David Norquist interview

Monday, November 29th, 1999 - 20:00
David Norquist
Radio show date: 
Sat, 01/26/2008
Intro text: 
Financial Management; Managing for Performance and Results; Organizational Transformation...
Financial Management; Managing for Performance and Results; Organizational Transformation
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast January 26, 2008

Washington, D.C.

Announcer: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by The IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about The Center by visiting us on the web at

And now, The Business of Government Hour.

Mr. Morales: Good morning. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

Over four years ago, Congress and the President created a new department whose central mission would be to secure the homeland, integrating and aligning 22 separate government agencies into a single, cohesive, efficient, and effective department. During this rather short interval, DHS has faced many challenges while continuing to make progress securing our country from threats.

With us this morning to discuss his office and its role is our special guest, David Norquist, chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Good morning, David.

Mr. Norquist: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Steve Watson, partner in IBM's financial management practice.

Good morning, Steve.

Mr. Watson: Good morning, Al. And David, thanks for joining us this morning.

Mr. Morales: David, let's start with some perspective. Many may not realize that the creation of DHS has represented one of the largest reorganizations in government since the Second World War. Could you set some more context by providing us a sense of its mission and its continued evolution?

Mr. Norquist: Sure. The Department was formed out of 22 different agencies, and so we went from something that was not existent to becoming the third largest federal agency, which is a pretty dramatic transformation. Some organizations came intact, such as Transportation and Security Administration, United States Coast Guard. Some organizations, like Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Customs Service, were reorganized during their time with DHS. But the overall idea was that the Department would benefit, the country would benefit by having a department that had one common face at the border, one overarching mission: to secure the homeland, to facilitate lawful trade, travel, and immigration, and to help protect our freedoms. And by bringing all those different groups together with that common mission, that we'd be much stronger for it.

Mr. Morales: So you gave us a sense of some of the components within the Department, but can you give us a little bit more of the sense of the scale in terms of size of budget, number of employees, the geographic reach and footprint of the Department?

Mr. Norquist: The Department has 209,000 employees and a budget of $35 billion for Fiscal Year 2008, and we show up all across the country. If you're getting on at an airline, you'll run into Transportation Security Administration. Customs and Border Protection is the one that greets you at the ports of entry when you're coming across the border or going through Customs security. The Coast Guard is there at sea if you're in trouble, or to help protect the navigable waterways. We have ICE, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, enforcing our nation's laws throughout the interior. And of course, FEMA during a disaster is there to help and to respond. And so we have a footprint not only throughout the United States, but as well as attaches at embassies overseas.

Mr. Morales: So lots of moving parts.

Mr. Norquist: Yes, indeed.

Mr. Watson: Dave, thanks for that overview of the Department. Could you focus in a bit on your roles and responsibilities as the chief financial officer? What are your responsibilities?

Mr. Norquist: My two jobs boil down to building the budget and being a good steward of taxpayers' money. We just finished the audit on the 2000 budget. We've got the 2008 budget we're executing. We're going to present the 2009 budget to Congress in the beginning of February. And so you have all of those different moving parts at the same time, and we have to make sure that the Sceretary has the ability to reflect in the budget the relative priorities, to be able to address different risks to the nation by investing resources against those higher priority areas.

And so as the chief financial officer, as the different components submit their budgets, I help present them to him as options. What's the relative risk of this threat versus that? What's the relative effectiveness of different solutions? And then he can make the choices about where to invest the resources and the President can submit that recommendation for the budget to Congress.

At the same time, I worry about those funds as they're being executed. Do we have the proper internal controls? Do we have the policies and the procedures to protect the American taxpayers' money? And so we go through review processes of how we execute money. One of the most basic controls you look for is you want to make sure that the person who orders the item and the person who pays for the item and the person who receives the item are three different people. And that is a strong internal control that if you reflect it throughout your organization, it greatly enhances your protection of the taxpayers' money.

Mr. Watson: David, that's a broad set of responsibilities you've defined there, both in budget and as the chief accounting officer in effect. What are the top challenges you're facing right now in executing those responsibilities, and how are you going about addressing those challenges?

Mr. Norquist: Well, Steve, I think the key is we need to move beyond an agency in transition. When I came into the Department, people said, you know, DHS is new, it needs some time. And certainly when you've had a large reorganization, it takes some time to make all the changes you want, but we basically are tackling three areas.

The first is the staff. Do you have the right number of staff with the right skill sets to accomplish the mission? All internal controls begin with people who know how to do their job and do it well.

The second is we've had audits and others that have identified known weaknesses, and so we have a job to go out and address those, to eliminate those weaknesses and fix their problems.

And the third is we have to go beyond that. We have to look at those core things that many other agencies have and take for granted, and ensure that we have them so that we don't have this in the future. One simple example is, most organizations have basic financial management manuals to tell you how to do the processes and the procedures. Our components, some of them brought them with them, but as a department, you don't have that, so you don't know that you've got the best business practice in every organization. And it's our job to establish that, to elevate it, and thereby prevent new problems from occurring. And of course, you have to do all this at the same time you're producing and delivering a budget to Congress and doing the regular day activities.

