and that's to make sure everybody knows where we are trying to head, and I'll give you an example like goals and objectives.
It's very beneficial if everyone from the Secretary down to the lowest manager understands what the mission is, what our priorities are, what we are trying to get done, and that's a constant effort you have to go through to make sure that everybody is pulling in the traces in the same direction.
Mr. Morales: Now Jim, you've spent some time at the Department and in government. Could you describe your career path for our listeners? How did you get started?
Mr. Cason: Well, using the term "career path" may be an anomaly here. I've had a number of interesting jobs over my working lifetime. I've spent about half of my working life in government, and half of it in the private sector, and I've had the opportunity to go back and forth. I started off actually at a very young age of working, I probably started working when I was five or six; I came from a family of itinerant farm laborers. So my family would move with the crops in the western part of the U.S. We would actually live in Missouri during the winter, and in springtime we would go to Southern California and pick crops through California, Oregon, Washington, pick potatoes in Idaho, cut Christmas trees in Colorado, go back to Missouri and winter out.
It was an interesting upbringing, a little bit stressful, because I went to multiple schools each year, and interestingly, the Missouri schools are about two years behind the West Coast schools. So I was going back and forth. And in terms of professional career after college, I worked for a trade association dealing with environmental issues. This particular association was called WETA. That stands for the Western Environmental Trade Association. That organization represented labor in industry and environmental issues.
I also had a stint working in Iran. And I was in Iran shortly before the hostages were taken, or I left shortly before the hostages were taken. So I had the opportunity to watch that Iranian revolution up close and personal. And as it turned out, my entr�e into the federal government happened about that time once I got back from Iran; I actually spent a year as a resident fireman for the U.S. Forest Service, a GS-4 job. And then a friend of mine came back to Washington, went to work for the Bureau of Land Management, called me up one day and said I got this perfect job for you.
And I interviewed for it, came back and became a special assistant to the director of BLM. Moved up to become a Deputy Assistant Secretary, then an acting-Assistant Secretary, went over to the Department of Agriculture, ran the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation. Left town for eight years, and then when this administration was elected, I got the phone call that said, gee, this is a really big agency, can you guys come and give me a hand? So I returned to Washington and have been back for six years with this administration.
Mr. Morales: That's a fantastic history. So I'm curious, if you sort of tie all that together, how have these experiences prepared you for your current leadership role and sort of shaped and formed your management style?
Mr. Cason: It's an interesting thing that when you look at your life's experiences, all of them in one way or another contribute. I find that I developed, at a very young age, a very strong work ethic. And I attribute that to the upbringing I had with my parents and the hard work that we did as a kid. So doing really hard work now, spending long hours doing the things I do is just part of my make-up, and I think that contributed
I came from a very poor upbringing, so the reaching out to individuals, to understand and be empathetic about their needs, is really important. And one of the areas that's been very beneficial to me is I had a couple of years as the acting-Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs during this administration. And there's lots of really poor people in Indian country, and it gave me an opportunity to be empathetic with them. And in terms of management style, I've had the opportunity, now that I'm over 50, to have managed a long time and to experiment with what works and what doesn't.
And what I find as helpful in my capacities is that most times, most people who work for you want to do a good job. And they also want to be part of the process. And what I found through my experience is that if you give people an opportunity to be part of the solution, to be part of getting things done, their active participation is a lot more effective in extending your capabilities, and then you have a workforce environment where people are energized and positive about what they wanted to do.
So I find that in my capacity -- though at one point and another I have hundreds of dozens of people, dozens or hundreds or thousands that work for me -- what I try to do is actually give very few orders and actually work collaboratively with the management team to agree upon what we need to do, and then charge them to go do it.
Mr. Morales: That's great.
How is the Department of the Interior integrating budget and performance information? We will ask James Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior, 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 Jim Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is Steve Seike.
