performance

 

performance

Forum Introduction: Toward Greater Collaboration in Government

Thursday, April 12th, 2007 - 15:43
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Leading the U.S. Coast Guard

Thursday, April 12th, 2007 - 15:31
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Profiles in LeadershipAdmiral Thad W. Allen Commandant, United States Coast Guard

Robert Shea interview

Friday, March 23rd, 2007 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"My job is to make performance an increasingly important factor, and the PART is a very powerful tool. There's a tremendous opportunity to make greater use of this on the Hill."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 03/24/2007
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Managing for Performance and Results; Leadership; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships; Strategic Thinking; Innovation...
Managing for Performance and Results; Leadership; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships; Strategic Thinking; Innovation
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, December 9, 2006

Washington, D.C.

Mr. Breul: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Jonathan Breul, your host, and senior fellow of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the Center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Robert Shea, Associate Director for Management at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

Good morning, Robert.

Mr. Shea: Good morning, Jonathan.

Mr. Breul: And joining us in our conversation is John Kamensky, senior fellow at The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

Good morning, John.

Mr. Kamensky: Hi. How're you doing, Jonathan?

Mr. Breul: Let's begin by talking about the Office of Management and Budget. Robert, could you tell us about OMB, what is its mission, how is it organized, and give us a sense of the size of the staff?

Mr. Shea: OMB is a great storied institution, part of the Executive Office of the President. It's got about 500 employees. Its primary responsibility is to serve the President in executing his budget responsibilities, his oversight of the Executive Branch and the implementation of programs, and ensuring that regulations are issued in compliance with the law in an effective and efficient way.

It has the most talented group of employees in the federal government. It was rated recently by its own employees as the best place in government to work. It's a great place to be, very exciting. You have a very high sense of purpose at OMB, because you are every day trying to figure out how to serve the American people better every day.

Mr. Breul: Now that you've given us some sense of the larger OMB organization, could you elaborate on the management side of OMB, its specific purpose, its role within the larger organization?

Mr. Shea: Sure. The two big sides of OMB are the budget side and the management side. Most of the employees work on the budget side; that is, they prepare the budget, work with agencies to enact and implement that budget. But they also oversee the management of agencies. And the management side helps them to do that better.

We have an Office of Federal Procurement Policy, an Office of Federal Financial Management, an Office of Information Technology and E-Gov, and an Office of Personnel and Performance Management. Those all fall under the Deputy Director for Management, Clay Johnson, and are headed by folks who implement laws that have been enacted over time to improve government management, including the Office of Federal Procurement Act, the Chief Financial Officers Act, the E-Gov Act, the Clinger-Cohen Act.

All of these are intended -- and of course the Government Performance and Results Act, which really is the foundation for all of the management improvement acts that have been passed over time -- all of them are designed to make programs work better, more efficiently, and effectively on behalf of the American people. And we have chosen to implement those statutes, and measure implementation of those statutes, with the President's Management Agenda scorecard.

So for each of those offices, there is also an initiative on improving financial performance, strategic management of human capital, expanded electronic government, competitive sourcing and budget and performance integration, all of which have clear definitions of success criteria which we use to judge agency performance every quarter, so that we are improving the timeliness and accuracy of financial information that agencies can use to manage, that agencies have the employees they need to accomplish their missions, that they're reducing duplicative IT systems, managing IT projects more effectively and securely, that they're setting clear outcome goals for their programs and working to achieve them better and more efficiently every year, and reducing the cost of commercial activities.

So we've got about 60 people, all of whom are working diligently with their counterparts on the budget side of OMB and individuals and agencies to improve agency and program performance.

Mr. Kamensky: Well, that's a broad scope of responsibilities that the management side has. What are your specific responsibilities as the Associate Director for Management in OMB?

Mr. Shea: I often say that my duties are as assigned. But I lead the -- my primary responsibility is leading the budget and performance integration initiative, which implements the spirit of the Government Performance and Results Act.

Agencies have to have clear outcome-oriented long-term goals and measure their progress achieving those goals on an annual basis, and reporting on how well they're doing and identify strategies to do better, to do more for less. So I work with agencies to achieve the specific criteria for that initiative, and we measure and report our status in that initiative through the scorecard.

But I also -- because I've got some experience working on Capitol Hill -- help my colleagues work with the Congress in reporting on the extent to which we we're complying with the various management statutes in place. I also advise on various policy matters, particularly in Executive Branch organization and personnel policy.

Mr. Kamensky: You also chair two councils -- you just mentioned one of them -- the Council on Budget and Performance Integration. The other one is this Credit Council. What are these two councils, what is the role, and how do they tie back into this President's Management Agenda?

Mr. Shea: I'd like to say there is no activity in which the government is engaged where there aren't multiple players trying to achieve the same objective, and those are two examples. Every agency is trying to do a better job of setting clear goals and reporting on the extent to which they are achieving them, and trying to do the more efficiently.

Likewise, we have a massive number of loans and loan guarantees that we issue every year. Multiple agencies are doing that. We get each of these groups together to come up with and share best practices on how to achieve those objectives. We've got a meeting with the budget and performance integration leads. And two of the things we'll talk about are making sure that agency congressional budget justifications integrate performance information in a way that is both useful to them and useful to their primary audience on the Hill, the appropriators, but we'll also come up with ways to reduce duplicative reporting requirements.

Everybody wants agencies to report on how they're doing, how efficiently they're performing. I mean, sometimes we get carried away. So we want to make sure we are not creating duplicative reporting requirements that detract from an agency's ability to focus on what they should be doing, which is actual program performance.

Now, the Credit Council is made up of representatives from the major lending agencies: SBA, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, Housing and Urban Development, the Veterans Affairs Department. These are folks who manage massive loan portfolios. And we want to make sure that they are working together to find the best way to assess the creditworthiness of individuals and manage their loan portfolios so that the risk to the taxpayer is not too great, while at the same time, we are reaching our target borrower population, that the program goals of these loan portfolios are achieved in the most efficient way possible.

Mr. Breul: Let's step aside for a moment and look at your career. How did you begin your career and how did you get to OMB? What was the path that took you to where you are now?

Mr. Shea: I started with the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform and became passionate about improving agency and program performance there. I then spent a couple of years working for my good friend, Congressman Pete Sessions of Dallas, as his legislative director, and got some good experience advising a senior political leader on a broad array of public policy. But this fellow had an intense interest in improving government results. So it was a good match.

I then had the privilege of working for Senator Fred Thompson as Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, another dynamic leader committed to improving government management and program performance.

As a staffer on that committee, I got the privilege of working with agency officials, Executive Branch officials, particularly those from OMB in their Senate confirmation process. That's where I met Mark Everson, then-comptroller at OMB, now IRS Commissioner. And he asked me to come work for him at OMB.

He was then promoted to Deputy for Management, left OMB and was replaced by Clay Johnson. And Clay asked me to stay on, lead the Budget and Performance Integration Initiative and help him administer the President's Management Agenda as Associate Director for Management. I've worked with three directors of OMB, two deputy directors for management, a senator and two congressmen, and all of them committed to -- not only public service, but service that contributes to the improved performance and service to Americans. So I am proud to be associated with people who I know the American people would be glad to know are working on their behalf.

Mr. Breul: How has OMB's Program Assessment Rating Tool changed the way government does business?

We will ask Robert Shea, Associate Director for Management at OMB, to tell us about this, when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Breul: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm you host, Jonathan Breul, and this morning's conversation is with Robert Shea, Associate Director for Management at OMB.

Also joining us in our conversation is John Kamensky, senior fellow at The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

In 2003, OMB initiated its Program Assessment Rating Tool, commonly referred to as PART. Robert, would you tell us about PART: its purpose, its scope, how is it designed, and what's the overall status of the PART initiative today?

Mr. Shea: The Program Assessment Rating Tool is a simple device to guide agencies in OMB in assessing the management and performance of programs. It's comprised of 25 or so basic questions: asking whether a program's purpose is clear and it's well-designed to achieve its objectives, whether it's got outcome-oriented long-term and annual goals and aggressive targets, whether it's well-managed. Most importantly, the tool asks whether a program achieves its goals.

We've asked these questions of virtually every program in the government now. We've assessed 100 percent of government spending, give or take 5 or 8 percent. And the purpose is to ascertain what barriers exist to improving a program's performance, and once we identify those barriers, come up with strategies to overcome them. The way it works is agencies tell us what the right answers to these questions are, like any self-assessment that's going to appear more generous than it should be.

So we at OMB kind of look at the evidence that has been provided and try to work with the agency to come up with the right answers to these questions, and then come up with a reasonable, accurate, and objective overall assessment for a program. Once OMB and the agency staff arrive at the right answer, my staff does an audit of all the parts to make sure that they are consistent with the rules, whether we've applied the questions consistently to programs across the government. After that, if an agency didn't like its overall assessment, it can appeal to a high-level committee comprised of deputies from various agencies in the government.

And then we arrive at a final rating. We use that not only to identify strategies to improve programs, but to make decisions about programs, about whether we need to propose legislative fixes to make them perform better, what their budget level ought to be, is this program performing at a high enough level where we can invest more, or do we need to fix something before we scale it up.

Hopefully, we can make more and more of those decisions. But for the first time, we've had this uniform set of assessments to make decisions like this across government, so we can see the performance of programs within agencies, but also perhaps more importantly, like programs across government -- programs with similar goals.

Mr. Breul: How has the PART introduced a new level of transparency and led to a more citizen-centric government?

Mr. Shea: As long as we've been doing the Program Assessment Rating Tool, we have published all of the answers and the evidence upon which those answers are based on the Internet at OMB's website. But it was so difficult to navigate that you might as well not have been posting it at all.

Analysts might have been able to look at the data and made some use of it; people familiar with a specific program might have found it useful. But otherwise, it wasn't very accessible. So we stepped back and launched a website called expectmore.gov. to sort of summarize all of the program assessments in a language that was more easily understandable by the average reader or visitor to the site, and made it searchable by a common search tool.

But all the evidence is there. We haven't reduced the amount of information that's there. We've just summarized it in a way that's more accessible, readable, understandable so that people can make greater use of it.

We've had more than a couple of million visitors to the site, which is more modest than I would like it to be, but is a lot more than visited in the past. And I hope that that information could be much more usable in the future; that people will visit the site as a way to look at how other programs are finding out how to do better and better every year.

But also, the whole program is accountable. You know, ultimately we ought to be candid about whether or not we are achieving our objectives on behalf of the American people and trying to collaborate on ways to do better in the future.

I will tell you one of the most visited sites on expectmore.gov is the Gallaudet University PART. We are the federal investment in Gallaudet University. Taxpayers invest $100 million a year in Gallaudet. So we thought it was a useful program to assess, and when you look at the data, it shows that graduates in jobs or degree programs commensurate with their degrees from Gallaudet reduced by a dramatic amount -- and the PART makes you ask why, what's causing that? And there has been a lot of discussion between us and Gallaudet. Gallaudet is an important storied institution that is serving a pivotal role, educating deaf people, both from K through 12 all the way through the postgraduate level, doing very important research on deaf education.

But the PART highlighted what really was invisible to most, and that was a decrease in some of their performance. And so hopefully, we will come up with ways to improve. That's the most high-profile assessment we've done, but all of these programs provide an opportunity to identify weaknesses and strategies to overcome them.

Mr. Kamensky: Well, in the first year, I have noticed that it was treated largely as a compliance exercise, and the next year, it seemed to be that a lot more senior executives were paying attention to the process. How does this PART score wind up influencing an agency's budget, either in the President's budget or up on the Hill in the appropriations process? And are you trying to generate more interest up on the Hill on this?

Mr. Shea: Well, starting with your first point about the compliance exercise, PART is what you make it. The Program Assessment Rating Tool can be a very effective way to drive greater performance in your organization, because it's really basic questions about a program's performance and management that we all ought to be asking whether or not we are achieving.

As far as the use of this as a device to make budget decisions, we ought to be making decisions based on performance and management of programs. This just gives us a uniform way to produce that evidence and use it as a factor in decision-making. But you know, John, that we don't make these decisions based on one factor alone, there are a lot of drivers to decisions about program budgets.

My job is to make performance an increasingly important factor, and the PART is a very powerful tool. But decisions will be made to increase funding or decrease funding for a program that are not related to performance. A program may have outlived its usefulness. The original purpose might have gone away, or the program may not be a priority for a particular administration or committee chairman.

So a lot of factors go into the decision-making about program funding. A program that is rated ineffective may need additional funds to address a particular weakness. And a higher performing program may, as I say, have outlived its usefulness or not be a high priority, and therefore its funding can be diverted to other uses. And if you look at the PART ratings, there is a slight correlation: higher performing programs tend to in the aggregate get higher budgets, and programs in the lower rated category tend to get less funding. But there is no direct correlation between a program's rating and its funding level.

There's a tremendous opportunity to make greater use of this on the Hill. Some resist it -- I fail to understand why except that I think some may view criticism of a program that they created as a personal slight. And I can't say enough or clearly enough or repeat enough that this is intended to be a characterization of the status quo about a program's performance and management, and we want these programs to work as much as anyone else. And the path forward is to address whatever weaknesses we find, not ignore them.

Mr. Breul: Last year, in 2005, the PART won the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award. Could you tell our listeners a little bit about the award and what the significance is of receiving it?

Mr. Shea: The Ash Institute, in collaboration with the Kennedy School of Government and the Council for Excellence in Government, every year receive nominations for innovations in American government, things that they think ought to be replicated because of the promise of the particular innovation to improving the lives of Americans for the performance and management of government.

And in 2005, they recognized the Program Assessment Rating Tool as one of those innovations worthy of replication. It was a high honor to have received that award. It was not received by me. It was -- rightly went to the folks at OMB who developed the tool. It was an important recognition that I think validated for all of us who have been toiling at this the methodology we're using to assess program performance and management. The program comes with a $100,000 grant, which because we are OMB, we couldn't receive, we had to take the award alone as compensation.

Mr. Breul: What is expectmore.gov, and how does the PART facilitate budget performance integration?

We will ask Robert Shea, Associate Director for Management at OMB, to share with us the answers to these questions when we return and continue our conversation about management on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Breul: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Jonathan Breul. This morning's conversation is with Robert Shea, Associate Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Also joining us in our conversation is John Kamensky, senior fellow at The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

Robert, during our last segment, you mentioned a new website, www.expectmore.gov. What are the plans to expand the application of expectmore.gov, and what are your plans to use it in the future to share information on programs, and specifically to assist Congress during the reauthorization of programs?

Mr. Shea: Well, expectmore.gov now includes all the programs that have been assessed to date. The remaining programs we've assessed will be posted there early next year. So you'll have the most comprehensive information on the performance and management of federal programs anywhere. It's an incredibly comprehensive site, useful information if you want to fix a program, if you want to identify what other programs are doing particularly innovative things to improve their performance, the relative performance of like programs.

We can do a lot more of that. We can identify or make it easier to find similar programs so that a poorer-performing program can go to one of its partner programs or a program with a similar missions to find out better ways to crack the nut. I think it can be a particularly useful source of best practices for programs across the government.

As far as congressional authorization is concerned, I am trying to figure out a way to link a program's statutory authorization on the site so that folks who are involved in the reauthorization program of a program either at the agency or in the Congress, or anywhere for that matter, can go not only for the statutory basis for the program, but also to find out when its authorization might be up and when the right time might be to interject some reforms into the reauthorization process.

We're not there yet. I hope it will be part of the site when it's refreshed in the early next year, but certainly in the near future, it's something that that site ought to provide, expectmore.gov. I encourage everybody to visit now and often.

Mr. Breul: How has the PART submission process evolved? Originally, it was a paper exercise. Now, you use a PART web application, it's web-based. What are the future plans to further enhance the PART web application?

Mr. Shea: We used to submit PART answers over the Internet on an Excel spreadsheet and then have to convert that so that we could publish it online. Now, we have evolved to an online collaboration tool that allows agencies to input their answers and evidence more easily, and then for OMB and agencies to collaborate on what the right answers are to those questions online.

It's much quicker, much more collaborative, but even that can be better. For instance, right now, you really can't see what the specific edits are that somebody made to the data in the application. And we want to make sure that people can have an easy way to track what's going on with their program assessment. And we also want agencies to be able to more easily access data about other ongoing assessments so that if they are having a particular challenge, whether it's the right performance measures or efficiency improvement strategies or reform efforts, we want them to access that information more readily. PART web is a tool that's in its future evolution can facilitate that to a much greater degree.

Mr. Kamensky: I see some really big differences between departments in the program assessment ratings under the PART process. Is this because of the inherent nature of the programs these departments have, or is it related to something else?

Mr. Shea: The differences in the application of the tool are probably as varied as the difference in departments themselves. A large department can have pockets that embrace the tool and really use it to aggressively drive performance improvements or reform strategies when the rest of the department might not do quite as much as you would hope to use the tool. And so we try to be as uniform in the application of the tool as possible through the process I described of auditing PART results and giving agencies an opportunity to appeal to a high-level board that's overseeing the whole process so that it's consistently applied throughout the government.

Each of these program's assessments, like programs themselves, can be better. And we ought to be as critical as we can about the status of a program so that we can drive it to improve even more. And everybody who looks at a PART ought to be highly critical of the assessment. They ought to question the answers to the questions on the PART, don't give us the benefit of the doubt, because the more and more people who provide their input into this process, the more accurate and reliable and useful it will be.

Mr. Kamensky: One of the key initiatives in the President's Management Agenda is the Budget Performance Integration Initiative. Could you tell us a little bit more about this initiative and how PART plays a role in helping that particular initiative be successful?

Mr. Shea: The Budget and Performance Integration Initiative is one of the five initiatives on the President's Management Agenda which each major agency is complying with. It ensures that agencies have a strategic plan that's got really good long-term outcome-oriented goals, that it uses data on a regular basis to make decisions about how to improve program performance and efficiency, that individuals in the organization are assessed based on their contribution to the achievement of the agency's and program's mission and goals.

The Program Assessment Rating Tool gives you a really good way to assess the performance and management at the program level and then to use that improvement strategies that you've identified through that tool to improve strategic goals, individual performance goals, and efficiency efforts. We just want to see the PART as another source of information agencies can use to improve their performance.

Mr. Breul: With all the success that you have had with PART, could you tell us whether its success has piqued the interests of other countries? Have other countries come to you and sought to emulate or imitate the PART tool?

Mr. Shea: Yes. In fact, I was surprised several years ago to learn that the Scottish EPA had applied the PART. I am less surprised with the successive governments that come to me asking for information on how they can apply this tool to their affairs. I was recently at a meeting of OECD in Paris, in which my partner representatives were all very eager to learn about this tool. Australia, Canada, Korea, Thailand, all have expressed an interest in applying this precise tool.

I had a visit, far less exotic, from a local government near us right now that wanted to consult with us on how they could apply this tool to their affairs. It's really simple. A set of questions that asks of federal programs, what could legitimately be asked of any activity. Do you have clear goals, and is your program well-designed to achieve those goals? Do you have long-term and short-term targets? Are you well-managed? And are you achieving your goals? Those are basic questions that we ought to be asking about what we're doing so that we can do it better.

Mr. Breul: Are you finding similar interests by state and local governments? Has anyone from a governor's office or a mayor's office come to visit, sought to pick up the essential elements of the PART?

Mr. Shea: I have had some modest interest -- not a lot -- but like I say, one of the local governments from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area approached me about applying the tool there. So I think that would be very exciting.

Mr. Breul: And what about interest from Congress? Have you had any particular entrees or invitations from them to follow-up and dig more deeply into expectmore.gov or how the PART tool itself operates?

Mr. Shea: There is increasing interest from the Congress in the Program Assessment Rating Tool and our conclusions about programs. Some of that interest is good; some of it is not so good. I'd like to hope that more and more in Congress find this information useful in performing their jobs in reauthorization, oversight, appropriations, because like us, they want the programs that they authorize and fund to work better every year.

And you see increasing citations to assessments of programs in congressional reports and the like -- hearings. So I hope that grows. And I hope it grows in a positive way that people really find this information more and more useful.

Mr. Breul: What's next for PART and for other government management reforms,? We will ask Robert Shea, Associate Director for Management at OMB, to share this with us when our conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Breul: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Jonathan Breul, and this morning's conversation is with Robert Shea, Associate Director for Management at OMB.

Also joining us in our conversation is John Kamensky, senior fellow at The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

Robert, with the forthcoming Fiscal Year 2008 budget, which is going to be released in February of 2007, the Administration is going to release the results of the fifth round of the PART assessments, completing 100 percent of programs and dollars. What are the plans for PART next year, and does OMB plan to go back and re-PART specific programs? Are you going to go look at programs that got low scores, or are you going to take a look at programs in various cross-cutting areas?

