Shelley Metzenbaum

Friday, June 7th, 2013 - 9:15
Shelley H. Metzenbaum is the founding President of the Volcker Alliance.
Radio show date: 
Mon, 06/10/2013
Intro text: 
Shelley Metzenbaum, Former Associate Director of Performance and Personnel Management, Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

Governing in the Next Four Years

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012 - 12:03
A Presidential election year provides an opportunity to step back and consider major issues that will face government in the future. Our Center has devoted significant attention to this topic 4, 8, and 12 years ago, and this year we will build on that tradition.

Kathy P. Conrad

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 - 17:15
Ms. Conrad is the primary advisor to the OCSIT Associate Administrator on citizen services/engagement and innovative technology programs and strategic direction
Radio show date: 
Mon, 11/05/2012
Intro text: 
Ms. Conrad is the primary adviser to the OCSIT Associate Administrator on citizen services/engagement and innovative technology programs and strategic direction.
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast on November 5, 2012

Arlington, VA

Michael Keegan: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Michael Keegan, your host, and Managing Editor of The Business of Government magazine. Federal agencies continue to pursue government wide initiatives such as reforming federal IT, using new technologies to improve government operations and citizen engagement, and enhancing customer experience across government. To be successful in their efforts, agencies require support and assistance.

The U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies work to provide that support. It has positioned itself as the government-wide leader in identifying and fostering adoption of innovative new technologies. It does this by providing practical tools, models and proven practices that agencies can use to improve efficiency and effectiveness of government operations while enhancing citizen engagement.

How is GSA fostering adoption of innovative new technologies across federal agencies? What is GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies doing to expand government-wide open government and citizen engagement? How is GSA working to provide information, where, when and how the public wants it? We will explore these questions and so much more with our very special guest Kathy Conrad, Principle Deputy Associated Administrator of the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies within U.S. General Services Administration.

Welcome Kathy, it’s great to have you on the show.

Kathy Conrad: Thank you. I’m delighted to be here. 

Michael Keegan: Also joining us from IBM is Ken Beecher.

Welcome Ken.

Ken Beecher: Thanks. It’s great to be back.

Michael Keegan: Kathy, perhaps you could provide us with a brief overview and history in evolving missions of U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

Kathy Conrad: Sure. I’d be glad to. So our role today reflects both where we’ve come from, our legacy of serving the public, and our role today as an engine of innovation to help agencies across government meet rapidly changing needs. We have a pretty interesting history spanning over 40 years which most people aren’t aware of. Our roots were planted way back in 1970 with the establishment of the Consumer Information Center which provided the public with a central source of government information.


It’s evolved over the years and in 2002 became the Federal Citizen Information Center or FCIC when GSA created the Office of Citizen Services and Communications. At that time, GSA combined the centers 30 year legacy of serving the public with the innovative approach of what was then called First Gov which used the rapidly growing power of the internet to serve as the first sort of single front door to the government.


Then, more recently in 2010, the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technology was created returning GSA’s internal communications back to its own office and adding the Office of Innovative Technology to expand our role in leveraging new technology to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government. So today we have a dual mission. We deliver world-class experience to the public when accessing government information and services anywhere, any time through whatever channel they choose, building on our long legacy and then developing solutions and services federal agencies can easily adopt that will enhance their ability to innovate, deliver services, engage the public and save valuable resources. 


Michael Keegan: With such a critical mission, I’d like to get a sense of the operational footprint of your office. How is it organized? What is the size of its budget, the number of full time employees, and scale of operations?

Kathy Conrad: Well we have a very lean but incredibly productive office. About 100 super talented hard working people plus a team of excellent contractors and a budget of about 35 million dollars. It’s pretty small. We’re a little sparkplug igniting innovation all across government through two primary organizations; the Office of Citizen Services and the Office of Innovative Technologies.


The Office of Citizen Services provides consumer information and services to the public wherever, whenever and using whatever device or communication channel they choose. The Office of Innovative Technology identifies and fosters innovative technologies that help agencies increase efficiency, and enhance effectiveness of services to citizens and achieve cost savings.


So most of our programs are divided into those two offices. We have as I said the Federal Citizen Information Center which runs, (ph),, the National Contact Center, and We have the Center for Excellence in Digital Government which runs our challenges program which you are familiar with and supports the federal web manager’s council. We have a mobile PMO which has more recently been combined with our digital services innovation center.


And then in the innovative technology arena we have the federal cloud computing PMO, our Fed Ramp Program, Federal Data Center Consolidation Program, and along with a few others.


Ken Beecher: Kathy, I’d like to focus a bit more on your specific responsibilities as principle deputy associated administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies. What are your duties and areas under your purview and just as important, how do your efforts support GSA’s overall mission? 

Kathy Conrad: Well that’s a good question. We have a very, very broad portfolio. Given that as principle deputy, I help oversee all of our programs, all of our projects and our staff to ensure that we’re achieving our goals and delivering great value to our customers. In terms of some of the things that I more directly lead, I work very closely with our colleagues in OMB and OSTP on key policy and program initiatives, and also I work very closely with our congressional affairs staff and with the Hill on oversight.


In terms of how we align with GSA’s mission, Dan Tangherlini our acting administrator has been referring to GSA as the government savings agency. We support that mission directly, emphasizing our role in providing real tangible value to agencies and the public. We provide shared services and platforms that offer significant savings by avoiding the need for every agency to build or acquire their own systems or deliver duplicative services to the budget. So in fact in FY12 we estimate that by offering shared services and solutions, we’d avoid government cost savings of about 76 million dollars which is more than double our budget.


Michael Keegan: So with such an expansive portfolio, what are the top management challenges you face in your role and how have you sought to address them?

Kathy Conrad: Well given budget constraints which everyone is struggling with, probably the top challenge is how to carefully prioritize, how to invest our funds to meet rapidly changing customer needs and expectations. We have a really small team but everyone is just bursting with big ideas and tons of enthusiasm. We need to find ways to really prioritize because we can’t do everything. We just don’t have the funding and I think as agencies are facing their own budget constraints, they really want to make sure that the services that they’re receiving from us or other parts of GSA are really targeted toward their highest priority needs.


How do we do that? Well we use analytics to really determine what our customers need and want. Then we focus relentlessly on customer experience to ensure that we are continually delivering high value to those customers. We also have really worked hard to create a culture of collaboration, innovation and iteration. We kind of eat our own dog food in the innovation arena and use both agile methods and iterative development to test and improve new programs or projects as we go.


That allows us to meet emerging needs without having to take big budget debts which in today’s climate just don’t make sense. So most of what we do, we released first either as a beta program or on a very limited scale; fed ramp’s initial operating capabilities is a good example. Or you could look at our web usability testing program, which is still to this day called First Friday’s even though we now do testing not just on the first Friday of the month but often throughout the week.


Ken Beecher: Along with the challenges you’ve encountered, leading an organization can also be fraught with unanticipated surprises. To that end, what has surprised you most about leading your organization? 

Kathy Conrad: Probably the incredible talent pool that we have. I could have never anticipated how much talent we have among our relatively small staff. We just have an amazing group of incredibly smart, incredibly motivated people who are talented in arenas all across the board. The other part is how quickly we can deliver, so we not only have people who are really competent and knowledgeable but we really know how to deliver as a team. So whether that’s standing up a new program like Business USA in just 90 days, or ramping up our National Contact Center in a few hours to provide accurate information to the public in the face of an emergency, we’re really able to mobilize fast to take ideas and turn them into valuable solutions for our customers.


Ken Beecher: We just jumped into GSA and your office and your responsibilities. Let’s take a step back. Can you describe your career path for our listeners?

Kathy Conrad: Sure. I have kind of an interesting career path, not the typical government leader path I don’t think.  So like many recent college graduates, I came to Washington right out of college really wanting to make a difference. I had lofty ideas and lofty ideals. Since then I’ve had a very well rounded kind of 360 degree view of how public policy is made, delivered and particularly focused on science and technology and the impact that it can have on innovation, economic development, and most importantly on society.


So I started on Capitol Hill and then I quickly was drafted by a professional organization, The National Society of Professional Engineers which at the time was very interested in looking at investments in engineering and technology to drive global economic competitiveness. I was there for gosh, six years. I kind of led an initiative to explicitly recognize the role that the federal government has in investing in applied research and technology by actually changing the mission of the National Science Foundation which was pretty unprecedented at the time.


From there I went to NSF as a government employee and enjoyed working very closely with the director of the foundation in the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs on trying to take that new mission and really make good on it. I thought I would stay there for a long time but then I kind of caught the bug that this policy stuff was great but if I really wanted to make an impact I needed to jump off into the real world and see how companies actually do this. So I had an opportunity to help start a company and so did that.


And then worked for gosh, over 20 years moving into the consulting world and had an opportunity along the way to just work with some amazing companies and great leaders like Steven Covey and the Covey Leadership Center, Ray Kurzweil and his just amazingly innovative companies that created the first reading machine to help people with visual disabilities read, and some other just really cool stuff.


And then I knew I always wanted to come back to government in a role and at a time where I could believe in what the government and the administration was doing and where I thought I could make a difference. So now I have what I really consider my dream job and just couldn’t imagine being in a better place with better people.


Michael Keegan: So Kathy, with that kind of background, what makes an effective leader and more particularly, who has influenced your leadership style and management approach?

Kathy Conrad: So, I think in terms of what really matters most. I think people matter most. Absolutely. People are by far the most valuable resource any organization has and so I’ve always tried to lead by honest open communication with mutual trust and respect and recognize that everyone can learn from each other at any level. So I’ve always been in fairly flat organizations where there is a lot of mutual trust and respect and a lot of collaboration. I think that’s really critical, particularly in an office like ours where we need to be continually innovating and doing new things. No one has a monopoly on all the good ideas.


The third thing is really focusing on customers. Customers always need to be considered first because after all, we’re not in the business to do this just for ourselves. We’re trying to serve the public and our agencies. So customer focus and customer experience always need to be kept front of mind.


Michael Keegan: Has anybody particularly influenced your leadership style?

Kathy Conrad: Oh, a lot. I’ve had the good fortune of working as I said with just a lot of really great people and really great leaders and I’ve also had colleagues that have taught me a lot so it’s a pretty long list.


Ken Beecher: Long. Far too numerous to enumerate.

Michael Keegan: How is GSA fostering adoption of innovative new technologies across the federal government? We will ask Kathy Conrad, Principle Deputy Associated Administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


So Kathy, before we delve into specific initiatives, would you briefly outline your office’s strategic vision and highlight some of the key priorities that frame the direction in which you’re taking the office.

Kathy Conrad: Well as I mentioned earlier, we have a dual mission to deliver innovative services and solutions to the public and to our government agency customers. To deliver our mission we have three key strategic goals. Innovation, which we define as expanding and enhancing public engagement with government using innovative cost effective solutions and practices that can be adapted and adopted government-wide. Second, customer intimacy as I mentioned. There we want to deliver best in class customer experience that is driven by results and that other agencies can use. Finally, operational excellence. Develop, implement and accelerate adoption of new technology platforms and initiatives that can improve operational efficiency and effectiveness across government. We seek to foster federal leadership in implementing solutions that are faster, cheaper and more sustainable.


Ken Beecher: Kathy, you mentioned earlier that you have a very close and tight relationship with the Office of Management Budget. As you know, OMB is mandating a cloud first policy. Your office is the government-wide lead on making this effort successful. To that end, would you elaborate on the federal cloud computing initiative? Here’s a loading question for you. What is cloud computing?  What are the benefits and challenges of pursing a cloud first approach?

Kathy Conrad: Okay, I’ll try to answer that.


Ken Beecher: All right. Thanks.

Kathy Conrad: So cloud first has driven a major shift in IT planning and procurement. It’s forcing agencies to consider whether there are better, more agile ways to use scarce IT resources to enable achievement of desired programs and mission outcomes. It’s important to remember cloud computing is not about the technology. It’s about mission enablement.


So what is it? Lots of different definitions, but I think the best way to think about it is as a utility where you buy the services you need to meet real-time demands. Cloud solutions offer infrastructure as a service solution like service and storage that can be used to host websites and meet other requirements, software as a service for applications such as email, or platform as a service which can be used for testing and development or other requirements.


In terms of benefits, there are really three key benefits. First, it’s cheaper. Services are automatically delivered and consumed as they are used which means you only pay for what you actually use. Agencies can shift from owning and maintaining costly physical assets to managing service delivery, reducing the need for ongoing capital expenditures. Cost savings are also achieved from aggregated demand. If you can aggregate demand across an entire enterprise, you benefit from economies of scale and save significant funds over the long-term.


Second, it’s actually better in terms of performance. On-demand services enable flexible, rapid response to dynamic business needs so you know that as your needs change, you can get the services that you actually need and it’s faster. You can provision services rapidly and automatically dramatically decrease the time to deploy or implement solutions. So it’s better, faster, and cheaper. It seems like a pretty good deal.


Ken Beecher: Absolutely. As a follow-up, what has been accomplished in this area to-date and what implementation issues have you encountered and what remains to be done?

Kathy Conrad: So we launched Fed Ramp’s initial operating capability in June. To-date we’ve accredited 15 third-party assessment organizations and received over 50 applications for Fed Ramp assessment and authorizations. As of August, 318 data centers have been closed to-date and there are 932 planned closures by the end of 2015.


Michael Keegan: So Kathy, you’ve mentioned Fed Ramp which is the Federal Risk Authorization Management Program a couple of times in our discussion. Would you tell us exactly what that is and how does it seek to accelerate the adoption of secure cloud solutions?

Kathy Conrad: Okay, so Fed Ramp initial operating capability was launched in June following two years of extensive collaboration with both government and industry to develop a do once, use many times approach that saves cost, time and staff needed to conduct cloud security assessments.


Fed Ramp has four primary components. It’s established a baseline set of mandatory security controls that are based on 853 standards for low and moderate impact systems. It establishes a consistent, rigorous, independent assessment process including accreditation of third-party assessment organizations which we call 3PAOs. We could resist the idea to come up with a new acronym, which must be used under Fed Ramp.


It introduces the use of provisional authorizations which are granted by a joint authorization board composed of the CIOs from DOD, DHS, and GSA. Provisional authorizations can be leveraged by agencies across government in granting their own authorities to operate.


Finally, Fed Ramp shifts the government towards real-time assurance through the use of continuous monitoring. So the combined use of baseline security controls, consistent security assessments, and provisional authorizations gives agencies the high trust and confidence they need to leverage existing ATOs rather than conducting their own duplicative expensive assessments each time they implement a cloud solution.


Michael Keegan: Could I just clarify. If they use Fed Ramp, they won’t need to do their own ATO?

Kathy Conrad: Under FISMA, agencies still have the statutory responsibility of granting their own ATOs but instead of starting from scratch, they can leverage the existing ATOs which will be maintained in a secure repository and then if they have requirements that are above and beyond the Fed Ramp baseline, which by the way we hope will not often be the case, they can access those requirements in addition to what is already included in the security packages that are the basis of the ATO they are reviewing from the repository.


Michael Keegan: So give them a leg up.

Kathy Conrad: Big leg up.


Michael Keegan: Yeah. Right.

Ken Beecher: Kathy, you mentioned earlier about the consolidation of federal data centers. We all know that’s one of President Obama’s primary IT priorities. With data center proliferation straining agency budgets and resources and of course the environment, what are some of the key challenges faced in realizing these goals and what remains to be done?

Kathy Conrad: So the focus is really on increasing efficiency and optimizing infrastructure utilization shifting resources towards more cost effective, energy efficient infrastructure. As agencies have gained visibility of their data center assets across their enterprise, their reported baseline inventory of data centers have grown and so to ensure comprehensiveness, the definition of data centers have been reduced. So that makes it even more important that we focus not just on raw numbers of closures but on overall optimization and utilization.


Along those lines and to achieve that objective, it was announced just yesterday I believe that data center consolidation will be integrated with the portfolio stat approach that agencies are taking to ensure that data center optimization is included in the overall enterprise approach that agencies are using to optimize their commodity IT spending and management. So rather than looking at data centers in parallel to the rest of the agencies IT portfolio, one of the lessons learned is that these two efforts should be more closely aligned.


Michael Keegan: So Kathy, my next question is around open government initiatives. It’s two pronged.  First I want to understand, how does your office transform citizen engagement with government? What prompted such efforts? How did it happen?

Kathy Conrad: So the President released the open data directive back in 2009 and that really was the catalyst for the open government movement that we see today. One of the things that we’ve seen is that while at the time it was really a pretty radical idea, it’s become really baked into agency operations. People really now see that sunshine is the best medicine for data quality. I think the risk aversion that we saw in the early years of open data has really kind of evaporated. You still find it in certain areas but there’s a level of acceptance that open data is good for the government and even better for citizens.


So where we are today, there are really three areas that define open government today. One is the transformation from focusing on the data itself to the impact of the data. Two is a shift toward really what has become a global open government movement. Three is the growth of the communities. If you’d like, I can talk about each of those three areas a little bit.