Mr. Morales: Now, David, you've spent most of your career in the financial community. Can you provide our listeners with a sense of your career path? How did you get started in this field?

Mr. Norquist: Sure. I came out as a graduate of the University of Michigan, with both an undergraduate from there and a master's in public policy. I then went to work for the Department of the Army as a GS-9 program budget analyst through what was then called the Presidential Management Intern Program.

I spent several years with the Department of the Army, and over the course of my 18 years doing federal financial management, I have worked at a U.S. military field site overseas as the director of resource management, I've worked at Army Headquarters, I've worked at a major command, I worked for several years with the House Appropriations Committee, and I've worked at both the DoD comptroller shop, which is their CFO organization, and here at DHS. So one of the advantages of that is I have worked at basically every level at which the federal government spends money.

Mr. Morales: So tell me a little bit about some of these experiences, and how do you think that they have prepared you for your current leadership role and informed your management approach?

Mr. Norquist: I think one of the things that's essential for a leader is to be able to have the perspective of the individuals in the organizations they're dealing with. When you're at headquarters writing a policy, you need to imagine you're the person out in the field site attempting to implement it. Does this make sense to that person trying to implement it? Likewise, you have to take into account the perspective of the Congress. What are their concerns and issues going to be? And so if you've walked a mile in their shoes, if you've had to deal with those day-to-day decisions that are dramatically different between those levels of an organization, it makes it much easier to manage. You understand why something is a particular concern to an organization, or why a certain policy would create a problem rather than be a solution for somebody who's out at the field site.

Mr. Morales: So perhaps more so than any other role, there are many constituents to consider when you're working in this field.

Mr. Norquist: Absolutely. And it's best if you've had the chance to be in their shoes in order to really understand how what you're going to do is going to affect them, and be able to look at how to have an effective control from their perspective as well.

Mr. Morales: Great.

What is Homeland Security's financial management modernization strategy? We will ask David Norquist, chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with David Norquist, chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, partner in IBM's financial management practice.

David, can we talk for a moment about your recent department audit? Now, your department has been working very hard to make headway in a variety of different areas, so would you assess for us your progress on this audit?

Mr. Norquist: Sure, Al, and thank you for the question. The audit for DHS has been in the past a significant challenge, and I think some background here might be very useful. Two years ago, when I came into the Department, we had not just 10 material weaknesses, but they pretty much ran across the Department. For every material weakness, several organizations contributed to the reason we had that. Most of them came to the Department that way. They were not weaknesses necessarily from the reorganization, but ones the Department had inherited, and so this wasn't a problem you were going to be able to solve in a day. But we systematically set out to develop corrective action plans for each and every one of those material weaknesses, and then we began to execute it and track it over the course of the year. And so what's been very gratifying for me is, given all the hours and energy put into that, the results.

We have, for example, had the number of material weaknesses for the Department go from 10 to 7. The number of component conditions that contribute to that went from 25 to 16. Getting a little technical here, but the audit's disclaimer conditions dropped by 40 percent. So no matter how you measure progress in a financial audit, there was significant improvement across the board. The auditors were very favorable about their comments about how we had done. Their guidance to us next year was to keep it up, that that was exactly the type of progress that you should be doing, and the approach was the right way to go ahead.

What we now have done is got it to the point that the vast majority of our organization does not contribute to a material weakness, and we're down to only a few players left, and we hope to be able to reduce that again over the course of the next year as well. And so I've been very pleased to see that those resulted in very tangible results, and results not just of our saying so, but others coming in and saying, yes in fact you have addressed those concerns.

Mr. Morales: Well, that's great progress, and you should be congratulated for that. But as you look to the future, what are some of the steps that you're taking now to improve upon the results in the next audit?

Mr. Norquist: The first thing we're doing is we're producing the second edition of what we call our playbook. And that one is a collection of our internal controls over financial reporting corrective action plans. And so it lays out the steps each component is responsible for. It has milestones by which they're going to meet each of those steps. It has the responsible individual, so I know who I can hold accountable for that. I also then have regular meetings with each of them. One of the important things about a corrective action plan is, like any other program, you have to stay on top of it, you have to monitor it. And so one of the things we did is we created a program management office that effectively treats these plans like you would a program acquisition. Are they on schedule? Are they meeting their milestones? How are they doing, and how much is it they're spending in order to reach those goals?

We're going to do a couple of things different this year building on that success. The first is, many organization either began with a clean opinion and still have them, or the federal agencies have material weaknesses and they haven't eliminated them. We are blessed with several components, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which used to have virtually every material weakness the Department had. And in the last two audits, they've gotten to the point that this year they contribute to none.

And that's a reflection on the strong leadership from Julie Myers, their Assistant Secretary. They had a very strong CFO and they had very good corrective action plans. But what that means for me is there are people in that organization who know how to eliminate these problems, who've done it and who've been successful. So now when I sit down with a component who hasn't been able to solve these, I can bring in people from two or three other organizations in DHS who fixed exactly that problem, and now I can have them as sort of an advisory board, helping me review these corrective action plans and helping the components navigate their way through these problems.

Mr. Watson: David, could we talk a little bit more about this internal controls over financial reporting playbook? How are you using it to strengthen internal controls? How are you balancing short- and long-term fixes in the playbook?

