The Business of Government Hour

 

About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Judy Davis interview

Friday, June 23rd, 2006 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"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
Guest: 
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.

(Intermission)

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.

(Intermission)

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.

(Intermission)

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.

Judy Davis interview
06/24/2006
"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."

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