So in terms of impact, initially open government really focused on transparency, accountability and citizen engagement. Those principles as I said are widely accepted and kind of part of just our government culture. So the emphasis has not expanded and the future of is to focus on enabling data discovery use and impact making sure that through APIs and open data standards, citizens, developers and others can easily access and harness the value of data to develop new products and services that improve the quality of people’s lives.


So it’s really about impact. As is outlined in the digital strategy that was released in May, over the next nine months, will be expanded to include a web API catalog that will serve as an interactive directory of information made available to the public by agencies via web services so that customers can more readily use that information. Again, it’s about that use that is so critical. So every agency is required to post their APIs on their developer pages that they’re establishing under the digital strategy and those will automatically be aggregated in’s catalog. So some big changes along the way but all of that will focus on impact.


For the global movement, one of the things that I’ve done recently that was really just invigorating was that we held a conference with the World Bank this summer on international open government. It was attended by more than 400 leaders from more than 50 countries all of whom are working toward expanding the open government data movement. It was really quite remarkable.


Governments around the world really have recognized the value of open data and transparency to drive economic development and citizen engagement. While there was some focus on transparency, there was a real emphasis on how open data can help these developing nations prosper. So again lots of emphasis on what is the economic impact not just transparency and accountability. 


Along those lines, as it called for in the U.S. National Action Plan and in what we really consider a triumph of 21st century digital diplomacy and development, we’ve developed in less than a year an open source platform to enable governments around the world at any level to open their data to the public.


So in March, the U.S. and the government in India proudly launched the open government platform, OGPL which is this new open source product that includes the code, tools and processes that help the government to manage and release their data and will enable developers, analysts, journalists, academics and the public to put this data to work. The full package which is an early release is available for download, comments and open source development at get HUB. We’ll be supporting a vote OGPL in several countries beginning with Rwanda this fall.


Michael Keegan: I’d like to focus in on two particular initiatives, and you’ve mentioned already Can you tell us a little about these initiatives and what are the benefits and where are they?

Kathy Conrad: Okay so as I mentioned with, we’re driving towards an API catalog. We’ve also been establishing communities in key sectors to engage and collaborate around new ways to analyze, visualize and use the data. As I said, really can’t just be about the data. It has to be about its potential for use, deriving value from the data, not just analyzing it.


So currently, hosts 15 communities which we’ve built in collaboration with agencies across the government in areas such as health, education, law, energy, oceans, safety, ethics, and sustainable supply chain. We’ve had these really cool data jams and data polusas (ph) to spur entrepreneurship, create value and create jobs while rigorously protecting personal proprietary national security information.


So just this month, the safety community had a data polusa that brought together people who use the data available on to save lives. We saw some really amazing, really cool apps at that data polusa. Do you want me to tell you about a few of them?


Michael Keegan: Sure.

Kathy Conrad: So Pulse Point was from the San Ramon Fire Protection district and is a lifesaving mobile app that allows CPR trained volunteers to be notified if somebody nearby is in need of emergency assistance. We saw some commute and crime maps from Trulia (ph) that allow home buyers to choose their new residence based on important factors such as commuting times and crime rates which would otherwise never be available or at least not easily so.


Then we saw a really cool hurricane app from the American Red Cross that allows citizens to monitor storm conditions, prepare families for emergencies, find help and let people know that they’re safe even if there is no power. So that’s where things are with


If makes data discoverable and accessible, offers a new tool and platform to engage the public in harnessing the value of the data as is documented very well and very thoroughly in your recent excellent report on So is a crowd sourcing platform for challenges and prizes for solutions to government problems. Many of them use open data sets.


It’s important to note that agencies are actually authorized to conduct these competitions and contests under the American Competes Act. There is still some skepticism about whether agencies can really do this. In fact, they not only can do it, they are doing it.  When we launched back in 2010, we had 35 challenges from 15 different agencies. As of this week, we have 211 challenges from 47 agencies and average 7 new challenges a week.


Some of the benefits of using challenges are that it’s very cost effective. You pay only for successful entries or solutions so you’re not paying for anything that you don’t in fact really want and that doesn’t meet your criteria. It allows for really, really broad engagement, innovative ideas and expertise is tapped from well beyond traditional sources. It allows the government to partner with the private sector to fund or expand prizes and has proven to be really just an amazing tool for achieving big breakthroughs where solvers invent products, write software, design systems, develop mobile apps, create videos, games and more.


It also creates a social network of people who care about an issue who can follow, vote and share information about the challenges through email, Facebook and Twitter. So that builds awareness and interest in critical agency policy national issues at much lower cost than a traditional communications campaign might do.


So some of the examples that might be of interest, USDA had a really great challenge on apps for healthy kids that were sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama. Winners included a game called Hungry Hiker that was in the Denver Science Museum that allowed kids to guess if they fueled their body with different fuels, how quickly they could hike to the top of a mountain. It quickly became apparent that candy alone wasn’t going to make it.


Another one that I personally love is called Explode Your Food because anybody who has kids knows that kids love to play with their food and this allows you to put virtual food into a machine and it blows it up and makes a really lovely, wonderful mess and analyzes the nutritional content which is just great.


So today there are a couple of really great challenges that are going on. In fact, as we speak the Department of Treasury is holding a ceremony today to announce the lucky winners of their My Money App Up Challenge for mobile apps that can offer consumers faster, more convenient and better access to financial products, services and tools and information to empower consumers to make better positive financial choices. There are eight finalists, one of whom will win the $10,000 grand prize.


There’s also a really neat contest going on today sponsored by the White House Council on Women and Girls called the Equal Futures Application Challenge to promote development of apps that inspire girls to serve as leaders in our democracy and promote civic education. So those are just a bunch of examples. There is many, many more on


Michael Keegan: That’s a tremendous amount of work you’re doing with projects. What else is there in the open government initiative that you want to highlight? Are there any other projects you are working on?

Kathy Conrad: Well much of what we do can be pulled in under the umbrella of open government because we’re so much about citizen engagement and collaboration. Two examples of new initiatives that are of interest, one is which is an online, one-stop shop that makes it easier for American businesses to access the services and information they need to grow, hire and export. It combines information and services from over 10 different government agencies through one consolidated website and will soon be providing context center support for Business USA through our national contact center at 1-800-FEDINFO. So it gives open access to just tons of business information in one place instead of having to figure out where to search it and unearth it.


Another real exciting brand new initiative is the My Gov Project which is one of five innovation projects that was launched in early August by the White House. Our office selected a team of five fabulous innovators from nearly 400 applicants to serve for the next six months as presidential innovation fellows for the My Gov Project.


Their charge is to create a prototype environment where citizens can intuitively discover, interact, and engage with government anywhere, any time, on the platform of their choice. It represents a pretty dramatic shift toward intuitively accessible and personally relevant government in which the complexity of government is abstracted into simple, consistent and high quality online interactions that are completely indifferent to either knowledge of the government or whatever channel or device you are using.


Michael Keegan: How is GSA working to provide information where, when and how the public wants it? We will ask Kathy Conrad, Principle Deputy Associated Administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Service and Innovative Technologies when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


So Kathy, social media is ubiquitous. Would you tell us more about how your agency is helping federal agencies leverage these platforms and more specifically, to what extent has your agency expanded its use of social media channels per outreach in public engagement?

Kathy Conrad: Well you’re absolutely right. Social media has just exploded across government. In our office we’ve found that social media is reaching our customers at a rate that is orders of magnitude higher than traditional communications channel. As of August, we interacted with citizens two million times this year using new media which is a 305% increase from last year.


So there’s no doubt that you just have to pay attention to social media. That’s where people are going. It’s not at the exclusion of traditional communications channel but we are using social media extensively for,, in the Center of Excellence and Digital government, really in everything that we do.


As part of our mission to share best practices, share guidance and provide training, we recently launched a very innovative social media community of practice which has established a dedicated community of nearly 300 social media managers and directors from all mission areas across government including intelligence, healthcare, scientific and regulatory communities, really just about every agency. They meet regularly to identify and find solutions for some of the common challenges faced in using social media such as improving social media performance metrics and they test new tools and strategies that will shape the future of digital citizen engagement.


We also recently released a social media registry which is a central authoritative registry of authentic government media accounts which enables the public to much more easily differentiate legitimate government social media accounts from those that are fraudulent. Unlike regular websites, social media doesn’t have .gov or .nil, so this registry would allow somebody who couldn’t otherwise tell to determine oh yeah this really is an agency social media account.


It currently lists over 21 accounts across 65 agencies and is being used to verify legitimate government accounts for over 20 frequently used social media tools including Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube. The other thing that’s kind of cool about it is that it was built with open source code and has a public API so that it opens up an entire world of potential innovation.


So we’re finding that government developers in the public can use it to access and search social media content from all agencies with convenient widgets and data mash-ups, and private sector developers are already talking with us about potential uses that they see. So that’s really a great example of how we’re helping agencies stay ahead of the curve and stand at the forefront of using social media to improve citizen services and achieve cost savings.


Ken Beecher: Kathy, you mentioned earlier in the opening segment that for more than 40 years GSA has provided consumer information services to the public. In fact, you provided some really neat and dynamic examples at the World Bank and Would you tell us more about your work with federal agencies to ensure that government information is made easily available and fully accessible to the public?

Kathy Conrad: Yeah, the Federal Citizen Information Center works with other federal agencies to publish and distribute millions of publications each year to give the public valuable information on consumer problems and government services, thing like home mortgages, health, consumer finance, consumer protection from fraud and scams, and government benefits.


Just to give you a sense of how much demand there is for these publications, I found this just astonishing when I first got to GSA because the first year it happened right after I got there. This year over 1.6 million publications were ordered in just 24 hours following a column in Dear Abby promoting our women’s health publications, so that clearly shows a lot of demand.  It also shows you that Dear Abby still has it.


Last year we distributed a total of over 25 million publications and close to 10 million copies of our catalogue. These are agency publications, not GSA so we’re providing a real service in bringing this information to the public. But we also recognize that to be more sustainable and to reduce cost, we began digitizing print publications and offering them in a variety of e-publication formats so that they can be easily downloaded onto tablets, smart phones, e-readers and other mobile devices.


We also entered into a partnership with Google Books and began electronically distributing over 100 government consumer publications for free. So we have a new website called that has 600 government consumer publications from agencies across government that can be viewed or downloaded in a variety of formats. For those who really are still holding onto their print, they can order copies from our Pueblo Colorado distribution center.


Ken Beecher: As a follow-up, how does the USA Search toll factor into your efforts to transform the public search experience while also saving money for federal agencies?

Kathy Conrad: Well we’re enormously proud of USA Search. It has really transformed the public search experience and saved the government, we calculate over 20 million dollars each year from agencies using USA Search which is an open source search solution rather than investing in duplicative costly services. It’s a commercial grade search engine that quickly delivers very rapid totally relevant government centric information without the ads that are found in commercial search engines. It’s been absolutely optimized for use by government information and provides results generally within about 400 milliseconds.


Right now there are over a thousand websites across government using USA Search including major agencies such as DHS and DOD and of course it powers all of our websites including, and


Ken Beecher: What other ways does your office seek to enhance the public’s experience and provide it new ways to find information where, when and how the public wants it?

Kathy Conrad: So the National Contact Center is a good example of other ways in which we enhance public’s experience. It provides direct telephone, email and web chat services to the public at 1-800-FED-INFO as well as contact center and print distribution services for many other customer agencies. We answer more than a million phone, email and chat inquires each year on all federal government topics so similarly central resource for anything you’d want to know or find out about the government and also takes orders for the consumer publications I mentioned earlier.


To provide consistent and accurate information to the public, the National Contact Center maintains a comprehensive knowledge base of more than 2600 answers to frequently asked questions. Those answers which are used by our contact center agents are also available to the public on Another role for the contact center, that most people may be unaware of but is really vital, is that we partner with agencies during emergencies. So within minutes of earthquake, terrorist attack, hurricane, all the things we hope never will happen, the National Contact Center will ramp up and provide 24/7 service to the public so that they can seek help or provide information to our government partners.


Another good example that may be less well known is our First Friday’s program that I mentioned at the start of the info which is a free, very practical, usability testing program that identifies key user experience issues with government websites. It’s very, very practical. Its purpose is to identify problems and recommend solutions that can be implemented by the agencies own team within 30 days. So we are regularly testing websites across government and providing advice and assistance to help optimize those for best customer experience.


Michael Keegan: So Kathy with the widespread use of mobile technology and devices, it illustrates a changing landscape. To that end, what is your office doing to assist federal agencies to develop a citizen centered path to mobile government?

Kathy Conrad: Well the focus is really on making data and content available to citizens wherever they are, whenever they want it, using whatever device they choose. A good example of some of the neat stuff that we’re doing is earlier this week we held a mobile wikithon with USDA. You might say what on earth is a wikithon? Well it’s kind of like hackathon but instead of developing software, code participants contributes content to document all the great ideas and practices in a wiki that can then be shared across government.


Agencies who have been mobile innovators can share how they’ve solved particular problems and the lessons they’ve learned. It’s a pretty fast, fun way to quickly capture valuable, useful information in a format that’s easily shared and consumed. It addresses both immediate needs and we’re also anticipating emergent needs in, as you say, this really quickly changing space. People have problems they’re trying to solve and others have solutions they want to share so, in this time of rapid technology change, needs are evolving quickly and so are we.


Ken Beecher: Kathy, I know you and your office are highly enthusiastic about social media, innovation through apps and mobility but I also know you have a passion for collaboration. Would you elaborate on your efforts to facilitate the adoption of collaborative technologies to not only enhance citizen engagement but also increase operational efficiency and deliver quality services government wide?

Kathy Conrad: Yeah. Again, this is an area where I could really talk about anything in our office because just about everything we do achieves those objectives or at least we certainly strive to but let me focus on two programs, and The Digital Service Innovation Center that was stood up under the digital strategy. is the authoritative source for federal requirements and best practices for managing government customer service channels which includes websites, social media, contact centers and mobile. It provides training, guidance, best practices and shared tools to thousands of federal, state and local government professionals to enhance customer experience with government. The content is organized into topical channels such as web content, social media and technology. We recently added a contact center channel with best practices to help agency set up and manage a highly effective contact center.


About 45 agencies regularly use and we find that the collaboration that occurs is not only using the information in but the content that we help call from around government really helps share practices in ways that are extremely efficient and very, very effective.


The Digital Services Innovation Center is, as I mentioned, stood up just this summer in response to the digital strategy that was released in May. It’s not some big building filled with thousands and thousands of people but rather it’s an agile, virtual center that helps identify opportunities for sharing existing solutions at agency and serves as a catalyst for leveraging successful models, proven practices and solutions, and is also building some new solutions for government wide use. It will alleviate the burden on individual agencies to come up with these things themselves.


The focus is on development of better digital services, again as with, improvement of customer experience and strengthening of governance. So what are some of the things that we’re doing? Well we have just completed facilitating a whole series of governance sprints to help agencies develop practical, effective approaches to digital services governance. We’ve also developed a digital services performance metrics and customer satisfaction toolkit that’s available on to help agencies develop appropriate, effective measures including baseline customer satisfaction metrics.


We’ve now turned our attention to three primary actions. One is we’re identifying shared and open content management systems and we’ll be supporting implementation through training and again best practices on  This will offer agencies an alternative to building their own platforms and enable code sharing and modular development. That we’ll be doing through about November.


We’re also helping agencies develop web based APIs to unlock valuable data. We’re holding a series of APIs for dummies webinars to help agencies move forward and are working closely with a number of agencies to develop the open data guidance that will be issued in November under the digital strategy.


Finally, we’ll be turning our attention to launch a shared mobile app development program in conjunction with the CIO council that will help agencies develop secure device agnostic mobile apps. We’ll provide an environment to help streamline at delivery foster code sharing, and we’ll be working on that over the next nine months so lots going on now and lots coming.


Michael Keegan: So Kathy, I’d like to explore what you folks are doing using data analytics to enhance the way you make decisions. Would you elaborate on how your office is using analytics to not only improve services and quality but possibly identify new solutions and maybe new services?

Kathy Conrad: That’s a great question. Analytics are very well established in our office. They touch all of our programs and more than the 40 websites that we manage. One thing that’s interesting is that we also provide key web performance metrics and guidance to the federal agencies whose websites we support. So with Business USA, the agencies who we’re collaborating with and providing content, we’re feeding them analytics on the site so that we can work together toward really improving these sites with fact based data not just good hunches.


So to make sure that our analytical data is accurate, relevant and actionable, we operate within a framework that consists of common standardized tools, web analytic tools, customer satisfaction tools, data collection methods like page tagging and central reporting across our websites and other digital services.


We track all of our web campaigns, pages and topic popularity as well as search engine optimization and marketing efforts across multiple digital channels on a daily basis. We make decisions on content and direction based on what the data tells us so we’re very, very data driven. We’re using third-party tools to collect and report web performance data and looking at social media analytics and of course also look at industry research. So we have a monthly performance analytic dashboard that drives all of our decisions and really provides visibility on what our customer wants and how our websites are performing.