Mr. Norquist: The playbook has two tracks. The first track is directly addressing anything that an auditor identified as a material weakness. But our goal with those corrective action plans is not to make the material weakness go away. The goal is to go beyond that, to get to the point that the head of that organization can say not only did the auditor not find a problem, but I have carefully reviewed this process and I believe that the information is correct and the process is sound. And so much like you shoot at a target by aiming slightly above it, we are going to go beyond the point of eliminating the weakness to having confidence in what they call going after the root cause, and making sure we've solidly addressed it.

But we've also got a second track that goes beyond that. We're looking at areas where the auditors have not identified a material weakness, and going through a process of looking at what are the steps we go through. And as I mentioned before about segregation of duties, are those strong internal controls? Do they give us a process that is both sound in design and sound in operation? And when we can validate those, then we can turn to the Secretary and say you can give affirmative assurance that this process is good, not just that the auditors didn't find it, but we've examined it, it represents best practices, you have good assurance about this process. And so we are doing that because I want to get ahead of the audits. I don't want to simply be responding to each weakness and say, okay, I'll play Whack-A-Mole, go after that one next. I want to be looking at where there aren't weaknesses, and knowing that if there is a problem there, we found it and we fixed it.

Mr. Watson: David, I know one of the other things you're looking at is your financial management system and your modernization strategy there. Can you talk to us a little bit about your transformation and systems consolidation plan? What are the next steps regarding this plan?

Mr. Norquist: Sure, Steve. What we have done, when I came in, the Department had inherited numerous financial management systems, and many of them were contributing to some of our material weaknesses. And looking at them, we said do we have any that work well? And we discovered we do.

We have, for example, a system used by Customs and Border Protection, who has a clean audit opinion on their entire financial statement. And their system works very well for them, contributes to no material weaknesses. We also have a system being used by Transportation and Security Administration, and their system works very well for them. And the system isn't the driver between the problems they've had, and they've been very successful in improving their audit position.

So the question becomes, well, do we need to design our own or can we consolidate on either or both of these systems? And from a risk management point of view, asking someone to develop new software for you and tell them these are my thousands of requirements, please meet them, that's a pretty high-risk approach. It's a big challenge. But if you say I've got these two that work and I've got a component that's on a different system, I'd like to move them onto this system, now there are people at DHS who are familiar with it, they know what it does, they know how it operates, and that strategy of migration is much more manageable. You don't have to move the entire department at once, you can move it in pieces, and every step results in a clear demonstrated benefit.

A simple example is in my immediate area, in one of our offices, they process purchase transactions, and their paperwork goes to the accounting shop to enter the data. Under the new system, what they enter would be automatically logged into the accounting system, so there's no risk of somebody mistyping a dollar amount or delay in the paperwork moving. Now the accounting folks can just validate that those in fact are correct, but they're not reentering, and you dramatically reduce your risk of a material weakness, your risk of error, and you most importantly remove the timeliness and accuracy of your financial data.

So we're going through the acquisition and contracting process for that right now, and we'll begin the consolidation and moves over the course of the next several years.

Mr. Watson: David, thanks. We've covered controls. We've covered a new system. Could we talk next about the Improper Payments Information Act? Agencies are required to annually review programs to identify those susceptible to significant problems. As I'm sure you know, but for our listeners, improper payments can include the wrong amount, the wrong recipient, or monies going to the right recipient, but being spent improperly.

What is the Department doing about improper payments?

Mr. Norquist: We regularly test for improper payments. When the Department was first started, we tested based on the size of the activity and the transaction to determine it. Since then, we've been shifting over to doing risk assessment, where are we most vulnerable, and concentrating our test work in that area.

As we have gone through, we've been very pleased to see that across the board, folks have had very good results in their improper payment testing, that the incidents are very low. The most significant exception, of course, is FEMA and the payments that happened during the Katrina disaster. I think people are maybe familiar with some of those challenges. But there, FEMA's done a number of things to strengthen those internal controls. They've increased their capacity to handle the volume of traffic, and that is one item, the simple volume of transactions, that can drive up errors. They've also put in additional automated checks. So for example, to ensure that the person applying for the benefit is in fact who they say they are and entitled to that benefit reduces your chance of error.

We've looked at and done some follow-up testing, and seen that in the hurricanes and events since then, that the error rate is in fact quite low. And so part of that is the volume and part of that is the improvement in internal controls. But we're very interested in staying on top of this issue of continuing our risk assessment and validating that the controls work or, in places where we see a weakness, strengthening those controls to prevent improper payments.

Mr. Morales: Great. Now, David, along similar lines, I understand that transferring money between agencies can be quite cumbersome, and that GAO has repeatedly identified intragovernmental transactions as an issue when they perform their annual audits. Can you tell us more about the government-wide effort to improve its ability to properly count, report, and reconcile these intragovernmental activities?

Mr. Norquist: One of the challenges you have when you go to close out an audit is you have to record how many obligations and how many -- or what exchange of data and finances do I have with, say, the Department of Defense or the Corps of Engineers, and what do they have with our organization. Now, it is quite possible that the individuals and very likely that the individuals within the organization all know about each of those individual agreements. But now the finance and accounting staff at the aggregate has to be able to resolve those. And so if the Department of Defense has one number and we have a different one, you have to figure out, well, what's the difference? Which record am I not having or do you not have from within our organization?