Jim, let's talk for a moment about the PMA, or the President's Management Agenda. Budget and performance integration lie at the heart of ensuring both that the strategic allocation and efficient use of funds are kept in check. Could you tell us about your Department's effort to get to green for budgeting and performance integration, and how has your organization expanded the use of financial data to inform its management decision-making process?
Mr. Cason: That's a great question. I think I'd like to start by backing up just a little bit. I would imagine that a lot of readers don't even know what the President's Management Agenda is. And basically, there is another side of the President and the White House that a lot of people don't get. And that is, the President is very interested in good, solid thoughtful management of government programs. And the President, through a variety of means, has basically said that he wants all of his subordinate managers to do a good job in marshalling their resources, using them effectively, because at the end, all of these monies that we use within the federal government comes from the taxpayer. And he wants to make sure that the taxpayer is getting their money's worth.
The President's Management Agenda is basically a reflection of that thought process, where the President said there are certain things that you have to do in order to run an organization well. You have to manage your money well, you have to manage people well, you have to manage property well, and so our President's Management Agenda is a compilation of several items like that where we have agreements with OMB reflecting the White House's views. We work toward becoming more efficient on those items to make sure that we can actually stand with a straight face and say we're marshalling our resources well.
Within the part of performance integration between budget and performance, the basic process that we go through to deal with that issue is to establish metrics of performance that basically says I'm investing a certain number of dollars in this area, I expect to get a certain performance or result as a result of the money. And then to actively measure that over time. If we find that we are getting more results than we expected, that looks like a pretty good investment, and you can make decisions about whether you do more or less of that. If you find you are not getting the results, it indicates at least there is a possibility of a management problem that needs to be addressed.
The Department of the Interior has been very active at looking at metrics. We've actually developed a Department strategic plan. Within that strategic plan is the mission areas and the metrics we use to measure performance, and we use that on a quarterly basis to make sure that we stay on track.
Mr. Morales: In the last OMB Scorecard, nearly half of the federal agencies received either a yellow or red rating in financial performance. Could you tell us from your perspective why this is such a challenging area for federal agencies, and more importantly, what has your organization done to progress and improve over the last year, so much so that OMB has provided you a green rating in progress?
Mr. Cason: Well, financial management is an important part of the scorecard, and it's also a very difficult area. Let me illustrate with our auditing process. One of the things that we do within the Department of the Interior and across government is we perform an annual audit of how we've managed our appropriated funds. And then at the end of that annual audit, you get a sense of what sorts of material weaknesses do you have in internal controls, how has your financial performance been, how have you managed your money?
It's a difficult process, and when we began this administration, that process usually took six or seven months after the end of a fiscal year before you could close your books. We now do this within the Department of the Interior within 45 days. And we have moved from -- in 2001 when we started the administration, we had 17 material weaknesses in our books, along with a host of other findings, and it looks like moving in a direction for this year that will have none. So we have spent a lot of time and efforts within the Department in our various bureaus to actually make sure that we take the steps necessary to manage our money well.
And let me give you one other example. While I was acting as the Assistant Secretary at Indian Affairs, one of the things we did there is in prior years' audits found that the material weaknesses in part were rooted in Indian Affairs. So one of the things I did is every two weeks, we sat down with the senior management of Indian Affairs, went over our finances, went over how we were dealing with weaknesses in our finances, and made it the management team's responsibility to deal with it. This year, they're coming out with zero material weaknesses. So it's that management process that we go through.
Mr. Seike: That's a fantastic story. Jim, as you know, in addition to improving financial performance, the PMA has an additional initiative for rightsizing the federal government's real estate. The federal government currently owns hundreds of billions of dollars in real property assets, so improving the management of these assets is really important to ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and efficiently. Would you tell us more about Interior's real property asset management initiative?
Mr. Cason: Al, as I mentioned earlier, the Department of the Interior manages one out of every five acres in the United States. That's a huge real estate responsibility, not only the real estate itself but improvements on the real estate, because we have 2,400 offices across the country. So what's important to the Department is to make sure that we are being very thoughtful about how we can manage such a large land mass cost-effectively. Some of the things we do in that arena is to block up our properties through sale or in exchange.
