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Michael Keegan
By Michael J. Keegan

Conversations with Leaders






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Cross-Agency Collaboration: A Case Study of Cross-Agency Priority Goals

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017 - 9:30
Congress granted the executive branch the authority to establish and implement cross-agency initiatives, via the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Modernization Act of 2010. That law, among other things, requires the Office of Management and Budget to designate “Cross-Agency Priority Goals” for a small handful of mission-support and mission-related areas, covering a four-year period, along with the designation of a goal leader and the requirement for quarterly progress reports.

Dr. Rodney Scott

Friday, March 24th, 2017 - 10:20
Important social challenges cross agency boundaries, and working effectively to solve these problems is not easy. Join us as we explore how New Zealand tackles these wicked challenges with Rodney Scott, co-author of the IBM Center report, Interagency Performance Targets: A Case Study of New Zealand’s Results Programme. How have Public Management Reforms evolved in New Zealand? What is the New Zealand Results Programme? What can other governments learn from the New Zealand experience?
Radio show date: 
Mon, 08/07/2017
Intro text: 
Important social challenges cross agency boundaries, and working effectively to solve these problems is not easy. Join us as we explore how New Zealand tackles these wicked challenges with Rodney Scott, co-author of the IBM Center report, Interagency Performance Targets: A Case Study of New Zealand’s Results Programme. How have Public Management Reforms evolved in New Zealand? What is the New Zealand Results Programme? What can other governments learn from the New Zealand experience?

Interagency Performance Targets: A Case Study of New Zealand’s Results Programme

Monday, March 6th, 2017 - 10:32
New Zealand has been a beacon for government reforms for almost three decades. While the New Public Management Reforms of the late 1980s made agencies more efficient and responsive, they also created a new problem; agencies struggled to organize effectively around problems that crossed agency boundaries. New Zealand undertook a new round of reform in 2012 to address ten important and persistent crosscutting problems.

Applying Risk Management Strategies to Reduce Improper Payments

Thursday, February 16th, 2017 - 14:50
Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 13:29
Federal agencies make more than $2 trillion in payments to individuals and a variety of other entities each year. Disbursing these payments expose agencies to many risks. One such risk is making what is known as improper payments. Improper payments can take many forms:  incorrect amounts paid to eligible recipients; payments made to ineligible recipients; payments for goods or services not received; duplicate payments; and payments with insufficient or no documentation.

Elaine Duke

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 - 14:20
Ms. Duke was recently nominated by President Trump to be Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Listen to our interview with her from 2007.
Radio show date: 
Sat, 10/20/2007
Intro text: 
Ms. Duke was recently nominated by President Trump to be Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Listen to our interview with her from 2007.
Contracting; Strategic Thinking; Human Capital Management
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast October 20, 2007

Washington, D.C.

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 And now The Business of Government Hour.

Mr. Breul: Good morning. I'm Jonathan Breul, executive director of The IBM Center for The Business of Government, sitting in for Albert Morales this morning.

Since its establishment some 4 years ago, the Department of Homeland Security has been faced with assembling 22 separate federal agencies and organizations with multiple missions and cultures into one department. This mammoth task involved a variety of transformational efforts, one of which was design and implement the necessary management structure and processes for the acquisition of goods and services.

With us this morning to discuss her efforts in this area is our special guest Elaine Duke, chief procurement officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Good morning, Elaine.

Ms. Duke: Good morning.

Mr. Breul: Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, director of Homeland Security Services at IBM. Good morning, Dave.

Mr. Abel: Good morning, Jonathan.

Mr. Breul: Elaine, let's get started with the department itself. I doubt a single American hasn't heard of the Department of Homeland Security. Having said this, many may not realize the creation of DHS represents one of the largest reorganizations in government since World War II. Perhaps you could give us a sense of its mission and continued evolution.

Ms. Duke: Yes. Our mission is a very, very broad homeland security mission and it consists really most concisely of five priorities set forth by our secretary. The first priority is to continue to protect our nation from dangerous people. The second is to continue to protect our nation from dangerous goods. A third is to protect the critical infrastructure. This is a huge mission, growing in strength within the department and a focus for us throughout 2007 and into 2008. As a fourth priority we're building a nimble, effective emergency response system and a culture of preparedness. And I think that's key to have both the preparedness piece to anticipate homeland security needs as well as the response system, to have the responses in place for a homeland security need. And our fifth is to strengthen and unify the DHS operations and management. And that priority is specifically focused on what you mentioned earlier regarding bringing the disparate agencies in together to one department.