The challenge becomes that the data that's required to be on those documents is pretty high-level. And so you can easily run into a point where I know it's a transaction with DHS and the Department of the Army, but which organization within them? Those are absolutely enormous organizations. And so if we can move to the point of having more detailed data in those records, and I realize it's a specific office within my organization, a specific office within yours, and immediately we can reconcile which one of us is missing a piece of information and get our two numbers to match. So part of this is a standardizing the data. And OMB has been leading the effort in this area, and we're very supportive of the pilots that they are doing to try and examine ways to elevate this, and to be able to have that additional level of data so we know the right way to reconcile these. Otherwise, it becomes manpower-intensive.

And one of the responsibilities you have as a CFO is to say if I were to dedicate, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars paying multiple federal employees to research this, is there a risk or a problem that I'm avoiding or solving by doing this? In some cases, there might be -- in this case, it may be mostly recordkeeping, and so you'd much rather switch to an automated way than to be spending resources hunting it down in a one-time, one-solution manual process.

Mr. Morales: So do you see a solution for this issue in the near term or is this going to take some more time to resolve?

Mr. Norquist: It's going to take some time, but I think they've been making progress in identifying the types of things that are going to work. And of course, all of us who are affected by this, and that's all of the agencies, are very supportive of OMB and supporting their efforts to find a common solution.

Mr. Morales: It's certainly a vested interest for everyone to see a solution to this problem.

Mr. Norquist: Absolutely.

Mr. Morales: Great, great.

What is the Department doing to integrate budget and performance information? We will ask David Norquist, chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with David Norquist, chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, partner in IBM's financial management practice.

David, we've talked a lot about financial management and accountability, and certainly this is essential to the achievement of DHS's mission, but it continues to be a challenge for the Department since its creation. So focusing on financial management, can you tell us about the challenges inherent to bringing 22 diverse agencies together? And how have these challenges led to the passage of the Department's Financial Accountability Act?

Mr. Norquist: When you look at any sort of self-assessment, are you at risk for problems with internal controls or your finances, one of the first questions they ask you is have you either had significant staff turnover or been through a reorganization? Well, the Department was created, as you mentioned earlier, in the largest reorganization since World War II, and since then, we've been reorganized several more times. And so all of that means that from an independent perspective you're at a high risk for problems and you have to approach it. You will have a lack of standardization in policies, because people came from different organizations, and they bring with them the different policies and practices.

They likewise bring with them the different systems, so they won't necessarily talk to each other or, in some cases, they don't represent best practices. You'll have staff turnover that will kick in because of the change and the reorganization. And you started with a very small headquarters because that was the part that didn't exist when the Department was created. And so their ability to enforce standardization and develop a common culture is a start-up activity.

Recognizing that, Chairman Platz from the Congress and then-ranking member, now Chairman Townes looked at these types of issues and said for DHS, it isn't just about integrating your operations. It isn't about having Customs and Border Protection as part of the Department along with Coast Guard because we want a seamless control of the border. It's as much about the management of the Department and getting those to integrate as well. And I think that's what drove the Financial Accountability Act, is how do we help DHS put an emphasis on that part of the Department's challenge and help them through what clearly to them would be recognized at the very beginning as a hurdle that any new organization would have to get over.

So when I came in, I looked at the Financial Accountability Act, I looked at the types of challenges we faced, and you recognize that it really isn't a single problem. People would say, when I came in, oh, it's the system. Once you fix the system, everything's going to be okay. Well, that's not the only part that was reorganized. That's not the only part that's affected by change. And so I started to map out with my staff and with the CFOs of the components how do we tackle this in a broad range?

And you'd like to do it sequentially. You'd like to say, well, first, we're going to establish department-wide policy. And once we have all of that nicely done and the ribbon on it, we'll move to staffing, and we'll have enough people to implement that. And then you'll lay out the controls and you'll walk through it, but you're up and running. You've got to make payments tomorrow. You've got to support a mission today. You've got to disrupt a terrorist attack right now. And you can't wait on the back office to pull those together sequentially, and so we've attacked them and dealt with those challenges across the board.

We have initiatives in the people area. How do we make sure of the right people with the right training? We've got initiatives to establish the right policies. We have an initiative to put together a financial management manual. Most other departments, you would take that for granted. You'd come in -- in the Department of Defense -- or when I was at the Army, these big, green tomes that sat on the shelf and weighed hundreds of pounds that told you how to do absolutely every step. And here the ones we have are the ones the components brought with them. And so we've been looking at those of different departments, putting together workshops to review what are the best practices that a new department should use, and we've got about half of them done. By this summer coming up, we hope to have the 90 percent solution and be able to publish our set of standards that we can hold folks to.

We talked a little bit earlier about reviewing all our processes. How do we make sure that our processes are right and our controls are right? That, you have to do at the same time. That's what the OMB calls the A-123 reviews. Again, we talked about the systems as well. That's an inherent part of any solution going forward: getting to fewer systems, getting to common systems, getting to those that reinforce your controls.