If you are familiar with the West, one of the things that happened in opening up the West was tracts of lands were given to railroads across the West to build railroads for transportation. And that ended up fragmenting the land ownership pattern. So you'd have the states had some tracts, then we had some tracts, railroads had some tracts, and then you had other third party private people had tracts. And so one of the things we do to manage effectively is to block up our lands through sale or exchange, because contiguous properties are easier to manage.
Within the confines of what we do have to manage, we are also taking a look at the real estate buildings that we have, to make sure we have a proper inventory -- which we didn't start with, but we have an inventory of our real estate buildings now. We look at the condition of those buildings and we look at the utilization of those buildings so that we are in a position to say if we don't need it, let's dispose off it. If we do need it, if it's in bad repair, let's repair it, and we make sure that we are getting a cost-effective response out of the real estate that we do manage.
Mr. Seike: Your department received an unqualified opinion on its principal financial statements for the seventh consecutive year, demonstrating a clear pattern of financial accountability. First, what is the significance of a clean opinion, and then if you could, follow-up and talk about the keys to successfully achieving a timely and clean opinion?
Mr. Cason: I think the key is first that you make sure it's perceived as the responsibility of the entire organization to manage its finances well, and that's one of the things we put a premium on at the Department. We actively involve our employees and our management team to make sure that everybody is being physically prudent, and that they are following the policies and procedures that we have for managing our money.
The significance of a clean opinion is a reflection by a third party auditor who has no business or ties to the Department, that they've independently looked at our books, looked at how we manage our business, and have drawn a conclusion that we are following policies and procedures, and that we are managing the money well, that it's going to the right place, in the right amounts, and at the right time. So it's very important for us to have that third party assessment to make sure that we are doing a good job, and that we are identifying any problems that are there so they can be fixed in a timely way.
Mr. Morales: Jim, to continue this path of kudos, I understand that once again your Department has also received the CEAR Award, which stands for the Government Accountants Certificate of Excellence in Accountability Reporting. Could you tell us a little bit about this award and its significance?
Mr. Cason: It's an important recognition for the Department about the job that we're doing. The organization, Association of Government Accountants, basically reflects the accounting practices and business within the federal government. And in receiving the Certificate of Excellence in Accountability Reporting award from them, it basically gives us a sense that within the federal family, that we are being recognized for the efforts that we make to manage our money well, and we're being recognized by other people who clearly understand the environment that we operate in within the federal government.
The federal government, as most people understand, is sometimes very complex, we have a lot of rules and regulations and policies that we have to follow. And this award is basically given by people who live in that environment, understand all those things, and who are attesting to the fact that we are doing a good job in that environment.
Mr. Morales: Jim, earlier, you started this segment by describing this administration's focus on being good stewards of the taxpayer dollars. So what steps has Interior taken to better track and manage its costs, and can you tell us a little about the efforts in implementing activity-based costing and management within your Department?
Mr. Cason: Activity-based costing is a technique of cataloging the individual costs that we sustain against some project or initiative. And it gives us the opportunity to begin the process of conducting cost-benefit analysis that should be the driver for our investments in government programs. And just generically, I'd illustrate that that if have to spend a lot of money to get very little benefit, and I find that by saying here's -- I track how much I spent, I look at what results I created, then you say I don't want to spend any more money in that place.
If you go on the other hand, say I created a lot of benefit by a relatively small marginal investment, then that's a kind of area you want to explore more. So we have a host of programs and services within the Department of Interior that are given to us through statute by Congress and through appropriations. And what we use the activity-based costing for is to further our knowledge about the relative costs and benefits that come as a result of our implementing programs, and it allows us to tailor our efforts within the Department to get the biggest bang for the buck for the taxpayer.