Mr. Breul: That's an important mission and a significant one. Could you give us some sense of the scale of your operations? How is DHS organized and what is the size of its budget, the number of full-time employees, and its geographic footprint?

Ms. Duke: The geographic footprint is worldwide. We have about 180,000 employees in the Department of Homeland Security and the budget for Fiscal Year 2007 was $42.8 billion. The DHS organizational structure is made up of a headquarters that both has the traditional headquarters activities and four distinct directorates with operational focus. That's the National Preparedness Directorate; Science and Technology; the Undersecretary of Management, which house my office and the other chiefs such as the chief financial officer, chief information officer, chief human capital officer; and FEMA, Federal Emergency Management Agency.

We have six operational components and those include Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the United States Coast Guard. In addition, we have the support components that you would find in any large department.

Mr. Abel: So, Elaine, from there you mentioned your organization and your position within the Undersecretary of Management. Can we talk a little bit about your specific responsibilities as the chief procurement officer?

Ms. Duke: I think in my responsibility as the chief procurement officer, or CPO, I have two distinct areas. One is I have functional responsibility for contracting throughout Homeland Security, so I have a functional responsibility, we call it a dotted line, if you will, to heads of contracting activities throughout DHS, the nine heads of contracting activities. And so through that I set the policy, I perform the oversight and review for the operational contracting offices.

A second distinct function is to be the, if you will, staff advisor on procurement and acquisition issues for the department. I'm the senior person in contracting in the department, so provide a staff function to the secretary and deputy secretary on procurement matters.

Mr. Abel: So one of the things that may not be obvious to folks is the extent to which the chief procurement officer affects the mission and the way your organization supports the execution of the principles that you laid out in the beginning for the Department of Homeland Security. Can you tell us a little bit about how you guys support the mission in your functions?

Ms. Duke: The major way we support the mission is through our acquisition programs. In some agencies procurement really just is ancillary to direct mission support. In the Department of Homeland Security, the way we were stood up as a department, many of our key mission elements are supported by an acquisition program, for instance, Secure Border Initiative. Under our Secure Border Initiative many acquisitions, but one major acquisition program, which is the SBInet program, which has the scope of securing 6,000 miles of border. Similarly, TSA stood up through a series of acquisitions programs, both the explosive detection for the baggage and also the screening of people, all through acquisition programs; training of screeners when DHS was stood up. We have FEMA, where our preparedness is all done through a series of contingency contracts. So whether you look at Headquarters itself, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office where we have an acquisition program to improve our detection of nuclear materials, each one is direct mission through our partnerships with industry and acquisitions.

Mr. Abel: Now, many organizations have been together for decades if not centuries, and the procurement organizations grew organically with those organizations. When the Department of Homeland Security was started a number of years ago, the competency of procurement in organizations was at different levels. What type of challenges do you see on a regular basis in the different skill sets or skill mix that came together to form the department from a procurement standpoint?

Ms. Duke: I think I see two differences. One is the transition from some of the legacy agencies where procurement was a support function that was true minor procurement into having to do contracts to support major acquisition programs, which is very different. The second area I think are cultural differences and that is where we use terms of art, like "negotiation," like "best value source selection," and to me it means one thing and to people from different backgrounds it means another thing. So we're having to set some basic standards in terms of what does it mean to do a best value source selection in the Department of Homeland Security and how we do things in the department.

Mr. Abel: So what top challenges to you have going forward from here?

Ms. Duke: I think the top challenge is one that's -- the part of supporting the Department of Homeland Security is its dynamic mission. Many of the other major departments have different challenges in their mission, but a basically stable mission. With Department of Homeland Security, since our major foe are small terrorist groups, they have a very nimble and quick adaptation to us securing any kind of threat. So the minute we have something in place to deal with one threat, they're on to the next threat much more quickly than some of our traditional defense enemies. So we're going to have a dynamic mission. And because acquisition is something where you plan for it and often have long-term requirements, we have the challenge of how do we develop acquisitions and acquisition strategies that are flexible enough to adapt to our changing mission yet have the appropriate controls to ensure that we're getting a good business deal?

Mr. Breul: Let's change the discussion a bit from the department and focus on you for a minute. Could you describe for our listeners your career path? How did you begin your career?

Ms. Duke: My career path was a little different than most people that are in the Washington, D.C., area. I did come in under the PACE program, which was the Professional and Administrative Career Exam, back in the early '80s, but I came into a field activity. I went to Charleston Air Force Base. And I also came into the contract administration side, which many people started in the pre-award side. And I spent my career in the field principally started out with Air Force, principally with the Navy, and came to Washington, D.C., in the mid '90s, and have experience with transportation and actually the Smithsonian Institution. So I think that my experience really was operational at the grassroots level.