Another simple example: You can have a rule that says that you can't engage in a certain transaction unless you have an authority or warrant to do that. It's really helpful if your financial system blocks somebody from doing that as well. So it isn't something that you only maintain through external checks, but your system reinforces good behavior by preventing people whose logon does not link to that warrant from being able to engage in those transactions.

And the last part that we focused on was assurance, which is how do you know that over time, these won't decay? How do you know that the controls won't get weak and that people you know, you have turnover. The new person comes in a month or two after the old person left, never quite got the hand-off briefing. How do you make sure that they know what they're supposed to do? And so we have a number of different things to train new people, as well as I have an assurance team that I send out to spot-check these and identify these types of issues before they become problems, before they contribute to a material weakness or before they become a vulnerability that somebody could later exploit.

And so we believe that that intent behind that language, and I really appreciate the strong support we have had from the Congress in this area, is helping to drive us forward in addressing not just one aspect of the financial management challenge, but the full range of challenges that go into strong internal controls.

Mr. Morales: So let me switch gears for a moment here and talk a little bit about the President's Management Agenda, or the PMA. In the last OMB scorecard, nearly half of the federal agencies, including Homeland, received a red rating in financial performance. Could you tell us from your perspective why this is such a challenging area for many agencies across the government? And can you further expand on how has your organization done to progress and improve over the last year?

Mr. Norquist: Delighted to. The President's Management Agenda has ratings on -- sort of red, yellow, green as you progress in solving problems. Many of the earliest ones, such as to get out of red, you have to have an unqualified opinion on your financial statement, well, that alone involves innumerous amounts of work and effort to fix that challenge. And so the standard was designed for the entire federal government and then many organizations who are working their way up that, addressing greater and greater challenges. But for some of us who inherited material weaknesses that prevent an unqualified opinion, you have to be tackling that at the same time you're trying to address the types of challenges that will show up at the higher levels of the standard to make sure you're in compliance with all the laws and regulations that relate to that standard. But it gets back to not focusing on a single problem at a time or thinking that you can just pick a single area, but recognizing you've got to make progress across the board. And what we have found, both here and elsewhere, is that when you make progress in key areas, it really opens it up for everyone else.

To go back to an example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement began two years ago by saying we'll address something called Fund Balance with Treasury. The sample version is, does what we have in our multiple checkbooks match the Treasury's? One of their material weaknesses was that they didn't do it. As they addressed that material weakness, as they eliminated it, all of a sudden, all sorts of other material weaknesses were getting solved. Because in order to get to the root cause of that problem, they were attacking the underlying.

Likewise, in this area, as you begin to address those, you're also addressing the very same problems that would come up as you got to yellow, as you got to green. And so you have to be tackling the full range.

I'm very excited about the progress we've made on the audit. I'm very excited about where it'll put someone who comes after me in terms of their ability to continue to improve both their score on the President's Management Agenda as well as their performance in terms of supporting the taxpayer and supporting the Department's mission.

Mr. Watson: David, sticking with the President's Management Agenda, budget and performance integration is another key component of that agenda. Could you tell us about DHS's efforts to get to green on the budget and performance integration score on the President's Management Agenda? And then more generally, how are you using finance information to inform management decision-making at the Department?

Mr. Norquist: Sure, Steve. The issue here is that you want to make sure that when you're looking at a budget and you're trying to decide what to fund next, you recognize how the funds in the past have been used. Did they in fact accomplish what you intended them to? Are you getting the results that you hoped for? What are the performance standards that you want to set out for the future? And you want that information directly integrated into your budget decision-making. You want that presented to your leadership at the same time, so they're making a decision off the full range of information. This is what's driven OMB's emphasis behind this, is to link the performance results and that what you're getting for your money with how we use additional taxpayers' money.

One of the nice advantages we have in our organization is as the Department was stood up, we created within the Comptroller's Office something called Program Analysis and Evaluation. That office has several responsibilities. One is they work on the President's Management Agenda and the PART scores, the reviews of the different components on how they meet those standards. They also work on the annual performance report. How have we done on the milestones? What were the goals of each organization, and did they in fact accomplish those goals, or how are they doing in accomplishing those goals?

They also have responsibility to review and look at major programs within the Department, not just from a performance, but also from an internal, executing their money, how are they doing on meeting their internal production milestones for new systems coming on board. That office is an essential part of our program build. When we meet with the Secretary or the Deputy, that office is essential to managing that process. They're there at the meetings. They ensure that when a project is up for approval or review or is being considered for additional funding, the leadership knows how it's done in the past. Did it in fact meet its objectives? Is it on schedule? How are they doing on spending their money and staying within budget? And by tying those all into the same organization and by having that with the comptroller -- with the CFO as part of our financial duties, we can ensure that performance is consistently put in front of the leadership to inform them, and consistently linked with our budget and our obligation of funds.

Mr. Watson: David, we talk with many of our guests about collaboration. What kinds of partnerships are you developing now to improve operations or outcomes at the Department? How might these partnerships change over time?