Mr. Morales: So in a sense it's some way of quantifying a cost per unit of output and the benefit of that output?
Mr. Cason: Yes, yes.
Mr. Morales: Great.
What is Interior's financial management modernization strategy? We will ask Jim Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, 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 Jim Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Seike, director in IBM's Federal civilian industry practice.
Jim, could you tell us about Interior's Federal Business Management System, or FBMS? Specifically, how key is it to your financial management modernization strategy in meeting the future business needs?
Mr. Cason: The FBMS or Federal Business Management System is hugely important to the future ability of the Department to manage its business. The precursor to committing to FBMS was an assessment of the Department of Interior about how we did our business early in this administration in about 2001.
What we found is that our ability to manage budget programs, finance programs, accounting, property management, acquisition, that within the Department of Interior, even though we have nine bureaus, we had 180 different systems that did those functions. Those systems were not well-integrated, which led to a relatively inefficient way to gather information and provide reports to Congress to integrate our books, get our books closed on time, et cetera.
And having that systems like that were of such an age, we had found that in some of the key systems, that the support contractors would no longer support the systems. So we basically arrived at a time that the legacy systems we have just wouldn't do the job into the future. Our management team got together, looked at this and decided that this was the number one investment we needed to make in the Department so that we could manage our affairs well.
And we've embarked on this project over the last few years to develop an integrated system that basically integrates budget, finance, property acquisition and a number of other subsystems into one common system with a common data warehouse that enables us to have an integrated system that gives us much more cost efficiency, better internal controls, better integrated management of the finances, and enables our management team and Congress to get robust reporting out of our system much more quickly.
Mr. Morales: Let me switch topics for a moment, and switching to something that is very real and in the public eye, and that's wildland fires. In 2006, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, there were almost 90,000 wildland fires that burned about 9.5 million acres. And so far this year, there's been close to 78,000 wildland fires that have burned 9.3 million acres. Could you elaborate on your Department's efforts in coordinating the federal response to wildland fire suppression, and specifically, your collaborative efforts with other entities such as state and local officials to effectively battle these fires?
Mr. Cason: The Wildland Fire Program is an interesting one that is not commonly understood. There is a base program strategy that's important to know. And the base program is, initial attack is the most important time. And the way the strategy gets oriented is across the country without regard to whose land it is.
We first depend upon the local fire departments to go put out the fire. Because if you can catch the fire when it first starts, and you can get it put out when its really small, it's relatively inexpensive to manage. Then, according to this national strategy, if a local fire department doesn't have enough resources to deal with the fire, it gets out of their control, then we have a regional structure in place where other fire companies, other fire equipment and personnel are brought in to help with the fire within that region. And then once the fire gets out of -- exceeds the capacity of that region to deal with, then it becomes a national issue, where on a national basis we use a place called NIFC, or the National Interagency Fire Center, to supply national program assets.
To illustrate, we just had the wildfire situation in Southern California. We had a lot of fires that were out of control, and this process worked exactly the way it was designed. What we had at that time was small fires got out of control. The southern half of California region brought in all its assets. Those were insufficient. They called our NIFC program, and we sent down hundreds -- I think about 2500 federal firefighters -- we arranged for fire engines and fire equipment from all over the West to come to Southern California to battle these fires. And collectively as a team effort, we were able to control the fires within a little over a week, put them out. We still have some assets that are still there.
In terms of communications, this is an area that a lot of players got together and worked well together. There were interagency discussions with Homeland Security, the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture, HHS and others, who said we got a problem here. We need to manage this problem. Everybody got into gear. Everybody knew their assignments that had been worked out. FEMA was on the ground. They were doing their thing.
All I've heard out of this is basically rave reviews about how well the system worked this time in making sure that we were taking care of the needs of the people that were affected by those fires.
Mr. Seike: Jim, let's go back for a moment to the President's Management Agenda. Interior continues to maintain green status in human capital management under the PMA. Could you elaborate on your efforts in getting to green? What challenges did Interior have to overcome to get to this level? And what does the Department need to do to sustain a green status rating?