People talk about where the rubber meets the road. I spent six years at a public work center and that's where the rubber meets the road. And so I try to bring that operational, that field experience on the mission into the D.C. Beltway environment.

Mr. Breul: How has this field and operational experience prepared you for your current leadership role, and how has it shaped your management approach and your leadership style?

Ms. Duke: I think it's prepared me by having a make-it-happen type approach to getting things done. I think that when you're in a field organization and you really have to make things happen, I think that the focus is on how you bring people together, how you stay focused on a solution, how you cut through obstacles, and know when enough talking is enough and when it's time to make a decision. And I really think that that is something that we can benefit from because I think it really manages risk best. It drives towards mission fulfillment, which is why we're all here.

Mr. Breul: What has been the biggest surprises to you coming from more of an operation and field experience and then operating in a place like the Department of Homeland Security at a department-wide level?

Ms. Duke: I think the biggest difference, and I don't think this is unique to the Department of Homeland Security, but to the Washington area, has been the actual level of involvement and the complexity of decisions. That's been the biggest thing. The Department of Homeland Security is a very, very flat organization. So the thing that's been most interesting is how directly and with very few layers decisions that we make on our acquisition studies affect the way this country moves forward. It's a tremendous responsibility.

Mr. Breul: What about DHS's strategic sourcing initiatives? We will ask Elaine Duke, chief procurement officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Breul: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Jonathan Breul, and this morning's conversation is with Elaine Duke, chief procurement officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, director of Homeland Security Services at IBM.

Elaine, though some folks may be quite familiar with other governmental business functions such as finance, accounting, information technology, perhaps you could provide us with an overview of the procurement function. Specifically, what are the key elements of acquisition management, from front-end solicitation to the post-award, and how does the procurement function fit into it?

Ms. Duke: Well, first, I'd like to start by setting the basis for where procurement fits in the acquisition cycle. So acquisition is a much broader focus than procurement. Acquisition is from the point that a business or a department determines that there's some type of mission that needs to be filled and it's going to be filled through a partnership with industry. And it goes all the way through the life cycle of a service or a product through disposal. So there's many career fields that are related to acquisition. The most significant that we hear about often are program management, logistics, test and evaluation, systems engineering. But I know you want me to focus on procurement, so that's what I'll do this morning.

Procurement function is really the business deal. Within Chief Procurement Office we have three priorities. The first one is to build the acquisition workforce, key to us. The second two really summarize what a contracting officer or procurement person does. The second priority we have is making a good business deal and the third is contract administration.

So the making a good business deal, that's making sure that we have not only the right price, but the right intellectual property, the right technical requirements, just looking at every aspect of the business deal. Are we making the best choice to fulfill that mission through an acquisition?

And then contract administration really is everything from the minute the deal is signed through closure of the contract. It includes changes to the contract, in many cases a series of negotiations of tasks and changes. The skills we need to accomplish these? One is to be analytical. I think it's important to have quantitative skills. Effective communication is critical, good organization and time management. And another one is to be able to be independent enough to be making good decisions, yet being disciplined enough to be able to operate in a functional area that does have a myriad of statutes, regulation, and public policy initiatives.

Mr. Abel: What exactly does a DHS contract specialist do? I mean, could you give us a picture of the actual tasks or the cross-disciplinary work performed by a contract specialist?

Ms. Duke: Sure. A contracting officer would get a requirement from a program office, some money and a requirement. And the main purpose in a pre-award is for that contracting officer to negotiate with industry the best value or the best business deal. So what that contracting officer has to do is, first, issue some document that makes it clear to industry what we're trying to buy, whether it's a good or service. The second step of that, once we've made it clear to industry what we want to buy, the contracting officer gets in the proposals from industry and is the lead and the focal point for the review and negotiations. The review are generally technical and then cost and price, and then just an evaluation of the company as a business, its past performance and its record of integrity. And the contracting officer uses a whole support system for that, the sort of selection team, but they are the one responsible for bringing the pieces together and ultimately accountable for signing the contract and executing the deal. That accountability is a huge responsibility for the contracting officer.

Then once the contract's awarded that contracting officer is making sure that all the terms, the conditions, the deliverables, the requirements of that contract are executed by the contractor. Additionally, that contracting officer has to make sure that the government fulfills its pieces of the contract, like paying the contractor on time, like reviewing the deliverables, exercising the contract options.