The other thing we’ve done that’s kind of neat is that we’ve put together an analytics wiki so that we have a one-stop shop for all of our office where we publish and store all of the monthly dashboards reports on touch-points or citizen interactions and other analytical and industry reports that are relevant to what we’re doing. We’re also in the process now of building a dashboard that we’ll use for all of our e-gov projects so that again we can have both an executive view and a project view of key indicators like cost schedule and performance, and we can not only share that internally but can also share it with our external partners.


Michael Keegan: What does the future hold for GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies? We will ask Kathy Conrad when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Ken Beecher: Kathy in an era of fiscal constraint it’s critical that agency leaders act with strategic intent and keep their workforce motivated to meet their mission. Reflecting on your leadership, would you tell us how you continue to keep your employees focused and motivated in face of being under the microscope recently and painful fiscal challenges and changes?

Kathy Conrad: So the most important thing is to really focus on mission and meeting customer needs. We have a really passionate team that is absolutely committed to our mission. They see the value of their work every day helping citizens get the information they need and providing services to agencies that help them deliver their mission more effectively and more efficiently. So we never lose sight of the mission and I mean it sounds kind of corny but it makes everybody feel good about what they’re doing. People love to come to work every day because they feel like they’re doing something worthwhile.


So even before the current top-to-bottom review that Dan initiated to really help us as an agency capture the tangible value that we’re offering to our customers, we went through a process about a year ago where we really tried to harness and capture the return on investment, the value that we’re providing to our customers. As I said at the beginning, we found that we’re achieving very significant cost savings for such a small little office and again that was very motivating because not only did people recognize that the work that they’re doing helps people, but it is in fact adding efficiency to a government at a time where cost savings really matter.


We also work very closely together to define priorities and make tough decisions that provide the highest value to our customers. I think having that sense of we’re all in this together, there’s a lot of things we could be doing but let’s decide as a team where do we have the highest value. That helps people feel good about the tradeoffs that necessarily need to be made.


The other thing that we’re finding is that in these fiscally constrained times, agencies are really hungry for shared solutions that work. It’s not enough to just offer cost savings. I mean cost savings are great but if you’re offering kind of bargain basement services, agencies may not want them. So we’re finding that by really focusing on customer experience and making sure that we’re not only offering solutions that save agencies money but that actually get the job done and done well, there’s increased demand for what we’re doing.


So if you combine a fabulous mission with lots of customer demand, it helps keep people motivated even when times are a bit tough.


Michael Keegan: Kathy, you’ve done a wonderful job of explaining all the work you’re doing, how expansive your portfolio is but you can’t do it all by yourself so I want to understand how you’re leveraging partnerships to improve operations and outcomes. More particularly, can collaboration and partnerships drive innovation?

Kathy Conrad: Boy, absolutely. You are so right. Innovative ideas and programs cannot come to life in a vacuum. Not a chance, so partnership and teamwork are at the core of all of our operations. We depend on broad input from the stakeholders we support through established channels like the CIO council, the web manager’s council, the government contact center council, the communities that we’ve helped establish as well as through citizen engagement.


One of the advantages of using social media and of open government in general is that there are tools that we use to get direct feedback from our customers and so we consider ourselves working in partnership not just with the agencies but also with citizens so that we can understand what really is working, what do they really need and how do we do our jobs better.


Ken Beecher: Your office has been consistently recognized as a world leader in public engagement and innovation. Now is your chance to gloat a little bit Kathy. Would you tell us more about the various awards and recognitions?

Kathy Conrad: Well, we do have a pretty full awards case. In fact, we’ve been laughing saying “Gosh what are we going to do with all of these when we move to the new building and there’s so much less space”? So we have had a lot of honors and awards and we’re really proud of that. I think the breadth of awards that we’ve received really show that it’s not all about any one person. This is a team effort.


We have talented people all across our organization and I find it particularly gratifying that many of our awards recognize not only some of our super accomplished individuals but also teams who have been successful.


Okay, we were really proud last year that CIO Magazine honored with their 2011 CIO award. Dave McClure who heads our office was honored this year with an Eagle Award. We also had I think over 10 Fed 100 awards so again just recognition all across the office. Our USA Search program won the information week 2011 government innovator of the year award which was really cool.


We had 10 federal computer week Fed 100 award winners, two rising star award winners and then of course Dave McClure, the head of our office was very appropriately honored with the government Eagle Award this year. That was really, really fabulous. I could go on and on but that’s a good example of the many awards that recognize the wealth of talent across our organization.


Ken Beecher: So what’s next for government specifically, what emergent technologies do you think hold the most promise for improving government operations and citizen engagement? 

Kathy Conrad: So I think if you look at the digital strategy, you’ll really see where government is headed. The key to really making government data and information open, accessible, citizen centric and secure is continuing to rely on web API web services so that agencies across the government are unleashing the really wonderful content and data that they have in ways that it can be easily consumed by the public. It’s not just data. It’s content as well.


I think sometimes people think that this whole movement is just about data but there’s just as much value in the immense content that is just a treasure trove of information at federal agencies. When you think about the power of making all of that available to people anywhere, anytime, on any platform and in a secure and reliable way, it’s really just exciting to think about what can be done.


Michael Keegan: I’d like to stay on that idea of the future a little bit and talk about some of the major challenges and opportunities you think your organization will encounter in the future. More particularly, how do you envision your office evolving to meet those challenges and seize those opportunities?

Kathy Conrad: Obviously there will continue to be resource constraints. I don’t think anybody is expecting there to be some big sugar daddy dumping a load of resources into the government and so it’s important that we constantly focus on what really matters most. So I think the use of analytics will grow. When you look at the whole big data movement, much of that is about really harvesting value out of the data that we can use to help make management decisions, help make budget decisions, and help determine how to prioritize in a resource constrained environment.


As I said, it’s really not about technology. It’s about mission enablement and so as we think about how new technologies like mobile and cloud computing can drive mission enablement in new and different ways, we’re excited about things that can be done. The My Gov Project is a great example of thinking about how you can take new technologies, web services, and mobile technologies and really help citizens engage with government in a new and really meaningful way that is based on whatever services they need whenever they need them.


Michael Keegan: So Kathy, what does public service mean to you and more particularly, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about a career in public service?

Kathy Conrad: That’s a great question. First of all, I think any young person absolutely ought to be considering public service careers. There is just nothing more rewarding. Having been in public service early in my career and then out in the private sector and then come back, I can just tell you especially when I look at some of the young people in our office, they are just so inspired by what they do every day. I have two young women daughters who I always remind you should do what you love.


If you do what you love, you’ll be good at it and so I would encourage people to pursue their passion. Whether that’s a set of issues that they care deeply about like healthcare or education, or whether it’s kind of a horizontal process area like acquisition or security or citizen services, you can think about going into public service in either way, becoming kind of an expert in a domain area or gaining experience in a sort of business service area that cuts across government.


The other thing that I find really remarkable is how much opportunity there is in government to gain diverse experience. So I would encourage people to enter public service and then take full advantage of the opportunities to gain experience in different environments through rotations, details and the many other programs that the government offers that allows people to move around and benefit from learning from different organization, from different people, and from being in different environments.


So I would say never lose sight of the mission because that’s really what matters and really do what you love.


Michael Keegan: That’s wonderful advice. Kathy, I want to thank you for joining us today. This has been a great conversation, a very insightful conversation but more importantly, Ken and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the country.

Kathy Conrad: Well thank you. I am really honored and proud to serve the country. I’m delighted to have had this opportunity. Again I would encourage people to take a look at some of the programs we have and our websites like,, and see how we’re helping serve both the public and our agencies. Thanks again. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you.


Michael Keegan: Great to have you. This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Kathy Conrad, Principle Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies within the U.S. General Services Administration. My cohost from IBM has been Ken Beecher.

Be sure to join us next week for another informative, insightful and in-depth conversation on improving government effectiveness. For The Business of Government Hour, I’m Michael Keegan. Thanks for joining us.

Announcer: 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






Kathy P. Conrad

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 - 17:15
Kathy Conrad is a proven leader, problem-solver and strategic advisor with nearly thirty years of experience in government technology programs and policies.  She joined the GSA Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT) as Principal Deputy Associate Administrator in May 2011.  Ms. Conrad is the primary advisor to the OCSIT Associate Administrator on citizen services/engagement and innovative technology programs and strategic direction.

Kshemendra Paul

Thursday, September 6th, 2012 - 15:17
As the Program Manager, he has government-wide authority to plan, oversee the build-out, and manage use of the ISE
Radio show date: 
Mon, 09/24/2012
Intro text: 
As the Program Manager, he has government-wide authority to plan, oversee the build-out, and manage use of the ISE
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast on September 24, 2012

Arlington, VA

Michael Keegan: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Michael Keegan, your host, and Managing Editor of the Business of Government magazine.

It is critical to the safety and security of this country that we improve the sharing of terrorism, homeland security, and weapons of mass destruction-related information across federal, state, local, private sector, and international partners. When examining the full scope of information sharing and protection, there are many widespread and complex challenges that must be addressed and solved by multiple agencies and organizations together.

The risk of a future WikiLeaks incident can be reduced, but fixing these government-wide challenges is complex, difficult, and requires a staying commitment. To do this right involves cultivating the horizontal, cross-cutting, data-centric information sharing and protection capability.

What is the Information Sharing Environment? How is information sharing maturing across the ISE? What are the biggest challenges facing the ISE? And to what extent does the pursuit of standards limit or defeat innovation? We'll explore these questions and so much more with our very special guest, Kshmendra Paul, Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment.

Kshmendra, welcome to the show. It's great to have you.

Kshmendra Paul: Well, thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Michael Keegan: Also joining our conversation from IBM is George Cruser.

George, welcome.

George Cruser: Thank you.

Michael Keegan: Kshmendra, before we delve into specific initiatives, I think it would be helpful to provide some context. So what exactly is the Information Sharing Environment or ISE? And perhaps, you could offer some practical ways of thinking about this concept.

Kshmendra Paul: That's a great question. I get asked that a lot. The ISE is a complicated topic. The way I think about it is that the ISE is a collection of normalized mission and technical capabilities distributed and decentralized across all of our mission partners, federal, state, local, tribal, and private sector entities.

The ISE is delivered by interconnecting existing networks, systems, and databases working with industry and standards bodies to adopt required standards and other frameworks. The ISE harmonizes and standardizes information processes based on shared mission equities. And finally, the ISE strengthen information safeguardings, including protecting privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights of the American people.

A practical way of thinking about the ISE is to think of it as an information analogue to the interstate highway system. The same way the interstate highway system knit together this country post-World War II, the ISE is intended to be the information fabric enabling whole of government responses to national security and public safety challenges that face our nation.

Michael Keegan: Would you give us an overview of the history and evolving mission of the Office of the Program Manager for Information Sharing Environment? What was the genesis for creating this government-wide entity, and how is its mandate evolved to-date?

Kshmendra Paul: Absolutely. My office is a core part of the government's response post-9/11. It was called for directly by the 9/11 Commission. A series of seminal reports issued by the Markle Foundation in the last decade really sketched out in great detail the vision for the Information Sharing Environment. The statutory and policy core for the office come from three pillars: the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Executive Order 13388, further strengthening terrorism-related information sharing, and the 2007 National Strategy for Information Sharing.

From our inception, our office has had a particular focus in two areas. First, the domestic information sharing architecture, really the nexus between public safety and national security, what some in the law enforcement community talk about in terms of the nexus between homeland security and hometown security. Second, our office has had a focus on identifying, integrating, and disseminating best practices around responsible information sharing, management and integration, really a direct line from the government reform efforts around information resources management that were anticipated with legislation like Clinger-Cohen, the E-Gov Act of 2002, FISMA, the Privacy Act and other related t legislation.

Michael Keegan: With such a critical cross-agency government-wide mission, I'd like to get a sense of the scale of operation you support. Would you describe how the PM-ISE is organized, the size of its budget, the number of full-time employees, and what are the core communities your efforts work across and why?

Kshmendra Paul: My office has just under thirty government employees, with about half of are agency assignees working on specific projects on behalf of those agencies or detailees. We have a number of contractors augmenting our government team with specific skills. We're organized into four divisions plus two supporting teams. The four divisions are Mission Programs, that's where we do our work with state and local law enforcement and other mission programs across the government; Standards and Architecture, which is a primary touch point with industry; Assured Interoperability, which is more like a technical CIO program coordination function; and Management and Oversight, and that's where we do performance budget integration, strategy policy, and governance work.

The two supporting teams which work across all four divisions are stakeholder engagement and staff operations. The budget is between 20 to 25 million a year. Under a third goes to pay for government employees and administrative sort of expenses. Over a third goes to support our contractors, and contract work forces, and about a third goes to support what we call our implementation fund. A unique capability of our office is our ability to seed fund. We usually coinvest with agency mission partners to accelerate development of the ISE.

A great example of that is the work we did to nurture the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative. Over the last number of years we've invested about $50 million in the NSI with agency partners like FBI, DOJ, DHS. That's been a flagship of our office and a big success. Just under 300,000 front-line officers are now trained in the 16 behaviors that are reasonably indicative of terrorism-related activity, preoperational criminal planning. We have privacy policies in all of these states that are as comprehensive as the Presidential ISE Privacy Guidelines. Twenty thousand suspicious activity reports have been vetted to the functional standard we publish and maintain. And the FBI has opened up about 1,000 cases around SAR-like activity or SARs coming out of the NSI or their eGuardian application which is part of the nation-wide suspicious activity reporting initiative.

So that's an example of how we use our implementation fund to help accelerate the implementation of the ISE.

George Cruser: Kshmendra, I'd like to delve into your specific role as the program manager for the Information Sharing Environment so, you know, if you could tell our listeners a little bit about your specific responsibilities, and then, you know, given that this doesn't really have an operational mandate, how you use your soft power in order to get things done.

Kshmendra Paul: That's a really good question because we are not in the chain of command. My specific responsibilities as program manager are to plan for or oversee the agency-based build out and manage the Information Sharing Environment.

The President, via the Director of National Intelligence, has also delegated his responsibilities as it relates to the Information Sharing Environment, in particular, implementing the five guidelines. I mentioned privacy before. The other guidelines are things like common standards, a common framework for sharing between federal, state, local, tribal, and private sector, controlled unclassified information which has now moved to NARA, and international information sharing. We do that across the five communities: law enforcement, homeland security, intelligence, defense, foreign affairs.

Additionally, the White House sets annual priorities through programmatic guidance issued jointly between the National Security Staff and OMB to the agencies. Now, you know, how do we actually operate? What does soft power like for us? Really, I put it into three buckets. We have a top-down. We have a bottom-up, and we have an outside-in. And I talk about these at length in the annual report to Congress we just delivered. You can find that on our website,

Let me talk about each of those buckets where our soft power resides. First, we have the top-down. I co chair a White House policy committee around information sharing and access. We work closely with OMB on implementation guidance to the agencies, budget performance integration, and performance metrics. We have the implementation fund I talked about earlier. And the softest tool we have but probably the most powerful is our ability to identify best practices. Over time, that really does work. What we think and what we've heard from others is probably the leading information integration framework in the public sector around responsible information sharing. So, you know, we've got that top-down, both legal and moral authority leadership capability so that's kind of the first pillar.

The second pillar is the bottom-up. Since inception, we’ve been very strongly focused in the domestic architecture, information sharing, intelligence, domestically. Our strongest advocates are the state and local agencies, the law enforcement community, that have seen themselves become fully integrated partners into the national information sharing architecture, the national network of fusion centers, suspicious activity reporting are two sort of flagships there. So, you know, that bottom-up, and in particular, these stakeholders and more broadly, other stakeholders, view us as an honest broker. You know, we're able to bring in their requirements, listen to them, and give them a way to plug into national policy conversations around responsible information sharing. So we've got the top-down. We've got the bottom-up. But even that's not enough.

We have a third area where I refer to as outside-in. That's really our work with industry. This is around maturing our standards, working with industry and standards organizations around our standards, interoperability standards framework, looking at opportunities to better leverage procurement policy, to use standards so that government can buy interoperable solutions that can together plug in and create the capabilities required to be delivering the Information Sharing Environment.

You know, on this last one, there are three great examples. One is the Federal CIO Council's work on the Federal Identity, Credential, and Access Management roadmap. We're fully aligned with that, and that's the basis of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. We're seed funding a project jointly with the GSA called the Back-End Attribute Exchange that will support attribute-based access control to data across mission partners, federal, state, local. We're quite excited about that working with Kathleen Turco and her group over there. That's the place where the FICAM work anchors underneath the CIO Council.