Mr. Shea: I hope we're going to do all of those things, having assessed virtually 100 percent of the federal budget, have improvement plans for most programs. Everybody has identified steps that they are going to take to improve the programs they manage. So we need to track those; we need to ensure that people are being as aggressive as they can in implementing those improvement plans. So that's the first thing we'll do, make sure everybody is doing what they said they would do to improve their programs.

Programs that have done enough to warrant a reassessment will get reassessed, and hopefully their ratings will improve. But then we'll have to identify improvements that the programs will have to take again to improve even more. So this is a continuing cycle of improvement that we can engage in now with the PART.

Now, as you say, having assessed 100 percent of the programs, what is the opportunity for looking at cross-cutting areas? I think the highest value use of the Program Assessment Rating Tool is in getting like programs together, programs with similar missions, and collaborate on better ways to jointly improve their performance. We've done this in a myriad of areas. In grant programs, for instance, we've come up with a common strategy that programs can use to share information about specific funded activities that are more effective than others so that we can scale those up.

We have collaborated this past year with programs aimed at improving achievement in math and science among America's youth. And you will find a real lack of clarity about the goals of those programs. We've fixed that. And now we are going to get more and more evidence about which math and science programs are most effective so that we can share those lessons with the hundreds of other programs that are aimed at improving math and science achievement. That's the real potential for the future of the PART. I intend to drive its use for collaboration among like programs.

Mr. Breul: The President recently signed into law a new piece of legislation, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. What does this legislation envision? And can you tell us something about the role of the blogger community in the passage of this new act?

Mr. Shea: That was something to behold. This was a piece of legislation which had a very noble purpose but which I didn't give very high odds of passage, because I knew the opposition among many in Congress was great. What it does is it requires us to post on a regularly updated basis those federal expenditures and grants and contracts and loans, et cetera, to organizations other than to individuals, and to post that in a searchable, easily accessible format on the Internet. And we are going to implement that Act as the authors of that Act intend it to be created. We will collaborate with them in the development and planning of that website.

Now, one of the forces that helped this bill get enacted was the blogger community on the Internet. They were passionate, both on the left and the right, for this legislation, because they saw it as a way to improve accountability of government for taxpayer spending. And they got wind of efforts to defeat it and shined the bright light of the Internet on those activities and overcame them -- by sheer force, got very powerful members of Congress to relent and in the end support passage and enactment of this legislation.

Mr. Kamensky: This has been, you know, a fascinating phenomenon, that this has happened. The question then becomes, is there the ability to leverage this kind of change in the culture of Washington and new ways to focus attention on management issues that might otherwise not have been paid attention to?

Mr. Shea: I think one of our watchwords in implementing the President's Management Agenda has been transparency. We grade agencies every quarter, post their grades on the Internet. We also assess programs and post all of the evidence on which those assessments are based in easily accessible websites, searchable and understandable by the American public. The reason we do that is because we think we're on the side of right. We think what we're doing is the best way to achieve our goals. And if others disagree with us, we want to know that. If they have a better way to achieve the goals, we want to know that, because no one wants to achieve our mutual goals more than we do.

So I think the blogger community, just like any other media outlet, is a great way to both communicate and collaborate on our plans to achieve goals. So we have a new vessel for communicating our plans. I anticipate that the feedback we get might be a little more aggressive than we're used to, but bring it on. We want feedback so that people can buy into what we are doing.

Mr. Kamensky: And do you have some plan for leveraging this?

Mr. Shea: Well, I think that's it. I think regularly communicating with the folks who are involved in that website, not only on the implementation of the plans to comply with the Act, but also in the implementation of the President's Management Agenda overall.

Mr. Kamensky: Separately, how significant is the proposed Program Assessment and Results Act, which is a proposal in Congress, to the continued and future success of the government management reform efforts?

Mr. Shea: Well, I think one of the questions the Program Assessment Rating Tool asks is whether a program's statutory design adequately helps it achieve its goal or whether it's flawed in some way. If it's flawed, I generally suggest that we try to remedy that flaw in statute. So there are a number of statutory reforms that have been proposed as a result of the PART highlighting a flaw. We've not been that successful in getting those reforms enacted. So in the future, there's a great opportunity for improvement.

And when you see like programs that suffer from generally the same flaws, you can accelerate the performance of those programs by perhaps reforming them all at the same time. Reauthorization, as we've talked about, is an opportunity to tee up those reforms for agencies and the Congress, and the President as well.

Mr. Breul: Let me turn the conversation back to OMB for a moment. OMB has a reputation for being a very demanding and stressful place to work. And yet to the surprise of many, it achieved the number one ranking in the Partnership for Public Services' best places to work in the federal government survey.

What are some of the benefits of working in such an environment, and in particular, what advice would you give to a person considering a career in the public service or possibly even being interested in joining OMB?

Mr. Shea: OMB is a very demanding place to work, just like any federal job. We are doing a better job at telework. So I'm able to spend more time with my beautiful wife and charming three girls. But it's still tough -- the hours are long, and there is no downturn in the workload throughout the year. There's always something going through OMB. When every policy matter, legislative matter, budget matter, management matter, regulatory matter comes through OMB, there's just no let-up in the workload. But that's also why it's an attractive place to work.

But the work we are doing will have an impact on the performance and management of the federal government, and therefore, the lives of the American people. You can have a real impact on mission at any job at OMB. And that is an incredible reward. There is a challenge of staying the best place to work, because while our employees are the most talented, there's a limit. You've got to have a reasonable workload-family balance. And so that's a continuing challenge that we have to confront.

But the advice I'd give to people who are considering a job at OMB is to come. If you're talented and have an interest in public service, serving the American people, OMB is the most exciting place to be because it's where I think you can have the greatest impact.

I would recommend you visit www.omb.gov for more information about not only OMB in general, but opportunities to come work there.

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

Mr. Shea: Thank you very much, Jonathan, John. This has been fun. And for those listening, if you want to get more information about the President's Management Agenda, I invite you to visit www.results.gov., where we update regularly the status of the scorecard and other President's Management Agenda initiatives.

And not to sound like a broken record, but for more information about program performance and management and our assessments in general, visit www.expectmore.gov.

Mr. Breul: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Robert Shea, Associate Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Be sure to visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed forces and civil service abroad who can't hear this morning's show on how we are improving their government but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

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

Michael Ryan interview

Friday, January 5th, 2007 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"MCC provides assistance in a manner that promotes economic growth and the alleviation of extreme poverty and strengthens good governance, economic freedom, and of course, investments in people."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 01/06/2007
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Financial Management; Managing for Performance and Results; Missions and Program ...
Financial Management; Managing for Performance and Results; Missions and Program
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, January 6, 2007

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Morales: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created this center in 1998, to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the center by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Michael Ryan, vice president of the Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Good morning, Michael.

Mr. Ryan: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, Director in IBM's federal consulting practice. Good morning, Pete.

Mr. Boyer: Good morning, Al.

Mr. Morales: Mike, perhaps you could start by giving us an overview of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Tell us a little bit about the mission and give us an overview of the Millennium Challenge Act of 2003, and some of its key requirements.

Mr. Ryan: That would be my great pleasure.

The MCC mission is simply to reduce poverty by supporting sustainable economic growth in developing countries -- in those countries which create and maintain sound policy environments.

The Millennium Challenge Act established MCC to administer the Millennium Challenge account. This was established in January of 2004 as a result of President Bush's commitment at the Monterey summit. And that summit focused on financing for development, and the purpose, as stated, was to provide greater resources for developing countries, taking greater responsibility for their own development. It sometimes been referred to as assistance with accountability.

The act itself mandates that MCC provide assistance in a manner that promotes economic growth and the alleviation of extreme poverty and strengthens good governance, economic freedom, and of course, investments in people.

The MCC program, of course, is only one component of our overall foreign assistance strategy, but it is an important and an innovative one. It's something new, and our work draws on lessons learned from international development organizations over the past 50 years, and it focuses on the long-term mission of reducing poverty, as I mentioned, through economic growth.

In short, we work in partnership with some of the poorest countries to create country ownership instead of long-term dependence on assistance. We want to give assistance in order for countries to take over the job of their economic growth and alleviate poverty within their borders.

Mr. Morales: Mike, this is certainly a non-trivial challenge in mission. Could you tell us a little bit about how your organization is organized, the size of your budget, and how many people are employed in your organization?

Mr. Ryan: MCC was designed as a small and a federal corporation and is meant to ensure accountability for the aid we administer. As a federal corporation, it's managed by a chief executive officer, who's currently Ambassador John Danilovich, and he's appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

What makes us a little bit different is we're overseen by a board of directors, who make the major decisions, what countries to give assistance to and the like. And that board of directors is chaired by the secretary of state. The vice chair is a secretary of the treasury. Other members include the -- the United States trade representative. The U.S. aid administrator. And it is has interestingly two public members currently, although, there may be more in the future.

Kenneth Hackett, who's the president of Catholic Relief Services, and Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who in addition to being the governor of New Jersey, was also a former EPA administrator and now is a president of the Whitman Strategy Group.

We have a number of departments. We have operations, we have a department of accountability, a department of policy and international relations. Of course, we have congressional public affairs and an office of the general counsel. And then we have the department that -- that I head up, administration and finance.

As far as our budget goes, the commitment had been to rise to $5 billion a year. The current request is for $3 billion. The House passed a bill, and now is at $2 billion. I don't know where that's going to end up. And clearly, one thing that gives us a good deal of flexibility is that all of our MCC funds are no-year funds, which means that we can obligate funds for a five-year compact at the beginning of the five years, and it's available until it's expended on that -- that compact. It saves us from year-to-year ups and downs and countries can rely on this -- this assistance.

As far as the -- the level of staff, as I said, we're small and we're -- we aim to be small. We want to arise to a staff of -- of 300 in Washington, D.C. Currently, we have 20 people stationed overseas that are above that 300 number, and that number overseas should rise as we established additional contacts in other countries. At the present time, we have approximately 280 people in Washington.

Mr. Morales: So, almost 300 people managing $3 billion in assets?

Mr. Ryan: That's right.

Mr. Boyer: Now, Mike, what are your specific responsibilities and duties as a vice president of administration and finance, and could you tell us about the areas under your purview?

Mr. Ryan: Sure, Pete. I -- I'm essentially a chief financial officer in the federal mold. I'm responsible for the same areas that many CFOs are responsible for, financial management and reporting, financial services, budget formulation execution, development of annual performance plans, oversight of financial systems, and producing the annual performance and accountability report and procurement.

I also have oversight of HR, Human Resources, recruiting in development. Facilities management, both in Washington and overseas. IT and personnel security. So, it's just a full range of administrative and financial duties that you'd expect to see in an organization with my title.

Mr. Boyer: Now, Mike, you clearly had a very interesting career. Could you describe your career path for our listeners? Specifically, how did you begin your career?

Mr. Ryan: Well, I should start off by saying that I -- I had been a civil servant until my current appointment with MCC for many, many years, but my first position actually was a mathematics teacher in Baltimore City schools. After I earned an undergraduate degree at St. John's College in Annapolis. But I left teaching math and went to -- to Harvard where I got a -- a PhD in near eastern languages and civilizations. I got that degree in 1981, after having joined the federal government in 1979.

During my studies on -- on that degree, I spent three years researching Egypt and traveling around the Middle East under a Fulbright at Smithsonian and the Center for Arabic Study Abroad fellowships.

I've had several positions in the Department of Defense and Department of State. And when I first joined in 1979, as I mentioned previously, I was a Middle East analyst for the Department of Defense. I've also had senior-level positions, including deputy director of a plans directorate under the Defense Security Assistance Agency. I've been the acting deputy assistant secretary for International Narcotics in Law Enforcement Affairs in the Department of State. I was also the executive director and comptroller of that same bureau in the Department of State.

I also worked at EPA, where I first met Governor Whitman, and I mentioned before, when she was the administrator. And I first started as a comptroller there in 1997, with responsibility for budget formulation and execution. As all -- as well as all aspects of financial management in operations.

I became the deputy CFO of EPA then in 2000, and I had that job until 2006. May, actually, when in joined MCC. At EPA, I also managed their strategic planning, budgeting, financial management, performance measurement analysis, and their accountability functions.

Mr. Boyer: Mike, that's a very broad set of experiences. I'm curious, how have these experiences prepared you for your current leadership role at MCC, and have formed your management approach and leadership style?

Mr. Ryan: I guess being deputy CFO at EPA and acting CFO during periods when EPA did not have a Senate-confirmed CFO in place was the best preparation for my technical duties at MCC. Having a practical experience in managing a CFO shop, including problem-solving in all areas normally reporting to a CFO, and also extremely useful contacts within the CFO counsel, helpful opportunities to share experiences across the federal CFO community.

Previously, I think overseas experiences in the Department of -- of State and Defense, where I was based in Washington, but did extensive travel, in addition to my -- my work, as I -- I -- on my degree that I -- I referred to previously, helped me understand other country's governments and -- and cultures, and how you deal with countries in their own terms and -- and not necessarily bring your own cultural assumptions to play.

So, it was a useful body of knowledge overseas and -- and in the CFO environment because I had to deal with a wide variety of people and -- and people who approached tasks from different angles, and it's tremendously useful in the federal workplace, which is, as you know, wonderfully diverse.

Another useful leadership lesson from defense was that you really have to build a team from the people that you inherit, and then you get to the task of recruiting others. And everybody brings skills to the task. It's a leader's responsibility really to find the best way to use each team member's skills to support the mission and target your recruiting to fill any areas where skills need reinforcement.

I think it's another example of why it's important to appreciate the diversity of abilities and backgrounds represented in the federal workforce based on all the talents that federal employees bring to work everyday, I think we're well equipped for problem-solving from a variety of perspectives, and we're especially well set up to deal with foreign governments, many of whose children, if you will, came to the United States either recently or in the distant past as immigrants and deal very well with those cultures.

Another lesson learned from my experience in defense, state, and EPA, and especially now at MCC, is the importance of public/private partnerships. The private sector has a depth of talent and knowledge that's always refreshed, and government can make good use of private sector expertise to augment its workforce to accomplish the civic tasks without institutionalizing that expertise when it might not be appropriate. To the next set of tasks that lie ahead. It helps to keep public sector organizations more nimble by allowing us to take on specialized talent as needed, while maintaining a basic core of skills in the career ranks.

For example, when EPA was assigned to a government center of excellence to host financial systems, my staff and I argued successfully for a public-private partnership along private sector centers of excellence to compete for technical services in the IT area and in accounting.

This competition, I understand, here at the beginning of December is still going on at EPA. OPM is -- is now, I understand, going to do something similar, and I think that's a good model for a small lien organization like MCC. That is reaching out to the private sector for help in those areas that the private sector does especially well, and can tailor its support for the needs of the day without institutionalizing that support and fixing it in place.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. I can -- I can see now why you are focusing on solving some of the world's greatest challenges. Thank you.

What kinds of innovations are being pursued by the Millennium Challenge Corporation? We will ask Michael Ryan, vice president of Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation to share with us when the conversation about management continues on the Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Mike Ryan, vice president of Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, director in IBM's federal consulting practice.

Mike, in pursuit of its mission to reduce poverty by supporting economic growth as you described in the first segment, the MCC has identified and defined three key principles to guide the efforts.

Can you elaborate on those guiding principles and what is new about the MCC approach to international development?

Mr. Ryan: Well, thank you. The three principles are first of all, to reward good policy. Countries are selected based on their performance, as shown on objective indicators. Not indicators that -- that MCC develops, but that NGOs of the private sector, someone outside, an objective measurement is done on governing justly, which means investing in their citizens and encouraging economic freedom.

The second thing, in addition to rewarding good policy, is that we operate as partners. Countries are responsible for identify the greatest barriers to their own development, ensuring civil society participation in planning and developing a Millennium Challenge account, or MCA program.

Then, to participate in -- in a MCA program requires a high level commitment from the host government. Now, when I say "MCA," of course, I mean the Millennium Challenge account, which is the appropriate that MCC uses.

Each country enters into a public compact with MCC. That includes a multi-year plan for achieving development objectives and identifies the responsibilities of each partner in achieving those objectives.

The third principle, the first being rewarding good policy, and the second, to operate as partners, is to focus on results. MCA assistance goes to countries that have well-designed programs with clear objectives, benchmarks to measure progress, procedures to ensure a fiscal accountability per the use of the Millennium Challenge account assistance, and a plan for effective monitoring and objective evaluation of results.

Because we focus on rewarding good policy, we are seeing something new, and this is where the innovation comes in. Something new in international development, which our CEO calls the MCC effect.

We are seeing examples of countries making important policy changes on their own in order to qualify for funding for the Millennium Challenge account. This is extremely encouraging because we are seeing positive change even before MCC investment begins. I could give one example of this that happened fairly recently in the last couple of months.

We had one country that had a policy. Actually, it was written into their constitution, that married women couldn't inherit property in their own name. And we determined early on that this would mean that only 50 percent of the population would get any benefit out of the --economic benefit out of -- out of our policies, and we told the government, no, this is just not acceptable. You know, we can't continue our conversations if this stays in place. Although it was a longstanding policy and it was rooted in -- in culture and -- and in -- in prior law, they went ahead and changed that law, and they did that without receiving a nickel from us. And one got the feeling at the end of the day that there was something in just getting the stamp of approval that they had passed the test.

That's one anecdotal account, but a very real one. Two Harvard economists studied the MCC effect in a report released earlier this year, and they concluded that countries are responding to MCC's clear and actionable incentives. This is -- was -- was done in the Kennedy School of Government; it was called "Can Foreign Aid create an Incentive for Good Governance: Evidence of the Millennium Challenge Corporation."

Then there was another one from the manager of the World's Bank's "Doing Business Project," And the quote there I think is a good one, in which they stated that we have seen a number of reforms around the world in both rich and poor countries, but in many of the developing countries, the reform has actually been primarily as a result of the inclusion in the Millennium Challenge account.

Now, I would note that we often see reforms, as I -- as I mentioned before, in anticipation of the funding of the Millennium Challenge account, and not just as a result of projects in those countries.

Mr. Morales: That's a powerful story. Now, you used the word "compact." Can you describe the MCC compact development and implementation process, and what are the criteria methodology for determining eligible countries and establishing these compacts? And can you tell us a little bit about the composition of the projects that make up the portfolio?

Mr. Ryan: Surely. I think around the compact development, you get a lot of the innovation that -- that you asked me about before. I mean, what is different? Well, for example, for the fiscal year 2007, the candidative countries, you know, were identified on the basis of a per-capita income, and they must be in the low-income, preferably, for a lower/middle-income categories established by the World Bank. By law, only 25 percent of our funding may be used for lower/middle-income countries, assuring that most of our support goes to the poorest nations in the world. And I might add that we make every effort that if a lower/middle-income country makes a -- a proposal for a compact, and it is for some of the poorest people in their country, we find that to be a very compelling argument for going to that lower/middle-income country.

We report to Congress on our selection methodology, and our board of directors that I mentioned before, base a selection on specific performance indicators developed by independent, third-party institutions. We also seek public comment on selection methodology.

Right now, we're using 16 indicators in three broad categories, and countries must score above the median to be eligible. These indicators come from organizations including the World Bank, the World Health Organization, Freedom House, and UNESCO. And again, the indicators are -- are in the three areas that I mentioned before, ruling justly, investing in people, and -- and I think I mentioned economic freedom.

And by "economic freedom," we -- we mean things like the costs of starting a business or the days to start a business, trade policy, those things that might be either barriers or spurs to economic development we want to see.

Investing in people, you could have public expenditure on immunization, public expenditure on primary education, and -- and interestingly, girls education completion rate, which we see -- think to be extremely important.

Ruling justly, I think we're more familiar with. I mean, civil liberties, political rites, voice and accountability, rule of law, and significantly control of corruption.

The MCC board selects eligible countries using the above methodology and submits a report to Congress, and the selective countries are then eligible to begin developing a compact proposal for MCC consideration. At this time, we have 11 signed compacts in place, representing a total of nearly $3 billion, supporting programs in agriculture, infrastructure, land tenure, healthcare, and other sectors. Most compacts extend over a five-year period.

Mr. Boyer: Mike, does the MCC dedicate any funds for those countries that do not specifically meet the compact criteria, but are moving in the right direction? And if so, how?

Mr. Ryan: We do, Pete. We offer a threshold program that provides financial assistance to help improve a score on one of our -- of the 16 indicators that I mentioned.

The board of directors selects the countries for the threshold program based on their overall performance on all 16 indicators and their demonstrated commitment to improving the scores and their ability to undertake reform. Countries selected for threshold consideration must create a plan that identifies miserable ways to improve a specific indicator score and they must submit that plan for MCC review and approval. We make threshold program agreements with countries whose plans demonstrate meaningful commitment to reform and a high likelihood of successful implementation. And, of course, the measurement of that success is, again, done outside of MCC. I'll just give you two examples.