Mr. Abel: So Elaine, one of the initiatives that your organization has been very visible in executing is around strategic sourcing. Specifically, you've been seeking to create savings, process improvements, increased socioeconomic participation, and really to address the three priorities that you laid out for your organization. Two of the contracts that you guys have competed over the course of the past year or so, one of them First Source and the other Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge Solutions, or EAGLE -- and that's the last time I'll say anything other than EAGLE because it's quite a long title -- how have those initiatives gone for you so far?

Ms. Duke: They've actually gone very, very, very well. The reason behind First Source and EAGLE and First Source is the commodities piece of information technology, EAGLE is the services piece of information technology. I think the reason they've done so well, there are several reasons. One is they really support our Chief Information Officer Scott Charbo's enterprise architecture for the department. We are supposed to be bringing DHS into a one DHS, and it's important that our enterprise architecture is in place. You cannot have a one DHS without a good, solid enterprise architecture.

The second reason it's gone well is we really worked closely with industry during the formation stage. In First Source it was a small business set-aside. In EAGLE we had two tracks: one open competition, one for small business.

The use of EAGLE and First Source has been very successful. We have about 100 orders already pending right now and we have almost 70 already awarded for a total of almost $800 million. In the First Source arena we have well over 200 orders already awarded and another 50, 60 in play, and we have about $40 million awarded under those. So those numbers just show its successes.

Mr. Abel: That sounds fantastic. I know one of the creative things that you did under EAGLE was to develop a series of partitions in the contract itself for functional categories. Have the functional categories met the goals or the objectives that you had for them in terms of competition and vendor teaming?

Ms. Duke: In general they have. One of the things that's helped vendor teaming so much is that we didn't ask primes to bring a set team. We encouraged them and evaluated them in a way such that they would bring the right subcontractor team to each project. And I think that's really helped in terms of teaming arrangements.

In terms of the functional categories that has worked very well. Having the Functional Category 3, the Independent Verification and Validation, IV&V, fenced off organization conflict of interest-wise has really helped in terms of dealing with that. And we're continuing to look at it. We're getting feedback from industry through regularly scheduled meetings. We meet with our EAGLE contractors and they are actually helping us regularly to make sure we're picking the right categories as we move forward.

Mr. Breul: Let's talk for a moment about the President's Management Agenda. Competitive sourcing requires the expertise of the acquisition community to determine and select the best provider of commercial services. In the last OMB scorecard DHS received a yellow rating in competitive sourcing. Could you tell us about the department's latest progress in this area and, from your perspective, why it is so challenging for many agencies across government?

Ms. Duke: Well, first I'd like to talk about our successes in competitive sourcing. For a new department we have done quite a few federal competitive sourcing initiatives, and just over half of them have been won by the federal proposing unit. So that really speaks highly of DHS areas of -- that have been competed, that they were able to sustain a competition against industry.

But one thing I'd like to focus on is not so much the yellow, but the purpose of competitive sourcing, and that's to ensure we get the most efficient best, not just cost-wise, but how do we deliver our mission most successfully. And one of the things we're looking at right now in DHS is what is the right level of outsourcing? It's interesting that as we try to go green on the President's Management Agenda we're getting a lot of feedback from the General Accountability Office, from the Congress, are we appropriately sourced within DHS to execute our mission? So we really have to look at it objectively and make sure that we have the inherent capabilities within our department, and our partnership is with industry, but that within our department we can execute our mission.

Mr. Breul: Well, speaking of the Government Accountability Office, GAO has noted that speed and convenience rather than cost savings seems to drive some agency use of interagency contracting. Could you tell us how the department employs and manages interagency contracting? Do you have the internal controls in place to mitigate risks associated with such contracting vehicles?

Ms. Duke: That's interesting. That's been an area we're working on intensely, but it's also a federal issue. This is a working group under the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Federal CAO -- chief acquisition officer -- Council, is how to do interagency contracting more effectively. And there should be within the next couple of months some policy guidance coming out of OFPP for the federal level.

But within DHS, what we're trying to look at is, is there a business reason for doing an interagency agreement? In some cases it's very, very clear, for instance, in some of the science and technology areas if we're doing human research or we're doing a very technical area. But what our philosophy behind interagency agreements is, is that when Congress appropriates the money to us, we are accountable for it for the life cycle of that money. And just because we execute the mission through another federal department or agency does not relieve us of our accountability, and that's where we're managing risk. And we do have a close partnership with Department of Defense and several other agencies, but we maintain accountability for not only that funding, but accomplishing the mission, and that's our approach.

Mr. Abel: Elaine, there's been some concern over the use of non-competitive or sole-source contracts throughout the federal government. Can you elaborate a little on the proper use of sole-source contracts? Are they always bad? Are there times where they're good? Are there times where they're more effective?