Second is the National Information Exchange Model. It's at the heart of our standards framework, and we've done a lot of interesting work there in partnership with the broader NIEM community, and in particular recently something called the UML Profile working with the Object Management Group, an international standards organization. So in a nutshell, what this means is that all this NIEM work we've been doing here in the federal government now is aligned with mainstream, leading-edge, best practices around information management, information integration.

You, know, third, we've been working with the American Council on Technology Industry Advisory Committee with our partners at GSA to get recommendations about how to better leverage standards in the government's procurement process. The federal acquisition regulations are anchored over at GSA in Kathleen's area, and she and I have been working to get these recommendations. We're quite excited by the work that's been happening and expect it to come to closure very soon and be able to, you know, act on those recommendations.

So, you know, in a nutshell, you're right. We're not in the chain of command. It's soft power, but we have this innovative approach that combines traditional top-down with bottom-up and outside-in, and we're getting momentum in all those dimensions, and I think we've been able to position the office as a platform for agencies to derive informational transformation.

George Cruser: So there's certainly a lot responsibilities there kind of sticking with the power of three, the three buckets you talked about. I'm interested in what the three biggest challenges you face are.

Kshmendra Paul: Only three?

George Cruser: Just three for today.

Kshmendra Paul: Yeah. Well, there are actually four I'd like to highlight. Hopefully, you'll let me sneak in a little bit of a scope on this one, a little bit of growth here. You know, the number one issue 11 years post-9/11, is retaining the urgency and prioritization of accelerating responsible information sharing. That's the, you know, kind of our number one challenge. We've had a lot a progress. We've made progress. Last year, the 10-year anniversary, commentators inside and outside the government all recognized the progress we've made on information sharing post-9/11, but there's more work to do, and it requires focus and prioritization.

The number two challenge is new, and it's just as big. It's the structural financial challenge faced by agencies in the public sector. It's bad at the federal level. It's much worse at the state and local level.

Number three is the evolving increasingly integrated threats that span national security and public safety missions. Terrorism is a great example, but things like cyber human trafficking, transnational organized crime, and prescription drug diversion, are a whole variety of missions and threats that are increasingly integrated and intertwined and evolving.

And four is the tsunami of information and the imperative to correlate disparate bits of information across the distributed ISE. There's lots of data, and I think this is something I'd like to talk about a little more.

Now, what are we doing about these things? The first two, retaining the urgency and the structural financial challenges, we think they go together. Part of our challenge in the ISE is to continue to make sure we're relevant to the top priorities of our stakeholders, Congress and executives, and the agencies and so forth. We think that there's an efficiencies imperative that actually gets realized by our work on responsible information sharing. We think the tools that we're talking about, the best practices approach to information sharing integration and management will reduce duplication and redundancy, allowing for increases in productivity. So we think that there are, you know, opportunities there.

You know, in terms of the third thing I mentioned, the evolving threats, integrated threats; we're seeing that our mission partners increasingly want to leverage the assets we put in place as a community, the national network of fusion centers, for example, to address additional threat areas. Now, that's always been the vision. The state and locals talk about it, and all crimes focus with the fusion centers. All the fusion centers are owned by state and local law enforcement, two-thirds by state police colonels, all the rest are major urban area fusion centers aligned with regional law enforcement and public safety players. They have a mission that spans well beyond terrorism. For them, they look at terrorism as a narrow slice of their business, critically important, but they also want to deal with, you know, crime guns, gangs, drugs, and those sorts of things so they are looking at that and we see it as our role to help facilitate that conversation.

Finally, in terms of the volumes of data, we see our best practices approach to responsible information sharing is a key contribution. An example here is we're working with several agencies, DHS, NCTC, and others, to improve how terrorism-related data sets move across the government. So as we're able to implement enterprise data management ideas, we can develop repeatable processes and leverage shared services. You know, that'll result in efficiencies over time. Then improve data quality which will improve the mission performance.

George Cruser: You're a trained engineer. Can you give our listeners a sense of where your career started and what you did it leading up to the job you have today?

Kshmendra Paul: Yes. I am an engineer and proud of it. I'm also an entrepreneur. I went to the University of Maryland at College Park for my graduate and undergraduate electrical engineering degrees. I spent the bulk of my career in the San Francisco Bay Area working in a variety of information technology companies and new ventures. Some I cofounded; some I raised venture capital. One venture we sold to America Online.

My wife and I, we moved back to Washington to raise our children close to family. D.C. is a company town, and I found myself being recruited to join the Department of Justice back in September 2005. I never saw myself working in the government, but I remember how I felt at 9/11. I wanted to be a part of the solution, and I thought my skills could make a difference. My job at DOJ was to develop the enterprise architecture for the Department. Now, it doesn't quite work to knock on the front door of the Hoover and say, I'm from corporate. I'm here to help. That doesn't really play well. The way I made myself relevant to the Department of Justice was by going outside and partnering with state and local law enforcement around the law enforcement counterterrorism information sharing mission and then bringing that back into the Department.

The way we did that was by engaging in the advisory committee, the Attorney General's Advisory Committee on information sharing issues, global justice, the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council, and, you know, taking a leadership role in developing and delivering the National Information Exchange Model. So I was doing that under Van Hitch's leadership at DOJ and his counterpart at DHS.

Based on that success, in 2007, I got a call from Karen Evans who was then the federal CIO, and she pulled me up to OMB to be the federal chief architect. I was at OMB for four budgets, three years, two administrations, and had a successful run there. My success was based on building relationships and partnerships across the federal IT community and the White House and industry and trying to tackle the same sort of cross-cutting information integration issues, shared services, and the like. Information sharing was part of my portfolio at OMB, and at this administration, I got pulled into the information sharing issues. I worked with the Information Sharing Environment office going back to when I was at DOJ and was designated by President Obama in the late spring of 2010 to be the current program manager.

So, you know, it's interesting. I'm a classically trained engineer and then evolved into being an entrepreneur. The class I use the most these days is high school civics, trying to think about how you make whole government solutions work across our federated democracy and open society. Its fascinating work and I get to bring in a lot. I'll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell anybody. Most days I pinch myself because I can’t believe that I get to do what I do. It's really great.

Michael Keegan: That's a great segue to understanding -- given your unique role of your office and also your background, what are the characteristics of an effective leader?

Kshmendra Paul: My answer is colored by my training as an engineer and entrepreneur. Lots of different management styles, but I definitely have a point of view. So I break that into two parts: thought leadership and leading transformation. I believe that thought leaders must start with partnerships and listening to practitioners at all levels and be able to integrate and put forward informed and credible visions rooted in informed and organized bodies of knowledge.

Clearly, thought leaders have to have a point of view. That's the definition of a thought leader. But a thought leader without being rooted and anchored in existing knowledge and relationships and partnerships is, you know, not really useful.

Now, for transformation leaders, it's absolutely essential to be credible from an operation or execution perspective. You have to have a good track record. That's only a starting point. You must extend into visible listening skills, empathy for the mission, demonstrating integrity and how you make decisions, clearly and predictably communicating, and transparent operation. So all of those things have to come together to create the confidence and transformation.

Now, I separated the thought leadership from the transformation because they are distinct aspects of my job. What we're doing at the PM-ISE and what we're doing with the ISE more broadly is new. It's not like there's existing models for doing this sort of thing. As a matter of fact, if there were, the agencies could just do it. You wouldn't need to have an office like mine.

But in addition to thought leadership laying out the vision in a credible and detailed way, you need to execute also. So both of those things must come together. Several folks have influenced my leadership style. You know, they're too many to enumerate them all, but I do want to highlight a few that are familiar to your listeners. I mentioned Karen Evans before. Karen always impressed me with her willingness to tackle hard deeply ingrained challenges and also her willingness and ability to empower and support leaders across the government.

Van Hitch was a visionary with his support for NIEM and his longstanding role as a CIO, and I think he retired as the dean, the longest serving CIO in the federal IT community. Donna Roy at DHS is one of the smartest enterprise data management professionals that I know, and I love the interaction we have in terms of driving the thought leadership for what we both do. Tom O'Reilly, who spearheaded the development of a nationwide suspicious activity reporting initiative, I'm honored to call him a friend and a mentor. And there are many others, too many to enumerate, but those are just a few of the folks.

There are two other folks I'd like to highlight, Director Clapper, Director of National Intelligence Clapper and Principal Deputy Director Stephanie O'Sullivan. They are both excellent leaders and managers and have created an inclusive, collaborative, thoughtful, and performance-focused environment in the office of the Director of National Intelligence. And so in my work, managing the office, I model on both of those individuals.

Michael Keegan: What is the national strategy for the Information Sharing Environment? We will ask Kshmendra Paul, Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is Kshmendra Paul, Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment. Also joining our conversation from IBM is George Cruser.

Kshmendra, you described the Information Sharing Environment, ISE, and the role your office plays in making your reality. But now, I'd like to talk about the strategic vision that frames it. Would you tell us more about your efforts to recraft the national strategy for the Information Sharing Environment that takes a whole-of-government approach? How does it guide the implementation of responsible information sharing and practices across the government?

Kshmendra Paul: Coming into the role, the White House asked us to take a look at refreshing the 2007 national strategy for information sharing. Now, we did a tremendous amount with our mission partners and with the White House, a tremendous amount of outreach and synthesis, to try to look at that question. And while we were doing this, the WikiLeaks breach occurred, and that's a pretty major event, and there's been a real focus on remediating the safeguarding challenges and the real realization by all stakeholders that sharing and safeguarding are two sides of the same coin and we need to share responsibly. Responsible information sharing is a one-way street and we're going down that street.

So where we are right now in the process of refreshing the strategy is the White House continues to develop the new national strategy for information sharing and safeguarding explicitly adding safeguarding. Now, we see great potential for the new national strategy to confirm the importance of the plans we have in place, including the goals of the office, the way forward that are described here in more detail in our annual report, and in the annual planning execution we do with the interagency and our nonfederal partners.

We think the strategy also has further potential to assess with leveraging our tools, the tools we created in the office, our office as a platform more broadly. Now, the new strategy doesn't replace the 2007 strategy. We think the 2007 strategy lays a solid foundation in particular, you know, with our domestic-focused activities. The new strategy is evolving and is looking to build on that solid foundation and lifts up to a stronger and broader focus on responsible information sharing and safeguarding.

We fully support the National Security Staff who are in the late stages of shepherding the national strategy through its development and release.

George Cruser: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the ISE and the various agencies' communities that operate in it and own that environment? What are some of the core capabilities and tools you use to assist in overcoming these challenges and spreading the adoption, as you mentioned earlier, of best practices?

Kshmendra Paul: You're asking about the view from the agencies. What I hear from my mission partners, federal, state, local, tribal, is that it really boils down to two themes. First, they're all under varying degrees of financial pressure. It's either bad or really bad, and the degree to which working with a government-wide initiative such as the ISE is viewed as a tax, versus an enabler. Folks are wary.

Second, as a government, we're still fragmented with our programmatic management processes and how we make decisions across agency and program boundaries. Now, these two themes are not new. You know, we're loud and clear when I was at DOJ. At OMB, we lived in this, you know, the Office of Government and IT. So they're broader than just the ISE, but the ISE is a government-wide initiative. They come into play. You know, as we think about these themes, it has contributed to our view of the tools that we've developed in the top-down, bottom-up, outside-in approach that we're trying to position by bringing in state and local agencies to the table in a coherent and clear way. The office is able to accelerate and lower risk on core federal initiatives that are aimed into that space. By working with industry and standards organizations, we enable interoperability of independently procured systems, potentially lowering the risk, cost, and increasing performance.

Two specific examples I'd like to highlight here are implementation fund and our dispute resolution capability. You know, we make strategic seed investments with our mission partners, and what we found is that the kinds of projects we funded are projects that are high value to the agencies that lead to the development of core capabilities of the ISE but have an inherent risk profile around the interagency and because of that, wouldn't normally be pursued by a specific agency, but that's our sweet spot. We're able to factor those risks, and, actually, we've had a pretty high success rate. I've talked about suspicious activity reporting. Another example is we did a project with the Domestic Nuclear Detection office on integrating real-time rad-nuke sensor data across federal, state, local providers. They did the work. They did a great job. They did a demonstration where they were able to integrate real-time rad-nuke data from necklaces that firefighters wear to CBPs big scanners and portals. And they were able to share this information between federal agencies, a couple of fusion centers, and twelve fire departments. And everybody could use their own viewers to have a real-time operating picture of the sensor information. So that's kind of one tool that we use here in our implementation fund.

We're also able to facilitate the resolution of disputes. We're not in the chain of command, and we can't impose any solutions, but we're an honest broker, and we're recognized as such, and we bring the variety of tools so that we can help identify creative solutions that have made a lot of progress in previously intractable or difficult challenges.

Best practices is a key idea. You know, we're staying invested in a tool we call Building Blocks of the ISE. You can find it, again, on our website, Building Blocks is a knowledge management tool. What we've done here is taken the work that we've done over the last number of years, the work in the interagency partners, federal, state, local, and packaged it in different functional areas, right, answering questions. It almost becomes a how to for folks that want to do responsible information sharing, want to leverage the best practices that we've packaged but aren't students of the ISE, and don't live in the work that we do every day. So we've got a lot of good feedback on that, and we see it as a first step towards, again, packaging our work and making it more accessible to folks to be able to leverage at arm's length.

Michael Keegan: So they're a tremendous number of concepts that sort of stream around the ISE. I want to actually get into one in particular, and that's interoperability. Could you tell us what actually it means? What does interoperability mean as respects networks and data, and why is it so important to the success of ISE?

Kshmendra Paul: Yeah. It's at the heart of what we do. Key to our approach to interoperability is to understand that we're focused mostly at the policy and business process level while we're looking at the complete stack. So where we're adding the most value is at the policy level, the business process level, and data level, and then, we're leveraging and profiling, frankly, industry standard approaches at the network and lower levels.

At the business process level, for example, we focus on functional standards for information exchange based on common mission equities. We use the NIEM framework, the National Information Exchange Model, and specifically within the NIEM, we use something called Information Exchange Package Descriptions or IEPDs. While it's a long name, what it boils down to is clear, shared, and detailed use cases that precisely describe what information is shared and what context to support the mission. It does it in a formal way. You can then translate it into logical interoperability.

Now, at the network level, we align on an active support government-wide and mainstream standards. It's kind of that approach I mentioned earlier and I'll highlight here, the Federal Identity, Credential and Access Management road map, which is the basis for the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace is driving interoperability at the identity and access control level across the government.

This is important to the success of the ISE because we're focused on and work back from mission and policy requirements, whether that's privacy policy or missions like suspicious activity reporting. So by taking that focus, it's a simple idea, but the end result works. And further, since the frameworks we use are built to our functional standards and are now being adopted by industry, we have a pathway to scaling. That's the outside-in piece.

George Cruser: I'd like to delve a little bit more into the National Information Exchange Model and ask you to elaborate a little bit more on the role it plays in moving the ISE vision forward.

Kshmendra Paul: NIEM is at the heart of our interoperability framework. NIEM has experienced tremendous uptake in the public sector. Nineteen federal cabinet agencies are using it. It's being adopted in Canada, Mexico, and Europe, and more importantly, industry and independent standards organizations are seeing the value, and we're aligning with that approach so we have a pathway for greater degrees of industry engagement and involvement.

We just completed an effort to align NIEM with mainstream best practices on our information management and model of an architecture via the NIEM UML profile. Now, UML is the lingua franca for information management, information modeling. With the NIEM UML profile, we're going to be able to leverage UML tools to do NIEM-based work. Now, vendors are starting to ship implementations. It's quite exciting to see that. Some of the early implementations I've seen are being described as game changing in terms of the paradigm for developing NIEM IEPDs, information exchanges and implementing those. The skill level required is being abstracted away in the tool. It used to be that it requires somebody that had a degree of XML schema, what's called XSD expertise, which is a narrow skill set. Now, folks that have the business analyst skill set and have some awareness of XML are able to do the bulk of the work around developing NIEM exchange specifications.

Because it's UML based, too, we're expecting to see this cascade down the information life cycle so enterprise software vendors, for example, will start to develop support to take a NIEM IEPD to develop in a more streamlined manner web services that are NIEM-enabled. So, you know, that is the promise of model-driven architecture, and we're actually seeing that one vendor in particular is out in front, and we expect to see multiple implementations like that over the next 12 to 18 months.

Michael Keegan: There has been significant information sharing improvements within individual agencies. Many of these have been documented. Could you tell us more about the nationwide suspicious activity reporting initiative and the extent to which it represents a foundational success for your efforts going forward? How are you building on it, and what lessons can be learned from it?

Kshmendra Paul: You know, we found that the nationwide suspicious activity reporting initiative allowed us to develop many aspects of the ISE in a contained, albeit national scope environment. So the scope of the ISE is huge. The scope of NSI is still huge, but it's much more contained, and we're able to actually make progress on key aspects of the ISE. Take the ISE SAR functional standard which defines the 16 behaviors that are reasonably indicative of preoperational criminal planning or terrorism-related activity. This standard was developed across our stakeholder, the federal, state, local, tribal mission operators. We tested it in an evaluation environment, twelve fusion centers. We engaged with all the privacy advocacy groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, all of the different advocacy communities.