In the first case is the government of the Philippines, which actually passed the corruption indicator, but both the government of the Philippines and MCC felt that we would like to work more on this. And so, we made $21 million in threshold funds available to the Philippines in 2006 for anticorruption efforts. And what was really exciting about this was that the government made a decision to match those funds fairly closely so that it doubled the amount that was available, and we view this as a real commitment to reform on behalf of the people of the Philippines.

Another example that's not corruption was in 2005, Burkina Faso in Africa became the first threshold country to be approved for a compact funding. Burkina Faso was awarded $12.9 million for its threshold country plan, which was designed specifically to improve girl's primary education completion rates.

Mr. Boyer: Those are powerful examples. What does it mean for compacts to enter into force, and how does it relate to the actual disbursement of committed MCC funds to recipient countries?

Mr. Ryan: Well, this is another term of art. A compact is a contract is between MCC and a foreign government. It sets out the terms of the programs to be funded along with the funding to be dedicate in each year -- in each compact year for specific project components.

For example, a compact might set out dollar amounts anticipated to be spanned in each five years on a component such as improvement of a particular set of rural roads to get products to market, for example. The compact also outlines the general terms of the road improvement work to be undertaken. The signing of the compact commits the full funding for the specified project in a given country. After the signing, we continue to work with the country, we do due diligence, and we make sure that all conditions are in place to support a proper disbursement of funds.

When those conditions are met, then we declare the compact ready to enter into force, we obligate the funding and technical terms and the disbursements begin thereafter.

Mr. Boyer: Mike, to supplement its organizational structure in assisting caring out its mission, MCC has several formalized interagency agreements, or IAAs, with other federal government agencies. Could you elaborate on these collaborative relationships?

Mr. Ryan: Well, I think that -- that with a small organization, it must be clear to everyone that we can't do everything that is necessary for us to succeed. So, we have a number of these kinds of agreements.

For example, the National Business Center of the Department of Interior pays the MCC employees and provides financial systems and some accounting support. We also work closely with USAID, and to some extent, with the Department of Justice for the threshold programs that we discussed earlier. Treasury also provides technical assistance, especially in the banking sector, and from time to time, no doubt will sign other IAAs with other federal entities as the need arises.

Mr. Morales: Excellent. How is the MCC managing its program development efforts? We will ask Michael Ryan, Vice President, Administration and Finance for the Millennium Challenge Corporation to share with us when the conversation about management continues on the Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Michael Ryan, Vice President, Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, director in IBM's federal consulting practice.

Mike, how does the MCC make sure that compacts with partnered countries are going to produce the results that will satisfy the U.S. taxpayers and meet the goals of the MCC?

Mr. Ryan: Well, I think that the U.S. taxpayer has shown the willingness to fund humanitarian assistance and assistance to poor people, as long as the overhead is not too high, and as long as the goals are worthy, and the people that really need the assistance receive it.

To ensure that we meet some of these expectations, MCC forms a transaction team whose members work closely with representatives from the country developing a compact proposal. Our teams include people with a range of a pertinent expertise in economics, law, and the appropriate technical areas, such as engineering or agriculture. We may also have someone who's an expert on gender issues, for example, or other social issues, or even the environment.

Partner country representatives are expected to engage in wide consultation with members of the public in a civil society in their own countries to ensure their compact proposals reflect needs identified by their own people and the poorest among them, and that the solutions are likely to work best for them.

MCC transaction team members evaluate all parts of a proposal and work with partner country representatives to develop practical, well-designed programs that incorporate steps to measure and evaluate results. MCC's investment committee, on which I have a vote, also plays an important role. It's chaired by the deputy CEO and is composed of MCC's senior officials.

The MCC committee considers all aspects of compact development and votes up or down any aspect along the way. MCC's board of directors, of course, has the final vote on a compact. The best designed compact programs are in the support of the investment committee first, and then the board of directors by incorporating meaningful evaluation of results and showing the promise of reducing measurably the number of people living in poverty. And, I might add, all of our discussions of the size of our staff and the amount of money that we put into overhead I think is an important one because we try to keep the overhead fairly low.

Mr. Morales: Now, Mike, as the -- as the CFO, many of our listeners may find it interesting that the MCC has identified that Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 and the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act of 1996, and various other financial laws and regulations did not cover your operations.

What is MCC's basis for this position and does the MCC plan to follow at least the spirit, if not the letter, of those laws because they make good business sense?

Mr. Ryan: Actually, Al, we do manage our business according to the mandates of these laws and regulations. As we've said several times, we're small and organized as a federal corporation, rather than as a typical independent agency. And we were established after many of these laws were enacted. But we comply with them, however, and because we're part of the executive branch, and because they make good business sense.

For example, we issued our financial statements on November 15th with the rest of the federal government, and I might add, we got a clean opinion on that, and we intend to do similar things in the future.

There have been a number of government management reforms enacted in legislation in recent years. Most of them aimed at focusing agencies on managing for results and enhancing accountability for program outcomes. I'd like to think that MCC was designed to accomplish both of these ends, so it is not a stretch for us to follow the course outlined in legislation.

Mr. Boyer: Mike, on a similar topic, a key element of all compact development and execution is fiscal accountability. You know, the mechanisms and processes that assure that funds are managed properly and procurements are undertaken in a fair, open, and transparent manner. However, some of the compact countries do not perform accounting on a accrual basis by recording commitments and obligations.

Would you elaborate on the guidance provided to compact countries and requirements placed on those countries, and how has MCC handled this situation?

Mr. Ryan: Well, Pete, that's a question that's going to warm accountants' hearts all over the city this morning. MCC has a department of accountability which is responsible for these matters, and my department, of course, supports their work. Consistent with our model of country ownership of MCC-funded projects, compact countries must have internationally recognized system of accounting in place. It does not have to be identical to the U.S. model, but has to be recognized. We're constantly refining our approaches to this and expect to see continued improvements in the future.

For example, we require compact countries to have a fiscal agent and a procurement agent that we consider to be technically qualified. But while some countries might not use accrual accounting, the accountable entity, which is the organization set up in the country to carry out the compact by the government of that country, the accountable entity, often referred to as an MCA, set up by the government of a compact country must provide us with regular estimates of their cash needs. And these actually can serve as a surrogate for accruals, and indeed, we did an accrual in our financial statements just like every other federal entity on November 15th, as I mentioned before.

Mr. Boyer: Well, Mike we're -- we're glad we can get the -- the hearts of the accountants warmed up this morning.

Mr. Ryan: Let's not warm them too much.

Mr. Boyer: The USAID Office of Inspector General identified vulnerabilities affecting the MCC program in several criteria areas, including procurement, cash management, and disbursement that may adversely impact its financial operations. For example, the IG identified that the MCC Cape Verde compact had problems in the areas of cash management and procurement.

Could you elaborate on the MCC strategy for mitigating such risks and vulnerabilities? Specifically, has the MCC established policies and procedures for evaluating disbursement requests submitted by recipient countries to ensure that the amounts disbursed are only for immediate cash needs?

Mr. Ryan: Sure. First of all, I -- I have to point out that we have a very collaborative relationship with our IG. And I personally engage in conversation with IG staff on many issues, including the one you're -- you're asking me about. And while we do not always agree, we receive many useful recommendations that have caused us to improve our procedures. And we've been working on some exciting -- at least exciting to me, possibilities to enhance mechanism for getting funding out to compact countries.

Our current approach requires quarterly disbursement requests from a country. It comes into MCC, we consider it, and we say yes to the -- to the funding, its justified under the compact or -- or we ask questions. But we disburse on a monthly basis, asking the country to project their cash needs for the coming month, as I mentioned before.

However, we are in consultation with the Department of Treasury right now to see if we might use their Web-based online system for making payments worldwide. They call this system ITS. This would enable us to require that fiscal agents I mentioned previously overseas to request payments based on specific invoices and to justify disbursements in a systematic way in -- in real time. In addition, we're investigating to see if there might not be a private sector that would provide a -- a global payment solution, as well.

Treasury is interested in working with us on a solution in either case, and if we can't do this, I believe it would address the IG's concerns that you've -- that you've mentioned before. I'd also like to be able to try a pilot as early as January of 2007, so quite soon with -- with one or two countries to see how this actually might work in -- in reality.

Mr. Morales: Michael, we talked earlier about some of the interagency collaboration, and we know that the MCC has outsourced much of its administrative functions, including human resource and payroll management.

But does the MCC recognize the value of implementing an integrated human resource and payroll system, and can you elaborate on the status of this effort and the overall strategy to forge an integrated system that reduces the reliance on manual processes and enhances your interface with the NBC systems?

Mr. Ryan: Well, that's a great question. I mentioned before our -- our interest in keeping overhead down and of course manual processes are done by people, and people are overhead. So, we want to cut down on these things. They also introduce errors, as everyone knows, and -- and we'd like to do as much as possible automatically and with an -- with an integrated system.

We get great service from Interior's National Business Center, but it does not have an integrated system at this time. I understand they have long-term plans to make it integrate in the future, but at the current time, it's simply not.

The benefits of integration are especially important for a small organization like MCC. We do not have the personnel to make the multiple entries required by a non-integrated system, especially as we take on more compacts and more countries. We will be engaging consults soon to perform an analysis of how MCC might best achieve full integration of its financial management. And also, I hope a reasonable timeframe for achieving it.

You know, I am intrigued by efforts to engage private sector organization as -- as a center of excellence to supplement governmental centers of excellence. I am very familiar with the competition that's been going on at EPA, and I'm -- I'm looking forward to see the results of that competition for running their financial system. It's something that I saw at the beginning of when I was -- when I was at EPA. And now, I read recently that OPM is -- is also looking for a private public competition in this, and I think that's really healthy and something that might work very well for MCC.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the Millennium Challenge Corporation? We will ask Michael Ryan, vice president, Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation to share with us when the conversation about management continues on the Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Michael Ryan, vice president, Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, Director in IBM's federal consulting practice

Mike, in its rather brief existence, the MCC has had some significant achievements, and we've certainly talked about many of those today.

What do you envision for the MCC over the next 5 to 10 years, and what are some of the key challenges and major opportunities facing the organization?

Mr. Ryan: Well, our overwhelming challenge is going to be compact implementation. We've been talking about performing the compacts, and that's what the corporation (off mike) spending its first two and a half, three years of existence doing. But making sure that results that we envision are achieved is our next challenge. Most of the work will be undertaken by partner countries, as they own the projects. So, it's really more of a challenge to them. And the real beneficiaries -- if -- if both us, that is to say MCC and the host governments are successful, the real beneficiaries are the poor people of our partner countries.

Mr. Morales: Mike, with such a small organization, I can only imagine that every single individual has a critical role and -- and is critical to the organization.

To that end, what steps are being taken to attract and maintain a high -- high-quality technical force, and can you elaborate on initiatives to ensure that you have the right skill and the right staff mix?

Mr. Ryan: First of all, let me say that I don't think any organization in my federal career can claim a higher quality workforce than MCC. And we owe that in part to the attractiveness, I think, of our mission, but also we've talked a lot today about public/private partnerships.

We have a partnership with Korn/Ferry International, in particular their Futurestep Division, which ahs been supporting our recruiting and hiring efforts. We've also been energizing our recruiting efforts through partnerships with targeted non-profit organizations who subscribe to our belief that, and this is a term we think has some power, that a diverse workforce can make a world of difference. And as far as training goes, I've been tasked by our CEO to create an overarching training plan for MCC. Everything from language skills to management skills. And we're beginning with training for all our transaction teams in partnership with the Federal Executive Institute.

Mr. Boyer: Mike, you mentioned MCC's focus on low overhead, and we've talked about it on a number of questions today, but how do you respond to people in a developing community that have expressed that MCC's proposed staffing level of 300 is very lean for an organization planning to disburse $2 billion or more per year?

Mr. Ryan: Well, you know, when the road is -- is twisting and turning and you're in a race, you'd rather have a sports car. So, we're -- we're -- MCC is based on a new organizational model. And we think our -- our leanness is an asset rather than a liability.

The key to our ultimate success has got to be related to our ability to identify the right countries with the right governance and respect their responsibility for their own development. We believe this approach is more likely to give arise to sustainable efforts and lasting reduction in poverty.

If we were to increase our own numbers, we might be -- just might be more tempted to give ourselves a larger role in other countries' efforts, and we really don't want to do this. Having said that, we are concerned with the growing workload, and we're constantly looking for ways to streamline our work and procedures.

In fact, it's interesting as far as this question goes that as I left MCC to come to this program this morning, we'd had a little meeting in which we talked about our model and whether we should change it, what aspects we should change to meet the challenge of the growing workload that's -- that's certainly coming. But I'm confident that this is a problem that we can meet square on, and we aren't going to go above 300 people in Washington.

Mr. Boyer: I like the race car analogy, Mike. MCC's compact pipeline seems to be robust and growing. Could you give us a sense of the current and future pipeline, and is there a point at which expansion becomes too much for a fairly new organization like the MCC?

Mr. Ryan: Well, obviously, I can't predict how much the pipeline will develop, and because so much of our future activities will depend on congressional funding, and that again will depend on what we do in our measurements of success. But we've been signing. This past year, we've signed six compacts, and I would think that this year, I would hope we'd sign three or four. But beyond that, it would be difficult to speculate.

We've learned a great deal about what works and doesn't work based on our experience with the 11 compact countries so far and recognizing that individual circumstances make each nation unique in its capabilities and the development issues that it seeks to address, we know that we found some approaches that are replicable, and we may identify some efficiencies as a result.

Finally, I really think being a new organization is a benefit because we can implement new ideas without being burdened by our past. Perhaps a real challenge is to remain, as the song goes, "every young," and avoid the bureaucratic impulse.

Mr. Morales: Michael, you've had a highly distinguished career in public service spanning some 25 years, as you indicate.

Is there any advice that you would give to an individual who is perhaps considering a career in public sector, or who may have a specific interest in the efforts at the MCC?

Mr. Ryan: I think the most important question might be why should someone want to work for the United States government? Because, after all, MCC, even though we're different and new, is part of the -- is a part of the federal community. The answer, I think, has to be, because it's the largest, most ambitious, and most diverse enterprise in history. Working for the federal government means upholding the principles on which the country was founded in the form of the Constitution, which is still the model for many countries, and many of the countries we deal with. The federal mission is also large enough to accommodate just about any interest or skill.

What's the best preparation for a federal job? I think everybody has their own concept, but I always recommend that people get the best general education available to them, especially in the liberal arts. But, to me, that means science, math, history, and language, before they specialize.

USA Jobs is a central Web site for all federal jobs openings, and it really does contain something for everything. Our MCC.gov Web site also provides the ability for individuals to go on and do online applications for our jobs, and actually anybody who comes to talk to us, no matter who they are or where they come from or what their background, ultimately, we ask them go back to our Web site, MCC.gov, and fill out an online application.

With respect to jobs at MCC, we find a variety of technical skills useful, much like the other federal agencies in the development community. But I would encourage people to focus on foreign language skills, with French, Spanish, and Portuguese, the most useful to MCC at this time.

To work with representative other countries, there is an obvious benefit to being able to speak and understand their languages. Of course, it's not just language; we can never have too many employees with skills that include communicating across cultural lines, regardless of what their technical expertise may be.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. Mike, we have reached the end of our time, and that'll have to be our last question.

I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule this morning, but more importantly, Pete and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country.

Mr. Ryan: Well, thank you. It's a great honor for me to be here. It's a great pleasure.

I'd like to invite everybody who would like to learn more about MCC, certainly more than -- than I was able to give this morning, to go to our Web site, MCC.gov, and there you can see information about countries, about our programs, and also apply for a job if you want, as I mentioned before.

Thanks a lot; I appreciate being here this morning.

Mr. Morales: Fantastic. Thank you.

This has been the Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Michael Ryan, vice president, Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Be sure to visit us on the Web at businessofgovt.org. There you can learn more about our programs and you get a transcript of today's conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovt.org.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

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

Kimberly Nelson interview

Friday, October 22nd, 2004 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"The EPA is collecting the information we need to understand the condition of the environment. It’s important to have the right information to make sure tax dollars are being spent wisely and for management purposes."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 10/23/2004
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Technology and E-Government; Green...
Technology and E-Government; Green
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good Morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence partner in charge of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. We created this center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who's changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Kim Nelson. Kim is the Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency. Good morning Kim.

Ms. Nelson: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation also from IBM, is Dave Abel.

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning Dave.

Mr. Abel: Good morning Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Okay, let's start by talking a little bit about the EPA. Could you give us a historical background of the EPA and explain its mission to our listeners?

Ms. Nelson: The Environmental Protection Agency I think is an organization that most Americans recognize. It was created back in 1970, right around the time of the first Earth Day, and it was created as America was really getting an interest and awareness of the environment. Everybody wants clean air, wants safe drinking water, wants land that's clean to live on and living communities that are safe for our children to grow up in. And therefore EPA was created to help provide that kind of mission for the country.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you talk to us a little bit about the EPA's interaction and relationships with other Federal departments and agencies.

Ms. Nelson: Sure, you know, when people think of the environment often EPA is the first agency that comes to mind but really there are many Federal agencies that have some kind of responsibility for protecting the environment. For instance, the Department of Interior manages over 500 million acres within the country. In fact one-fifth of all the land in the United States is managed by the Department of Interior through their park service and through national lands. Likewise the Department of Agriculture manages all the forest land within the country that is owned by the government. And you have a handful of other agencies that also some kind of environmental responsibility. So in doing our mission we have to work with many other Federal agencies.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you describe the size of EPA's budget and its number of people?

Ms. Nelson: EPA is a fairly large agency, even though we are an agency and not a department. We have almost 20,000 employees across the country. We have a headquarters that's rather large here in Washington but we also have 10 regional offices across the country and I really think that's where the rubber hits the road in terms of EPA working with states, working with local governments, and working with tribes to fulfill our mission.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about the skills of the people, as you were describing the environment, I began to think about the scientists and the like, maybe you can describe the capabilities of the team?

Ms. Nelson: Well, we certainly do have a lot of scientists and more and more I think one of EPA's core missions is in the research area. There are lot of questions that are still unanswered to us today. Even 30 years -- more than 30 years after the agency was created, there are so many answers that we still don't have today. Particularly answers like linkages between environmental conditions and health conditions so certainly the science is an important part of EPA's mission.

In addition we have a lot of engineers. We have enforcement officers, lawyers. We have people who analyze programs trying to ensure that we're achieving the results we want to achieve. So we have a broad array of different kinds of people working at EPA with different backgrounds and skills. In my own office, I'm in the Office of Environmental Information of course.We have tremendous focus on technology and therefore the -- the skillset that we have in my office has more of a focus on technology, information science, information management, librarians, people who know how to access information, display information, disseminate it; people who use geospatial tools, a lot of people with geography backgrounds because that's an important part of how we share and display information.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's talk a little bit further about the responsibilities of your organization. What are your responsibilities and duties as the Chief Information Officer?

Ms. Nelson: Well, that title Chief Information Officer is one that is probably widely known to a lot of people who work in the private sector. For government, the term is relatively new. I will say particularly coming from State government. And here in the Federal government back in 1996, the Clinger-Cohen Act was passed and under that act certain large agencies were required to create a Chief Information Officer position. That position as envisioned by the law was to be created in such a way that many companies, large companies in the private sector created CIO positions. The position for instance is to report to the head of the agency. There was a real acknowledgment at that point in time that the use of the information was a powerful tool to the Federal government.

The Federal government was making a tremendous investment of billions of dollars in information management, information technology tools and therefore they felt that the CIO who has authority generally across an organization to make investment decisions and technology decisions was a wise position to have in the Federal government.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned background in the State government. Can you tell us about your previous experiences before becoming CIO?

Ms. Nelson: I have been in Washington now for three years, before that I worked for 22 years in the State government. I held a variety of positions. Interestingly enough I spent 22 years as an at-will employee or as a political employee, never having a civil service position. I believe that sort of gave me the desire everyday to get up and do an outstanding job because I didn't have civil service protection. I started in the Senate of Pennsylvania as a Legislative Aid. It was a tremendous way to get experience of the State government at large, everything that happens in the State government. I left there and I went to a regulatory agency, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and I worked for the Chairman of the Public Utility Commission.

There I think I really got interested in regulatory issues. I was there at a phenomenal time. I was there during the accident at Three Mile Island. I happened to live just outside of Harrisburg, when that accident occurred and much of the work we did then was dealing with the aftermath. The clean up there, the cost associated with it. I was there during the break up of the 18 bell companies. Again it was an interesting time in the regulatory arena. I left there and spent a short amount of time working in Governor's Office Administration, the Department of Ageing and really recognized that I want to get back into a regulatory environment and went to work for the Department of Environmental Resources. I spent 14 years working there before I came to EPA. And it was there at the department of environmental resources where I was tapped to be the first CIO ever for that particular agency.

Mr. Lawrence: So how -- how did these experiences together help you to be able to prepare for the responsibility that you now have in the EPA?