Ms. Duke: I think that there are times when they're effective. And I think that when you look at doing an acquisition strategy, a part of which is should it be sole source or should it be competitive, there are many different factors. You have urgency. You have what's the state of industry? How many people are there that can do it? You have socioeconomic programs. And what I think we have to do is we have to optimize. You can't pick one specific piece of a strategy and make it the only important. You have to look at all of them and how do they blend together. The ones most used in the Department of Homeland Security would be unusual and compelling urgency or only one responsible source. And those are two of the seven reasons under the Competition and Contracting Act that we are supposed to do sole sources, if it's appropriate.

I think that having competition is very important, and we have a huge initiative. Our numbers for Fiscal Year 2007 are going to be much higher than the about 50 percent we got in 2006, so I'm anxious to have those published.

But the one thing I would also say is there's no such thing as a no-bid contract. You might have a one proposal or one bid contract, but it's been interesting the hype behind no-bid. If we don't have a proposal from industry, we don't have a contract.

Mr. Breul: So you mentioned what the benefits are: speed, the ability to be able to procure a skill or a technology that is not prevalent through the marketplace. What are some of the risks of using a sole-source contract?

Ms. Duke: I think the risk is are you getting the right price? That's number one. If a company knows that you're negotiating only with them are they really sharpening their pencil, as the cliche goes?

I think the other risk is from an industrial-based standpoint. If there really is only one contractor that can perform and it's a critical mission, supply, or service, should we be looking at how to enhance the industrial base so we're not in that risk position from a technology standpoint?

Mr. Abel: Now, one other trend in contracting is performance-based contracts, which offer money or other types of rewards for outstanding performance by the contractor. What's your view on performance-based contracts and to what extent does DHS use a vehicle like that?

Ms. Duke: Performance-based contracts are a tool in our toolbox. I don't think they're a panacea. My opinion on this is a little in the minority. I think they are very good. I think that DHS is accurately reflecting its use of performance-based service contracts, but I think that there are some execution problems with performance-based contracts that really aren't being openly talked about.

Performance-based contracts were being used on DOD installations in the '80s in terms of grass-cutting and custodial services and some of the ones where you really can articulate well a performance-based standard. And as we transition and try to use them for more mission-critical broad-scope services, I think a lot of people are having trouble with how to do them effectively, how to really have metrics that are meaningful, how to really give the industry the autonomy and the independence to execute just to the measures and not manage to requirement. I think oversight people have trouble overseeing that way. The oversight people sometimes want to oversee to a requirement rather than a metric.

So I think there's a lot of problems in execution. And I think if we would acknowledge the problems we maybe could deal with them a little more effectively and improve performance-based because I think it is a good tool. It's very difficult.

Mr. Breul: How is DHS recruiting and retaining procurement professionals? We will ask Elaine Duke, chief procurement officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Breul: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Jonathan Breul, and this morning's conversation is with Elaine Duke, chief procurement officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, director of Homeland Security Services at IBM.

Elaine, the seven DHS components have retained their procurement functions and each reports up a direct line to their mission supervisors, which is referred to as functional integration. How does such an alignment benefit DHS's overall acquisition strategy?

Ms. Duke: I think the way it benefits DHS's acquisition strategy is the mission owner has the full authority. So if you think of the component head as really a commander in itself, then that commander has the ability to execute his or her mission and has the acquisition authority, which is a piece of how they -- what they need to execute their mission.

Mr. Breul: How then do you respond to those who believe that DHS should adopt a centralized model, going beyond mere oversight with the ultimate authority for all acquisitions under your office?

Ms. Duke: I think there's two things I can say about that. One is when Sec. Chertoff took over leadership of the Department of Homeland Security he did a comprehensive review, you might have heard about it, 2SR, and it looked at this area and concluded that the functional integration model was appropriate for the department.

The second thing I'd say is I really think that organizations sometimes end up being a crutch for performance issues, meaning some places will organize and reorganize, and every time there's a problem they just reorganize again. And I think there's several ways we can improve our acquisition program that aren't organization-based, and that is building out acquisition, as I mentioned earlier, and focusing on it through all stages of acquisition. So I don't think this is DHS's acquisition challenges necessarily have to be fixed through a reorganization strategy.

Mr. Breul: Well, balancing the appropriate number of DHS contracting officials with the growth of your portfolio has been a real challenge. How many contract specialists are you looking to recruit for optimal performance? And to that end, what changes have you made to your recruitment process? Do you use a flexible compensation strategy? Do you use tuition reimbursement, recruitment bonuses, or other tools to attract and attain quality employees who possess the critical competencies?