Mr. Norquist: Partnering with other organizations is absolutely essential, absolutely essential to your success as a CFO. Take, for example, other departments. In order to resolve the intergovernmental liabilities issues or any of those challenges, you have to have strong working relationships with the other CFOs of the other departments. In fact, I came to this meeting from meeting with the CFO at the Department of Defense. We have many issues in common, including, for example, the Coast Guard, which performs operations in Iraq, but also through OMB with our council -- the CFO Council there. That close relationship allows you to tackle many of these issues across organizations.

But it also works within an organization. Inside of my organization, we have regular meetings with the CFOs of each of the components. And in fact, I strongly encourage in the hiring process that we have CFOs who have worked in other components or at the headquarters in order to ensure that they have a broader understanding of their mission other than the office and the organization they're in. They've worked in another place. They understand how the two offices work together. Because so many of the issues that we work on, whether it's immigration and border enforcements, whether it's preventing terrorists from entering the country, require extensive collaboration between the organizations. And the financial world reflects that as well.

Perhaps the most important one that I would flag, particularly for the audit, is the close working relationship we have with our inspector general and our independent auditors. And this is a place where it is absolutely critical for us to have them involved in everything. We bring them into our regular meetings. My view is, I know that they're trying to identify weaknesses for the audit, but I'm trying to find them as well and fix them as well, and if they find them, I want to hear about it. I'm not interested in trying to hide the information from them. I want them to see the transparency. That also helps them, because they know going through the audit that they're seeing everything that you're seeing. They're seeing what's going on, and have a much better understanding of the solutions you're taking, what approaches you're using.

One of the ways we have used that strong solid relationship to improve our process is when we initially developed the corrective action plans that we talked about earlier, we asked the IG to take a look at them while they were still in draft. And we asked a few set of questions: do these in fact represent appropriate responses to the challenges that you've identified? Is it clear that the people who developed the corrective action plan understood your findings? The last thing you want to do is be solving a problem that's different than the one they found. You want to make sure you captured theirs, so you get that feedback. Do you think that these corrective action plans are in fact likely to be effective? Are they the right approach? Are they going after the root cause?

Some people will sit back and wait until you're done, and then they'll come back in and say it didn't work, you didn't succeed, and you should have sent something different. That's not particularly helpful. I've already spent a lot of time and resources. I would have preferred that up front. Our inspector general, our auditors, and others have given us a lot of that feedback early, so if they don't think an approach is going to work, they give us that feedback, we can fix it. That's why our corrective action plans last year were so effective. They had been reviewed by a number of people who knew the problems in detail, could provide that good feedback, and so when we executed them, we really saw success, we really saw them pay off.

We're going to do the same thing this year, sit down with them again. They're independent. They're not going to promise you it's going to make your weakness go away. They're still going to look for things. But they're going to let you know if you're off on the right track. They're going to give you that additional feedback from having another player who understands the process. And likewise, again, the close relationship that we have with committees on the Hill, both those on the appropriations side, on the budget, and those on the authorization and oversight side, you know, on the Financial Accountability Act and so forth, all of those are strong and essential to our progress. Because much of our work has been successful because of the support we have had from them.

Mr. Morales: So it's feedback in real time then.

Mr. Norquist: That is very helpful and it's absolutely essential.

Mr. Morales: Great.

Now, at the start of the show, you talked about the 209,000 employees at DHS, but we know that more and more government work is being carried out through the use of contractors. So could you tell us how federal managers can effectively manage this ever-increasing blended workforce? And what are some of the key differences intrinsic to these two core groups?

Mr. Norquist: Well, I think a manager has to recognize that whatever organization they're going to be in, they're going to have both. And they need to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, just as you would with the employees on your staff. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can I team people up to get the best results?

For example, if you're looking at a challenge or a mission that is stable, it's enduring, it's perhaps a core government mission, that's a place where you're really looking for your federal workforce to be your strength and your backbone. This is a place where you want to develop depth of experience, where you don't want to be potentially changing over the support on a regular basis, because it's essential to your success. You did it last year, you're going to do it next year, and you can manage the work that way.

But there are other places you run into where there's a real surge requirement. And in the audit, for example, this comes up in some areas where while at the same time you're producing the audit, you're trying to solve certain problems. You will not require that intensity and that level of work in perpetuity. You will not need it, so there's no reason to bring on board a large number of federal employees who then after a year or two, you will not have a requirement for that. So you strike a balance.

You identify what are the challenges that are best suited to an organization in the private sector where they can provide that search. In some cases, you're looking for something where they can make a rapid trade-off between technology and staff. In the government, we have a very hard time doing that. You know, we're developing right now the guidance for our 2010 budget. We're about to go to print on the 2009 budget. We're in the midst of executing 2008. So our planning is several years ahead, and our ability to make trade-offs are affected by that. Whereas with other organizations, if you're contracting for a service, they can make those trade-offs very quickly, and the private sector does a very good job at that.

And so as a manager, you really have to recognize both their performance boundaries as well, of course, there are certain legal ones or there are certain ones where by law and by the interest of the government, you want to keep in-house. But it's an important balance to maintain, and I think any manager should recognize that they're going to need both and they're going to end up using both.

Mr. Morales: So along these same lines, you know, given the critical role that financial management plays in the mission and program delivery, could you give us your view on how the role of the CFO will need to evolve in the future?