Ms. Nelson: I come to this CIO position perhaps a little bit differently than a lot of people. I don't have an IT background. I don't have a degree in information technology, computer science information management. My bachelor's degree is in secondary education and political science. My master degree is in public administration. I cannot be jobbed really from a management perspective saying what does a manager need to do for their job by way of information and it was very apparent back then in our environmental agency. We didn't have the kind of information we needed to know, whether we're doing good or not. We couldn't compare one program to the other in terms of were our facilities in compliance with our laws.

We didn't have information to really tell us whether the air was getting better, the water was getting cleaner. So we didn't have the kind of management information we needed to always make the best management decisions in terms of where our resources should go or how our budget should be allocated. And that's what drove me into this field, which was to say how do we as an organization then start to collect the right information to use for management purposes.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned the management information, I want to take you back to compare some of your State experience with your Federal experience. Give us a sense of you know, how would you compare the different management approaches at the two levels of government?

Ms. Nelson: Well, it's funny you should ask that question Paul, I was testifying before the Congressman's Putnam's Committee and at the tail end of the hearing he asked that exact question, how would I compare my State experience with my Federal experience. There're many, many similarities: the mission of our organizations are similar, the demands that we have from the public are similar, the challenges we face are similar. The one thing that is very different here in the Federal government is the focus on information technology and information management from so many areas.

The Federal -- the State government, excuse me, it almost happened unnoticed but here in the Federal government there's a tremendous amount of interest from Congress. You know, I've testified a half a dozen times already before congressional committees. I never did that in the State government. There wasn't that kind of interest from the general assembly. The General Accounting Office, the number of audits that my office goes through from the General Accounting Office again is another indication of the inspector general, the OMB all of that oversight is very, very different here in the Federal government than what I ever experienced in at least my own State government career.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about the speed of decision making, how would you compare the two levels?

Ms. Nelson: The speed of decision making, I think, depends on the nature of the decision that has to be made. There are clearly some instances where I could point to my own State career where I was able to make a decision on the spot and have that implemented, but here in the Federal government so many of those decisions are in fact covered by regulatory requirements that a decision that was very simple in State government that I made on my own and had implemented within 24 hours, actually here in the Federal government would take a rule making, or would take years to implement.

Then again there are many other decisions where we can make them just as quickly here and that's not the case so it really depends on the nature of the decision although in general there is more bureaucracy here and more red tape and it is more difficult to get things done.

Mr. Lawrence: It's an interesting point especially about the speed and the different issues. Information collection and dissemination is a big part of what the EPA does, what are the management challenges in doing this? We'll ask Kim Nelson of the EPA for her perspective when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversation is with Kim Nelson. Kim is the Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency. Joining us in the conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Kim, the Office of Environmental Information or OEI has numerous responsibilities including the collection and dissemination of environmental information with external stakeholders. What kind of data does your office collect and how do you use it?

Ms. Nelson: Dave, let me just do a minute on what the Office of Environmental Information is about because I think that's important. Next month, October we will be celebrating our 5th anniversary as an office and it was created solely for the purpose of recognizing that EPA did not have the information it often needed to manage its programs. So if you look at the Office of Information, of Environmental Information, we have a broad spectrum of responsibilities. And they almost follow the lifecycle of data, how you collect it, how you store it, how you disseminated it. One of those key responsibilities is information collection and what's really fascinating is EPA is a little different from most Federal agencies and that so much of the Federal law is delegated to States and tribes.

For instance if you take our major air, water and waste management programs, those programs are all delegated for the most part to our states. That means 95% of the information in EPA's computer systems comes from the states. So for us a large challenge is how do we collect that information from our state partners, our tribal partners in a way that's a standardized format that allows us to then aggregate the information in a way that's valid so we can get the national picture. So a core part of what we collect is from our state partners. We also though have some direct regulatory responsibilities with facilities.

For instance in my office of Environmental Information, we have something called the Toxic Release Inventory program that requires facilities once a year to submit a report directly to EPA that tells us how much material they have released to the environment either the water, the air, the land that's of a toxic nature. Those reports come directly to us for tens of thousands of facilities across the country. So there's information collection requirements span, municipal government, tribal government, State governments, and facilities.

Mr. Lawrence: It seems to me with the delegation of responsibility for the collection of so much data the quality assurance has to be a big concern for your -- for your organization. What type of quality assurance programs are in place or under way to make sure that the data that's collected is both accurate and reliable?

Ms. Nelson: It's a huge issue for us in fact, last year for the first time EPA put on the street, last June what we call a draft report of the environment. It's hard to believe with the agency having been in existence of over 30 years, last year was the first time we ever put a report out to the public that told us what we knew and didn't know about the condition of the environment. And in some respects we couldn't answer those questions because the quality of the data wasn't high enough to provide answers that we thought were scientifically valid. So data quality is a huge issue for us.

One of things we've done is, we work very closely with States and tribes on data standards, because one of the things that's important is when we aggregate the data we're not mixing apples and oranges--that we all have the same definitions and standards. So about 5 years ago we started a data standards counsel with State, tribes in EPA and that's been very successful. We've worked through some really tough issues like how do we identify facility, what we call chemicals, what are our biological standards, permitting of standards, enforcement of standards, what do you call an inspection, and what do you call an enforcement action. They are important decisions because when we aggregate that information across 50 states we have to have the right picture. That's an important step we've taken.

We also have, I think a very good quality management program with EPA. All of our programs have to have quality management plans for all their information systems. And this year for the very first time we actually have every program in EPA with an approved quality management plan in place and I think that's -- that too is a big step. The last thing I'll just say we're doing is we know data collection is important to EPA. We know we collect data from a lot of different sources and one of the most important things we can do to improve the quality is make sure it's right before it ever gets to us. So we're putting in place a lot of validation techniques.

For instance we have our central data exchange. That's our portal, the single point through which all data will be received by EPA in the future and built into CDX are the tools and the technology to help ensure the highest level of data quality as those reports or submissions are being received. And we have seen for instance just this past year, our toxic release inventory reports. We know that when people submit those electronically over the internet through a central data exchange, we see a 25% higher rate of quality in terms of errors coming in the door than we see on paper reports, so we know it works.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, better data in clearly means better information out. Once you've collected the data what types of products are produced? Can you give us a couple of examples of how EPA actually uses the information once it's been collected?

Ms. Nelson: Boy, the examples are limitless. I'll go back to the one that I just mentioned because it's one of which I'm so proud and it's last year's EPA's draft report on the environment, again it's hard for me to believe, an agency of our size, an agency that has budget of almost a billion a year has never been able to tell the American public what we know about the environment and what we don't know. That was really an initiative of Governor Christine Whitman's when she came on board. She pledged that before she left she would give the American public what she liked to call the report card about the state of the environment and we were able to do that.

We are now working on our second report card and that's really fashioned in a way that's easy for the American Public to understand, based on some common questions, like is my water safe to drink, are the fish safe to eat, what's the condition of indoor air and what contributes to bad indoor air. The kinds of things that effect, you know, you every day or as a parent you are concerned about. That's one important tool we use. Another is getting information out to the public on our website. My office is responsible for managing our website and I think EPA has one of the most impressive set of tools to share with the American public about what we know about the environment today.

One of them is windowed in my environment--a very simple tool on our website. Go in and put your zip code in and we will tell you based on your zip code everything we know about that part of your community. What facilities are there that we regulate, what we know about their discharges what we know about their permits and violations, it's all right there in one place.

Mr. Lawrence: In addition to the public who are some of the other stakeholders that use the information and how do you make information available to them?

Ms. Nelson: Well one of -- certainly in an audience that we're concerned about, we work with closely are other decision makers throughout the United States. Certainly EPA with its 18,000 employees we recognize we're not the only environmental professionals out there and without environmental decision makers at the local level and local governments, at county levels, in state governments, in tribes. So one of the things we try to do is make sure that as decision makers across the country, we all have access to the very best information, because we're spending, you know, cumulatively between states and EPA we're spending over $20 billion in tax payer money. It's important to have the right information to make sure these dollars are being spent wisely.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned the Environmental Information Exchange Network. Could you tell us more about this, the history of how it came into being and how it works?

Ms. Nelson: Well as I talked about it earlier, EPA is an agency where our responsibilities are so highly devolved down to the state that it became apparent if we were going to do our job as co-regulators we really had to be in a partnership in sharing information and we -- the world at the time was such that states were spending more and more money on their own information systems. They weren't relying on EPA's information systems, which were becoming more outdated. States were building their own information systems and actually building integrated information systems. So it was important we partner with them to share the information. I think that the network is based on a very -- you know some very simple concepts.

And one is the e-commerce concept. We recognized that the world was changing and technology was bringing to us the ability to use the Internet and standard e-commerce tools to our advantage. Things like data standards, trading partner agreements for companies that were sharing information--they were being used for the same reason we needed to be able to use those. So, the technology was evolving and we could rely on the Internet.

The second core concept was, as I mentioned earlier since 95 percent of our information comes from the states, it's important that the states be the stewards of their own data. If you have to maintain two different information systems, one for EPA and one for yourself, which one's going to have the highest quality data? The one you're using, not the one you're feeding to EPA. So it was important we eliminate this duplicate system and ensure that the states were in fact the stewards of their own data and that they collected the data and kept the data and that they kept it up to date and accurate and only provided access to EPA of the data we needed. So this is about states, EPA, stewarding their data, making sure what we collect is of very high quality and then sharing it. So what our network does is encourage everyone to put a node on the network using common standards and technology and on that node you would place data that you want to share with other people.

They maybe openly available or it may only be available through a trading partner agreement. But that data then is data that you own, you decide to share, you decide with whom you're going to share it and what the conditions are in terms of sharing that data through a trading partner agreement. And we're seeing as a result of that higher quality data, more accurate data, more timely data being available for decision makers.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a very interesting point, especially about the reduction and the redundancy. Technologies used to drive EPA's operations. How is the EPA addressing issues such as interoperability and enterprise architecture, we'll ask Kim Nelson of the EPA to take us through this when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence. This mornings conversation is with Kim Nelson, Kim's the Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency. Joining in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Kim, we spent the last segment talking about the information that you collect from external stakeholders and the reporting and analyses you do against that information. But you're also responsible for the technology that derives the operation within EPA. Can you give us an idea of what that entails and what your office is doing to promote efficiency and interoperability within the organization?

Ms. Nelson: The OEI has many of the traditional responsibilities and as the CIO, you would expect to find in terms of managing operations within an organization. For instance we're responsible for providing secure access to our network and that includes thousands of applications and all of our databases. Some are very sophisticated scientific computing and now with good computing and communications, so that's pretty standard but we're really evolving into a lot of the new or super computing and good computing areas that are -- I find very exciting particularly in partnership with our researchers in the organization.

One thing that is I guess we're very fortunate in EPA and as I talk to my colleagues I recognize more and more we're fortunate, EPA has the entire organization on an agency wide e-mail and Lotus Notes system. I'm shocked when I talked to my colleagues in other federal agencies and realize they're still using multiple e-mail systems but we are using this efficiencies and we're talking earlier about how we're using SameTime and those Lotus Notes and collaborative tools to help us manage the organization and work more effectively. I find that very exciting as people are discovering the potential there. Security is a major issue for us as it is in all organizations. We've come a long way in security in this organization.

Four years ago EPA actually had to shut down its Internet access because there were so many potential security breaches acknowledged in the GAO report. We've reached a point now where last year in the President's budget EPA was cited as "the model" for having the best security program within the Federal government. So we still have many challenges ahead of us, there are still a lot of work in terms of what we have to do in management operations, there are some of the things we do on the internal side, on the external side I was talking earlier about for instance, central data exchange. Managing that project and running that operation for users on the outside is very important to our relationship with our partners.

Mr. Lawrence: One of the topics that we normally interact with -- we talk to CIO's on these shows and elsewhere as enterprise architecture. I know it's a very complex subject. Could you describe the value of the enterprise architecture at the EPA?

Ms. Nelson: You know, enterprise architecture is an interesting term and I have learned in 3 years in the Federal Government that we all may be better off if we stop using the term enterprise architecture because after so many years there are still so many people who find it very difficult to understand. And I'm not sure why because to me, all enterprise architecture is, is a very basic blue print or a picture. It's being able to describe graphically the business of the organization so that you understand the business of the organization and you can make the best resource decisions for your organizations in terms of where you put your people, where you put your technology, where you put your money in terms of providing tools for your organizations and solutions.

So it's been an interesting journey over the last few years. So I've learned to stay away from the term and my goal over the next year is actually to -- not use those words "enterprise architecture" but to focus solely on business results. What are the solutions we need to put in place to ensure the business results of the organization and that's understanding our strategic goals and making sure that we're investing our dollars to achieve this strategic goals.

Mr. Lawrence: Well with the blue print and understanding the business results, have there been any new technology initiatives that have happened as a result of sort of putting those two together?

Ms. Nelson: Oh clearly, I think as we look for instance to build our portal one of the things we're trying to do is look at our shared -- what I'd like to call shared services. What are the things we want to build one time in EPA, share with the rest of the organization, in other words build once use many and our portal will do that. What we envision through our portal is to have that single place where people outside the agency can come who are co-regulators, people inside the agency to access the information they need. So we're building the core share services that are identity management, security, and our backend registries that will house the information that people most often want to get out of our databases. It is the tools to manipulate that data, to actually extract that data, manipulate and display it.

So for instance, that then becomes an implementation of our enterprise architecture because we're building a solution one time and we're providing that for many people in the organization. It meets the strategic goals of the organization it reduces duplication, and it helps get information in the hands of people as quickly as possible and very high quality information.

Mr. Abel: So we've talked quite a bit about what can be competing priorities. There are the priorities of the external stakeholders, information sharing consortium and there's priorities of the internal stakeholders managing the business of the agency. How do you balance the requirements between those two groups of stakeholders?

Ms. Nelson: Well if you do it right and you establish your priorities you can often find that a solution that you're putting in place to meet your external customers often meets your internal customers. For instance, recently and I've talked a lot about central data exchange, but it's really interesting when you develop a solution and you develop a solution that's built in such a way that it is sharable and usable and scalable. With our central data exchange we recently put that in place, while we built that originally as you know for communication with our state partners and our tribal partners.

We recently put that in place as a backend service for one of the Presidency Gov initiatives. We a partner with the grants.gov, e-Gov initiative which is the way the federal government wants to centralize all the grant information for the Federal government. So if you want to find and apply for a grant you go to grants.gov one place. We were actually able to use the web services tools of CDX to assist on the backend on an internal way, grants.gov. So it's wonderful when you find solutions like that that you can reuse and the more we develop solutions like that the more we'll be able to do that.

Mr. Abel: Well, let's talk about one initiative in particular. Can you tell us a bit about the environmental indicators initiative just a little bit about what it is and how it helps the EPA to manage the results?

Ms. Nelson: Well, as you know, Dave, over the years there have been many initiatives that required the government to focus on results. The government performance results act, what we have to do for our budgeting purposes, the most recent part tools that OMB is using to assess programs in terms of their effectiveness. But what we found is even some of those statutory requirements were lacking, at least within EPA. Because much of what we have to do has a long term horizon to it in terms of really understanding the condition of the environment and we tended to focus more on, as many people do, the widgets or the outcomes.

You know, how many permits were issued, how many enforcement actions were taken, those kinds of things versus what's the quality of the water across the country. And what we're trying to do with our environmental indicators initiative is to really focus for the American Public on answering those questions. Our very first step was the draft the report on the environment, I mentioned earlier. That was a first milestone and a very long-term effort.

One of the most important things we're doing right now is when we issued that report we were not able to answer almost three quarters of the questions in a very solid way. Some questions we couldn't answer at all, other questions we answered with what we recall like a level two indicator, with some information but it wasn't the very best. We are now looking at all of those gaps and to have a process in place for determining what are the highest priority gaps, how do we fill those gaps, what it will cost to fill those gaps, and what's the signs that we have to understand in terms of filling those gaps.

So, think of this as a very long-term initiative within the agency to truly begin to collect the information we need to understand the condition of the environment. And I'll just say as a final note, some people might say, you know I can't understand, you know you've been around on these 35 years, why weren't you collecting some of this information. Much of it is because of the change in focus, many of the laws that were in place directed certain activities to take place, like issue permits and performance inspections and they were the things we had to report to Congress on. But you know, even if every facility has a permit out there, it doesn't mean the environment is getting better.

Even if every facility has been inspected it doesn't mean that the air is getting cleaner. So, we need to begin to collect the information so that we ultimately understand the outcome and we didn't do that before because the laws didn't require that. Now, maybe that's not a good reason, but we focused on what the laws required and now it's important to focus on the bigger picture.

Mr. Lawrence: It's a very interesting point, especially the alignments between the metrics and the ultimate outcomes, you want to have. Let me ask you to take that question into your office, what performance metrics do you use within the office to determine if the goals are being met?

Ms. Nelson: Well, we are meeting with the Office of Environmental Information's board of directors to adopt for the very first time a balanced scorecard. When I came onboard at EPA, it was less than two years old, and we really didn't have as an organization good metrics in place. We received, interestingly enough an internal grant from our Chief Financial Officer to put performance metrics system in place for the office environmental information, we're doing that starting October 1st, which is the start of the fiscal year and we're trying for the first time a balanced scorecard. So I'm sure we won't get it 100% right but it will be a learning experience.

Mr. Lawrence: Interesting, you will have to come back and tell us how it turned out. EPA is involved in many of the e-gov initiatives, how are they doing and what have been the lessons learnd, we'll ask Kim Nelson of the EPA to give us certain thoughts when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence. This morning's conversation is with Kim Nelson. Kim is the Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency, joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Kim, the EPA is involved in 14 of the 25 e-government initiatives that are currently underway. Can you tell us a little bit about some of these initiatives?

Ms. Nelson: The e-government work is very exciting, you know, people said to me when I came to Washington, we talked a little bit about this earlier actually, how difficult it is to make a difference in a short period of time. Well, when I would look back and realize that this e-gov initiatives have only been underway for less than 3 years. I think it's phenomenal when we look at the progress. The e-gov initiatives are part of the President's Management Agenda. It's his desire, his vision to make sure that government is citizen centric, that government is result oriented and that we use market based solutions and that's what you're seeing in the e-gov initiatives. We're involved, as you said in 14 of them. That clearly keeps us busy because we're a much smaller agency than many of the big departments but so many of these are fundamental to how we work.

One of them that are very important to us is the e-authentication project. It's really what the federal government is trying to do to ensure that we can establish identity, authenticate users to ensure the proper transmission of electronic documents with electronic signatures. Our role, I think, in this is very exciting. We were recently given a grant and here's another way that government is being very innovative we got a grant from this project for $700,000 for EPA to be able to demonstrate the interoperability of digital certificates between state governments and the Federal government. So, we're demonstrating through all the work we've done with our state partners in CDX, how you can take a certificate that a facility has and using in State government and use that to authenticate a submission to the Federal government and vice versa.

Likewise, another project we're working on, which I -- would be remised if I didn't mention is the rule making initiative. Rulemaking.gov, EPA is the lead partner on that initiative, which means we're managing that with many other agencies as co-partners but we are the managing partner of that initiative and through that website "rulemaking.gov," citizens can go one place, for the first time ever one place and put in any kind of key word. If you're a farmer and you're interested in agriculture, if you're a teacher and you're interested in some education issues, if you're interested in environment, something like mercury, you can type in one key word and find every Federal agency that has some kind of rule making or policy open for public comment.

Mr. Abel: So, EPA is a participant in the e-rule making program with e-government, overall you are one of multiple participants?

Ms. Nelson: We're one of many participants in rule making but we are a managing partner. So it's my office that has the overall responsibility for managing that initiative. Each one of these projects has a managing partner and we have the responsibility for rule making and that's primarily due to, of course EPA being a regulatory agency, rule making is the large part of our business. If you look at the lines of business within EPA, we issue a lot of rules, much to the dismay of some people but that's the nature of our business and as a result of that OMB felt we had a tremendous amount of expertise to manage this project, on top of the fact that we already had an electronic docket system in place that is serving as the basis or the core for rulemaking.gov.

That's the other great part about these e-gov initiatives is that throughout the federal government we're taking good ideas that already existed in one department and expanding those to many, many other agencies. So, we are reducing duplication, we were reducing redundant expenditures and we were taking a good idea and we're expanding it.

Mr. Abel: So, what are some of the management challenges that you faced in the implementation of these programs?

Ms. Nelson: The biggest challenge is that we're operating in a very innovative way. We are bringing partners together and working on common solutions and we are doing really terrific things in a way the Federal government never behaved before but we still haven't managed to get all the processes and the bureaucracy to catch up with that innovation and it makes it very difficult sometimes to do the very basic things we have to do, like move money around. Because when you have an initiative that involves 20 partners, that means 20 different agencies have to pay for that project.