Ms. Duke: Yes, this actually has been a challenge. I think acquisition workforce, building an acquisition workforce is our number one priority, as I talked about earlier. And we actually had a study done in 2002, when the department was just standing up, and the optimal number of contract specialists from that study was about 2,500 and we have about 1,000 now. We're not sure, that study is old. We've had so much development and we're actually right now undergoing a new study to determine what is the right number. But whether it's 2,500 or something a little bit less, we still are in the hiring mode and will know that exact number.

We're using many different areas. At the top end, if you will, we are looking at a reemployed annuitant strategy. We'd specifically like the authority to use reemployed annuitants to mentor our younger workforce. We think that's a great way to take that knowledge that persons have built up through their career and plow it back into the government in a recapitalization type effort.

On the younger end of the spectrum, we have a great intern program starting. And in the president's budget we have funding for about 66 interns this year and we're looking at building up to an intern workforce of 300 by Fiscal Year '11. And that will -- we plan a 3-year program with over 400 hours of training. They'll rotate through three different offices, so they'll have great training. And we think that's going to be a huge effort to revitalize our workforce.

And in the middle, we are trying tuition reimbursement, training. Our Chief Human Capital Officer Marta Perez has been very supportive in working with us on the strategic plan for the acquisition workforce and that has been very helpful to us.

Mr. Abel: I'm going to change gears on us a little bit. One of the most profound events to impact the department, the government, and the nation overall in the last couple of years was Hurricane Katrina. What type of lessons related to procurement and acquisition did your organization learn during that event?

Ms. Duke: I think the first lesson we learned was the importance of the advance acquisition planning. When you have a very small disaster it's very -- it's much easier to on the spot send a team out and recover using the local economy. So we're doing two areas of better planning and acquisition: one is the people side and the other is a contract vehicle side. So FEMA has been very successful in putting contracts in place that will allow for initial emergency response transitioning into local contracts for recovery, and that's very important.

The second area is on the people side, is having a workforce that can augment FEMA's workforce or whoever is managing a disaster. And that's actually under a group that the chief acquisition officer from GSA and I co-chair called the Emergency Response and Recovery Working Group, where we're training federal-wide contracting personnel to be able to augment in case of a huge natural or other disaster.

Mr. Abel: And what's the status of some of the outcome from that organization? Are there things that are moving forward into implementation shortly?

Ms. Duke: In terms of the contracts piece? Yes. FEMA has awarded over 70 contracts. The biggest ones that were competitively awarded were the IATACs, which are Individual Assistance Technical Assistance Contracts. There are logistics contracts in place. There are inspection services.

One thing to keep in mind is the Stafford Act does -- which is operated if there's a disaster declared, does give a preference to set aside for local businesses. So as we're developing planning strategies we don't know where a disaster will occur, so we're at a national or regional level. But under the Stafford Act we always will be looking for transitioning as soon as possible to a more localized strategy to revitalize that economy.

Mr. Abel: Earlier in the program we talked a bit about the complex and large mission that DHS has to be able to implement. Since its inception DHS has had some large, complex procurements, like Deepwater Program or SBInet. Can you elaborate on some of the key lessons learned derived from these earlier large acquisitions and how they have informed your organization moving forward?

Ms. Duke: Well, there's a lot of lessons we've learned. I think first and foremost is that the government, when it has an acquisition program, has to have the full complement of acquisition professionals in place before a contract or an acquisition program moves forward. We've really been working very strongly on the acquisition model such as in DOD, where the program manager is the center of the acquisition program.

I think another lesson learned we have is the importance of maintaining the ownership as we move forward in a partnership with industry.

And a third is the importance of contract administration. Because our contracts are very complex, very long, and we do have that dynamic mission, it's so important for us to make sure that we keep in mind that awarding the contract is really only the first step, and sometimes the easier step, in a contract's life.

Mr. Breul: Would you tell us a bit about your efforts to improve the systems you have in place to capture information on procurement actions? And in particular, does your department have plans to deploy a single contract writing software system?

Ms. Duke: There's two layers to that: one is within the department and one is at the federal level. At the federal level we participate very heavily in the FPDSNG, which is the Federal Procurement Data System Next Generation, which is the official contract data system for the federal government. And that is something we participate on continually improving with our federal partners. And I think that is key to making sure that we have accurate data throughout the federal government in the future.

Within DHS we are working towards implementation under -- we're actually under the enterprise system, so we're a piece of the chief financial officer's enterprise system. But our goal is to have a single contract writing software system that basically -- that both helps the contracting officers and also provides management information.