Mr. Cason: There's a couple of things that's important to this answer. Getting to green is basically like the stoplight when you drive. Red is you're not doing so good; yellow is you're making progress but you're not there yet, and green is okay, I'm delivering on the things that I said I would do. So it has that connotation by analogy.
In managing our human capital program under the President's Management Agenda, we as a Department have recognized we had certain challenges that we have to address. And we have certain obligations to our employee workforce. The human capital management part basically involves some key issues. For example, when we survey our Department and we look at our management team, we are in a position that we could lose as much as half of our management team in just the next few years through retirement.
We have an aging workforce within the Department of Interior. And so succession planning for that is an important thing for us to manage our human capital. Because if we don't have well-trained, motivated employees, we won't cost-effectively implement our missions. So succession planning has become a key element within the Department of the things that we do. That leads to recruiting.
We are very actively out looking for new employees as spots open up. In most cases, those positions are advertised competitively, and we search for the best candidates we can bring into the Department. It also implicates training. We have robust training programs within the Department in a variety of ways both put on by Departmental entities and by third-party vendors that we bring in to give specialized training.
So these are examples of the things that we are doing in our human capital area to make sure that over time, we can address the movement of our employees into retirement, backfill them with trained, capable people, develop the management team that we need to lead the Department into the next decade.
Mr. Seike: Jim, the Department consists of a number of large bureaus with their own priorities. They all have their own challenges and workforce needs, and they've got employees working across all parts of the country. Given the size and the diversity of the Department, how do you in your role as the Department's chief human capital officer make sure that there is a corporate approach to workforce planning while at the same time making sure the bureaus still meet their own unique needs?
Mr. Cason: This is a combination of having a systems approach that is well-understood to managing your employee base and being specific about measuring your needs. And let me illustrate. In the management piece, we have a chief human capital officer, that's myself. I have a deputy human capital officer, a person of great experience named Kathleen Wheeler. Within each agency we have a human capital officer that manages this on an agency-by-agency basis. And collectively, we try to marshal a consistent strategy and plan about how we attack this problem.
Within each agency, if you moved to the specific side, the type of people we need in the National Park Service is different than the type of people we need in the Minerals Management Service, because their principal function is managing oil and gas exploration in our outer continental shelf and managing royalty collections of processing versus preserving and conserving scarce properties -- beautiful properties that we have in our national parks.
So what we try to do is have an inventory of the skill mix that we need, figure out how we acquire the people that have the base skills, how we give them training, how we encourage them into management and train them to manage, et cetera. So it's a combination of a good consistent way of doing business that is a management approach, along with a specific assessment of what each bureau or agency needs.
Mr. Morales: So Jim, to continue along this line of the diversity of skill and mission of the folks over at DOI along with the geographical dispersion you mentioned earlier, 2,400 field offices -- how does Interior evaluate HR field performance as well as impart some of the best practices across this broad community? And specifically, what steps are being taken to ensure that HR policies and procedures are documented and communicated in a timely manner, and that implementation is monitored?
Mr. Cason: Well, two things. The Department of Interior, since it's been at its business since 1849, already has a set of policies and procedures in place that is robust, that has been developed over the decades. And what you find in that area is a fairly constant reassessment of what those policies and procedures are based upon your current experience. So you are constantly on the watch for, is this working the way I want it to? And if it's not, okay, fine, we need to change it. I embody a new expectation, communicate that expectation to others.
Let me give you an example here. One of the things that we do in hiring senior executives -- the senior-most people within the federal government are called senior executives on the career side. And one of the more recent things that we worked out with the Office of Personnel Management is the time it was taking agencies to complete the hiring process on senior executives was too long. And so we worked out a different expectation that, from the time you advertise to the time you send a package for clearance to OPM, 90 days. And if you don't get it in 90 days, it's not timely. Start over.