Well, getting the money from 20 different agencies all at the right time, getting 20 different agencies to participate in a decision is not always the easiest thing to do. So, the governance side of the house hasn't quite caught up with the technology and the innovative thinking but it's not holding the projects up, it just means it's making a little bit more of achallenge to manage it.

Mr. Abel: Have there been any early successes?

Ms. Nelson: Oh, I think many of the e-gov projects could be called early successes. FirstGov for instance recently won a very prestigious award for being so citizen centric and has received tremendous number of awards. Rule making is a wonderful success; the business gateway is now up. If you're a small business owner and you haven't been there, you need to go to the business gateway.gov site. Because if you are a small business owner you can go to one place now and find what you need to do from an environmental prospective, or a labor prospective, an IRS prospective, and get all of that in one place. So these are the kinds of services that are being put in place for citizens across the country.

Mr. Abel: Can you describe the significant challenges that the EPA will face in the future?

Ms. Nelson: EPA's challenges for the future are the fact that in many respects we've managed to do the easy things. It's the 80/20 rule. If you look across the country, rivers that used to be black and polluted and burning are no longer there. I come from the state of Pennsylvania, if you think of what Pittsburgh looked like 30-40 years ago, where a man going to work in the morning with a white shirt had to change his shirt in mid-day because the air was so polluted. We don't have that problem in the United States anymore. We've made huge environmental progress.

The challenge we have in the future is that, in order to make the next incremental change improvement in the environment, it means it's going to involve every single person in this country. We made this huge environmental changes in the past by driving hard largely on industry, cleaning smokestacks, cleaning up industry but the biggest polluters today are you and me. It's the car we drive, it's the lawn mower we use, it's the gas grill we use, it's the fire places we burn in the winter time, it's our life-style that has the biggest impact on the environment today and that's hard for people to accept. It's easy for them to say, take care of that factory down the road that's spewing dirt out of its smokestack.

It's another thing to say to somebody, you know you should be driving a different car, you shouldn't be using your lawn mower, you shouldn't be using your grill. That changes your lifestyle and people don't like that. But we all have to look internally and make our own changes to our own lifestyle because if we do that, we can make a big difference. One thing I would encourage everybody to do, if you don't have fluorescent light bulbs in your home, put 1, 2, 3, 4 fluorescent light bulbs in your home, if you do that, if every single person in this country put a handful of fluorescent light bulbs in your home, we could reduce the number of power plants being built in this country and nobody wants a power plant built in their backyard. And if we reduce the number of power plants, we can reduce the air emissions, which dramatically improve air quality. So, doing simple things like that, like putting in a fluorescent light bulb in one room, one bulb in each room of your house, can improve the environment.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask you to take a step back and reflect on your careers. You think about maybe somebody interested in joining public service, what advice would give them?

Ms. Nelson: Well, for me -- you know I only have one prospective, I've only ever worked in government, it's certainly incredibly rewarding, the ability to impact public policy, the ability to make a difference in terms of how government serves citizens. It's something that's so incredibly rewarding. I would encourage people to try sometime in public service if you're currently working in the private sector. I would love to see the kind of work environment where people who are currently working in government could go also out into the private sector and spend some time in business because I think walking in another person's shoes ultimately always makes for a better person.

Unfortunately, we don't always have that flexibility and it would be great if the Federal government -- and they're looking at that, looking at ways to make it easier for people to move in and move out, even if it's for six months, a year or two years to gain some experience. So, I would encourage people to be as well rounded as possible. I regret I don't have the business experience. I tried to spend more time with people in the private sector to understand their needs and concerns. In the future I think we all will be better served if we could do that.

Mr. Lawrence: Kim, that'll have to be our last question. We're running out of time. Dave and I want to thank you for squeezing us in your very busy schedule.

Ms. Nelson: Well, thank you very much Paul and one final note. I just want to say October mark's Children's Health month. Children from the Environmental Protection Agency's prospective, are one of the most important parts of our population--they are our future. We recognize that as we look to the environment, we need to protect our children, they're our future.

With children's health month, I encourage every parent, every teacher and every child out there to better understand what the environment means to a growing child. So go to EPA's website www.epa.gov and look for children's health and you'll see it right upfront and you got lots of great information about how you can help protect the children of the country.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you Kim. This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring conversation with Kim Nelson, Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency. Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and research and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again it's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence, thank you for listening.

G. Martin Wagner interview

Friday, June 29th, 2001 - 20:00
Phrase: 
G. Martin Wagner
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/30/2001
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Contracting ...
Contracting
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Thursday, May 10, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment by visiting us on the web at endowment@pwcglobal.com. The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Our conversation today with Marty Wagner, associate administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. Welcome, Marty.

Mr. Wagner: Good to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Steve Seike, another PwC partner. Welcome, Steve.

Mr. Seike: Good to be here, Paul. Thanks.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Marty, let's start by finding out more about GSA and specifically the Office of

Governmentwide Policy. Could you tell us about its activities and its role?

Mr. Wagner: Okay, I think most of your listeners probably know about GSA. It's the government's big buyer of stuff. And we tend to do a lot through the Public Buildings, through the Federal Supply Service, Federal Technology Service. This is where about 14,000 employees set up contracts that are used by the government as a whole for all the goods and -- or for many of the goods and services that they do.

I don't do that. I have what's called the policy function, where we look at the overall system, not just the specific contracts that GSA does, but the $200 billion or so of government procurement, the $300 billion a year of grants that are issued, how those systems manage the way we travel.

I have the policy function at GSA. Now, the policy function used to be -- until about five years ago -- simply part of the different operational arms of GSA. But what we got into through some discussions with OMB and various reviewers is a sense that GSA was getting too much into the operations, and that frankly, there were some concerns that there was a conflict of interest between managing the policies for how the government bought everything and also being in the system of running contracts that then other agencies use.

So in fact, that's what we do in Governmentwide Policy. We've centralized all the management functions of government in one place. We look at the government as a whole and try to make things so that the government is better managed than it otherwise would be.

Mr. Seike: Marty, the thing that I'm curious about is how is the Office of Government Policy different than some of the other agency policy development units, like the Government Accounting Office or the Office of Management and Budget?

Mr. Wagner: Well, I think we probably have some parallels. General Accounting Office probably has more of an audit and oversight role than we would have. We're really not in the business of looking over the shoulders of agencies. We're more in the business of developing best practices and, frankly, the regulations and the guidance for how agencies ought to operate.

OMB tends to operate at a higher level. We work very closely with OMB, but we're not OMB. OMB has the budget; it has the management and the regulatory reviews. A lot of those areas have implications that are a lot broader than OMB can actually do itself, and that's where we get involved.

So, for example, OMB does the budget, but working with the other agencies on the federal acquisition regulations, the federal travel regulations, and the way the -- developing the government's internal processes, that's where we work.

We work also a lot with the agencies. One of the things that we found when we consolidated our operations is the government probably historically has had a top-down approach to policy. Something would go wrong, and we would develop a rule against doing that bad thing. And we found that that probably gets you a fair distance, but you're actually going to do better in developing your policies if you work with the community that is affected by those policies to develop approaches that solve the overall problem � not avoiding the bad thing, but doing the right thing. And we would work closely with the agencies and OMB to develop and then implement those policies.

Mr. Lawrence: How big is the Office of Governmentwide Policy, and what are the skills of the people who work there?

Mr. Wagner: We're about 300 people overall, and the skills tend to be management skills in all the management policy areas. So we find-- and I may miss a few as I go down the list, but for example, acquisition, procurement. The Federal Acquisition Regulations, the Federal Acquisition Institute for Training, acquisition professionals, we have those policy functions. So you have people who understand procurement. That's one community. The Federal Travel Regulations, those who understand travel management, travel contracting, procurement of travel services, per diem, when we set the per diem rates in different cities -- a function that makes us extremely popular in certain circles, he said, tongue in cheek. But there's that area. Mail management, management of personal property, management of real property, disposal of personal property, disposal of real property. And then one that I think is particularly important and has certainly been growing in importance: electronic commerce, information technology, all those areas. A lot of what the government is going through is using information technology to be more effective, and it cuts across all management areas and, frankly, is probably our key to productivity gains in the future.

Mr. Lawrence: GSA seems to have somewhat of a unique role. How would you describe the culture at GSA, perhaps in contrast to other parts of the government?

Mr. Wagner: Well, I think GSA's got a very customer-oriented culture, is embracing technology more avidly than many agencies, but certainly not as quickly as some of the real technology-focused agencies. Very much into using an e-marketplace.

I think part of that is driven by -- when we talked earlier about the policy function and the separation and all the

forces that led that to being -- one of the things that happened with GSA is we, as a matter of conscious policy, moved it from a mandatory source of supply to one where it was optional.

And that's got a couple of advantages. One advantage is human nature. People tend to run away from the thing they're told they must use. So that barrier to using the vehicles went away. But it also means that it's an enormous incentive on the services to be efficient and effective. And that also cuts through into the way they operate internally. So it's actually been a -- I don't want to say it's better than every other agency I've worked in, because all the agencies I've worked in have had a lot of advantages. But it does have a somewhat more customer-centric culture, and I enjoy that. And since I like technology, I like being able to have it on my desktop and use it to good effect.

Mr. Lawrence: Marty, let's spend a little time now talking about your career? What drew you to public service?

Mr. Wagner: I think my big drive to public service is that I wanted to make a difference. I wanted scope. I wanted some ability to change the world. Originally, when I finished graduate school; I had gone through as an aeronautical engineer; I did a bachelor's and a master's degree, but the first job I got was working for a consulting company doing the cost/benefit analysis of the space shuttle. And it was all under contract for NASA. And I just thought space was neat, and being a player in the decisions of how we were going off into outer space in a standard, effective, businesslike way was sort of fun.

So from that, I went back to graduate school, this time in public administration and was trained in economics and public policy and thought that's a way to affect things. And after that, well, where is the action?

At the time, the action was the Environmental Protection Agency. So I went and worked there. And after awhile, the action was in telecommunications, and I went to OMB and worked there. And then � you don't want to be too long at OMB. I think it's a very good place to work but I thought it was time to move on.

I went to Treasury and did telecommunications for Treasury. Then I left Treasury to go to GSA, where I did information technology -- computers. And I did that for awhile, and then I got into electronic commerce, and these days I'm doing management.

As I look back on my career, I say, "Gee, I kept moving around and doing different things and they were always interesting and they always broadened me and improved my skills." And where else but the federal government could I have done all of those things? So that's pretty much how I got into it.

Mr. Lawrence: We're talking with Marty Wagner of GSA. This is The Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Marty Wagner, associate administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. And joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Steve Seike.

Marty, in your years of government service, what qualities have you observed as key characteristics of good leadership?

Mr. Wagner: That's a good question. I'm not sure I can give a complete answer, but I think one of the most important characteristics is to be able to see the big picture, to see the things that really matter. It's so easy to get caught up in the things that look really important but turn out to be not so important.

So, I'd say see the big picture, be ready to ask the right questions. I think you also have to be ready to work flat. Most of the things that really matter need you to get a lot of other people, who don't necessarily work for you, to do something that helps you achieve the goal that you want to get. Part of that, you ought to be able to articulate the vision; not just have it in your head, but explain it to other people. Better be flexible, be ready to deal with ambiguity, because there's an awful lot of ambiguity out there. And flexibility is, I sometimes think, the most important trait.

And finally, perhaps a silly one, but say "please" and "thank you." I once was working with an interagency group, and there were several folks that were there who really liked me a lot. And I'd like to tell you it was because I was wonderful, but it wasn't. It was I said "please" and "thank you," and they came from an environment where they basically had to deal with a lot of, it sounded like, not so nice managers, very directive. And just the basics of courtesy -- it's amazing what people will do for you if you just say "please" and "thank you." So that would be my closing thought. A lot of other things as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me follow up and ask you about working flat and what the management challenges are from doing that. We note in talking to a lot of government folks that they all would like to collaborate more, yet somehow it never seems to happen. So I'm wondering what the lessons learned might be from working flat.

Mr. Wagner: I think working flat, you've -- first, I think collaboration has worked pretty well. We've done a lot of it. Most of what we do is, in fact, collaborative effort. A problem may be working flat is not the same as working shallow. You've got to be not just talking to people, but moving toward some set of concrete results.

So working flat does require discipline, it requires focusing on deliverables, things that matter. It doesn't mean that you're getting together once a week to, sort of, talk about problems and issues. It means that you're each working towards getting something done. I think probably also it -- a lot of the important things -- an ecological metaphor is maybe not a bad way to think about it. You're doing something, but it keeps changing on you. The goals keep changing. The priorities keep changing. But if you recognize how that happens, you can use the fact that the world will be changing on you to get more done. Because you know something outside of your control is going to happen. You can even predict what a lot of those things are, and act accordingly.

That may be a bit obscure, but think of ecologies, and then think about how that metaphor applies to Washington, D.C.

Mr. Seike: GSA presents achievement awards for real property innovation. Could you describe some of these recent winners and what the impact this has had?

Mr. Wagner: First, let me briefly explain that what we do through many of our programs is that we create awards, which involve personal money going to government employees for things they achieve. Now, that's not altruism that leads us to do this. It's because if you want to find out what best practices are and disseminate them across government, an awards scheme is a pretty good way of doing it. The ones you mention are those for real property. We have them for travel, for mail management, and several other areas as well.

Recently, we gave one to the Department of the Army for privatization of Army utility systems; basically innovative ways of buying things like electricity cheaper.

Building Green went to GSA's Public Buildings Service; a lot of environmentally better ways of building buildings.

So because we make those awards, then we put them on our web page, and then people can learn about them. And we also work with other agencies, so that the average level of management starts rising to the level of what was the innovation of a few years before.

Mr. Lawrence: Now, we've been hearing a lot lately about FirstGov, which is a collaborative government Internet portal. And I'm curious as to what GSA's role in that is, and maybe you could share with the listeners a little bit more about FirstGov.

Mr. Wagner: Let me begin by first giving the URL. If you go to www.firstgov.gov -- and spell it out, f-i-r-s-t-g-o-v dot g-o-v -- although we also made sure to cover various misspellings of that as well; you're going to go to a search engine or a home page which searches everything that the federal government documents on the web.

Right now, that's up to about 33 million documents renewed every week or so. I'm sorry -- renewed every two weeks. And it's a very effective tool for finding out just what's going on in the federal government. It's arranged by category, so it doesn't require you to be an expert in the U.S. government's internal plumbing.

If you type in "passport" in the search box, you go to the place in the State Department, which has the passport office, where you find out about passports. You don't have to know that's how the government is lined up.

And it's, I think, a pretty good model of the transformation the government as a whole is going through. We're going from what I'll call inside-out government to outside-in government. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean that mostly, when we look out, working for the government, we work in our programs and we deliver those programs. We have an organizational view, and we deliver it out to customers.

Turns out that you can also look at it from the other viewpoint. A customer looking into the federal government, what I'm calling outside-in. FirstGov is one of the cuts at doing that. There are some others, which I could get into if you're interested.

First of all, though, it's a webpage that takes you to everything. Then it has taxonomies that lay out -- the information is organized in different ways. It's also consciously shallow. We're not building some sort of huge edifice in front of everything else that the government is doing. The government is too big, it's too important, too diverse to build one thing to be the front end for everything.

But what we can do is make it easier for folks to get to the place where it matters. So if the place you want, the information you want is at a NASA website or an EPA website or something like that, FirstGov will get you there in a fast and efficient way.

Mr. Lawrence: Telecommuting is a big issue, and I noticed that OGP has developed the Interagency Telecommuting Program Manual. I'm curious to know from your perspective, sort of, what's the state of telecommuting within the federal government?

Mr. Wagner: Well, the short answer is telecommuting has got a long way to go. It's going to be really, really a lot more important than it's been to date. It's where a lot of society is going. Because with technology, things like laptops and high-speed access and wireless access, you're a lot more able to work anyplace at any time. Now, the problem you get into is not all jobs fit that way of operating. In fact, we actually probably would prefer to say "telework" instead of "telecommuting." "Telecommuting" carries with it the idea of you really doing the same thing, but "telework," you can take a laptop, be on the road, be in a train, be in an airport, depot, you can do a lot of that work. We're doing more and more in that direction.

We in our own office are setting up hoteling arrangements by which people can more easily move around and do telecommuting that way. There are some real issues to work out. How do you manage a telecommuting work force? A lot of the people who telecommute, or telework, they get nervous about it because if they're not in the office, they're worried about being forgotten. How do you deal with those legitimate concerns and work through that? And frankly, there are a lot of issues in using the information technology, to make it standard and reliable, to work that out.

But we see that as pretty much the wave of the future. It's not going to be for everybody. And you've got true believers who somehow think that anyone can be a teleworker. I don't think that's the case. But an awful lot of us are going to be teleworking more and more.

Mr. Seike: I was interested as a follow-up to that in how many people currently are taking advantage of the program, and do you see that trend continuing over the next five to ten years?

Mr. Wagner: I'm afraid I don't have any good numbers about how many are actually teleworking at the moment, although those figures do exist. They're just -- I don't have them on the tip of my tongue. I'm pretty confident they're going to grow, and they're going to grow a lot. Because at least -- I just look at my own office, and we're just the tip of the iceberg as we start working out exactly how to do this and how to measure it and work more effectively. So the short answer is there's some going on and there's going to be a lot more numbers to follow.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour and our conversation with Marty Wagner. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Marty Wagner, associate administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. And joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Steve Seike.

Mr. Seike: Thanks, Paul. Marty, can you tell us how FirstGov came about?

Mr. Wagner: Well, I think I talked earlier about FirstGov when we were talking a little more about how that came about. It's an interesting project, because I don't think it fits the traditional mold. It didn't have any budget. It was interagency. It had no natural home. But it did have a presidential management directive that, sort of, told the government to go set up a portal for all its content.

And there had been the work that various folks -- for example, under the Chief Information Officers Council in the GSA � had been working. And so you had a push to do something. And then it went in a period of roughly three months from being an idea to actually being something up and operational -- maybe six months, if you count some of the precursor work.

And the way it kind of happened, I think, is an interesting model. I learned a lot of lessons from how FirstGov came about. You know, lessons -- these may be obvious lessons to the listeners, but sometimes we have trouble seeing the obvious.

The first was leadership mattered. FirstGov was something that people at the senior levels wanted to have happen and did the work cross-agency to get the money together, took a lead to make it happen. So we had high-level involvement: make this happen.

The second lesson is that if you want to get something done, you have to have ability to execute. And in fact, we had a cadre of people in various agencies, including GSA, who could actually get up and get something up and running quickly. We were able to use a lot of the acquisition reforms of the past several years to move very, very quickly to do a very competitive acquisition in a short period of time. We found the value.

Talking to everybody is really important. Communications matters. Even when you're moving quickly, you need to be talking to everybody.

Speed matters, too. We found that not only does speed help you get things done quickly and focus on the things that matter, it also means that your critics are criticizing -- they're behind you because you're already doing something different because you ran into the problems that the critics were pointing out and now moving into another area.

And then, I think, one that may seem a little silly, but it's nice to be aligned with the forces of history. I mean, what FirstGov is is an Internet portal, it's customer-centric, it ties the government as a whole to the people as a whole. And that's a lot of what the whole Internet is about. The Internet is turning a lot of companies inside out. It's changing the way we do business.

And by moving and using what this technology was doing, and moving in the direction of commercial off-the-shelf products stitched together to solve a problem, worked pretty well. And frankly, FirstGov is a model for a lot of the other things we're doing as well.

Mr. Lawrence: What I found interesting about your answer in terms of the lessons was none of them describe the technology; none of them involve technology. They were all management lessons about people, for the most part.

Mr. Wagner: I think that's true. I thought about that, and I thought I might be even overdoing not mentioning technology.

You tend to be in trouble when you're driven by technology, as opposed to technology being a catalyst to enable you to do something else. But you really do have to understand the technology. And when I talked about that middle-management cadre of people who understood stuff, it was really important to have people who understood what the web could do, what it couldn't do, who could weigh the different clouds as the vendors make their offerings and say what you're doing. So technology matters, but it doesn't matter as much as what you're trying to do.

Mr. Seike: What are the plans for the future of FirstGov?

Mr. Wagner: The biggie is, I think, it's less so much a FirstGov set of plans. The FirstGov plans really boil around we've got the search engine substantially improved now over the way it was in the beginning. We're improving the taxonomies. We're working more and more closely with the states on how to tie that in because in fact the states have many of the same issues we have. For example, the U.S. government has 30 million documents online, the states have about 14 million documents online. There's a lot of working through making it better.

But the really important, I think, ties back to the various other cross-agency efforts and, frankly, agency-specific web

portal efforts.

How do you get feedback to be better? We're starting to deliver services over the web. You want to run that closed loop, not open loop. By that I mean you listen to what's happening, and then you adjust accordingly.