And through that process, we were able to evolve the standard, get buy-in, be able to roll it out more broadly to where now, about 300,000 front-line officers have been trained, and we're actually expanding now beyond law enforcement to the public safety community more generally. In partnership with DHS and DOJ and FBI, we use our implementation fund to seed fund the development of training with the professional societies so we're targeting now the 2.3 million private security guards, 1.3 million firefighters. Seventy-five percent of them are volunteer, over 100,000 9/11 call center operators, corrections and probations, emergency management, and folks like that. So the shorthand for that what we call home town partners, right, this idea that there's a nexus between homeland security and home town security. And, again, it's an interesting example of how our engagement model works. We do this work in partnership with the professional societies and the agencies. It works pretty well. We're paying for the development of the training material, but the delivery of the training material is all happening out, and it's distributed in a decentralized way, again, going back to those 300,000 police officers.

We're not paying their salaries. I mean, we're this leadership function. The agencies are doing key work, but the vast majority of the cost of the national network of fusion centers, the NSI, is borne by our state and local partners. But the benefit is accruing to the nation in terms of the counterterrorism mission. So it really is Whole government in action. That goes to, you know, another aspect of it. It allowed us to develop our governance structures, how we do engagement to build confidence. You know, privacy policies, that's a key area, too. This works because of the protection of privacy civil liberties and civil rights. All 50 states have privacy policies as comprehensive as the president's policy guidelines. The local control is critical and it is what allows us to have the legitimacy in the community to do this. So it's really been important.

Michael Keegan: Well, you've mentioned fusion centers several times. I'd like to delve and explore exactly what they are. What is a fusion center and how does the national network of fusion centers factor into your overall strategy?

Kshmendra Paul: Fusion centers, in this context, are the key nodes the government uses to share terrorism-related information with state and local agencies. And it's bidirectional, and it's also peer-to-peer. In this country, in our federated democracy, we have 18,000 law enforcement agencies, 90 percent of which have 50 or fewer sworn officers. The fusion centers become the key nodes, the linchpins, for how does the government actually touch all of those agencies in a controlled way that respects the sovereignty, 10 Amendments to the Constitution, separation of powers, though it's not explicitly enumerated. The federal government goes to the states and so forth so that's key. So the fusion centers are key that way. They're owned and operated by the states or major metropolitan areas. Two-thirds of them are run by the state police organizations in the different states, and the other third are regional or major urban area kind of fusion centers.

The fusion centers are defined by four critical offering capabilities. So fusion centers have the ability to receive urgent, potentially classified alerts, warnings, and notifications, conduct risk analysis based on local considerations, further disseminate required actionable information to front-line public safety partners, law enforcement, but also other public safety entities, and then gather, vet, and share information. The flagship there, of course, is suspicious activity reporting so it's the entire intelligence cycle.

So in a nutshell, fusion centers are the vehicle for integrating state, local, and tribal agencies into the Information Sharing Environment. We're currently working to identify, integrate, and disseminate existing best practices for private sector integration, leverage infusion centers. Many fusion centers have robust liaison officer programs and have connectivity to the private sector. We think we can model as best practices and extend that more broadly to better integrate the private sector.

You know, and another area where were working kind of going forward here is what I call the last mile issue. You know, we have a lot of very small departments so how do we more effectively integrate those smaller departments into the national architecture. So that's another area the national network is very focused on, too.

George Cruser: As you talked about literally having thousands of stakeholders in your work to help address critical law enforcement information sharing gaps, issues, and judges, I'd like to ask you about your efforts to reinvent the public safety business model and what implications does such an effort have?

Kshmendra Paul: Thousands, tens of thousands of stakeholders. The number gets even better, right, when you include the private sector, and clearly we work with our mission partners, right. We have to work with the federal agencies and so forth.

The public safety business model reinvention idea, so as we conducted outreach with our state and local stakeholders around the refresh of a national strategy, an overwhelming thing came back. State and local agencies are getting crushed under the weight of budget cuts. Law enforcement is no different than other aspects of state and local government. You know, faced with the need to build on the initial successes with a national network of fusion centers and initiatives like suspicious activity reporting, evolving increasingly integrated national and international threats, and these budget cuts, state and local leaders we interacted with telegraphed a willingness and a sense of urgency on taking a fresh look and looking at things holistically.

You know, there's a saying that's attributed to Ernest Rutherford that my boss, Director Clapper, uses, and I heard first from him. It goes something like, when you run out of money, you have to start thinking. So, you know, what we're hearing from our state and local partners loud and clear is that it's time to attack the fragmentation in the system in a thoughtful and creative way using information. We're fragmented geographically. I talked about the 18,000 law enforcement agencies. The number gets to be around 80,000 when you include all of the different public safety partners outside of law enforcement.

We're also fragmented programmatically. Think about this. We have fusion centers from the war on terror. We have HIDAs, High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, from the war on drugs. We have RISS centers, Regional Information Sharing System centers, regional organized crime. It came up in the '70s. We have safe street task forces, safe community task forces. I mean, the list goes on. Individually, they all make sense. Collectively, can we do better? Can we look at, you know, colocation, virtualizing back-end, shared services, cloud-like approaches, standardization, standards-based procurement? The answers are yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

But it's not just about cost savings. Let me give you an example. Case and event deconfliction. Officer safety is a critical issue. It's a priority for the Attorney General. We've had a spike in the line-of-duty-related deaths over the last couple of years. Deconfliction is a key tool in terms of avoiding blue-on-blue incidents. But it's also a resource allocation tool looking at case deconfliction. It's also an intelligence generation tool, right, if you're able to be able to connect different, disparate activities. So, you know, case and event deconfliction has got to be a part of looking at reinventing the business model and as a tool to realize efficiencies, as well as protect lives.

We have a degree of buy-in for this idea. The International Association Chiefs of Police endorsed it in their executive committee in their big annual meeting in Chicago last year. I did a webinar with Chief Walt McNeil, the president of the IACP a couple months ago. They did a blog post on my website about that. You know, it was focused on this idea. We've been working with the Attorney General's Advisory Committee on this area. I mentioned before global justice. They're made up of all of the different state and local public safety organizations, fully represented there. And they're actively working on this idea.

It's an idea whose time has come, but it's a complex idea. It involves a lot of change and transformation, and it's a kind of systematic look that is overdue, but it's a multi-year, decade-long kind of transformation.

Michael Keegan: To say that the Information Sharing Environment is complex may be the biggest understatement in this conversation, but it's comprised of a lot of organizations with diverse cultures, missions, and methodologies. I'd be interested to know what is your office doing to optimize the ISE mission effectiveness?

Kshmendra Paul: Yes. We do a lot in this area, and I'll give you a specific example to make things real. We've partnered with GSA on something called the Back-End Attribute Exchange so the idea here is if you want to share information across organizational boundaries, you need to be able to share information about people, attributes about those people, across organizational boundaries, and you need to be able to share attributes about the data that they want to access or discover. So you can do policy enforcement around access or on discovery and things like that. So that's known as Attribute-Based Access Control. Some people talk about it as smart data these days.

And I'll give you a tangible example of that. So with criminal intelligence information, there's specific training that law enforcement officers have to undertake, 28 CFR part 4 sort of training that is administered by different organizations, and they have to maintain credentials and currency in handling of criminal intelligence information, separate from any national security considerations. This might be gang information or whatever.

With those attributes, how do they translate if they want to access information that's maybe residing with a different organization? So they need an authoritative and trusted way to exchange that attribute that describes it's a flag, yes or no. Did this officer have this training? So, you know, that's a use case we're looking at tackling with this pilot implementation. Now, we doing this work with GSA, and you might say, well, why is ODNI working with GSA? The reason is that GSA is the right place to be doing shared services. They have a center of mass around the identity management-type activities, and so looking at this, we said the right place to partner, looking at this as a whole of government solution is the GSA. So they're investing. We're investing. You know, we're going to look at this first application of sharing criminal intelligence data as a first use case. GSA is going to be bringing forward some use cases, too. They're probably not going to have a lot to do with, you know, the ISE core mission, but that's okay because we want to leverage an asset that's a government-wide asset.

Michael Keegan: And it's a continuing journey, though.

Kshmendra Paul: Yeah. Another example is controlled unclassified information. That work started in our office that over the years now, has transitioned to a government-wide focus. It's government-wide controlled unclassified information, not terrorism-related anymore.

Michael Keegan: What does that mean?

Kshmendra Paul: Government-wide?

Michael Keegan: No. Controlled --

Kshmendra Paul: Controlled unclassified information --

Michael Keegan: In a nutshell. I mean, I just want to --

Kshmendra Paul: Well, right now, there's a lot of information that's not classified but is sensitive.

Michael Keegan: Okay.

Kshmendra Paul: Right. So there's a variety of markings. We did a study and identified about 110 different markings, for official use only, for official use, law enforcement sensitive. I mean, the list goes on, and some of this information is quite sensitive, law enforcement investigations for example. So we need to standardize those markings so we can share that information and safeguard it appropriately across organizational boundaries. You know, the government recognize the value of doing this broader than just terrorism-related so we do the initial work. We handed it off to NARA. John Fitzpatrick is now leading the Information Security Oversight Office, and it's in his area over at NARA where this work continues. So that's another example of some work we've done in this area.

Michael Keegan: To what extent does the pursuit of standards limit or defeat innovation? We will ask Kshmendra Paul, Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is Kshmendra Paul, Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment. Also joining our conversation from IBM is George Cruser.

So standards are critical to powering the ISE. Would you tell us more about the development and implementation of standards across the environment, and more particularly, does the pursuit of standards limit or defeat innovation?

Kshmendra Paul: Yeah, I want to start with the last part of that question. We absolutely believe that standards enabled innovation. You know, the key here is let's innovate where we should innovate. Let's innovate where we can add value, and let's standardize where we have defined requirements and have common mission equities, and we really need to share information. So our standards framework is really focused on exchange standards, the standards on the edges of organizations, and it's really trying to solve a problem of moving from point to point interfaces that are custom and one off to a multilateral sort of interface exchange which is standardized and baked into the infrastructure. You innovate on top of that. You know, why would you want to innovate on an interface spec, right? You want to innovate on analysis, methodologies, and things like that.

Now, they are critical to our activities, and we are firm believers in the nexus for standards being within industry with voluntary consensus standard-type organizations. So along those lines, we've set up something called the Standards Coordinating Council. It is within our White House-based IPC structure, right. This coordinating council includes right now organizations like Oasis, the Object Management Group, the Open Geospatial Consortium. The IGES (ph) Institute, ACT-IAC, AFEI which is in the DOD space. And we're looking to grow it, but these are folks that we work with right now on specific aspects of the ISE standards profile.

We also have a standards working group that's focused inside the government where we're trying to coordinate standards activities, standards repositories, how we think about standards, how they integrate in the programmatic management processes. I mentioned the work with ACT-IAC, for example, around recommendations over on leveraging standards in the procurement process. Now, the idea here is not to rewrite the FAR (ph) or anything like that. No, the idea is to leverage the existing tools we have and to create greater awareness. So one of the things we did, for example, is we're in the process of doing is creating some training material aimed at COTARs (ph) and contracting officers to help them better understand how to leverage standards. We're creating model language around the idea of how do you integrate standards into an RFP, and how do you do evaluations, things like that.

We're also looking at industry-based certification, right. The idea here is not to create a heavyweight infrastructure, but to make this lightweight and to make sure that it works with industry, not against industry. So that's really, really critical, and so standards are critical to empowering the ISE, and we think the nexus with the standards work is work with industry and standards organizations. And, you know, for industry to do it, they have to say a market develop, and that's the procurement side of things. 

Michael Keegan: The need to both protect and share national security and counterterrorism-related information is critical. To that end, can you elaborate on your efforts to develop and implement safeguarding capabilities that directly relate to the advancement of information sharing?

Kshmendra Paul: Yes. We look at safeguarding, protecting information. Information security, is, you know, two sides of the same point with information sharing. As a matter of fact, when you look at the definition of the ISE in law, the ISE is defined through 15 performance attributes, the majority of which either are security-related or dual purpose, things like attribute-based access control, cross-security domain, sharing of information, audit, and continuous monitoring, things like that. So it's been a part of our fabric since inception. We've done a lot of work to-date around security policy-type activities more recently -- and also the identity management sort of activities we talked about earlier.

More recently, we've been given the mission, and we've stood up and integrated the Classified Information Sharing and Safeguarding Office as part of the government's response post WikiLeaks. So in that regard, we're working closely with the Committee on National Security Systems which is out in front with a secret fabric and driving a lot of activities that way with the Insider Threat Task Force to make sure that there's an integrated approach to make sure that we're leveraging and not forgetting information sharing and safeguarding, but really always coming back to the key of responsible information sharing so the things you would do to enable information sharing also enable safeguarding. It's, in our view, not a trade off. It's not an either or; it's a both.

Michael Keegan: So what are you doing around the efforts to make sure the information shared consistently with privacy civil rights and civil liberties protections?

Kshmendra Paul: I've talked earlier about the privacy policy work and how we've had success with that in the engagement. Looking forward, we really see the kind of the key idea is privacy by design. And really, privacy security is policy by design. I'll give you an example. As we were working with our partners in Canada, you know, they had an interest in our interoperability activities and that's culminated recently in them setting up an analog to our office north of the border. They've been full-sum adopters of the National Information Exchange Model, but they're actually looking at things like suspicious activity reporting and our fusion center model here in the U.S. and trying to replicate that in Canada, not for necessarily sharing across the border, but just for their own purposes.

So as they looked at what we did with SAR, originally, it was very polite conversation, very constructive, but there was a feeling tone about don't you shred privacy in the U.S. Well, what happened is as they actually learned about what we were doing, they were actually very pleased and said, we can use this. You've built in the appropriate safeguards and protection so we want to continue that journey. We want to go even further working with industry to be able to look at, how do we extended our standards framework to include frameworks and standards around policy automation in particular, privacy-type activity, as well as the security sort of things. I mean, you think about attribute-based access control. Well, that's as much about protecting privacy as it is about security so we see that duality there. And that's a key focus of our work with industry.

George Cruser: Your success clearly rests in part on, you know, building both a shared trust and a shared responsibility related to the overall national security mission. Can you tell us how the ISE governance structure works and how it helps to both build that trust and that shared responsibility?

Kshmendra Paul: Yes. As I mentioned, I cochair the White House's Information Sharing and Access Policy Committee. My other cochair is Tim Duran (ph), Senior Director for Information Sharing Safeguarding Policy on the National Security Staff. So Tim and I cochair the IPC Interagency Policy Committee. We have several subcommittees and working groups underneath the IPC. These subcommittees and working groups have a degree of agency leadership. Almost in every case, actually, we try to recruit people from the interagency to be the leaders in the subcommittees and working groups. So I'll highlight our Privacy subcommittee. We have a Privacy Civil Liberties Civil Rights subcommittee. The current chair of that committee is Alex Joel. He's the Chief Privacy Civil Liberties Officer in the ODNI. Previously, he just took over from Mary Ellen Callahan who just left federal service. She was a chief privacy officer over at DHS. Chief privacy officers from across the government sit on this committee, subcommittee, working different issues around helping agencies build their privacy policies, you know, how do we look at compliance, our performance measures around privacy. How do we standardize information sharing agreements, these privacy-by-design ideas I talked about earlier? We got a working group looking at that sort of thing so, you know, that kind of broad-based buy-in.

Another example of this is that we've gone through the process. It was a process, but we successfully navigated it to include nonfederal players in our subcommittees and working groups. That's a pretty big deal for folks that have been around the government. The fact that we can actually in a national policy body, you know, a White House-based policy body, we're able to have subcommittees where we've integrated state and local representatives. So the chair and the vice-chair of the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council, for example, Ron Brooks, is the chair and Vern Keenan who's the vice-chair, they sit on both the SAR subcommittee and the Fusion Center Subcommittee. We have representation from global, their Infrastructure Committee, in our Information Integration Subcommittee. So having that state and local participation is a big deal. It sends a great message.

Now, in addition to the governance, there's also the engagement-type activities. So we do a lot of engagement, and we work that through a variety of different organizations, but there's a real focus on leveraging professional societies so an example there, is the International Association Chiefs of Police. We do a lot with the IACP. They're an incredible partner for us, and by working with them, that's how we can actually touch the 18,000 police departments in a credible way, them and others like the National Sheriffs Association, the Major City Chiefs, the Major County Sheriffs so there's other organizations, but I just was highlighting IACP.

George Cruser: Given that threats can come from across the world or across the street, I'd like to understand how you're better working with the private sector and international partners on expanding responsible information sharing, more particularly how are you enhancing the exchange of best practices and ideas amongst these folks?