Mr. Norquist: Well, I think if you look at how the CFO has changed over time, everyone's always been focused on the budget. Ever since the appropriation committees were created over 100 years ago, you had that emphasis on the budget, and everyone understands that process. It's well-established, it will drive itself. But CFOs have had greater and greater responsibility on the internal control and the accountability side. And you've seen this in various levels of legislation that have been passed over the last set of years. And that's helped strengthen and improve the focus of the CFOs on the full range of the financial transactions, following them right out the door and making sure that the strong controls are in place.

Different offices have been tackling this in different ways in the past. And so what you've seen here is ability to get more standardization and more control and a repeated emphasis -- and the resources that come with that, the ability to put the staff on it to ensure that you're doing those checks. And a lot of benefit comes from random sampling and random checks to ensure that the controls are working properly.

Mr. Morales: Great.

So what does the future hold for the Department of Homeland Security? We will ask David Norquist, chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with David Norquist, chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, partner in IBM's financial management practice.

David, I'd like to continue transitioning to the future. Could you give us a sense of some of the key issues that will affect the CFOs and budget offices government-wide over the next couple of years?

Mr. Norquist: I think the central issue that will be affecting CFOs government-wide over the next several years, particularly the next year, is recruiting and retention. As you look at the agencies like Homeland Security and then the Defense Department, who is continuing to expand its ability on the audits, there's an increasing demand for people with accounting skills or people with CPAs. And as the size of the Defense Department begins to take its effect, you'll see that marketplace become very competitive, which means for the rest of the organizations who have been doing well, we'll be actively hiring their staff away and bringing them onto our organizations, creating challenges for them. And Defense Department, of course, will be by far the largest player in that area as they move forward on the process. So it creates an incentive for us to focus on training our staff and expanding the pool of people with that skill set, as well as the retention to keep the people who've got the longevity to understand the issues and how to solve those challenges.

Mr. Watson: David, on a broader basis, what are some of the major opportunities and challenges your organization will encounter in the future? How do you envision your office will evolve over the next five years to meet these challenges?

Mr. Norquist: Well, we're going to go through a transition over the next several years. We are going to shift from being focused on putting together those building blocks. Do you have a financial management manual? Do you have the right number of staff? Do you have the basic training courses? Can you establish a program for bringing people into your organization? Can you consolidate your systems? Those will either be done or well under way within the next year or two, next couple years, which means that what we're setting up for is, in my case for my successor, that he or she can look at an entirely new set of choices. They won't be talking about the Department is in transition or new. They'll be walking into a department that's well-established with as many of the features that we've expected somewhereelse. In fact, hopefully, they'll see it as better because we'll have been able to have adopted the best practices of those other organizations as we went through it.

But that will really create a whole new playing field. They will -- my hope for my successor is that they are not worried about the same issues that I am, that they're able to look at a whole range of new areas, efficiency of operations in some of our financial areas, things that move beyond the internal controls and the policy manuals and things that we've wanted to do to put that basic building block of a new agency in place.

Mr. Watson: David, having staff with the appropriate skills is obviously going to be key to achieving those objectives you've set out there. Would you elaborate on some of your human capital strategies? How are these programs helping you prepare future financial leaders for the Department?

Mr. Norquist: Well, there's one of the things that we started doing early on when I realized that weaknesses can come as much from people as from systems or policies, was if you are a new hire in the Department of Homeland Security, in the financial management field, whether you work for the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, we bring you to Washington, D.C. for a central training class, welcome on board. I don't want them to feel that they've been hired into the accounting office on the second floor of the Indianapolis office. I want them to recognize they've joined the Department. And so they need to understand the mission of all the different components of the Department.

They also need to understand fiscal law. In my view, if you're in a financial management profession, you are the residential expert in that room, on that meeting, on fiscal law and internal controls. And you should feel both that you have the knowledge and the obligation to speak up if somebody is suggesting a policy or procedure that would create a problem. And in many cases, some of the government controls are not inherently obvious to someone who's not in our profession why you have that segregation of duties, why you have some of those other controls.

So they need to be able to stand up and say, wait a second, we need to check the fiscal lawyers here to make sure that's an appropriate way. Maybe if we did it this way, with the right notification, that would be the appropriate solution. So we go through that training with them, fiscal law, the budget, the audit, the overview of DHS, and all the other components, to ensure that everyone being hired into the financial management community inside DHS has that core skill set, that strong understanding of internal controls.

It also helps because they get to meet the different CFOs. We have a panel. They get to see who the heads are of each of these organizations. Both times we've done it, the Deputy has come and spoke, so it also is very effective for the morale of the folks to understand that what they do is important to the leadership of the Department.

We're also going to be promoting certifications. There's a number of organizations that provide certifications to the people in the financial management field. My office has put out an announcement to the components saying that we will sponsor those, we will pay for those. We will encourage people to apply for those certifications. I want them to be a professionalized workforce. And if they are willing to spend time and energy to study to pass these exams, we're happy to pay the cost of them to take the sitting fee and the other associated costs with that. And I recognize that they may take that skill set and go work for some other component inside DHS, but that's great. Because if they move from Coast Guard to ICE or from ICE to Secret Service, that's better for us as a department, and so we're also focused on building that skill set.