Mr. Breul: We talk with many of our guests about collaboration. What kind of partnerships are you developing now to improve operations or outcomes at DHS?

Ms. Duke: Well, I think that within DHS we have two groups that really are helping in the acquisition arena. One is our Chief Acquisition Officer, which is where I meet with all the persons I have functional integration authority over on a regular basis. We've formed a second group internally and that's the Program Management Council. And that is actually to do the same, is to bring all the other acquisition issues together in a forum under a group that's focusing on building better acquisition in the big sense or, as the Department of Defense would say, the big A sense together and build a more comprehensive program management and acquisition program within DHS. And then at the federal level I've already mentioned that I'm a member of the executive board of the Federal CAO Council chaired by Paul Dennett.

Mr. Breul: That's a good number of partnerships. How do you anticipate that these partnerships are going to change over time?

Ms. Duke: I think they'll change over time not so much with the partnerships, but the focus areas. So the Federal CAO Council has working groups and those working groups change over time. They start up when something becomes important, like some recent starts within the last year or two have been strategic sourcing, acquisition workforce is a huge area. And within DHS right now, for instance, on the Program Management Council, what we're looking at is one of our priorities is to have a program metric system, an automated system. Well, once we get that in place, then we'll be moving on to other priorities, but the same group. Some names will change and faces.

Mr. Breul: Sticking to the Program Management Council within the department, how exactly does it enhance your organization's processes and effectiveness?

Ms. Duke: I've often said and some of you listening may have heard this before that the key to a successful acquisition program is a strong program manager; that without a well thought out mission need, without a sound requirement, we cannot consummate a deal on a good contract. We just really need that basic. It's building a house without a good foundation. So the Program Management Council is both seeking to put some initiatives in place that'll help program managers manage such as, I said, the metric system, but really it's building that competency in DHS. We really need to have properly trained and certified program managers running our major programs. And then once we accomplish that, we need to have the related career fields, like the logistics, test and evaluations, those other ones I've talked about, in place to fulfill the complement of acquisition skills in our major programs.

Mr. Breul: What does the future hold for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security? We will ask Elaine Duke, chief procurement officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Breul: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Jonathan Breul, and this morning's conversation is with Elaine Duke, chief procurement officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, director of Homeland Security Services at IBM.

Elaine, I'd like to transition now to the future. Could you give us a sense of some of the key issues that will affect acquisition and procurement offices government-wide over the couple of years ahead?

Ms. Duke: I think one of the biggest is going to be the workforce issues in terms of how are we going to revitalize and expand our workforce. Not only in DHS, but federal-wide, the number of dollars spent on acquisitions is going up. So with the curve of having the majority of contracting professionals eligible to retire over the next three to five years, how are we going to build that workforce and ensure we have the competencies? And that is a huge area for us right now.

Mr. Abel: So as we narrow that down a bit to the opportunities and challenges that your organization will face in the future, how does that change when you talk just specifically about DHS?

Ms. Duke: I think that if the federal government is change, we're change-squared. I think that I used to think when will DHS mature enough so it's more stable? And I think that from what I spoke about earlier about the dynamic nature of the mission, I think the reality is that DHS will always be more of a changing organization than some of the other departments, and so that is really the challenge now. Rather than trying to eliminate change or stabilize, I think our focus has to be how are we going to manage change? So how are we going to plan things? And I think you really can plan for change if you're thinking about it. So how are we going to plan for the constant change?

In addition to the change in mission, we have the change in the administration, which will be a personnel change for us. And so what are we going to put in place to be able to effectively manage that?

Mr. Abel: So if you were to look three to five years out, what would you see out there that looks different than it looks today? What's changed three to five years out there?

Ms. Duke: Well, I think one of the things that will change is we will have a higher maturity level, so we'll have more discipline of process I call it. And what I mean by that is I think the key to success is optimization, and sometimes we tend to have nothing or we tend to maximize. And I think when it comes to flexibility versus discipline of process the key really is optimization and how much is enough.

Some people talk about bureaucracy as a bad thing. It's not a bad thing. It's only a bad thing when it's useless or when it becomes too cumbersome, but some amount of bureaucracy is good. It exists in industry and it exists in government for a reason. So I hope that in that horizon we'll be moving towards still staying nimble and quick so that we can meet our mission, but having the right amount of discipline so we have some standardization where standardization is appropriate, the repeatable processes where that's a good thing, yet we're still youthful, if you will, enough that we can react to the changing mission.

Mr. Breul: We also talked to many of our guests about the pending government employee retirement wave. How are you handling the retirement wave and what is your organization doing to ensure that you have the right staff mix to meet your future challenges?