So I think we need to do a lot more work with the feedback side and better links back into the other cross-agency portals, like students.gov, or seniors.gov, or disability.gov. I mean, there are various of these websites all built around presenting the problem from this outside-in perspective rather than the inside-out perspective, as well as all those really important agency-specific websites to which we are handing off traffic coming via FirstGov.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me continue this discussion about management by talking about another interesting topic, which is the balanced scorecard. We understand that you're using the balanced scorecard to manage the operations of the ten units under you. Could you tell us about this?

Mr. Wagner: Okay. Balanced scorecard is a pretty interesting approach. What has historically happened with many organizations is the focus on things like the bottom line misses a lot of other things that are important. And what balanced scorecard fundamentally tries to do is discipline yourself to look at more than just a few things.

And in fact, in our case, I think we're nontraditional. I think there are supposed to be four perspectives, but we have five perspectives. But when you look at the things you're going to measure your performance on, you don't just look at the one thing, like customer satisfaction. That's important, but you want more than that perspective.

So what are our perspectives? Well, first is what do we measure from a stakeholder perspective? Our stakeholders are all the folks who are interested in management across the government as a whole. So there are measures from that perspective. There are also the measures from a customer's perspective. We have customers too. If they're happy or unhappy, that matters a lot. We also have internal business processes. Are those processes working well or badly? Very much -- that's another balance scorecard. Budget, keeping track of the money � fairly important to do. And finally, something that I think tends to have been neglected and is going to matter more and more, is the learning and growth perspective. Do your employees know what they need to know? Do they have the tools that they need to know? Are they the right tools for the right job?

So, what are the measures? How do you make sure that you aren't so caught up in making customers happy that you don't deal with longer-run issues like making sure that people will be able to make them happy in the future.

Anyway, we're managing using those five measures. It's, I think, more difficult for a policy organization than an operational entity because a lot of our measures tend to be how do you measure the effectiveness of a policy. It's a somewhat trickier question than, you know, cost per item produced or something like that. But we're finding it a useful way of looking at it.

I will give a suggestion to those looking at it. This is a really good way to look at your programs, but don't get carried away with it. It should be a simple way to look -- it should be a simpler tool for looking at what you do. And this is one way of looking at things, and it's a way of keeping balance. You know, find things that work and be prepared to change. Because what we also find is what we were sure was the right way to do things a year ago, turns out to have been wrong. And that's not bad. It just means you adjust and start working as you evolve towards a better way of managing.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me follow up quickly. When you say use the scorecard to manage, and you describe the different areas, how actually do you use it to manage? Is it the scores or the results in those five areas or is it driven down to a personal level?

Mr. Wagner: We're not as far along as that, to drive it all the way down to every individual in the organization. But basically, you have five perspectives and you look at -- you find things to measure in those five perspectives.

They should be things that encourage the behavior you want. If you want a behavior that you want customers to be satisfied, find a customer satisfaction measure of some sort or another to measure, and that's one of the things doing. If you want your folks to be educated on what they need to be educated on, find something to measure that leads you in that direction.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, great. It's time for a break. We'll be back with more of The Business of Government Hour in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Marty Wagner, associate administrator for the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. And joining us in our conversation is Steve Seike, another PwC partner.

Well, Marty, let me double back on some of the management issues we were talking about in the last segment. Could you tell us about the linking budget to performance program?

Mr. Wagner: I guess I'll begin, since you're talking budget to performance -- I think I'm quoting Mitch Daniels, the new director of OMB, who said something along the lines of, "If you're not keeping score, you're just practicing." And I think some of the stuff we talked about on balanced scorecard earlier is if you -- things you measure, you'll get more of. And I think that's the first important point -- trying to measure something, and then move in that direction; understand those measures as step one.

Now, there's been a lot of, I think, discussion that gets almost religious about things called outcome measures and output measures and things like that. I think there's something about outcome measures that may bring out the worst in some people. But this is my take on the way we have to go.

First, an outcome is something that you really want to achieve. It's not necessarily what you produce but it's some measure of programmatic effectiveness that is as far away from the nitty-gritty outputs -- it's the higher-level things.

I think what we ought to do is figure out what are the outcomes we want, and then try to measure them. Then we also will be going -- we'll have programs that are moving in the direction to get those outcomes that we want. Those would be outputs that we do measure. Frankly, outputs is things we've done a pretty good job of measuring across a lot of it. We can count what we spend to do X or to do Y, or how many of them that we built, whether they be regulations or sizes or things like that. You can do your outputs. The problem is linking the outputs to the outcomes. And what I would suggest there is, rather than get into trying to quantify it too exactly, tell the story, that people can either believe or not believe, of why the things you as an agency are producing help achieve the outcomes you want to achieve. In my case, the outputs I would have might be things like regulations or accounting best practices or number of visits to a website or something like that. The outcomes I might want, or that I do want, are better management at an agency level. Well, I can't prove that because some best practice came out or that we developed performance measures that they're really making a big difference. But I think I can make a case of why the regulations or the guidance or the performance measures then being used by an agency has led to better behavior.

And the important question is, people can listen to that case, and they can believe it or not believe it and make their judgments. And that's better than being in this well, I can't measure anything or any measure that I have has to be so purely perfect that I can never achieve that. So that's kind of my take on that.

Mr. Lawrence: Marty, let's turn now and focus a little bit on the future. We're hearing this a great deal about the upcoming federal government retirement wave and the impact that that's having on agencies. How big an issue is that for GSA and the Office of Governmentwide Policy? And are you doing some planning and working on some solutions around that?

Mr. Wagner: It's probably the strategic issue for GSA and, I suspect, for most agencies. We have this building retirement wave coming in. I think we've got 90 employees that are currently eligible to retire or will be eligible to retire in the very near future, a significant percentage of the work force. And it's going to continue for a while. It's not so much Armageddon, but it's this rising issue that we're going to have to deal with. So how do you deal with it? Well, one thing is you try to retain people. And there are some financial incentives that you can use in that direction. There are also, frankly, some quality of life, quality of work things that you can offer.

A lot of what we have to offer in the government, frankly, is not salary. We actually can offer scope and opportunity to do things that are really significant. When I was working at EPA, which by now is probably 15, 20 years ago, I was, I guess, down the hall from someone, a GS-11 maybe, GS-12, a key guy working on billion-dollar standards, air quality standards. And he was the person doing all the modeling work. He had a major impact on a multibillion-dollar decision that the government made. Now, that's EPA. I was recently talking to a fellow who worked in GSA's Public Buildings Service, who told me about a job interview when he was a couple years in government and was thinking maybe he'd go into real estate for a company. And the companies that he was interviewing didn't believe what he told them he was doing, because nobody that junior, that lowly paid, would be in charge of projects that big. That's what we've got to offer. We have really good opportunities to make a difference. In addition, I think we've got, you know, good salaries and benefits. And we can have discussions about which areas -- information technology would clearly have some areas of being able to recruit the folks we need and that's going to cut into more than just those areas.

Mr. Seike: Well, speaking of young people, what kind of advice would you give to a young person who's interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Wagner: Pursue things that interest you that you think matter. I think that what public service offers you is a chance to do a wide range of things. And my basic advice was if you're interested in the environment, you ought to be talking to EPA. If you're interested in energy, you know, you've got the Department of Energy. If you're interested in the Treasury Department. There's just a wide range of things that you can do. So the first thing is find something that interests you. Second is move around. Don't stay in just one agency or one office. You move around, you may find that you like government a lot and want to stay, and you may find that you want to go work for PricewaterhouseCoopers, I suppose. I mean, those are opportunities too. You know, but there are your opportunities to do interesting things. And you should care about what you achieve. At the end of the day, if all you do is you're putting in time, you're just doing the job and getting paid, life's too short to focus on that. You ought to be happy that you're achieving something, whatever that thing could be.

Mr.Seike: Would you recommend the development of any certain special set of skills?

Mr. Wagner: Well, I think the � whatever skills that you like. I mean, some people want to be accountants; some, economists; some, engineers; some, marketeers. I mean, there's sort of -- you'll have the skills of the things that interest you. So I'd begin with that. The thing that you may not have thought of, though, is you need to stay current. You need to have the skill to learn a new skill. Half the things I do today I had no -- I knew nothing about only a couple of years ago. And that just keeps happening. So the key skill to learn is the ability to learn new skills and adjust.

Mr. Lawrence: Marty, let's turn now to another really hot topic, and that's the one of Internet privacy. How much involvement do you think that GSA will have in regulating privacy issues in the government going forward?

Mr. Wagner: Well, we're certainly not going to be a regulator of privacy issues, but we're certainly going to be a participant in working through the privacy issues. Privacy is one of those issues that tends to be often mixed in with security, and they are different. When we move to a more and more electronic government, we need to guarantee that we protect the privacy of our citizens.

Frankly, there are some probably larger issues in how the Internet is evolving, when you look at some of the privacy issues there. Simple one; you have a right to be anonymized, unless there's some reason that you need to identify yourself. If you go and pull down a tax form, no one's going to collect anything about you if you're downloading a tax form because that's our duty, is to make sure that that's private. If you are, however, let's say interacting directly with a government agency through the Internet, we have to guarantee that it is in fact you that we're talking to because that's private information.

We're going to be working through a lot of how you actually make that work. We haven't worked out all the answers, but since we have a collaborative model, we've got OMB and all the other agencies that we'll be working together with on solving that over the next few years.

Mr. Lawrence: Marty, I'm afraid we're out of time. Steve and I want to thank you very much for the conversation today. It's been very interesting.

Mr. Seike: Thanks, Marty.

Mr. Wagner: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Marty Wagner, associate administrator for Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration. To learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web at endowment@pwcglobal.com. See you next week.

William R. Ferris interview

Friday, June 15th, 2001 - 20:00
Phrase: 
William R. Ferris
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/16/2001
Intro text: 
William R. Ferris
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Monday, April 30, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and a co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created the Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about our research by visiting us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Our conversation today is with William R. Ferris, chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities. Welcome, Bill.

Mr. Ferris: Thank you. It's great to be with you, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: A lot of people know about the National Endowment for the Humanities. But I bet they don't know all the things it does. Could you describe its activities for us?

Mr. Ferris: Well, the National Endowment for the Humanities is the nation's largest supporter of the humanities and in so doing, we support public television, radio series like the Ken Burns series on the Civil War and his recent series on jazz. We support programs in local libraries and museums. We support classroom teaching, websites that help teachers and summer institutes for teachers. We also support research -- scholars, the preservation of presidential papers. And we increasingly are reaching out to all American people to try to make the humanities a household word, in initiatives like family history website, called "My History is America's History" that allows anyone to put their stories and genealogy online, and to connect through that with American history. So we have a broad, wide web of relationships and support that we bring to our nation on behalf of the humanities.

Mr. Lawrence: How big is it? How many people work there? And what type people are they?

Mr. Ferris: Well, by Washington standards, we're very small. We have a 170 staff, an annual budget of $120 million. And the staff I think of as a university. These are many PhDs, who speak many languages. The diversity of expertise is really extraordinary, not unlike the National Science Foundation.

We vet an extraordinary range of programs from international research to the history of American culture. We often have to draw on different languages, different periods of history to vet our projects. And we have scholars in house who are fully equipped to do that.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, tell us about your career.

Mr. Ferris: Well, I grew up on a farm in Mississippi. And studied English and later folklore. In terms of the South, my interests have focused on the Deep South traditions like blues. I did a book on a storyteller, a mule trader called You Live and Learn, Then You Die and Forget It All. And I think of that as a sense of urgency in my work as a folklorist.

I've also been privileged to direct for 18 years before coming here, a Center for Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. And we produced an encyclopedia of Southern culture that looks at one of the nation's great regions in great detail.

And all of that work has in various ways shaped important initiatives that we're now doing here at the Endowment.

Mr. Lawrence: How did you get out of academia and come to the Endowment?

Mr. Ferris: Well, I was invited. To be offered the position that I have, I think of as the highest honor an academic can ever have. I've worked for many years over my life with the humanities, and have been blessed with support, both as a scholar and as an administrator from NEH.

So, to come here and to return that favor by leading and supporting the initiatives that NEH is doing was something that I never dreamed would be a part of my life. And so when I was offered that opportunity three and a half years ago, it was certainly an easy choice to make.

Mr. Lawrence: It's interesting that you describe the position as both a scholar and an administrator. Which jobs in your career best prepared you for both of those functions?

Mr. Ferris: I think they both did because I was on the other side of the fence before coming here, requesting support for scholarly research and teaching, and also for administrative work -- the renovation of an antebellum observatory, the creation of new curriculum on the South. All of which happened because of NEH.

So I know, in a very personal way, a lot about our programs because I've been a part of them for probably 22 years before coming here.

So I feel as though I am knowledgeable advocate for the humanities. In speaking to the White House and to Congress and to the American people on behalf of our agency, I can call on personal experience in saying how powerfully important this work is for the whole nation.

Mr. Lawrence: How would you contrast the cultures of academia versus the public sector?

Mr. Ferris: Well, I think in many ways they're similar, in that you are responsible to the public, both at a university and at the Endowment.

But there are differences. Within the university, you respond to a department chair or to a university president. Here, I'm responsible to the White House, to Congress and to the American people.

And I think all three of those entities are equally important. You have to respect and be accountable to all of them. There are new ways of walking here, in the sense that you have ethical restrictions that normally would not apply in a private world within a university.

But ultimately it's following your heart, trying to be as honest and clear in what you are doing and want to do as possible. And when I first came here I was very intimidated by the thought of going into the White House, or going into a Senator or a Congressional office and speaking with people that I had read about and admired enormously.

But to go in and actually talk about your business was something I had never thought would be possible. But you quickly realize that you're dealing with other people who share values and once they understand that the work we're doing is improving and enriching the lives of people they represent, it becomes a clear choice of, I think, supporting this agency.

The increased support that we've had from Congress over the last two years reflects, I think, the confidence that they have in our work.

Mr. Lawrence: How about the differences in management styles?

Mr. Ferris: Well, the differences in management style at the basic level I don't think have changed. I'm the same person I was before. But the scale of management is far greater.

I mean, I was directing a Center for Study of Southern culture, managing about 18 people. Here, there are 170, and it's far more complex.

So, I had a steep learning curve. I'm still learning every day. But as a result of trying to understand an agency that I already felt I knew, but was quickly able to see that there was far more there than anyone really understood, we created over the last three years four working papers as a way to look in great depth at our programs, with international programs, with regional programs, science, technology and the humanities and teaching and lifelong learning.

And these are all on our website, a very impressive upgraded website. We are making ourselves much more visible to the American people and to our own staff. I mean, the range of projects and activities within this single agency is very impressive. And it helps to be able to also pull up a 35-year time line on our website, and look at the distinguished work that has taken place under every president and every chair since our creation 35 years ago.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, since you're an expert in Southern culture, I'm curious to know how would you contrast Washington, D.C. with the rest of the South?

Mr. Ferris: First of all, I have to say very proudly that I would consider Washington a part of the South. In our Encyclopedia of Southern Culture we include Washington. And from the very earliest colonial period Southern leaders like Thomas Jefferson played a significant role in the city.

So as a Southerner coming here, having worked on the South for 30 years, I found myself very comfortable here.

Mr. Lawrence: This is The Business of Government Hour. We'll re-join our conversation in just a few minutes.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Could you tell us about the development of the Rediscovering America program?

Mr. Ferris: Yes. Our real initiative at the Endowment is to connect the humanities to every American. And to do that, we are reaching out to American families and communities with a number of initiatives that are making a significant difference.

Mr. Lawrence: We know that you're planning ten regional centers as part of this program. What will these centers do?

Mr. Ferris: Well, these centers will be housed within major universities in 10 five-state areas that roughly correspond to the areas we think of as New England, the Deep South, the Southwest, the Midwest.

They will offer the B.A. and M.A. interdisciplinary degrees on the history and culture of their region. They will support research projects like encyclopedias on each region. And they'll do public programs -- television, radio, exhibitions.

And they'll link over the five-state area the infrastructure of education and culture: religious groups, civic groups, national parks, universities, colleges, K through 12, arts and humanities councils.

Groups that normally don't talk to each other will be gathered together at a common table so that when an initiative like an exhibition on the California Gold Rush is being developed all of these groups will have a chance to take part in it and to help make it a stronger initiative.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the management challenges of running these centers?

Mr. Ferris: Well, the centers will all be run by the universities in which they're housed. They're actually built on already existing work, in some cases; programs that have been focused on the region for 20 and 30 years.

And what we are issuing is a challenge grant over five years that will offer each university a million dollars a year. And they in turn will match it with a three to one match.

And we are turning to Congress for only four of the six. The other six we are raising support from private sources for -- we recently received a two and a half million dollar gift from the Knight Foundation which is the largest single gift in the 35 year history of our agency.

So I think Congress and the private sector are very excited about the ways that this will deepen our knowledge of what American culture is all about.

Mr. Lawrence: We know that you spearheaded an effort to put statewide cultural encyclopedias online. Could you tell us what this is and what the biggest hurdle to doing this is?

Mr. Ferris: Prior to coming here, I was co-editor of an encyclopedia of Southern culture, which the NEH funded. And I saw firsthand how powerfully important that was in helping people understand about their own history and culture. And we have already seen in the last few years a growing number of state-based encyclopedias, mostly print encyclopedias.

So we've decided to create an online encyclopedia in every state through our state humanities councils. There is one that we funded earlier, which is up and running: The Handbook of Texas, which is an enormously successful project. And it's a prototype for what will be available in every state over the next five to 10 years.

It allows teachers and students to develop new curriculum. It has an impact on economic growth through cultural tourism. They have a tremendously important role in the life of the individual state. And they virtually cover the globe in the ability they offer to learn more about Texas, for example.

We have recently funded 17 states and we'll fund another round of states this summer with $50,000 planning grants to get the process started. And then we'll come back with $450,000 implementation grants to help put it all together.

Mr. Lawrence: What's the Schools for the New Millennium program?

Mr. Ferris: The Schools for the New Millennium is a very exciting approach to looking at the entire school and reshaping curriculum by developing technology and bringing together not only the students and faculty but parents and the administration. We partner that entire group of the school's leadership with a local museum and a university. For example, the Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee is partnered with the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and with Northeastern University in Boston developing a new curriculum on the civil rights movement.

And for those students in the classes in Memphis, the civil rights movement is a part of history. It's something that took place before they were born. So it's a wonderful way of doing oral histories with parents and family and neighbors to give them a deeper sense of their local history. We have similar projects with the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, looking at their Native American myths and comparing those with the theater of Shakespeare.

In each of these schools around the country, wonderful new, innovative work is being done; again, using technology and partnerships with museums and universities that make a high school curriculum far more exciting than ever before.

Mr. Lawrence: The Endowment is encouraging Americans to write down their stories through the My History is America's History project. Could you tell us more about this project?

Mr. Ferris: This My History project is our most comprehensive effort to reach out to all Americans. It involves first of all a book that is also online at thatsmyhistory.org.

And if one wishes, you can either get the book or you can pull down on the web all the information on it. And you can also get a copy of the book by calling 877-NEH-history.

Basically, what the book or the website does is to walk you through the ways of putting together your genealogy or gathering your family stories and then putting those online. And through those stories, and your own personal genealogy, you begin to connect in a much more exciting way with American history. We've put two copies of this wonderful book in every library in the nation. And we're working with teachers to use family history as part of their curriculum.

In states like Pennsylvania the State Humanities Councils are launching special oral history initiatives in communities all over the state. It's a project that is growing in terms of the numbers that are using it, and it's also bringing the humanities in a very powerful way into the personal life and family history of all Americans.

Mr. Lawrence: You've suggested that NEH should function as a traditional endowment where both private and public funds are added to the large pot of funding. What are the benefits of this structure?

Mr. Ferris: I think our new administration believed very strongly that there should be a private- public partnership. And our current budget of $120 million is simply not adequate to fully address the needs of the nation in the humanities areas.

So we have turned, with the encouragement of both the White House and Congress to corporations, to foundations, and to individual donors. We've had a wonderful gift of about $1.7 million from the WorldCom Foundation to create Edcitement, which is a K through 12 website that includes 105 websites, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress and others.

And now, thanks to this gift and this website a teacher in Oklahoma can pull up Thomas Jefferson or Martin Luther King and it will sweep all these websites and give you the information.And then they can say I'm a 10th grade teacher in Tulsa. Give me a teaching unit on this subject using the Oklahoma teaching standards. So within 5 or 10 minutes, a teacher has a wonderful lesson plan on the subject they need that they carry into the classroom.

So we are very encouraged by the growing numbers of gifts for specific projects in the humanities that we are receiving. And Congress and the White House applaud this kind of entrepreneurial spirit within the humanities.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm talking with William Ferris of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is The Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Well, you've been credited with refocusing the Endowment's mission from funding controversial projects to those that preserve America's heritage. Can you tell us about the process that you used to shift the mission of the NEH?

