recruitment

 

recruitment

Weekly Roundup: November 27 – December 1, 2017

Friday, December 1st, 2017 - 10:50
John Kamensky FEMA’s Resilience Reset. RouteFifty reports: “State and local governments should own the disaster recovery process by creating integrated, outcome-based mitigation plans like Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s administrator said Thursday at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.”

Innovative Methods Reshaping Government Recruitment

Thursday, December 10th, 2015 - 11:30
Thursday, December 10, 2015 - 10:23
Traditional recruitment methods, such as websites and online applications, are no longer sufficient. Government agencies have to adapt to new recruitment methods to keep pace with these changes and build their future workforce.

Vice Admiral Jack Dorsett: Strengthening the U.S. Navy’s Information Dominance for the 21st Century

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010 - 16:45
Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - 11:47
In an increasingly interconnected and networked world, information possesses such significant power that it can no longer be viewed simply as an enabler to meeting one’s mission. Whether in business or defending the nation, information can act as a serious differentiator for those who leverage it and use it to their competitive advantage. The U.S.

John Ely interview

Friday, August 7th, 2009 - 20:00
Phrase: 
Mr. Ely's organization is a core component in supporting the CBP mission of ensuring the security of our nation's borders.
Radio show date: 
Sat, 08/08/2009
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Mr. Ely's organization is a core component in supporting the CBP mission of ensuring the security of our nation's borders.
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast August 8, 2009

Washington, DC

Mr. Morales: Welcome to another edition of The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host and managing partner of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. One of today's greatest challenges is protecting the country from terrorists and the instruments of terror, while at the same time, fostering the country's economic security through lawful travel and trade. U.S. Customs and Border Protection operates at the nexus of national security and American economic security. In meeting this challenge, CBP has unique challenges and requires a focused procurement and acquisition strategy. With us this morning to discuss his efforts in making this happen is our special guest, John Ely, Executive Director of Procurement at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. John, welcome to our show. It's a pleasure having you.

Mr. Ely: Thank you. It's great to be here.

Mr. Morales: Also joining our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's public sector consulting practice. Solly, good to have you as always.

Mr. Thomas: Good morning Al and good to see you again John.

Mr. Morales: John, let's start by providing our listeners some context around your organization. Can you tell us a little about the mission and this history of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, otherwise known as CBP?

Mr. Ely: Yeah, I'd be glad to. I think that the best way that I can articulate that is just to read the CBP mission statement because it's very well-crafted and I believe it says everything that CBP needs to say in a statement. The mission statements goes like this: "We are the guardians of our nation's borders. We are America's frontline. We safeguard the homeland at and beyond our borders. We protect the American public against terrorists and the instruments of terror. We steadfastly enforce the laws of the United States while fostering our nation's economic security through lawful international trade and travel. We serve the American public with vigilance, integrity and professionalism."

A little bit of history about Customs and Border Protection, I'm going to keep it really brief. The customs component of CBP was created in 1789. It is extremely old organization. The U.S. Border Patrol was created originally under the Department of Labor back in 1924 and then INS, Immigration and Naturalization Service was created in 1933. And customs, border patrol and some component of INS was pulled together in 2003 when CBP was created as a component of the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. Morales: So John, obviously a very powerful mission and a very broad mission. Can you put a finer point on the scale of operations over at CBP? Perhaps you could tell us a little about, you mentioned border protection, how many miles of borders are covered? How many ports of entry might exist? And how many people and items pass in and out of these borders?

Mr. Ely: I've got some statistics and some information that I find fascinating. I look at this information quite regularly because it amazes me when I see the mission the CBP undertakes everyday. And I've got some statistics. We protect 1,900 miles of border with Mexico. We protect 5,000 miles of border with Canada. We have 327 official entry ports and we have 144 CBP border patrol stations. In terms of what we process daily, and this is a daily set of numbers, 1.09 million passengers daily. We process 70,451 truck, rail and sea containers. We execute 2,895 apprehensions between the ports for illegal entry and 73 arrests of criminals at ports of entry.

Our seizures, 7,621 pounds of narcotics and seizures of 4,125 agricultural items and 435 pests at ports of entry. And again, those are daily figures.