Kshmendra Paul: Well, on the best practices, it's very interesting. We're getting a lot of demand, actually, from our international partners. People overseas are taking notice of the work we've been doing and wanting to collaborate. I'll give a few examples. There's an activity, North America Day, and we're meeting at Williamsburg, Virginia end of August. And there it's the CIOs and their associates, the federal CIO types, from the three countries, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. So last year in Mexico City, I was part of the delegation. We executed an agreement between the three countries to share best practices. And there was a focus on the National Information Exchange Model. We kicked off two pilot projects and we've had some success with them, one on public safety, stolen vehicle information sharing, the other public health, and food-borne illness. The stolen vehicle one is one you might understand because of our public safety sort of nexus. So let me talk about the other one, public health, food-borne illness. The Centers for Disease Control here in the U.S. has been out in front on that with their counterparts in Canada and Mexico. They've been developing some information exchanges. They're standardized. They've been able to leverage some existing systems and build a consistent exchange across the systems. It's pilot. It's not in production because there are some issues that they're going to work around authority to operate CNA-type stuff and things like that. We always kind of said initially, it was just going to be a pilot just to prove the concept. But they're very bullish on it.

As a matter of fact, the feedback we're getting from the three countries is that they want to take what we've done to the World Health Organization and sponsor it for further dissemination more broadly. And the biggest proponents of doing that are our partners in Mexico, actually, very interesting and compelling. In addition, we've seen some uptake in Europe. We've been working with the European commission folks or the equivalence of their EGA (ph) function around semantic interoperability ideas. So the NIEM program office is doing that, and we've been working with our partners in the interagency with Europol, the pan-European Criminal Intelligence Fusion Center. That's where they do transnational organized crime, terrorism, and cyber. They're adopting our frameworks and wanting to collaborate. So that's very exciting to see.

George Cruser: Our listeners have heard a lot about how successful responsible information sharing is dependent on really changing the culture from one of I need to know to a need to share. And we also hear things like we need to move from information owners to information stewards. I'm interested in your thinking on those two concepts of, you know, A, is that, in fact, required for responsible information sharing, and if so, what kind of progress has been made in the last few years.

Kshmendra Paul: That's a great question, and it goes to the heart of how we see our mission. I'm going to anchor back on something the Markle Foundation put forward. Markle championed several years ago the idea of authorized use. So the idea of authorized uses is really focused on, you know, decisions that people need to make to protect the American people and enhance national security. So the whole point of information sharing is not to share information, but to get information to the decision maker so they can make better, more proactive decisions to, you know, further the mission. So that's what authorized use is all about, right, being able to think about information sharing in a mission context and defining policy that way, as opposed to defining policy from the perspective of classes of information.

Now, I look at that as also this idea of moving from ownership to stewardship, but the key challenge you have there is that we have, you know, law, policy, decades-long, focused on classes of information so how do you actually make that transition. So we have to do it incrementally and stepwise. This goes to the heart of what we're trying to do is to get folks comfortable with the idea that yes, it can be a stewardship model, versus an ownership model. Now, keys to doing that are things like trust that policies are defined in a way that are clearly understood across organizational boundaries, and that understanding has to be in detail, not at the high level. So, you know, you can't just have a high-level policy and leave implementation to different agencies because then, you're going to get variation in implementations, and you're not going to get kind of consistent, you know, enforcement of those policies.

So this where the things like the smart data ideas, the back-end attribute exchange ideas having privacy guidelines that anchor across levels of government and become key enablers to taking that journey. We have many more steps to take, but I think some of the things we're talking about will enable that sort of trust. It all boils down to the producers of information and consumers’ information operating off the same rule book, in a way that's transparent and auditable across, you know, across boundaries.

Michael Keegan: How are you using social mapping tools or social networking tools?

Kshmendra Paul: You know, we see the need to build communities of action around information sharing so knowledge management is a key issue for us. So being able to build from the initial release, we have this building blocks initiative that I talked about that's highlighted in our website, We think that there's a need to be able to identify information sharing professionals across ISE mission partners. I've talked about how large our scope is. Well, across those mission partners, there are individuals that want to be able to participate in the development of the ISE, contributing in their best practices, understanding what others are doing, and so the building blocks initiative is really the first step in that direction. We want to take it.

Right now, it's static where we're just publishing best practices across the ISE. We want to take it where it's more dynamic where we're integrating academics or think tanks or other third parties that are credibly dedicated to the mission of identifying and disseminating knowledge around the information sharing mission space, right, and then be able to have those sort of on-line communities that I think, you know, allow us to accelerate innovation, accelerate identification, integration and dissemination of best practices.


Michael Keegan: What does the future hold for the Information Sharing Environment? We will ask Kshmendra Paul, Program Manager for ISE, when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is Kshmendra Paul, Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment. Also joining our conversation from IBM is George Cruser.

So there's a perception that there's a very high ratio of noise to signal in all this data being collected. What are you doing to better extract the necessary signals from the abundant noise, and how do you raise the signal and decrease the noise?

Kshmendra Paul: This is an accurate perception. It's real. I talked earlier about the challenges we have with the tsunami of information and, you know, kind of the good news here is that we've been making progress. The bad news is we're making progress, and we've got to go to the next level, right, which is attacking this sort of issue of high signal to noise.

We think that our best practices information integration framework that I've talked about really offers a solution here. As we move from point-to-point bilateral information sharing to multi-lateral, ISE-wide information sharing, you're going to have greater degree of consistency in quality and timeliness at the data and closer to the source of data collection or production, right, so then having that improved data quality will allow you to more quickly and easily, with higher degrees of assurance, establish linkages between disparate pieces of information. You know, also by having effective enterprise-wide, enterprise here being the ISE data management sort of schemes in place, you can move away from moving big bulk data sets and move towards publishing out rules, filters, triggers closer to the edge, right, so that, you know, you can reduce the amount of information that's actually moving or the percentage of information. Clearly, the volumes are going to keep increasing, right, you know, but it's definitely things I think we're going to be able to help out in.

George Cruser: You've mentioned earlier that at the state, local, tribal levels, there's this sense of this crushing fiscal austerity being placed on them. While you didn't highlight at the federal level, I think even at the federal level, we're seeing that there's not an endless stream of money anymore. In the face of asking employees to constantly do more with less, how do you keep your team motivated when there is all this dire financial information behind us or around us?

Kshmendra Paul: Well, I'll answer that question on two levels. First, internal to the office and the extended team across the ISE so in terms of the office, you know, we have a pretty good culture that's focused on mission enablement. And the people that work at the PM-ISE every day, for the most part, almost exclusively are there because they believe in the mission. They want to make a difference, and they're seeing that their efforts actually do make a tangible difference across the ISE to accelerate the ISE and support the public safety national security mission we have.

So it's that mission focus that keeps people. And that's why many people come, most people come into public service to begin with is that mission focus. And, again because of where we sit, aligned with the White House, the scope of our work, they're able to see a more clear line between their individual contribution and accelerating the ISE.

More broadly in the interagency, you know, you're definitely seeing folks kind of struggling with cuts and lack of resources and the need to transform. There again, though, I think many of the folks that are working these ISE initiatives are seeing them as part of the solution, not part of the problem in terms of moving toward shared approaches, more efficient uses of information, reducing, you know, redundancy and duplication, and things like that. So, again, I think it's seeing them as part of the solution, and I think that's critical.

George Cruser: So the passion for the mission certainly can be a powerful draw to get the right resources into government initially, but we're seeing the skill set needed is just constantly changing. So how do you make sure that you keep a well-trained, proficient work force going, you know, in light of all the changes in technology and skill set?

Kshmendra Paul: That's a great question. You know, earlier on, I talked about the structure of the Office. We have an incredibly diverse work force. It's diverse demographically, but it's diverse from a life experience perspective, professional experience. We have folks that have, you know, been career law enforcement, as well as, you know, folks that are intimately involved in budget performance integration and everybody that spans in between. So we've created a culture in the Office that's what I call whole of office. It's really focused on teamwork so we don't expect individuals to come in and span the mission space, span the skill set. We expect them to be able to work collaboratively in the office and then more broadly with our partners in the interagency.

Now, the second part of this is that we've always put a premium on partnership and engagement with nonfederal partners, federal partners, the people outside the office. I highlighted, for example, the Standards Coordinating Council and those different organizations. Let me make a plug for folks to get involved and engaged. You know, we are very cognizant of the fact that expertise resides all through the community, much of it outside of the government. And many folks want to participate in constructive solutions to the challenges that I've outlined. So get involved through the different organizations I highlighted, the Object Management Group, Oasis, the IGES Institute which is focused on public safety, technology, and information and sharing, AFEI, Open Geospatial Consortium, ACT-IAC. All of these organizations are actively involved in the Standards Coordinating Council. We're coordinating activity, but the work is happening in those different groups, right, and whether you're a federal person or whether you're a nonfederal person, get engaged and help contribute. Be a part of the solution.

Michael Keegan: This has been a wonderful and a very informative conversation, but I'd like to transition to the future. What are some of the major opportunities and challenges you think your organization will face, and more importantly, how do you think you'll evolve to meet these challenges and seize these opportunities?

Kshmendra Paul: Well, that's a great question. It's difficult to read the future. I think what we're seeing is that we're getting traction across our efforts, across the ISE, and we're scaling up to a portfolio of activities. I go back to the buckets of the top-down, bottom-up, outside-in. That's working, and there's a synergy between those activities. So I think that in the next year, the next five years as you're laying out the time line, that traction will become increasingly visible to folks that are increasingly at a distance. So if you're in the middle of it like I am, you sort of see it. You're one step removed. You see it, but, you know, is it a flash in the pan, or is it going to actually take root. So I think that that's the big thing that's going to happen.

Now, related to that, right, is the fact that key to our strategy is industry engagement. Industry wants to see a broad and growing marketplace. Counterterrorism is interesting, but if it's broader than that it's even more interesting. If it's international, it's even more interesting. So I think our best practices framework is taking root more broadly, well outside of our statutory mission scope is going to be something that is already happening, but the fact that that ties into industry adoption I think will be something that you'll see in the next years. And that's key to scaling up. As much as we've had some success, when you look at the huge scope we have these successes are point successes. The way we scale up is not through direct activity but this more engaging with industry and folks being able to make their independent procurements decisions based on their own economic interests and other views of their mission and their risk and things like that.

Michael Keegan: So as we close today, what advice would you give someone who is considering a career in public service?

Kshmendra Paul: It's been an incredibly rewarding experience for me on a personal and professional level. I've loved my time. As I mentioned earlier, many days, I pinch myself that I get paid to do what I do. I think that it's important to develop skills and the government gives you the opportunity. So if you come into the government, it's important to look at it as an opportunity to develop skills, to work in a variety of different efforts. I've been lucky in my time, or unlucky depending on the perspective, in the government, I've been able to work government-wide initiatives almost from the beginning. That's a different sort of view on transformation in the government than working inside programs. So I would encourage folks that come into public service to do both. Get a feel for where the sweet spot is for them, and to understand the government-wide look, as well as the programmatic look.

Michael Keegan: Well, I want to thank you for joining us today, but most importantly, George and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the country.

Kshmendra Paul: Well, thank you. I've enjoyed our conversation. I've enjoyed being here. I'd like to highlight for your listeners to come to our website, Follow us on Twitter @shareandprotect, @shareandprotect. Plug in via the different organizations that I talked about, government or industry. And also if you're in the law enforcement public safety space, maybe look for me at the International Association Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego. We're out there. We do a lot of business out at the IACP key stakeholders so stop me and say hi.

Michael Keegan: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Kshmendra Paul, Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment. My cohost from IBM has been George Cruser. Be sure to join us next week for another informative, insightful, and in-depth conversation on improving government effectiveness. For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Michael Keegan, and thanks for joining us.

Announcer: 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



Kshemendra Paul

Thursday, September 6th, 2012 - 15:16
President Obama appointed Kshemendra Paul as the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE), and Mr. Paul assumed the position on July 6, 2010. The Program Manager has government-wide authority to plan, oversee the build-out, and manage use of the ISE. The Program Manager also co-chairs the White House’s Information Sharing and Access Inter-agency Policy Committee (ISA-IPC).

Use Technology to Enhance Productivity

Friday, May 25th, 2012 - 17:49
Posted by: 
This is because government now has thousands of mission systems using legacy architecture, each built for a single purpose to support the needs of a single program or agency. Common standards, common definitions of like data, or enterprise approaches are rarely used in the federal government. Government does not often leverage IT to make things simpler, generate economies of scale, or increase collaboration. Over the last 20 years, mission systems have become more customized and focused on single programs or needs, making government information systems at once more siloed and complex.

A Conversation with Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Thursday, May 24th, 2012 - 12:46
Posted by: 
On the History and Mission of the U.S. Government Accountability Office

Gene Dodaro

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 - 17:27
As Comptroller General, Mr. Dodaro helps oversee the development and issuance of hundreds of reports and testimonies each year to various committees and individual Members of Congress.
Radio show date: 
Mon, 04/23/2012
Intro text: 
These and other GAO products have led to hearings and legislation, billions of dollars in taxpayer savings, and improvements to a wide range of government programs and services.
Complete transcript: 

Originally broadcast on April 23, 2012

Arlington, VA

Host: 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.


Michael Keegan: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour.  I’m Michael Keegan, your host and Managing Editor of The Business of Government Magazine.  Faced with seemingly intractable issues the ever-growing deficit, economic uncertainty, unemployment and aging infrastructure, today’s government leaders face unique challenges that present many difficult choices that go to the core of effective public management.  At this critically historical juncture citizen expectation remains constant to have a government that is more responsive, coordinated, transparent and accountable.

To that end the U.S. Government Accountability Office works with Congress to better manage resources for a more sustainable future, while mitigating risks that can compromise the nation’s security, health, and solvency.

How is GAO working to put the country back on a sustainable fiscal path?  What is GAO doing to assist Congress in support of its oversight of decision making responsibilities?  And how is GAO overseeing federal programs and operations to ensure accountability to the American people?  We will explore these questions and so much more with our very special guest, Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and Head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.  Welcome, Gene.

Gene Dodaro: Thank you. Michael.  It’s a pleasure to be here.


Michael Keegan: Before we delve into specific initiatives perhaps you could give us an overview of the history and continual evolution of the U.S. Government Accountability Office marking its ninetieth year?

Gene Dodaro: Yes. GAO was founded in 1921 as part of a package of budgetary and accounting reforms that were put in place following the large debt that accumulated after World War I.


In the beginning, GAO’s role was to examine vouchers on government payments and purchases.  Then following World War II as the government grew and expanded those functions were transferred to the Executive Branch, and GAO began more comprehensive financial auditing.  And then as government continued to evolve on the war on poverty and the Great Society programs in the ‘60s, GAO began doing program evaluations, which are what we are famous for today, looking at how programs operate, and whether they’re operating as intended, and whether they can be made more efficient and effective.

And our evolution has continued.  Now we provide a full range of management of evaluations of functions necessary to carry out the government’s large departments and agencies.  And we also do quite a bit looking at new technologies that the government is putting in place.  And so we have a very multi-disciplinary workforce right now and our evolution continues, based upon the needs of the government and the needs of our primary clients, the Congress.


Michael Keegan: Great, wonderful.  So it’s such a critical mission, I’d like to understand the operational footprint of GAO, what’s the size of its budget?  How was it organized, and what’s its geographical footprint?

Gene Dodaro: GAO is organized along subject area lines, covering the full range of the Federal Government’s responsibilities.  We have a team focused on national defense issues, for example, healthcare, transportation, natural resources and the environment, et cetera.  We also have teams focused on technical disciplines, financial management, auditing and accounting, and information technology.  We have a Division focused with the Center for Economics, Science and Engineering.  And so we have a full range of issues set-up both for subject areas and technical disciplines.


Our work is carried out in multi-disciplinary teams.  It’s very important to ensure the quality and the sophistication of our work.  Our budget is over $500 million a year.  We have about 3,000 people in the organization, and we carry out a number of functions and types of audits.  We produce hundreds of reports and testimonies every year.


Michael Keegan: So what about your role as the Comptroller General and leader of GAO?  Could you tell us a little bit about your duties and responsibilities?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, the Comptroller General, and I provide a strategic direction and leadership for the GAO.  As its Chief Executive it’s my job to make sure we carry out our mission effectively, which is to support the Congress in carrying out its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people.  And we do that through the production of hundreds of reports and testimonies each year to the Congress, that are made also available to the public.  And it’s very important that we have good quality assurance systems around those reports, so my job is to ensure that that happens and that we have the skilled workforce necessary to carry out these responsibilities.  And so I also provide testimony to the Congress before various Congressional committees, particularly on GAO’s more important broad-based work that we issue during the year.


The Comptroller General also sets government auditing standards and internal control standards for the federal government, and also I have very important representational responsibilities both for domestic accountability purposes, such as Chairman of the National Intergovernmental Audit Forum and also internationally as the U.S. representative to the organization internationally of National Audit Offices, which is comprised of approximately 189 countries around the world.


Michael Keegan: So with that important duty and mission and responsibility what would you say are your three top challenges?  And how have you sought to address those challenges?