Mr: Ferris: As a folklorist, I think of humanities as the human story and I think of a proverb, an African proverb, that I often use in teaching my students folklore. The proverb says that when an old man or woman dies, a library burns to the ground. And I view the humanities as a work of urgency, that we need to be about preserving those stories, not only of our family, but understanding more deeply the stories of our nation's history, our literature our philosophy, our folklore. These are all fields that we study really from kindergarten on; they are the humanities and there's nothing controversial about this. It's simply getting a good education. Our founding legislation draws on the language of Thomas Jefferson, which says that a democracy must depend on an educated citizenry, and we in our democracy have to protect and nurture our education for all ages, from kindergarten through lifelong learning. And that's what the humanities is all about -- there's nothing controversial about the work that we do. It is an urgently needed necessity for our nation, to support the programs that we have.

Mr. Lawrence: NEH regularly deals with competing and sometimes conflicting interests. How do you keep all the stakeholders satisfied?

Mr. Ferris: I view the various groups within the humanities as a parent would view children. You love them all, you want to nurture them all and take care of each of them.

And that is exactly our approach. We have public programs that nurture the public television, radio, and museum worlds. We have research programs that deal with scholarly research. We have education that assists classroom teaching and develops websites. We have challenge grants that help build long term support for institutions. And we have preservation and access, which is a way of preserving historic documents and making them available to the public. All of these are part of what we think of as the pipeline of the humanities. We have to preserve the collections of papers in order that scholars can write about them and filmmakers can draw on the photography -- like Ken Burns has done. Eventually, these films and scholarly works will find their ways in to the classroom of K through 12. So in some ways, you can look at a decade-long process of preservation and making accessible resources that are then used and turned into very public and very accessible worlds. All of these steps are important. We view all each area with equal care, and we try to be as fair as possible in supporting them all.

Mr. Lawrence: Money is often an issue and has been in the past has been somewhat of a struggle. You testified after the budget cuts of 1996 that NEH was forced to close down many of its core grant programs, lay off a quarter of its employees, and downsize many of its functions. How did you prioritize what would continue to receive funding in this period?

Mr. Ferris: Actually, that all happened before I became Chairman. It was several years after those deep cuts that I came on board. It clearly had a terrible effect on the agency. All of our younger staff that had just come on fairly recently had to be let go. Many of our programs that people depended on in a variety of areas were reduced or cut. It's been my challenge to rebuild those programs through Congressional or White House support or through private support; to seek additional funding for these programs. And I'm delighted to say that we're on the right course, both with Congress and the White House and the private sector. Private support also is flowing in ways that I think will steadily increase in the coming years.

Mr. Lawrence: NEH was able to increase its budget in the past year. What lessons would pass on to other leaders navigating the budget process?

Mr. Ferris: I'm very proud that we've had a five million dollar increase over each of the last two years and that was after flat funding for a number of years. My sense is that there are no shortcuts to this process, it's a process of learning to understand and respect the Congressional and White House leadership and over time -- over a number of years-- explaining about your programs, and why there're important, and how they affect to the American people. The bottom line here is that we are a democracy and the Endowment exists because of the generosity of the American people and their elected officials. We are responsible to those people and to the degree that our programs enrich and support their lives in every part of the nation, then I think we will thrive and grow. That's what we're doing. The growth in our budgets and in other areas of the agency represent our work.

Mr. Lawrence: In 1999, the NEH was criticized for inviting President Clinton to deliver the Endowment's annual Jefferson Lecture. What lessons can you pass along to other leaders faced with this level of controversy?

Mr. Ferris: Our idea was -- and I think it continues to be a valid idea -- that every sitting president should have an opportunity at the end of their term to reflect on the humanities and their role on of history in their leadership during their four year period. Regardless of who the president might be, I think that would be a significant resource for the nation. If we had such a resource on every president from George Washington to the present, it would be a treasure trove. I continue to think that this is an idea that is very important. We certainly are open to seeing this be made a part of the future of humanities if the leadership in the White House and Congress feel that it is important.

Mr. Lawrence: In an era where all government agencies are being asked to produce results, and track performance, how does NEH track and communicate performance information?

Mr. Ferris: Well we increasingly are using our website and electronic reporting of information from grantees and from audience participation and programs to monitor and track the results of our projects.

We've also responded to the Government Performance and Results Act in creating what is called a Performance Plan for all of our projects. It establishes goals and sets forth a series of indicators that help us understand how our various grants are succeeding. And we in turn report that to Congress and the White House.

I think technology is in our favor in that our website and our ability to use technology to move data quickly and to sort data is increasingly giving us a clear picture of how successful our projects are. And they are enormously successful. We can begin to see a summer institute for a high school teacher gives that teacher a much firmer knowledge of the subjects they teach.

And then you can only imagine for the next 10, 20, maybe 40 or 50 years that teacher, year after year, is a better teacher for hundreds and thousands of students who will then go forth and be better citizens.

So you multiply that one teacher by hundreds of teachers at the secondary and college level, and then you multiply the numbers of students whose lives they touch. And you begin to see it's like a pebble dropped in the water and the ripples go out. That is but one example of how our programs make our nation far stronger and far richer.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be back with more of The Business of Government Hour and our conversation with William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

One of the toughest challenges that many employers are facing now is recruiting and retaining new employees. Does NEH have this problem?

Mr. Ferris: I would say we have a problem with retaining employees. But our problem, like many federal agencies, is that we have a graying workforce, which is particularly acute in our situation, because so many of our younger staff were cut when the 40 percent budget reductions came through a few years earlier. But we are slowly and steadily rebuilding this workforce. As our staff retires, then we are bringing in wonderful young leadership within the humanities, and many of whom are PhDs in various fields.

And there's a great love for the Endowment across the nation. And I think it's going to be exciting and easy to recruit highly professional trained scholars who are interested in helping through the Endowment to build the humanities all over the nation.

Mr. Lawrence: Will they come for a job that will last a career, or will they be moving back and forth to, say, academia?

Mr. Ferris: Well, one can do both. But I think in most cases we will be bringing in people to work for a career. But it's also possible to come into the government for a year or two and to have that experience, and then to go back into the university. But most of the examples that I'm familiar with within the agency indicate that once staff is there, they do not leave until they retire. Because it's an extraordinarily and moving experience to see institutions and individuals grow and flourish. Because -- and I'm the best example. I mean, my whole career as a teacher and scholar and administrator would not have been possible without the NEH support.

So, I know full well that the kinds of advantages the Endowment offers individuals are in direct relationship to the leadership we have at our agency. These are leaders who become very personally involved and they have a chance to watch over several decades, sometimes, a small institution grow and flourish, or an individual scholar who's totally unknown, a young Ken Burns get help for his first film on Huey Long, and then become one of the nation's greatest filmmakers.

There are many examples like that. Ralph Applebaum, who designed the Holocaust Museum began his career as an unknown designer for museums with NEH support. The examples that one can cite are many. And to bring staff in and to give them a chance literally to shape the nation for the better I think is very appealing. And I look forward to seeing the growth and the development of young staff as they increasingly come to our agency.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in a career at NEH?

Mr. Ferris: Well, I always tell young people to follow their hearts. Life is too short to do otherwise. And do what you love. And if you love the humanities, and want to come to the NEH, then look at those positions that appeal to you most.

In some cases, it might be working with research, in others with public programs. A person who has a strong background in film or radio would be much more challenged and excited by the public program sector. If you've done research and published books and so on, then the research division would be a more likely venue.

But there's a wide range of wonderful opportunities within our agency. And each summer we bring in summer fellows who are college students. And they bring a wonderful new energy for the summer into the agency. And many of those are inspired and have indicated that they would like to come back, you know, after they finish their education and join our staff full-time.

And so there is a process here that clearly is exciting to the public. And we are never without wonderful choices when we're seeking to hire new staff.

Mr. Lawrence: Is there a key characteristic, from your observation, that separates the really excellent researchers or filmmakers from the other ones you see -- the Ken Burns, for example, from the other filmmakers?

Mr. Ferris: Well, I think there are really no filmmakers who are not good. I mean, I'm a filmmaker myself. And I know a lot of what separates one filmmaker from another is simply the access to resources. And Ken Burns really is unique in his ability to raise support and to build institutions around the subjects he's done, such as the Civil War and jazz.

And we seek not only to help the blockbuster productions, but to help the unknown filmmakers who are just beginning their career. We're launching support for filmmakers who are coming to us for the first time. And maybe $10,000 spread over 50 filmmakers -- of 10,000 each -- will yield a handful of truly significant filmmakers over the next 50 years who will be household names in the ways that Ken Burns' name is today.

So I think no one can distinguish between good, better, best. In scholarship, in filmmaking we simply can't judge what a decade or two from now will be viewed as a very powerful and important grant. And many of our smallest grants have had this effect. We funded a perhaps about $10,000 or $12,000 to a scholar to do a research project and a book on the Amistad incident about 25 years ago. Well, that book was one of the key resources for Steven Spielberg's wonderful film.

We can point to many examples where we gave an archeologist a modest amount of money to do work in Peru that led to the discovery eventually of the Ice Maiden. So, our work moves in wonderful and mysterious ways. And I think these are all God's children that we support. And they're all very beautiful and significant work in our eyes.

And I think as we look back over our 35 years, we can see the patterns of growth that have come in very unexpected ways that have blessed and enriched the lives of all Americans thanks to this great institution, the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mr. Lawrence: What does the future hold for the National Endowment of the Humanities five, 10 years out? What do you think it will look like, and what do you think it will be doing?

Mr. Ferris: I think it will be hardly recognizable in terms of what we see now. First of all, all of our applications will be done electronically. We will have virtually every resource in our nation, presidential papers, family trees, the histories of local communities on websites that will all be linked so that a student in the 5th grade in rural Montana will have equal access to the rich worlds of the Library of Congress, as rich as anyone in the country. And we will see the agency partnered in a very intimate way with the White House, and Congress as we shape national and international policies, economic, cultural. We will have a whole new sense of pride and understanding about our nation's culture.

And that step will have been made because of NEH. I think NEH will grow and will become an essential part of all public policy. Not only education, but cultural and economic because culture is related to economic development. And we grow as a community, as a region and as a nation in direct proportion to our ability to know our history and our culture.

In our recent book on the 35-year history of the agency, there's a preface by Stephen Ambrose, in which he says, "I can't imagine an America without the NEH." And I think that will be the thought of every American in the coming years.

Mr. Lawrence: I want to thank you, Bill. I'm afraid we're out of time. I've enjoyed our conversation very much.

Mr. Ferris: Thank you very much.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

To learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com. See you next week.

Eugene Hickok interview

Monday, November 29th, 1999 - 20:00
Phrase: 
Eugene Hickok
Radio show date: 
Wed, 01/14/2004
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Missions and Programs; Organizational Transformation...
Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Missions and Programs; Organizational Transformation
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created The Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about The Center by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Gene Hickok, Acting Deputy and Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Good morning, Gene.

Mr. Hickok: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you. And joining us in our conversation also from IBM is Debra Cammer.

Good morning, Debra.

Ms. Cammer: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Gene, let�s start by talking about the Department. Could you describe its mission to us?

Mr. Hickok: Its mission, broadly stated, is to ensure access and quality in American public education. It�s a relatively young department; it was started during the Carter Administration. And its broadest purpose really is simply that, to do whatever the federal government can to improve the nature of education in this nation.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you describe its size? Often, it�s budget or employees, but how do you think about it?

Mr. Hickok: Well, it�s got approximately 4,900 employees, a budget this year of about $53 billion. Having said that, and those are big numbers where I come from, it�s the smallest of the major agencies of the federal government. And its role has been kind of on the periphery of American education until relatively recently under this Administration. There have been various versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Higher Education Act, et cetera. We�ll get into that, obviously. But until now, the federal government�s role in K-12 education has been relatively modest, both in terms of budget and in terms of policies, but that�s beginning to change pretty dramatically.

Mr. Lawrence: And what are the skills of the Department�s employees? I naturally think about education-focused skills.

Mr. Hickok: Sure. A variety of skills. You�ve got a lot of individuals who have doctoral degrees and do research in education issues, reading issues, skills issues, curriculum issues. You�ve got a lot of individuals who are talented at law and public policy. Obviously, a lot of individuals whose emphasis is economics and budget. It is a pretty typical bureaucracy in the sense of how Washington bureaucracies function within their sphere of responsibility. And you have a number of folks who have been engaged as public school teachers and administrators over the years, who are now trying to contribute through the federal government.

Ms. Cammer: Now your title is Acting Deputy Secretary and Under Secretary. Could you tell us about those offices?

Mr. Hickok: Well, the Deputy Secretary is, on the organization chart, the number-two person. And traditionally, the Deputy Secretary has been engaged in the day-to-day management of the operations, sort of a COO, if you would; responsibility over finance and budget management, things like that. The Under Secretary traditionally has done similar sorts of things as the number-three person, working on budget issues.

That all changed with this Administration. When Secretary Paige came in as Secretary of Education, he wanted the Under Secretary, which I was originally appointed to serve and still serve, to be overseeing the implementation and reauthorization of our major education policies. So with No Child Left Behind, which is the signature piece for this President, the Office of the Under Secretary is in charge of implementing that law and help to steer the passage of that law through Congress. And the Deputy was doing primarily management things. Now that I�m doing a little bit of both, or basically doing both, my job is to sort of help Secretary Paige make sure, one, the place operates successfully, the management end; and two, the public policy end gets implemented successfully as well.

Ms. Cammer: So you have a broad set of responsibilities.

Mr. Hickok: Yes.

Ms. Cammer: How do you divide your time?

Mr. Hickok: I don�t sleep much. No, it�s fascinating really. I divide my time. First of all, I have a lot of very capable people who work with me, and I depend upon them a great deal. I really do firmly believe that one of the first principles of good management is to make sure that you have talented men and women working with you, that you give them the opportunity to use that talent, and you give them the flexibility to demonstrate what needs to be done. I have to do that, and a good management always does that. And then I try to decide, based upon my schedule and the issues before us, which one demands the kind of attention that that office deserves.

And frankly, it�s a great job. I mean, intellectually, it�s very rich. There�s a lot going on. The stakes are high. The consequences are important. And you�re talking about what I consider to be one of the most important things we can do in a democracy, and that�s make sure every child gets a good education.

Ms. Cammer: Well, you�re very fortunate to have a job like that. Tell us how you got it. What did you do before you got here?

Mr. Hickok: Well, I was Secretary of Education in Pennsylvania for 6 years under Governor Ridge. In Pennsylvania, unlike some states, that is an appointed position, confirmed by the state legislature. And unlike most states, the Secretary of Education oversees all of education in Pennsylvania from K through graduate school. So my portfolio was pretty rich in Pennsylvania, and I did that for six years. I was the longest-serving Secretary of Education in the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

More importantly than that, before that, I was a college professor of political science in a small college in Pennsylvania called Dickinson College. I also taught law school at the Dickinson School of Law, which is Penn State�s School of Law, although I�m not a lawyer. My Ph.D. is in poli-sci.

More importantly, I was on the school board, so I had a sense of the dynamics at the very local level, of the little �P� politics of education, with two kids in public schools. So I�ve been very lucky.

My experience for both the Pennsylvania job and this job, my background was relatively unique. I am not a �public school educator,� but I think that�s been to my advantage, because having not been a product of that environment, I came in with a separate set of questions. And that led to some rethinking on my part and on the part of the administration that I was overseeing, and I think I�ve been very lucky.

Mr. Lawrence: How did the state experience help you think about this job? I�m sort of contrasting the delivery of the services of the state and now at the Department, helping educate.

Mr. Hickok: Well, you know, at the state level, there is kind of a daily bottom line. The fact is, the states are the ones who control public education. And then the way it�s actually implemented, obviously, is in public schools all across the country. At the state level, every day, you recognize there�s a direct link between what you do and what goes on at the school. It differs by state. Pennsylvania, for example, doesn�t control curriculum; some states control curriculum. But in terms of testing and standards and assessments and public policy and budget obviously and school code, that was all being influenced daily through the department, the general assembly, the state board of education. And there�s kind of a sense of concrete tangible reaction every day.

The farther you get away from the school district, the farther you get away from the state, the direct relationship between what you do and what takes place gets real, real slim. Indeed, it�s one of the great challenges you have at the federal level: How do you make sure the people who make important decisions in Washington recognize how those decisions are played out in the real world of the classroom or a state board of education? So for me, I was lucky. I had experience at that level.

I didn�t have much experience with the federal Department of Education as a state chief. It wasn�t on my mind a lot. When I came down here, I remembered that, and my job was to make sure, and it remains, to make sure that the federal Department of Education has a greater sensitivity to and appreciation for the political, little �P,� topography of state and local education. We cannot do a good job if we do not understand the way that world operates, and appreciate it and respect it and defer to it as much as we can. And that also means they�ll respect us, because it�s not the federal government telling them what to do as much as the federal government trying to help good things get done.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the differences or even the similarities between the types of management skills that you use at the different levels?

Mr. Hickok: That�s interesting. You know, I�ll be honest with you, I think I�ve learned a lot in both of these positions, and I was not a manager. Like I said, I was an academic, which is about as far from management as you can get, frankly, except for maybe classroom management.

I think a couple of things remain constant. It is the importance of respect for individuals. I don�t care where they are or what they do; unless they give you reason other than that, you should respect them as individuals and be respectful of their contributions. The importance of listening, I think particularly in political organizations, quite often, people come to these jobs with a variety of backgrounds and a variety of expectations, and they sometimes confuse high office with deep insight. They really think that they deserve to be where they are. Well, you know, in most cases, we get these jobs for a variety of reasons, and our highest obligation ought to be to make sure, one, we remain humble; and, two, that we listen carefully to our constituents. And for me, that�s the American people, it�s the educators, it�s the taxpayers, it�s everybody. So listening is very important.

Being decisive. There�s a tendency in many of these jobs, I think because the stakes are so high, the bureaucracy is so deep, the paperwork so overwhelming, the pros and cons go on forever, to want to put off making tough decisions because you can put off making tough decisions. That�s human nature. You�ve got to be decisive. It doesn�t mean you should be simplistic, but our job in the end is to make decisions, to weigh consequences, and to move forward.

And I think the other thing is to recognize that in these organizations, everything is political. And that�s not a bad thing. I was with a bunch of managers just the other day, and I mentioned the fact that in public organizations such as the Department of Education, good management is not always good politics; in the sense that you might do a performance analysis of a policy or a program and recognize it�s not a good thing to keep doing, it�s not a good use of federal dollars. But if it�s got a lot of support on the Hill and a long track record, it�s not going to go away. So good management might say don�t do it, but politics says you�re going to do it. So good management is not always good politics, but bad management is always bad politics.

And so you live in a world now where, especially with this President, where the quality of the way we do our work needs to be the very best it can be, and it needs to emulate business principles as much as possible in an environment that, by definition, is constantly going to try to push back on business principles.

Mr. Lawrence: It�s an interesting point about management and policy.

It�s been two years since the No Child Left Behind legislation was passed. What have been the results as well as the management challenges? We�ll ask Gene Hickok of the Department of Education when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I�m Paul Lawrence, and today�s conversation is with Gene Hickok, Acting Deputy and Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.

Well, Gene, let�s start talking about No Child Left Behind. Could you describe the key features of it for us?

Mr. Hickok: Well, it was founded on four fundamental principles. And if you try to go back and look at the campaign of 2000, when the President, the candidate at the time, was putting together his platform on education, he gave four major speeches that talked about four principles, and then that became the fundamentals for the actual legislation that was introduced early the first couple of days of this Administration.

The first is accountability. The argument being that we need to find our how well our kids are doing, how well our schools are doing. We need to make it easy for parents to understand this. And then we need to have ways of identifying what works and ways of identifying what doesn�t work and have consequences. Accountability is very important. Very important.

The second is flexibility. The President used to be a governor. I used to be a state chief. I think we recognize the importance of one size doesn�t fit all; every state�s different. The states are the primary actors, so a key aspect of No Child Left Behind is the flexibility to allow states under this broad infrastructure of accountability to approach it as that state feels best.

The next are options and choices; the third principle. We think it�s very important to give parents opportunities that they didn�t currently have, to pursue what�s best for their kids as they see it. If your child is in a school that�s not working, it�s not your child�s fault, it�s not your fault. We don�t care whose fault it is. But until that school can get its act together, we think it�s important that you have an option to send your child to a school that does work; to access supplemental educational services, tutoring service; and that federal taxpayer dollars should help to underwrite that. That�s part of this law. It�s a fundamental departure from previous elementary and education law, and it�s an important distinction.