So that sort of thing has prompted changes within our process to make sure we are holding much more tightly to an advertising period of time, how we panel those and review the applications that we get, how we do interviewing, how we process the selection to make sure that we are hitting this expectation. And that happens across the board no matter who we are hiring, that we want to make sure that the process works well. And it if doesn't, we change it.
Mr. Morales: That's great.
What does the future hold for the Department of the Interior? We will ask Jim Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior, 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 Jim Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is Steve Seike. Jim, one of the administration's key goals is on creating a federal government that is accountable, results-oriented and appropriately aligned with the strategic goals. Could you tell us how federal managers can effectively manage an ever-increasing blended workforce composed of both contractors and federal workers? And what are some of the key differences intrinsic to these two types of people?
Mr. Cason: The federal government has a lot of experience in managing a mix of contractors and employees. Over time, that mix changes depending on circumstances and expectations and opportunities within the market. We, the Department, have hundreds of contractors that we work with on an active basis. It provides us the opportunity to concentrate on our core mission and skills, while bringing in other organizations' contractors who have capabilities that are more mobile and nimble than ours, who have not the same degree of limitations that sometimes we do as a federal government, and who can move quickly to satisfy our needs.
In this particular case, in large part, it's a matter of having money available to get what you need rather than taking all the infrastructure time to go find the employees, set up an organization, set up policies and procedures -- that you can bring in a contractor to do that work much more quickly when it's their business.
So it ends up allowing us to manage much more cost-effectively and in a more timely way to approach the job that way. In the area of competitive sourcing, for example, one of the things we do is test ourselves. And in testing ourselves, we will take discrete programs, study them and make a determination about whether or not we would make that available for the private sector to come in and compete for those jobs.
And one of the things that we found in going through that process is that it helps our staffs to actually sharpen up their business acumen and the results that they deliver for the money that we invest in them, or we find that the private sector can come in and compete better. So it's an important tool for us to do the job well over time.
Mr. Morales: Jim, we've touched a bit upon the topic of collaboration. So I'm curious, what kinds of partnerships are you developing now to improve operations or outcomes at the Department, and how may these partnerships change over time?
Mr. Cason: Collaboration is a really important part of the work that we do, because given that the Department manages one out of every five acres in the United States, we touch in large part lots of lives within the U.S., and that as resources come from our federal lands, we're part of the active marketplace.
The collaboration part is a recognition that we don't stand on our own. We have neighbors where we operate; that states have interest in how we manage our lands; or tribes have interest how we manage their lands; that private sector organizations, environmental groups, private individuals who depend upon our lands care about the decisions we make and how we do what we do. What we try to do in the area of collaboration is to leverage the resources that we have in the maximum way by involving other people in the jobs that we do.
And let me use an example, like volunteers. We have tens of thousands of volunteers who have various interests, like I want to work in a park, or I want to help manage wildlife on a Fish and Wildlife Refuge. And that these people help us leverage the resources we have available to get the missions done, and they can help us do that cost-effectively because we leverage their volunteer time to get a bigger response than we could do by paying for it ourselves.
Mr. Seike: Jim, I'd like to transition now to the future. Can you give our listeners a sense of some of the key issues that will affect CFOs and budget offices government-wide over the next year?
Mr. Cason: I would start with appropriations. The appropriations process has been ongoing for a number of years but it's not entirely stable. This year, for example, our fiscal year '08, which began October 1st, we operated under a continuing resolution because our budget didn't get done. It looks like we're going to have another continuing resolution because the budget is not done. And that resolution probably will run until mid-December. We don't know where it's going to go after that. I think there's going to be, in addition to just the complication associated with not knowing what your financial picture is with any certainty, there's more complications that we would anticipate to come in to our sphere over time.