Gene Dodaro: Yeah, it’s very important for us always to work on the areas of highest priority for the Congress and key national important issues. Our workload is a very important challenge, you know, we’re asked to do anywhere from 900 to 1,000 requests per year from the Congress, so we obviously have to set priorities appropriately.  That’s the number one challenge.


I do that by meeting with chair and ranking members of all the standing committees of the Congress to understand their priorities and work on issues. It’s very important that while I provide leadership, our teams continually to work through and to continually set priorities in working with the Congress to make sure that we meet their needs.


Second, like a lot of federal agencies right now, there are budgetary challenges that we’re all going to be facing across federal government.  GAO is no exception to that.  We’re working through those issues very carefully to make sure that we maintain the quality of our work to the Congress, work on items of highest priority, and also to make sure that we’re minimizing any adverse effects on the very dedicated and talented GAO workforce.


Thirdly, Michael, I would say a big challenge is succession planning, like lot of organizations the Baby Boom generation is beginning its retirement.  We’ve been working very hard on this over the last decade, and we’ll continue to be able to do that because we need to have the right skilled workforce and we need to have the people in the right job.  That’s about 75% of success, and so I spend a lot of time dealing with that challenge.


Michael Keegan: Speaking of having the right person in the right job, I’d like to know a little bit more about yourself.  Could you tell us about your career path and how you got to where you are now?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, I came to the GAO in 1973 as an entry level auditor, right out of college.  And I was intrigued with the mission of the organization. I worked in various capacities throughout the early stages of my career, taking on issues like many in the immigration area, licensing radioactive materials for commercial uses, looking at the anti-recession assistance program formed in the 1974-’75 recession, and Reagan’s new federalism initiatives of block grants in the early ‘80s.


I became a Senior Executive in 1985, and was given the responsibility of doing a portfolio of management reviews, which were sort of top to bottom reviews of various departments and agencies.  And then I took on responsibilities later to head-up all of our accounting and information technology work at the GAO.  I led the first ever audit of the federal government’s consolidated financial statements for the fiscal year 1997, I led our Y2K efforts to help the government successfully deal with that challenge, and dealt with a number of other technology issues, including computer security.


Following Dave Walker’s appointment as Comptroller General in 1998, I became the Chief Operating Officer for GAO, which is the number two position, and really held that position throughout Dave’s nine-and-a-half year tenure at GAO.  And then when Dave resigned in March 2008 I became the Acting Comptroller General and led in that capacity until I was confirmed by the Senate last December.


Michael Keegan: Actually, could you tell us a little bit more about the actual tenure of the Comptroller General?  It’s a little bit longer than most places, correct?

Gene Dodaro: It’s one of the longest tenures in government, Michael.  It’s very important to maintain our independence.  The Comptroller General has a 15-year term, non-renewable, of course.  And the selection process is quite unique, as well, in part because of the long tenure.  The selection process begins when there is a vacancy. There’s a creation of a 10-member Congressional commission that’s bicameral, bipartisan, there’s leadership in both the House and Senate, as well as our two oversight committees in the Senate and House.  And those 10 members carry out a search, and they do interviews, and they go through a process.  And then the commission recommends three or more names to the President.  The President selects from the list, can ask for more names, and then the person nominated by the President from that list has to receive Senate confirmation.  So it’s a very unique involved process, but befitting the term and the importance of the position.


Michael Keegan: You have a tremendous amount of experience. Yyou discussed your role at GAO as it evolved – I’d like to understand what you believe or you’ve seen as the most effective characteristics of a real leader?  Could you give us a sense of what are those characteristics?

Gene Dodaro: Yeah, well, you have to be able to motivate your organization.  I mean the motivation at the GAO is facilitated because we do such interesting work for the Congress, but it’s very important for our organization to be viewed as independent, nonpartisan, professional, objective, fact based, and providing a full range of professional services to the Congress that are respected by both parties, by both chambers of Congress. 


So by being able to have important credibility to be able to lead the organization with integrity and to make sure our work is professional, but also constructive.  It’s very important that we not only identify problems but bring solutions to those problems to help policymakers, and leaders in the Executive Branch, as well as Congress to take the necessary actions to improve government for the benefit of the public.


Michael Keegan: How does the GAO working to put the country back on a sustainable fiscal path?  We will ask Gene Dodaro, Controller General of the United States, when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.



Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour.  I’m Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States.

Gene, as you mentioned in the last segment, GAO is a Legislative Branch Agency and exempt from many of the laws that apply to the Executive Branch Agencies.  However, you do have a strategic plan that outlines division of the organization and the direction you want to take it in.  Would you outline the plan for us, highlighting the overarching goals and strategies you are using to support your moves?

Gene Dodaro: Yeah, sure, Mike.  An important point I want to make upfront is that while we are exempt from many of these management reforms and legislative requirements, we voluntarily comply with them, whether it’s a government performance and results act, a financial management legislation, or an information technology legislation, you know, we believe we need to hold ourselves accountable for the same way that we’ve advised Congress on how the agencies ought to be held accountable.


So as part of that we do develop a strategic plan, and our strategic plan is for serving the Congress and the nation.  So it’s very important, it starts with consultation with the Congress and ends with consultation with the Congress and then commenting on our draft strategic plan.  It sets out our vision for a five-year period of time on what type of issues we’re going to pursue to support the Congress in carrying out its responsibilities to help provide leadership for the country.


We’ve set broad goals, and the goals are rooted in some of the constitutional responsibilities of the Congress.  For example, we want to provide timely and quality service to the Congress and the federal government to address current and emerging challenges to the wellbeing and the financial security of the American people, and this includes everything from healthcare to education, to transportation, et cetera, across the full breadth of the full government’s responsibilities to help achieve this broad goal.


Also, the second goal is to address the challenges to changing security threats and the challenges of global interdependence, and this includes areas of national defense, homeland security, international affairs, for example.


The third broad goal is to help the government transform itself to improve its programs and activities to meet 21st Century challenges.  Here we provide a lot of help in terms of implementation of the government performance and results act, many other management reforms across government, the application of new technologies to improve government services and operations, and to develop government’s management capacities to be commensurate with the challenges that the federal government faces right now and going forward.


Our last and final goal is to improve ourselves on a continuous basis and to make sure that we are an organization that has the capacity to deliver on its mission but to continuously improve ourselves in doing so.


Michael Keegan: That’s wonderful.  When I was doing the research for our interview, I came across the eight trends you identify, that by the context around a strategic plan, and I found them very helpful for the IBM Center for the Business of Government, which produces the show.  As you may know, we put out research announcements and we collect third-party research and we support third-party research.  These eight trends really helped us clarify the direction we’re going in, and I found it very interesting.  Could you identify these eight trends for our audience?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, the trends are very, very important, as you point out.  I’m glad that you found them helpful.  And we spend a lot of time making sure that we understand the trends because we believe they will shape the types of challenges the federal government will face and the decisions that policymakers might have. 


For example, first are national security threats, they’ve become more diffuse and evolving – these are areas ranging from regional instability to extremism, terrorism, proliferation of nuclear weapons, cyber terrorism.  These are all things that are very important, and there are also emerging challenges and threats that can be caused by changing economic conditions, even climate change, energy interdependence issues.  So it’s very important for the work that we do.  So that’s sort of trend number one are these broad trends and changing security threats.


So the second are the fiscal sustainability challenges, and the federal government faces enormous challenges in this regard to make sure that we can put the federal government on a more sustainable, long-term fiscal path.  This is dominating a lot of the discussion now in the Congress.  We also look at the state and local sector as well and they face many of the same challenges.


Third are economic recovery and growth.  Obviously, we’re dealing still with the aftermath of the last recession.  Unemployment is high.  Housing market is still weak.  We monitor the banking sector and other sectors of the economy, as well, and look at the federal government’s activities to provide training assistance and others.


Global interdependence is the fourth trend, and this is very important, not only for flows of capital, which receives a lot of attention, but also other areas of trade and products that are really changing how the federal government needs to protect the public and food safety, for example, and medical devices and drugs.


The next trend, science and technology, obviously a lot of changes – nanotechnology, cloud computing, a lot of areas that are potential solutions to help both from an economic growth standpoint in our country but also the effective productivity of the government in the private sector, but they have a lot of issues that need to be dealt with.  For example, cloud computing can be very helpful in driving down cost, but there are also security issues that need to be dealt with the federal government.


Another trend is networks and virtualization.  Obviously, how we learn, communicate and deal with one another is changing dramatically across the world, and it’s from mobile devices, wireless technologies, and et cetera.  And this involves looking and shaping how the federal government is adapting to those changes both from a regulatory standpoint and a broadband technologies allocation, spectrum, for example, but so also how the federal government is using these devices to improve its own performance in dealing with the public. 


Shifting roles of government, this focuses a lot on the use of contractors.  There’s been a lot of discussion and debate about this, even using contractors to carry out our conflicts abroad, and how the federal government should be using the contractors, and what their role should be is very important.


And also the last trend is demographics and social changes.  Obviously, with the advent of the Baby Boom generation there’s far fewer workers now per retiree than there was when we started out these systems before, and so that’s changing not only the financial status of our entitlement programs but also bringing about other important changes in how we provide housing, transportation, immigration issues, to make sure we have a workforce that can sustain economic growth in the future.  And so those demographic and sidal changes are very important to understand because they have important policy ramifications for the government.


Michael Keegan: Yeah, I really do believe GAO did a service and I believe folks should take the time to look at these trends to understand what they entail because they’re in the strategic plan, they do a wonderful job of doing that.

So what I’d like to do is focus in on a few of these trends, and you mentioned trend number two, fiscal sustainability.  Central among the significant challenges we face is the whole national government finding, if you will, a path towards long-term sustainability.  Would you elaborate on the challenges affecting the federal budget both near and long term?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, this is a very important issue.  For years GAO has done long-range simulations of the federal government’s fiscal path in order to illustrate what the long-term affects may be of policy decisions, but also changes, such as demographics and others.  And even before this last recession we warned that the federal government was increasingly coming along an unsustainable fiscal path, that deficits and debt were accumulating over time.  And, obviously, with the last recession, the recession itself, affected both the government’s finances and the government’s policy response to the recession as well as added to the government’s debt burden.  While necessary to deal with the short-term issues, it created other long-term issues that need to be dealt with.


Now the long-term fiscal position of the federal government is really being driven by changing demographics, as I mentioned the aging of our society and more people going on the Social Security roles and also the Medicare, Medicaid roles.  The first of the Baby Boomers became eligible for Social Security in 2008.  This year 2011 was the first year for eligibility for the Medicare program, so this demographic wave will hit these entitlement programs over the next few years, and rising healthcare costs.  Those are the two primary drivers.


Now the Budget Control Act of 2011, earlier this year, has improved the federal government’s situation.  It calls for $2.1 trillion of cuts between 2013 and 2021, and this will help improve the situation in the short term, but even with these changes in the longer term there’s still a serious issue that needs to be dealt with.


Michael Keegan: Yeah, I was wondering as a follow-up, about implication.  Are the implications of the failure of the so-called Super Committee to identify a path forward?  And how, if at all, does it impact your efforts at GAO?

Gene Dodaro: Well, the Budget Control Act provided a backup should the Super Committee not reach consensus and move the legislative package to the Congress, that’s a $1.2 trillion sequestration or changes in the caps over the next 10 years.  So that part will go forward, but obviously there are many implementation issues associated with that, and Congress always has the flexibility to deal with these matters in ways that they believe should be the fiscal policies going forward. 


So we will continue to do our long-range simulations and continue to do the work that GAO does to help support the Congress in making difficult resource tradeoff decisions, try to identify ways to save money, to enhance revenues, and to help them evaluate policy options for dealing with this long-term fiscal issue.


Michael Keegan: Gene, you mentioned global interdependence as a trend that GAO identified.  Would you describe the changing dynamic of global interdependence?  What are the implications of this trend, and how does your work act as a catalyst for greater congressional and public awareness, as well as contribute to addressing some of the problems?

Gene Dodaro: Yeah, this is a very important trend that has a lot of ramifications for the federal government.  A prime example is in the financial institutions and financial markets sector.  We saw where the federal government needed to change its federal regulatory regime in order to deal with these problems, and the failure to do so led to some of the issues that caused the turmoil in the financial markets. 


But going forward, there are new capital requirements in BASO3 that are international standards that we have to implement that.  There has to be stronger coordination on financial regulatory situations.  But the implications go even further than global financial markets and flows of capital. 


They go to how we deal with ensuring food safety for our public.  Most of the seafood and fruits and vegetables now come from foreign sources.  In the medical device area it’s been estimated by the FDA that 80% of the ingredients for prescription drugs come from foreign manufacturers.  And our systems that were set-up to provide assurance and oversight over these areas were set-up initially for domestic production, and now that we have international production and flows we have to be able to do this.


And what we’ve done is we’ve put oversight of food safety and oversight of medical devices on our high risk list that we give to the Congress to show and feature these areas as important areas where there needs to be changes made in the federal regulatory scheme and implementation for dealing with these issues.


We also have put changing the modernizing of the financial regulatory system on our risk list, as well.  So we’ve used the high risk list as a prime vehicle, and then our normal work as appropriate. 


There’s also and the last area I’d mention in terms of this global interdependence, obviously had implications for homeland security, as well.  And we’ve done a lot of work on visa issues and dealing with these things, and there’s a need to really continue to improve our process in these areas.


Michael Keegan: That’s interesting because I want to focus on, say, the food safety example that you gave, and then the work you’re doing at GAO to facilitate a more holistic way of governing, if you will.  And where I’m going with that is the fragmentation that’s associated with the food safety system in the country.  But what are you doing at GAO to sort of address overlap, duplication and fragmentation of government programs, given the fact that the budgets are tightening?

Gene Dodaro: We have a statutory requirement to produce an annual report on overlap and duplication in the federal government that was implemented about a year-and-a-half ago.  We issued the first report on that last March, and we pointed out 34 different areas across the federal government where there was fragmentation, overlap or duplication.  And we identified fragmentation and overlap as harbingers of potential duplications to try to get ahead of the curve on some of these issues. 


For example, we identified that within the military services, each one had their own military command, and that there had been options explored by the Pentagon to try to streamline this process that could have led to savings of anywhere from $200 million to $400 million a year.  And so it’s important to reassess this and take another look at it. 


We’ve found overlap and duplication in dozens of programs that focused on teacher quality, economic development, and surface transportation. There were close to 100 different programs.  So there are opportunities to try to consolidate these programs, but it requires careful decisions to be made by the Congress to make sure there aren’t unintended consequences.


And the report also identified 47 other areas where there are opportunities for cost savings or revenue enhancements to deal, for example, with our yawning tax gap where there’s about a difference of about $200 billion between what’s owed and collected. 


So we have this requirement, we’re working right now on our second report, which will be issued early next year following the President’s submission of the budget for 2013.


Michael Keegan: And one of the things I find about the reports you folks publish and the work your interdisciplinary teams do is they’re chockfull of practicable, actionable recommendations that really do inform both the public and the policymakers, so I find them very helpful.  And what I want to get at is you’re doing a lot of work and yet budgets are tight.  And my question is how do you plan and manage the demand increases that you’re seeing, given the environment we’re in now, without additional resources?

Gene Dodaro: It’s very important to be able to set priorities in doing our work, and that’s why this congressional outreach effort that I’ve been pursuing and will continue to pursue is so critical, Michael.  I mean it’s very important to deal with committee leaders, chairpersons and ranking members of the committees and to understand their priorities and to make sure that we’re focused on those efforts going forward.  And so that’s the main thing.


Now we’re also, you know, making sure that we are operating our own work as efficiently and as effectively as possible, so we’ve undertaken a number of internal efforts to try to look at our business processes to look for streamlining and efficiency opportunities.  But really my approach to identifying this is to really make sure we’re working on the most important issues facing the country and where the Congress needs help to be able to carry out their responsibilities.


Michael Keegan: How is GAO overseeing federal programs and operations to ensure accountability to the American people?  We will ask Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States, when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour.  I’m Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States.

Gene, the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 offers promise because it encourages a more coordinated, cross-cutting approach to achieving common goals.  Would you elaborate on those goals?  And how does it enhance the requirements for agencies to consult with Congress?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, the Modernization Act of 2010 brings about really important changes in the government performance and results act scheme.  The original act that was passed in 1993 required strategic planning in the setting of goals and measures by individual departments and agencies.  But more and more they really need to have partnerships and multiple agencies involved in dealing with issues and bringing about changes in this interconnected world. 


And so the setting of goals by ONB on cross-cutting issues is very important to dealing with some of these issues and holding government accountable for achieving and resolving some of these problems and improving the performance of the government, whether you’re talking about pandemic, food safety, homeland security issues, and other issues that multiple agencies need to be involved.