Ms. Duke: That is the most complex problem and it is one I spend quite a bit of my time on. I think that bringing in the interns that I talked about earlier is very important. I think we have a generation coming out of college that are really excited about serving their country. And DHS provides those type of mission interests that make it easier for us to recruit than maybe some of the other departments. People know Homeland Security and they're excited about it and really feel that despite all the publicity, I think there's a feeling we can make it better, and that's what we're looking at.

I talked about the reemployed annuitants earlier. In the midterms we're looking at can we take people that haven't done contracting, but are mid-career, but could transition the same basic skills? So if you talk about analytical skills, decision-making, problem-solving, you can learn that in many different career fields. I tend to think that it may be easier to take some of those kind of people and then teach them contracting because contracting is not that hard if you have those basic skills.

Mr. Abel: Earlier on in the program you mentioned one of your top priorities as being continued development of the competencies within the acquisition workforce. What are some of the things that you're doing to ensure that your staff has the appropriate training and skills to be able to fulfill this requirement?

Ms. Duke: Well, we're trying to offer several different ways of training and increasing skills. One is the traditional training. That's through Federal Acquisition Institute, Defense Acquisition University, and some private sector sources. But in addition to just the training in a classroom setting, really I feel like workshops are very useful, especially for DHS where people are very busy, where we have topical-type workshops. Those have been very interesting and very well attended. So we'll have anywhere from a two- to a four- to an eight-hour workshop on a specific topic, focused where we see areas that need attention.

The other thing we're doing is we're using our oversight as we do our management reviews to identify what are the areas that do need skills refreshment, if you will. And so if we have a problem with cost-and-price analysis, then we'll hold training or these workshops on that. So we're really trying to marry our oversight, what we're seeing there, identifying areas that appear to be weaker, and then targeting specifically for those areas.

Mr. Abel: So you've mentioned a number of times on the interview this morning the lynchpin of the program manager in acquisition and in contracting. What are some of the things that you're doing within the department to make sure that you continue to develop the skills and numbers of people that have the competency to be able to manage programs of the size and scale that the department must undertake?

Ms. Duke: Well, we've partnered with the Human Capital Office to do DHS centralized recruiting. So rather than having each component having to go out to recruit, we have done some centralized recruiting. And we're doing centralized screening of those applicants so that we can provide a list of qualified candidates to the components that they can choose from to fill their vacancies.

We're doing training at the executive level on acquisition, so these component commanders, as I called them before, get a better feeling for what acquisition is so they know their needs. Where in Department of Defense you have separate acquisition commands, our component heads have to be both operational commanders and the acquisition commanders, and so giving them some specifically focused executive training. The other thing we're doing is the Program Management Council.

And the other thing that we're working on is the Investment Review Board, and both bringing a focus on ensuring that investments are reviewed from both an acquisition and mission perspective as they move along, but also adding a governance element to it. And what I mean by the governance element is making sure that once a program is approved that it's accomplishing its mission on cost, schedule, and performance targets.

Mr. Breul: Elaine, you had a very interesting career within the public service, so I'm curious, what advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in public service?

Ms. Duke: I'll tell you it's just great. I think that the best thing about public service is you're given as much room to grow as you can handle. I think early on you get a lot of responsibility and you can keep growing in terms of responsibility. I think it's a great place to work, to be able to balance family and professionalism, which was always very important to me and I think that's important to a lot of people, and I think that the federal government does a very good job of letting us balance all pieces of our work life. And I think that it's also just exciting because there is the constant change. There's never a plateau where you say I'm done now. And that's if you're going to spend 30 years doing something, you don't want to be done too early.

Mr. Breul: Elaine, that's great advice. We've reached the end of our time and that will have to be our last question. I want to thank you for fitting us into your very busy schedule and, more importantly, Dave and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country.

Ms. Duke: Thank you. And I'd like to just say in closing that I really -- if you're interested from both doing business with DHS or a career with DHS, we have two great websites. Our website for those interested in doing business with DHS is If you're interested in a career with us, we have a website, Thank you.

Mr. Breul: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Elaine Duke, chief procurement officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. My co-host has been Dave Abel, director of Homeland Security at IBM.

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 support and respect. For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Jonathan Breul. Thank you for listening.

This has been The Business of Government Hour. Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m., and visit us on the web at There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's conversation. Until next week, it's


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The management of the federal workforce—including executives—will be a critical factor in the next president’s success. How do we strengthening federal senior leadership, including political appointees and career executives, and enhancing their collaboration? Join host Michael Keegan as he explores this subject with Doug Brook and Maureen Hartney authors of Managing the Government’s Executive Talent.