And that is expectations of how accurately you manage your books, how quickly you can report information out of your books; how you can integrate government information from the lowest level to the top in a time-sensitive way; how you can integrate information together. The implications associated with information technology, that technology is going to change hugely over time and we have to be prepared to accommodate that; software systems that do this work are getting old and dated and need to be replaced and that causes change. So there's a number of challenges that we anticipate coming into the future that we will have to manage, and we're capable of doing that, but it will result in change.
Mr. Seike: Jim, as we look at Interior, what are some of the major opportunities and challenges your organization will encounter in the future, and how do you envision your office will evolve over the next five years?
Mr. Cason: The Department of Interior has a lot of pressures that it has to respond to in the public arena. And let me illustrate it with the degree of litigation that we have with our programs, since we manage one of out every five acres in the United States as an organization, and we have some other missions as well -- but given our very broad line management portfolio, one of the things we find in interacting with the public is pretty much on an acre-by-acre basis, there is somebody who wants to develop it, and there is somebody who wants to preserve it, and that we have this constant dialogue about what decisions we make in how we manage this land over time. Sometimes, that dialogue spills over into litigation. You didn't do it the way I want you to do it and so we end up in court, and we end up having a judge tell us what to do.
My experience with the Department of Interior, having worked there in the 1980s and now in the 2000s, is that the degree and energy put into litigation has been a significant issue. I think there are some other things that we're going to encounter over time that are issue-based, like it appears that we have a pretty widespread drought right now, and that there is concerns about whether we're prepared completely for a widespread drought; how long it's going to last; will it resolve itself in a short time; will it be a long time before it does; how broad it will be; do we have water transportation and storage systems in place to deal with it in a good way.
Climate change is a possibility. What kind of impact will that have? What will that do to our programs over time? Where do we go with that? The pressure of people moving into habitats that have an effect on species. We have a threatened and endangered species program that inevitably over time, you get more pressure as a result of human habitation moving into species' habitat.
Wildfire, you know we have a really big country that is subject to drought in a lot of places and the prevalence of wildfire is growing, and what we call the WUI, or the interface between the woods and urban community, is growing in the country. And it makes that much more expensive to manage a fire where houses are stuck inside the woods.
So there's a number of things that are coming up as our country changes over time that the Department of Interior will have to assess and change with it.
Mr. Morales: Now Jim, you described earlier your movements in and out of government. So I'm curious, what advice could you give to a person who perhaps is considering a career in public service?
Mr. Cason: My experience has been basically half in the private sector, half in government. And I have found that I've been very fortunate to have very interesting jobs on both sides of that fence. For anyone interested in public service, my opinion is that if you have an interest, you ought to try it. I have found that my time in public service has been very rewarding.
I've worked for the federal government for probably 17-18 years in total. And I would say I've never been bored a day of that time. It offers a wealth of opportunity, really interesting things to do. I find that I never have a lack of a problem that needs to be addressed, and so it's very interesting from that standpoint.
I would say I have equally rewarding experiences in the private sector as well. But the public sector offers something that's unusual that folks may be attracted to, and that is in my life, I had opportunities to work with the Department of Justice and our legal system, work actively with lawyers who are managing litigation; the opportunity to go up and be part of the Congressional process and see how legislation is actually developed and how it affects our lives on a day-to-day basis.
And so it has some things that you don't normally get in the private sector that make it very interesting. So anybody that's interested in trying it, I would encourage them to do so.
Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. Jim, unfortunately we have reached the end of our time. I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule. But more importantly, Steve and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country in the various roles you've held at the Department of the Interior. Mr. Cason: Well, thank you very much for the opportunity to come and join you. The Department of Interior is a great organization; it has a very broad mission that touches the lives of tens of millions of people within the United States. And I would suggest that to the extent that your listeners have the opportunity to go visit a national park or a Fish and Wildlife Refuge, they're really great places to be to recreate and reconnect with nature.
Mr. Morales: That's fantastic Jim. Thank you.
This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Jim Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior. My co-host has been Steve Seike, director in IBM's federal civilian industry.
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 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.
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