It also has a requirement, though, for agencies to identify who they need to coordinate with in their programs and activities, which will bring about another feature that can help identify overlap and duplication but, importantly, the need for greater coordination among departments and agencies.  We find this consistently across the work that we do, there’s a lack of a well-structured mechanism in many areas to bring about coordination across the government.


Now, importantly, there’s also requirements for quarterly reviews of performance and a requirement that the performance measures be posted on a public website so that it will increase transparency of the government’s ability to achieve its performance goals that it set for itself.  Agencies also have to attest to the reliability of the information that they’re posting, and this will bring about important reforms, as well.


So I think that collectively the Act brings about and offers the opportunity for very important reforms to be put in place to improve the performance of the federal government, but implementation will be the key. 


Now part of the original Act required consultation with the Congress, but that hasn’t happened as much as people believe and it needs to happen over time.  So there’s a requirement now that the executive agencies consult with Congress and to reflect in their plans what feedback they received from the Congress and how they dealt with that, so there’s more accountability for ensuring the consultation and the use of it in developing their plans.


I also, in testifying on this legislation, have encouraged the Congress to be proactive as well as reach out to the agencies and provide their views on how they should be measuring their performance.  So hopefully this legislation will provide an important catalyst for improving government’s performance.


Michael Keegan: Now does GAO have a role in evaluating the implementation of the Act?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, we have set requirements to evaluate the planning requirements, is consultation being made, for example, how are they setting the goals and measures, and looking at also then implementation of the issue down the road, and whether or not it’s actually improving the performance of the government and how these measures are being used to bring about important changes. We have set requirements over the next decade really to produce regular reports.


Michael Keegan: Now in the last segment you mentioned the high risk list that you folks do, and GAO has been putting together and highlighting longstanding managerial and operational challenges facing federal government and the federal agencies.  Would you tell us a little bit more about this program and what is specific key high risk areas of late and, more importantly, how do agencies learn to work with GAO to get off the list and to excel in these areas?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, we’ve been creating the high risk list since 1990, and it was to identify problems before they reach crisis proportions.  Initially we started out identifying areas subject to waste, fraud, and abuse, and mismanagement in the federal government.  And the program has evolved now to also include areas in need of broad-based transformation.


There are currently 30 areas on the list.  They include in the classic areas of potential fraud and abuse, for example, the Medicare program and the Medicaid program where there are large amounts of improper payments that the federal government has to deal with, as well as the states dealing with the Medicaid program.


In the transformation area, there’s the need to modernize the financial regulatory system, and transformation and implementation of the Department of Homeland Security is on the list as well.  There are sets of issues that are on the list that are dealing with agencies or issues that are in sort of precarious financial situations, the financial condition of the United States Postal Service, for example, the National Flood Insurance Program, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation are all on the high risk list because of their challenges in the financial area.


Now we work very carefully with each of the agencies that are on the list, to identify what progress is being made.  In order to come off the list eventually there needs to be leadership commitment, there needs to be a good plan that’s resourced properly.  And then, importantly, there needs to be demonstration of progress in actually fixing the items.


We are also engaged in regular meetings between the agencies on the high risk list, ONB, and GAO.  And we meet on a regular basis, and very high level officials from the agency in ONB are involved, Deputy Director for Management, Jeff Zions (ph), and the Deputy or head of the Agency is involved in discussions.  And I personally participate in those meetings in order to make sure that we’re bringing all the resources to bear and identifying what needs to be done to ensure progress in these areas. 


So it’s a very important initiative, and I believe that I discuss some of these issues with the Congress, as well, and our teams do make sure that in those areas where there’s legislative need for reform to fix the high risk area that the Congress has benefit of our insights, as well.


Michael Keegan: Well, Gene, I’d like to turn our attention to one particular function that the government does and does a lot of.  I believe the fiscal year 2010 the federal government spent about $535 billion acquiring goods and services.  The GAO has raised concerns about the contracting practices of federal agencies.  I would like you to give an overview, if you would, of the weaknesses that seem to be affecting government contract management, and perhaps you could describe the four changes that GAO has identified that could actually yield cost savings in this area?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, contracting problems have been problematic across the federal government.  In fact, many areas on our high risk list are contracting areas, contracting issues, the DoD, the Department of Energy, NASA, and interagency contracting issues.  Typically what we find are problems in well defining the requirements as a root cause of many of these issues, and there needs to be more attention to contract oversight once contracts are let, as well.  We’ve reported on this issue many times over the years.


Now important progress is being made in a number of these areas, but there are things in particular that could be done.  For example, there needs to be greater competition in the contracts.  Over the last several years about 30% to 32% of all government contracts are let without competition, and that’s not even counting the contracts where there’s only one bid in place.  There also needs to be important use of award fees and incentives that are in place with in some cases. In the past we’ve found they have paid contractors irrespective of their performance, and so there needs to be wise use.  There’s an important role for incentive fees, but they have to be used for positive performance, not mediocre or subpar performance. 


There’s a need for the federal government, thirdly, to recognize the strategic sourcing uses and use its purchasing power collectively in order to drive down prices and get better deals on its contracts.  The Administration is pursuing some initiatives in this area, as well. 


And so those are some of the ways that the federal government can really improve its opportunities to improve contract management.  And given the vast amount of money that’s used and the important role of contracts in helping the government, this is a real important opportunity for improving performance.


Michael Keegan: So improving performance in contract management yields some cost savings in the four items that you mentioned, I’d like to turn to something that you mentioned earlier regarding the Medicaid program, and that is improper payments.  Can you first tell us what is an improper payment?  And then the other thing I wanted to talk about is what recommendations or solutions has GAO explored or offered that could yield in mitigating this risk and actually realizing some savings?

Gene Dodaro: Right.  An improper payment is any payment that should not have been made.  It could have been for an ineligible recipient, not for approved service, it might have been for an item that was never received, it could be an overpayment or an underpayment.  And so it’s an area where there is a lot of activity. 


The volume of the federal government’s payments in many of these areas, whether it’s Medicare or Medicaid or in other large programs is very high.  So the likelihood of errors can occur.  The total rate that’s been identified is a little under 5% of payments in this area, and so there are billions of dollars that occur in this area.


What we’ve done is, first, have recommendations that help quantify improper payments.  Before the requirements for implementing financial audits in the federal government, there was not a systematic quantification of improper payments.  So we helped, along with the inspector generals and others of implementing the financial audit requirements in the 1990s, in preparing financial statements and having them audited and we began surfacing this issue to make sure that the improper payments were being quantified.  So that was step number one.


Then we worked with the Congress and got legislation passed in 2002 to require the quantification across government and the reporting of these issues.  And then we advised the Congress, and they strengthened the laws and requirements for reporting on this area, made sure the reporting occurred at the proper levels, and that agencies had actions plans going forward.  The Administration has been active in this area, as well, helping set goals that need to be pursued to drive down the payments.  It’s not enough to just measure them; it’s then using that information in order to deal with them in both recoveries of payments that have been made but, importantly, to prevent them from occurring in the first place.


And the application of new technologies is really critical to that, so we’ve made some other suggestions in that regard and have looked at agencies areas.  So this is an area, it’s a lot of money, you know, $100 billion or more, and it is an area where both the Congress and the Administration have been focused on it.  And so I expect to see improvements and better results going forward.


Michael Keegan: You mentioned audited financial statements, and I want to talk about the 21 of the 26 CFO Act agencies have received an unqualified opinion, yet there are major impediments still remaining for the federal government as a whole, being able to receive a clean opinion.  Would you tell us more about these impediments and what you can do to achieve this clean opinion?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, now this is a very important area.  I’ve been working on this for many years.  It’s very good that there’s progress at individual departments and agencies, 21 out of 24, as you mentioned, now have unqualified audit opinions.  When we first started this, implementing it across government in 1996 only six of 24 were able to get a clean opinion.  So there’s been great progress, but there are very important large agencies that are yet unable to get clean opinions – the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security are two examples of that area.


Now there’s been progress in both of those areas, but really the three main impediments to getting an opinion on the government wide consolidated statements are focused on making improvements in the Department of Defense.  They own so much property and their budget and their expenditures, and operations are so large that they’re a very material item to the consolidated financial statements of the federal government.


The second impediment is eliminating inter-governmental transactions among departments and agencies and reconciling their fund balance with the Treasury. This has been an issue that’s been very meddlesome and difficult to deal with.


And, thirdly, is the process of preparing the financial statements and Treasury’s compilation process to make sure that it is consistent with the underlying financial statements at departments and agencies. This hasn’t yet been able to be done without material changes to the financial statements or adjustments in the numbers. 


And so those are the main three areas.  In all three I’m pleased that there’s activity underway to make necessary improvements.  The Congress has levied some tough requirements on DoD to improve its financial statements and to be auditable by 2017.  The Secretary of Defense has said they want to be auditable in their statement of budgetary resources by 2014, and they have a plan underway to be able to do this that is focused on improving their budgetary numbers in existence and completeness of their records on military equipment. 


Both of these things are critical to their operations.  And Treasury has a number of activities underway with ONB to deal with inter-governmental eliminations and preparing the financial statements, so I’m hopeful that we’ll see continued progress on these items, particularly before my tenure ends.


Michael Keegan: Well, you had mentioned in our last segment the term tax gap, billions of flow to the Treasury by closing the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid.  Would you explain what is tax gap?  And would you outline some of the strategies GAO has offered to eliminate it or mitigate it?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, tax gap is basically the difference between the taxes that people voluntarily comply with and what’s owed.  And the latest estimate that was made, and it’s somewhat dated now, is there was a net tax gap of $290 billion.  And one of the things that we’ve suggested, for example, is the IRS periodically update that estimate, and they’re in the process of doing that now, so we should have a new estimate soon.


We’ve looked at a number of areas that are really important to us.  First, there’s a number of things that could be done.  The first is to simplify the tax code.  I mean it’s very difficult for people to figure out, and they spend a lot of time and energy on it, so that’s something the Congress needs to do, working with the Administration.  Secondly is to get additional information from third parties that the IRS could use to corroborate the information it’s getting from taxpayers, there could be more information requested from financial institutions and others that the IRS could use.  There could be more compliance checks before refunds are given going forward. 


So we’ve had a number of recommendations in this area, and there’s important progress, for example, there’s been legislation, the IRS is implementing new programs to require continuing education and requirements for paid tax preparers.  Now this is very important because a lot of people use paid tax preparers to make sure that they’re giving proper advice and that the government is benefitting from that, as well.  And so this is an area we have continual work underway on and we hope to offer additional suggestions in the future.


Michael Keegan: Okay, in an era of fiscal constraint, it’s critical that agency leaders act with strategic intent and keep their workforce motivated to meet mission.  Reflecting on your leadership at GAO would you tell us how you have kept your employees and staff focused and motivated in the face of dramatic, sometimes painful changes?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, I mean, first and foremost, we need to continue to be doing the most important work necessary for the country.  People in GAO come to GAO and stay because of the interesting nature of the work that we do and the ability to make a difference on key national issues, so that is very important and it goes back to my earlier discussions about prioritizing our work and working with the Congress to make sure that we’re working on the most important issues.


Beyond that, however, that’s not enough.  And today’s environment you need to keep your employees engaged.  For example, in dealing with our budget situation we have worked with our union very closely, and our employee advisory groups to get ideas from them on how we can deal with our budgetary challenges.  Every employee in GAO had the opportunity to post their suggestions.  We received well over 500 suggestions from individual employees of what we could do to streamline our operations and save operations.


So, also, we communicate very effectively with our employees, what our situation is, how we’re planning to handle it.  For example, I visited every one of our 11 field offices this summer to make sure that they understood the situation and that they had the opportunity to ask me questions.  And so we have regular communications.


We do our decisions on a fact based basis, and I had an address for all GAO employees in October outlining how we were going to handle our budgetary challenges this past year, and provided a lot of details to them.


So keeping them engaged keeps them motivated and it benefits the organization.  We have an organization filled with people who give advice to the rest of the federal government on how to improve their operations, and we can benefit from that at GAO, as well.


Michael Keegan: What does the future hold for the U.S. Accountability Office?  We will ask Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States, when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour.  I’m Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States.

Gene, I have the pleasure to talk to most of my guests about the use of collaboration and partnerships among agencies, branches of the government and the private sector to achieve mission results.  How are you folks at GAO leveraging partnerships and improving management operations?

Gene Dodaro: We’re using partnerships in a number of areas.  This is very important to make sure we have the brightest perspectives as possible and are leveraging our resources through the use of those partnerships.  For example, we work very closely with the Inspectors General throughout the government on the regular annual audits of financial statements in department and agencies.  They do many of these audits or arrange for them to be done by CPA firms, but we’ve worked out a joint methodology that’s used so that we can use the results of that work in order to help us in determining our audit opinion on the consolidated financial statements of the federal government. 


We have a similar methodology with the IGs we’ve worked out in looking at security issues across federal government.  Our partnerships with the IGs are very important, and we do that consistently.  We also have partnerships with the state and local audit community.  We work with them very closely in a number of areas.  We’re contemplating doing some increased work in infrastructure issues, for example, that many of them feel are important at their level.


We work, as I mentioned earlier, with ONB in looking at the high risk areas, and that’s a very important partnership and both GAO and ONB are working on these issues together with the agencies, you can create a lot more synergies to bring about positive changes in the government.


I also work in partnerships with my counterparts around the world, heads of national auditor offices in other countries.  For example, I’m leading a task force on the global financial crisis, and we have 25 countries involved, including China, countries in Europe, and other areas to look at past crises, what has led to the current situation, what needs to be done going forward, what role can the National Audit Office play in ensuring the prevention of any future crisis that might occur later. 


We’ve also been working with the international community.  I was heading up the international organization, audit offices, coordination with donor communities.  And we’ve established a partnership.  There are about 16 donors around the world that have signed this agreement with us.  The purpose is to strengthen the capacity of national audit offices in developing countries, areas where a lot of foreign aid goes in there, but there’s not always the strongest accountability mechanisms to ensuring that the aid goes to poverty reduction and to improve the economic and social conditions in these countries. 


So we have the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, European Union, United States AID have signed on to this agreement, along with a lot of the regional banks around the world, including the Islamic Development Bank, the African Development Bank, et cetera.  So those are just some sampling of the partnerships.  We also use a lot of advisory groups to help us in GAO identify issues that are important.


Michael Keegan: I’d like to talk about major policy decisions about fiscal policy.  The shape and the role of federal government will and should be made by elected officials, as you pointed out.  But you also have an interesting insight, if you will, on the role that public managers can play in helping elected officials manage through these challenges.  Would you elaborate?

Gene Dodaro: Yes, federal managers really can step-up during these periods of times and really help officials in a number of ways.  First, is pay attention to the people; pay attention to the workforce.  When there are difficult challenges a workforce can feel devalued and dispirited and you need to engage the people in the process to help them to manage the changes, and not let the changes manage them going forward and so trying to work with the workforce.


Secondly, is to step-up efforts to fix these high risk or longstanding problems in the agencies that drain resources unnecessarily away from productive means.  There are a lot of problems in the management and infrastructure of government and there are opportunities to provide strengthened roles to be more efficient, a better use of technology, and to deal with these improving the capacity of the governments to meet these challenges and eliminate wasteful activities and unnecessary departures from what would be productive use of resources. 


So public managers can do a lot in this process, and they can also offer up suggestions and alternative ways of dealing with these issues that can minimize any adverse or unintended consequences because of their deep knowledge of the programs and activities.


Michael Keegan: Well, Gene, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about a career in public service?

Gene Dodaro: Public service is a tremendous way to give back to your country.  It’s the reason that I was drawn to the federal government many years ago.  That’s why I’ve stayed in the federal government.  It’s a very rewarding career, and people should think about pursuing a career in public service at any point in their career, you know, whether they start out as an entry level person or they come in as a mid-career manager or senior manager in government, it’s very important to be able to do that and to have the perspective to help your country. 


We’re only going to be as good as our public service in going forward to help government carry out whatever missions are given it by our legislatures and by our policymakers.  But we need to do the best we can to make sure we have the strongest country possible and that we remain economically strong and can deliver to all of our democratic institutions in a way that well serves the American public, not only now but well into the future.


Michael Keegan: Wonderful.  Gene, I want to thank you for joining me.  It’s been a wonderful conversation but, more importantly, I want to thank you for your 30 plus years of service to the country.

Gene Dodaro: Thank you very much, Michael.  I’ve enjoyed being here today.  I enjoy public service, and look forward to continuing to do my part and to make sure that GAO does its part to help serve the Congress and the country.  Thank you very much.


Michael Keegan: Thanks, again.  This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Be sure to join us next week for another informative, insightful, and in-depth conversation on improving government effectiveness. For The Business of Government Hour, I’m Michael Keegan, and thanks for joining us.

Host: This has been The Business of Government Hour. Be sure to 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


Gene Dodaro

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 - 17:22
Gene L. Dodaro became the eighth Comptroller General of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on December 22, 2010, when he was confirmed by the United States Senate. He was nominated by President Obama in September of 2010 and had been serving as Acting Comptroller General since March of 2008.
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