And the fourth principle is doing what works. The quality of research in American education is pretty spotty overall, which is, I think, a sad commentary. If you look at our history in science research and health research, we�re pretty much world leaders. The world comes here for the quality of our research in those fields. Our education research isn�t the same. And that�s something that the federal government really should be doing, and doing a much better job of. So one of the goals of No Child Left Behind is to create a world-class research function rivaling that of NIH, for example, the National Institutes of Health, on education. And then as we learn more, use what we learn as the models for what federal taxpayer dollars have to pay for.

One good example, real briefly, is reading instruction. You know, our national reading scores are pretty bad. And yet the science of reading instruction is excellent. We know how to teach reading. The tragedy is the federal taxpayer dollars have gone to support whatever people want to do in reading instruction, not what works. And so with No Child Left Behind, there�s a much more rigorous, much more rigorous, formula grant program to make sure that federal dollars are only used to fund programs that we know are based on sound research. That needs to be more the way the federal government operates. It�s an investment mentality, not just a spending mentality.

Mr. Lawrence: Before we go into the results, could you give us a perspective of what was it like or sort of what was the environment that prompted all this? I mean, was everything broken?

Mr. Hickok: Well, no, not everything, but I do think over the last decade or so, starting with mostly at the state level, there has been a growing awareness that American public education is allowing mediocrity to be the rule. And that might sound harsh, but the data suggest that it�s an accurate reflection of reality. There are good schools, obviously. And there are great teachers and there are successful stories everywhere. But because we didn�t have the kind of hard data we needed and because American public education has not kept up with the way the rest of the world has changed, the world in which schools operate, I think there�s a national consensus that was developing over the last decade or so that we needed to do a better job.

You know, the whole idea of standards and assessments didn�t start with No Child Left Behind, it started with the states. No Child Left Behind sort of represents the latest and fullest manifestation of that. But public opinion polls gradually have said education�s a number one priority. And while most Americans still feel it�s primarily a state and local function, they think the national government has a larger role to play, because it�s a national issue. It�s one of those national issues that�s best resolved at the state and local level, but there�s a need for national emphasis on it. And I think it�s really quite interesting to watch, because not too many years ago, people were arguing for no federal role in public education. And that, I think, is now no longer even a question.

Ms. Cammer: Okay, two years later, what kind of results have you observed?

Mr. Hickok: I think the most important result is there�s a change in the American conversation about education, and I mean that sincerely. You know, it�s a little early to see dramatic changes in test scores, although we�ve seen some test score changes in mathematics, for example. It�s a little early to see troubled schools turn around, although we�ve seen a lot of schools moving in the right direction. But everywhere -- and I read local newspapers all the time, the newspapers that cover the school board meetings and all that � everywhere, the conversation is all about performance, accountability, test scores, curriculum, highly qualified teachers. It�s the kind of thing that wasn�t part of the commentary just a few years ago.

Now that�s not to say that everyone�s real happy, that everyone�s satisfied. A lot of people are uptight. There�s a lot of anxiety out there. This is a complex law. It requires a lot of change. And human nature being what it is, it makes people uncomfortable, and I understand that. We all understand that. But sometimes, we do our best work in this country when we�re uncomfortable, when we�re forced to think things differently and think things through. So my first argument is you�re seeing a change in the conversation and you�re seeing a change in the culture of American education.

I used the term a few moments ago �invest.� We talk all the time about spending money and we can talk a lot about that because we spend a lot of money on education. We�re trying to change the conversation from an emphasis on spending to an emphasis on investing. It goes back to, well, in essence, sound management. If you�re going to invest taxpayer dollars in such an important enterprise, my goodness, you�ve got to find ways to make sure you know what that investment buys.

So again, data-driven decisionmaking, results-oriented thinking, that�s what we�re seeing more of. And we�re seeing schools moving in the right direction as test scores begin to improve.

Ms. Cammer: What would be a reasonable timeframe to see education improvements and results at the schools?

Mr. Hickok: Well, I think you�ll start seeing some changes as the tests are administered this spring. It�ll be the second year under No Child Left Behind. It�s really the second full year of this new culture of accountability being in place. It filters down gradually. It goes from Washington to state capitals to school districts; that takes time. There�s a lot of misinformation in there, you know, pretty much distortion. But I think you�ll see some movement on schools and education this coming spring.

Ms. Cammer: No Child Left Behind requires annual testing in reading and math in grades three through eight. How could administrators, teachers, and parents use these tests to help children succeed?

Mr. Hickok: Well, the most important thing for everyone to recognize is, you need to use the information from the tests. And that might make common sense, but I�ll tell you, you know, in far too many places, for a very long time, there was a lot of testing going on, but no one used the information to do anything. I mean, I was stunned when I learned that.

So the first thing you want to do is -- in essence, a test tells you where a child needs work and where a child has knowledge that they�re supposed to have. You use that information to guide pedagogy; use that information to shape curriculum. You use that information to determine how best to help that child. A test is only a tool to help find out where you are and where you need to go.

When I was a college professor, I used a syllabus the way we think academic standards ought to be used in the state. It was my way of telling students what I expect of them, how I was going to evaluate them, what knowledge I would expect them to acquire. It was kind of a contract. And it was also a way for students to get a sense of what to expect from me as a professor. And then when I evaluated students with essays or testing, it was a way for me to gauge how well I�m doing my job and how well they�re doing their job, and then to do something about the deficiencies on our part, mine and the students�. That�s what standards and assessments is all about. It�s a very basic tool.

Mr. Lawrence: Often when testing comes up, it leads to a bunch of arguments which goes like this: people will test to the test; the creativity, we imagine, disappears.

Mr. Hickok: Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, I could be flip and say if the test is a good test, then I don�t mind teaching to the test. And while that might sound flip, it�s also not far from accurate, frankly. But in essence, what the law says and what most states have been doing is, you need a set of academic standards at the state level that are rich, that are rich in content and discipline, and then you need assessments based on those standards. What you should be doing as a teacher is teaching to the standards, not to the test, because the test is one of many ways to gauge performance on those standards. And if the standards are deep and rich and content-driven, then, in essence, most teachers have found them to be very helpful, because it helps drive curriculum, helps drive pedagogy.

Up until the standards movement, what drove curriculum was the textbook. And so the curriculum could vary all over the place based upon what textbooks were being used, how old they were, and how well they were used and how completed they were. That�s a pretty slipshod way of making sure across a state, or even within a district, you can measure where students are. Where students are would be primarily a product of which teacher they got and what textbook they used.

So, you know, I�ve heard the complaint or the concern about teaching to the test. It�s a valid issue, but most people recognize that a test is merely one of many ways to measure student achievement, and it�s a tool. And to those who argue that we�re over-testing, I guess my response is we�ve been testing since the first classroom was built, and I don�t think it�s going to go away, so let�s make sure we do a better job with it.

Mr. Lawrence: Flexibility and accountability are two terms that keep coming up in our conversation about education. Why are they so important?

We�ll ask Gene Hickok from the Department of Education about these when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I�m Paul Lawrence, and this morning�s conversation is with Gene Hickok, Acting Deputy and Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

And joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.

Ms. Cammer: Gene, could you talk a little bit about what it means when a school�s been identified as needing improvement under the No Child Left Behind?

Mr. Hickok: Well, the first thing that people need to recognize, and it�s an ongoing struggle with us, it doesn�t mean the school is failing. You can have some very, very good schools that need improvement, because what the law says is, as you test students and get the results from these tests back, students need to be making adequate progress each year toward the goal of every student being at grade level in 12 years. That�s what proficiency means; grade level. So if a school has students who are not making adequate progress and what happens is you disaggregate -- I hate to use the fancy terms -- you disaggregate test scores based on certain socioeconomic variables: race, gender, ethnicity, et cetera. As those different groups are disaggregated, we�ve found over time achievement gaps.

Let me illustrate it to give you a better example because I think it would be helpful. A suburban Virginia/Washington, D.C. school district; great average test scores. Okay? Maybe the best in the area, maybe the best in the state. When you disaggregate those test scores by these various variables, you find out that in this district, African-American students are scoring 40 points below the average of all the other students. That�s an achievement gap. That means that this school district needs improvement. It doesn�t mean it�s a bad district. It certainly doesn�t mean it�s a failing district. It means it has an obligation to every student, and this achievement gap demonstrates that obligation isn�t being met.

If you�re found to be in need of improvement the first year, then the school has to make public school choice available to students in a school that�s not making adequate progress, and taxpayer dollars have to pay for transportation. If that school continues to need improvement over years, then on top of school choice, there should be access to tutoring services paid for with federal dollars. And if it continues over a longer period of time, there should be consequences for the governance of the school, the curriculum, in the end even closing the school.

Now the point is that�s not something Washington decides. Those are the policies that states have to put together based upon that Washington law. But the goal here isn�t sanctions on schools. It�s called the No Child Left Behind law, not the No School Left Behind law. If the school isn�t working, while every effort should be made to turn the school around, in the meantime, opportunities should be given to kids. That�s why schools exist, to educate kids. If the school�s not doing that, then something has to change.

Ms. Cammer: So what options does a parent have if their child�s school has been identified as needing improvement?

Mr. Hickok: Well, the first option they have is to look to other public schools in the district that work, and to allow their child to attend that school and the transportation to be paid for by the district. And then on top of that, to access tutoring services. Now that�s easy to talk about in public policy; it�s sometimes very hard to have happen in reality. Often, schools are at capacity. Often in some very troubled districts, there are no schools to choose that work. But the goal here really is to create opportunities. And in some places, we have argued if you�re in a very rural or remote location where school choice is not really a possibility, then the district ought to create choices within the existing school. Opportunity is what we�re looking for, not necessarily public school choice: opportunity and options.

And the measure of success should not be how many students move, because our goal here isn�t movement. Our goal here is improving schools. And so what we�ve seen in the first two years are parents, they have the option, they study their opportunities, and in some cases, they decide to stay with the current school. But the fact that the incentive has been introduced to think about options has created on the part of many parents a greater sense of what they can do to improve their child�s school, and that�s not a bad thing.

Mr. Lawrence: No Child Left Behind requires that children be taught by a well-qualified teacher by 2006. What does this mean?

Mr. Hickok: The most important thing it means, especially in high school, is that teachers know the subjects they teach. It is a commonsense proposition, but in far too many places, America�s high school math teachers are not math majors. They�re not even math minors. And I�m no math scientist, but the fact is, you can�t teach what you don�t know. And one of the reasons we know that our students are not doing well enough is because too many of their teachers are not qualified enough, through no fault of their own. They got their degrees the way they got their degrees. So the first thing it means is greater emphasis on content.

It means that certification, which is a state function, ought to reflect qualifications. In far too many places, a certification to teach is sort of a minimal requirement. It doesn�t require a whole lot to get a certificate. And so in far too many places, a certified teacher is not really qualified. So we think certification ought to mean something.

It means that we as a nation should encourage states to allow individuals to enter the classroom who come from different walks of life, but who are qualified through alternative certifications. I use this story all the time. I�m a Ph.D. in political science. I�ve been teaching for years. Where I live, Pennsylvania, I�m qualified to teach an 18-year-old college freshman Civics 101 in September. I�m not qualified to teach that same 18-year-old four months earlier in high school civics. That strikes me as rather silly.

It�s not an argument that anyone can teach, it�s an argument that there�s a lot more talent out there that wants to teach that didn�t get a teaching certificate in college. Most of all, it means that we value and understand the importance of good teaching. And therefore, this law says it�s important that a qualified instructor be in every classroom, because we know that the quality of instruction is a primary factor in making sure children learn.

Mr. Lawrence: What does the legislation do or include to help teachers?

Mr. Hickok: Well, there�s huge new money in terms of teacher preparation and teacher certification and professional development. I think it�s about a $3 billion increase. The point is that up until now, America has invested lots of money, most of it local, on professional development and had no idea, one, what they were buying; and, two, what difference it made. And so we have an obligation I think to taxpayers to make sure that that investment, we increase it because we�re asking more of our teachers, but we also make sure it�s used in ways that make a difference.

But it�s not just professional development. We�re looking at the Higher Education Act right now in Congress. And since most teachers go through colleges of education to become teachers, this is the right time to look at whether or not those colleges of education are doing the job they need to do. So it goes beyond No Child Left Behind.

And frankly, we think that this is an issue that parents need to know about. The law says that should a teacher your child has not be highly qualified at the start of the school year, that you should be informed about that as a parent. After all, as I said earlier, these are your schools and your teachers, and so it�s a way of making sure that parents understand the qualifications of their child�s teacher.

Ms. Cammer: Now, training programs and curriculum improvement efforts could be costly for the local school districts and the states. Could you talk about the funding that�s been made available by Congress as part of the legislation?

Mr. Hickok: Yeah, it�s dramatic increases in the federal taxpayer contribution to public education. If you look at Title 1 -- I don�t mean to get too bogged down in details -- Title 1 is the single largest federal education initiative in elementary and secondary. It goes to help underwrite education for our most needy kids. The increase in two years under this President is greater than the increase in the previous administration�s eight years. Dramatic increases: 40 percent just in Title 1; billion-dollar increases in special education.

But let�s step back for a second and look at it this way: The American taxpayers contribute approximately $480 billion a year. That�s a lot of money. Of that, maybe 8 percent comes from the federal level. It is unrealistic to assume that huge increases at the federal level will ever come close to matching what�s already being spent. The issue isn�t how much money; the issue is how well it is spent.

And while we have record increases, and the Administration and Congress stand on record to continue that, I don�t know, I guess I�ve never met the school board member yet who said, please, I have enough money; or the state legislature that said, please, Washington, don�t give us any more money. Certainly when I was in Pennsylvania arguing, I was always arguing for more money. But I do think that the time has come to talk about what is being spent, what�s being accomplished with that money, too.

Mr. Lawrence: You describe education as an investment. Are there areas that one can target to get a higher return on the investment in education?

Mr. Hickok: Well, I think, you know, more money should be spent on curriculum and on classroom activities. It is interesting to note, and I don�t know how many of your listeners would know this, but if you look at the budget of a school district, I would argue almost anywhere in this country, 80 percent, upwards of 80 percent of the operating budget is tied up in salaries and compensation. It�s a very human resource-intense business. And I�m not saying, you know, that�s not important, but the way the contracts are written, those dollars are tied up for years and years and years, with increases every year. And the amount of room you have for instructional support and other academic-related support is very limited. It�s really kind of tragic when you think about it.

And so for me, I think, most investments should begin to focus on those things we know work; get away from sound bite public policy; try to make sure that you look at how you can design curriculum to reflect the needs of individual students. We can do that now through technology,; there�s no need for a one-size-fits-all approach. And then you need an accountability system that allows you gradually to determine the impact of a dollar. We�re far away from that. That�s the direction we�re moving in, but a good business can do that. A good business can tell you the marginal costs and the marginal benefits of every dollar. Well, education can�t do that , and down the road, education must be able to do that.

Mr. Lawrence: It�s an interesting point.

What are the changes we can expect to see in the future as a result of No Child Left Behind? We�ll ask Gene Hickok of the Department of Education for his perspective when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I�m Paul Lawrence, and this morning�s conversation is with Gene Hickok, Acting Deputy and Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

And joining us in our conversation is Debra Cammer.

Ms. Cammer: Gene, can you talk about the goals of the No Child Left Behind legislation and how you�ll know when you�ve succeeded?

Mr. Hickok: Well, the goal is, simply stated, difficult to accomplish, and I would argue very American. And the goal is simply this: that every child in every public school in this great nation be able to read on grade level and do math on grade level within 12 years. We call it proficiency. Proficiency means grade level. And there are those, I think, who argue that even that, even over 12 years, which is a long time, is too much to expect. It�s not realistic, because, after all, you�ve got kids with limited English proficiency, you have special education children, you have children who come from low-income families. We�ve heard the arguments.

And while it isn�t easy, we would argue that what makes this nation different is that this is a nation that has aspirations for its people. It was founded on certain ideals and principles. And I guess we would argue we would like to have this national aspiration of every child being at grade level, no matter who they are. Every child being at grade level. And if we fall short, we�re a better nation for trying. We�ll certainly be better if 90 or 85 percent are on grade level than we are now, where in some places, 35 or 40 percent on are grade level.

And so it�s an important goal, one that we think is worthy of a great nation. It�s not easy. It will not be without its anxiety; we�re hearing that already. But, you know, we�re talking about educating the next generation of America, and that�s a generation that will have tremendous responsibilities. And, you know, if this is a nation that can put a probe on Mars and can talk about putting a man on Mars, it�s certainly a nation that can make sure its children can read. That�s what the goal is.

Mr. Lawrence: Where do you see No Child Left Behind going in the next 5 to 10 years?

Mr. Hickok: Well, I think the next couple of years will be very much rich with controversy, primarily because the rubber hits the road. All those highly qualified teachers have to be in place, the test scores will begin to come in, schools will be identified, options will be open. And that�s a lot of change in a relatively short period of time. So I think the next couple of years will be tough, for a lot of reasons.

I think 5 and 10 years from now, we�ll be asking questions of education we haven�t begun to think about, because we�ll have so much more information. We�ll have such a better research base. We�ll be used to this culture of accountability. We�ll be used to this investor mentality. I think what No Child Left Behind holds out is the hope of a redefinition of American education; a whole new understanding of what public education might look like, and it might look like very different things in very different places; an understanding of American public education that puts the public, the student first, and responds to the needs of the public and the student as opposed to a system that says we are the system, this is how we do things. You send your child to us and we will educate your child, as opposed to this is my child, what do you offer me to make sure my child can learn? That�s where we need to be. It�s going to take a long time to get there.

The other point is, the research tells us, and common sense tells us, that education and schooling are not the same thing. Education takes place long before a child goes to school and continues long after a child gets a diploma. We need to get away from this thinking of the traditional structures and institutions and think about education in its broadest sense. And I think if we continue to do that, you�ll see a very different version of American public education.

Ms. Cammer: How do you think the No Child Left Behind legislation or act will play out in this year�s Presidential debates and discussions?

Mr. Hickok: I think it�ll be a big part of it. Certainly, the recent evidence suggests it will be. It�s unusual that education at the federal level would play a major role, but it did in the last campaign as well. And now that the law�s in place and the various interest groups are staking out their positions, it�s almost very predictable in a way that No Child Left Behind will be a fundamental part of the debate. I think it�ll be there with the economy, and it�ll probably be there with international affairs. And I�m looking forward to being part of that debate. It could be kind of fun.

Mr. Lawrence: You�ve talked about the legislation or the act facilitating major change. I�m just curious, take a step back and think about how those changes will affect the Department of Education.

Mr. Hickok: Well, I think we have to make sure that we demonstrate a culture of accountability, too. That�s very important. I mean, every federal agency, every governmental agency, has that responsibility. We are all, after all, trustees of the taxpayers. But I think we have a higher obligation at Education now because, one, we are a very visible issue with a very controversial new law, and we�re asking a lot of our clients, and so we need to make them think they can expect a lot of us.

I�m proud to say that we have had clean audits two years in a row. And that might not sound much to your listeners, but at the Department of Education, that�s a milestone accomplishment; and that we�re practicing management techniques that will make sure that we use data to drive decisionmaking better and better; and that we treat our clients, the states, in a customer-friendly way so that we�re not barraging them with questions and paperwork. We�re much more technology- and computer-oriented and there�s an easy way for them to get what they need from us. So there�s a very high level of expectation on our part to deliver a much better product.

Mr. Lawrence: Gene, you�ve had an interesting career in both academic and in the public sector, so I�m curious, what advice would you give to someone interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Hickok: Well, the first thing I guess is to make sure you have a set of skills that is solid. I wouldn�t worry about what area you want to concentrate in, but it seems to me you need to have a set of skills. You need to appreciate the role of politics. Politics is not a bad thing. Politics in many ways is a noble endeavor if it�s practiced correctly. And that, by definition, public service is political in its broadest sense.

I would also encourage a set of principles. Public service I think is nourished by men and women who have the intellect and the sense of purpose. Aristotle once said it�s the highest calling, public service.

And I guess the third thing would be stamina. It�s not, if you�re serious about it, and I�ve been lucky to be surrounded by people who are -- you know, it�s not a 9:00 to 5:00 job, and it shouldn�t be. It�s got a higher purpose. You have broader responsibilities. And the best of us in public service never forget that, and those who do end up not being very good in public service. So I recommend all those things, but most of all, I think a good practical sense of getting the job done in an environment which has great, great diversity, intellectual richness, and not a few challenges.

Mr. Lawrence: Gene, that�ll have to be our last question, we�re out of time. Debra and I want to thank you for joining us this morning.

Mr. Hickok: Sure, my pleasure. I should let your listeners know that they can contact the Department at www.ed.gov. That�s not a very original website. Find out more about No Child Left Behind at www.nclb.org. Thanks.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much.

Mr. Hickok: You bet.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Gene Hickok, Acting Deputy and Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today�s very interesting conversation. Once again, that�s businessofgoverment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

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