We'll have an award ceremony to recognize success. I think it's important for people who have been able to have as much success as we have had in the last few years to be able to be recognized for that. I think that's a positive reinforcement that's worth promoting.

In addition to which we have the CFO Mentorship Program, and this is really about preparing the financial leaders of tomorrow. I think you asked that as sort of the ending to your question, but I'll bring -- come to it here, Steve. When I looked across the Department, I asked the question where are the next set of CFOs coming from?

If you look at Department of Defense or anywhere else, they have an entire pipeline. You go to colleges, you recruit, you bring them in, you promote them up, they move up. Our staff came from other agencies. They came from Treasury, they came from Justice, they came from the Drug Enforcement Agency, they came from the Department of the Navy. They weren't developed and promoted from within. And so I realized that we were going to have to establish training opportunities and developmental opportunities so we can build that next group of career civil servant CFOs.

Our mentorship program is four years -- four months long. And they come in, and we've got five people in this year's class and we had five in last year's. And they spend time with the different CFOs. They spend some time getting residential training and leadership training. And the idea is to expose them to the many challenges a CFO has.

In the financial management field, most people are either from the budgeting side or the accounting side. A CFO has to manage both. And so if the mentor candidate has a budget background, we send him to work on the accounting side to understand the audit and how it relates, and vice versa. And I think this really helps lay the groundwork for a future group of people who everyone can turn to and say that's the next generation. That's the group of 15s and 14s that we look to promote over the next several years.

Again, it's no guarantee; have to compete just like anyone else. You don't have to go through the program to be selected. But by participating in it and by supporting it, I am trying to promote, and I think we've been very successful, in building that future cadre of managers.

Mr. Morales: So, David, we talked about maintaining this high-quality technical workforce, but what about at the front end in terms of attracting new employees to DHS or to the financial management ranks? What are you doing in this area?

Mr. Norquist: We have a number of initiatives underway. We've done a lot of basic outreach, going out and setting up booths at jobs fairs and conferences and things to try and attract. We've reached out to other organizations to promote the opportunities.

I think one of the things about DHS that is particularly appealing is it's really a place where you can make a difference. You can come in here and if you work in the area of financial management policy, we are writing new policy. We are putting in for places that didn't have it. You can come make a difference. If you are in any of these other areas, this is a place where you can wake up in the morning and recognize that what you did that week has really made a difference in making the world better, whether you work in the Financial Management Office or whether you're patrolling the border or whether you're doing checks on people boarding airplanes or whether you're looking for terrorists or you're protecting -- rescuing people at sea. People at DHS consistently are able to wake up and point to the successes and the accomplishments that they have had, and have that job satisfaction of knowing that the mission is really what made it successful.

We're also in the financial management area setting up an internship program to bring in folks from universities. Most departments have those, but our staff, as I mentioned, came from other departments. And so with Congress' support, we'll be reaching out to universities looking for those people with CPAs or financial management interest to drive them and draw them into the Department, give them the training and the rotational opportunities they need, and begin building that pipeline so we have a place to draw our GS-7s and GS-9s into our organization as opposed to simply always taking from other departments.

Mr. Morales: David, you're obviously very passionate about your work, and your success is unquestioned. So what advice could you give to a person who perhaps is out there, whether, you know, they're coming out of college or perhaps, you know, have several years in the workforce? What do you tell them if they're thinking about a career in public service?

Mr. Norquist: What I would tell them is to go where their passion is, to go where their heart takes them. This is not a job you do because it's going to make you large sums of money or it's going to make you famous. This is a job you do because you believe that you can make a difference. And so if you're really interested in boating and safety at sea and the Coast Guard is a place for you, go there, because you need to have a job where you're going to really understand and feel that sense of accomplishment. If you're interested in uniformed military service and protecting the country that way, there are great opportunities there. If you're interested in securing the border, there's a lot of hiring going on on the border protection. But these are places where people can bring safety and security to their friends and family, wake up every day knowing they made a difference interdicting a drug shipment, preventing a terrorist attack. Those are the types of things that you should look for.

In the financial management field, I've always passionately cared about two things, and I've been able to do it throughout my entire career. The first is protecting the country, and the other is protecting the taxpayers' money. And there are very few jobs where you get to do both at the same time, and so I've been blessed by having that opportunity. And I would encourage folks who are interested in a career in government service look for where that -- where your passion takes you. Look for the type of job where you can be satisfied with what you've accomplished and be able to look back on it with pride.

Mr. Morales: That's great, David. It sounds like there's something for everyone and you guarantee a high level of satisfaction.

Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time this morning, David. I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule. But more importantly, Steve and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our government and protecting our homeland.

Mr. Norquist: Thank you, Al, thank you, Steve, for having me on the show. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the success that we've had at the Department of Homeland Security, our improvement both in the audit and in internal control. I particularly thank all those hard-working folks in the Department who day-in and day-out make all of this possible. If anyone is interested in the financial management career field at DHS, just e-mail us your resume at We'll let you know where the applications are, help you navigate your way through some of the job application process.

Mr. Morales: That's great, thank you.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with David Norquist, chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. My co-host has been Steve Watson, partner in IBM's financial management practice. As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who may not be able to hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

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

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