Mr. Morales: That's certainly a heck of a day. (Laughter--)

Mr. Ely: Sure is.

Mr. Thomas: John, would this description of the agency and its incredible responsibilities, perhaps you could tell our listeners a little bit more about the specific mission and scope of your office. I'm curious to hear what the size of your budget is and how many employees work in your organization to support the agency.

Mr. Ely: First of all, I'm absolutely thrilled to be part of this organization and the important mission that they have been entrusted with and I feel that our acquisition procurement organization is truly a big part of bringing success to that mission. We are in the acquisition business and that is our job. We acquire the products and services to continuously improve the operations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

I have about 177 employees. They're located all over the country. I have people strewn along the southern border co-located with border patrol stations. I have people on the northern border. I have a fairly large office in Indianapolis, Indiana and a large office in the Washington D.C. area. Our annual spend is approximately $3.3 billion dollars and that's the money that comes through my procurement organization. That's pretty much a summary of the operation.

Mr. Thomas: And John, continuing to drill down on the responsibilities, talk to us a little bit about your role as CBP's Executive Director of Procurement. What are your official responsibilities and how do you support the mission of CBP?

Mr. Ely: While it doesn't sound official, my belief that my primary role is a facilitator to the employees, customers and the commercial business partners that are all involved in the procurement area and supporting the mission of customs and border protection. I'm responsible for managing the spend that supports our organization as efficiently, as effectively as possible and representing our American taxpayer by being prudent in the way that I spend their dollars; yet being effective in supporting the mission of the organization.

With that said, I'd like to emphasize that this is the operating principles for all of the heads of contracting activities in the Department of Homeland Security components. We all have the focus and we all have that function. I, as a senior procurement professional, I'm very familiar with CBP's mission and I understand the challenges that my customers face and it makes my organization better in terms of standing up the support that they need to be successful in their operations.

As a strategic leader, my goal is to full integrate the procurement process with a customer environment that delivers the required results while complying with law regulation and ensuring prudent expenditure of taxpayer's money. The point there is my goal is to continuously make our process, which at times can be viewed as a bureaucratic process, transparent to my customers so that they don't see the things that aren't really pertinent to them getting the goods and services that they need.

Mr. Morales: Now John I understand that you have some 30 years with the U.S. Federal government. Tell me a little bit about your career path. And how'd you get started?

Mr. Ely: Started very early in my life. I've got 34 years as a federal employee. Pretty much all of my 34 years has been in the procurement or acquisitions environments. I actually started as a summer hire when I was in college. I worked for the Department of the Army. And when I got out of school, I became an Army intern in a contracting shop and I stayed in that contracting shop at the Pentagon for 15 years.

Mr. Morales: That's a long summer.

Mr. Ely: It was a long summer.

Mr. Ely: It was an incredible place to learn procurement. It was an incredible mission supporting the Department of Defense. After that, I moved on to the Internal Revenue Service which was a very different environment where I started off as a branch chief; basically, my first significant supervisory experience. I was promoted later to Division Director and then Deputy Head of Contracting Activity. And I was there for 12 years mostly engaged in the information technology acquisition business, which while it might sound kind of mundane, is a very exciting field because it's very competitive and the technologies that we used and that were acquiring are very important, especially in the tax collection business.

Now I'm at CBP as the Head of Contracting Activity and I've been there for 5 years and I'm absolutely thrilled in this position and very much challenged and excited every day that I come to work.

Mr. Morales: So, John as you reflect back on your 15 years with the Army and the 12 years over at IRS, how have these experiences prepared for you for your current leadership role and perhaps have shaped your management approach and your leadership style over the years?

Mr. Ely: I want to start off with the very beginning. I'm an Army brat. My dad was an Army officer. My grandfather was an army officer. My father was very much loved by his troops and I watched him and I tried to emulate a lot about him that I saw as driving his success. And his success was in genuinely caring about his people and they in turn, delivered for him. He saw himself as facilitator to the success of others and I try to emulate that style.

When I first started working in procurement, I learned the business first. And I always work with the goal of balancing the customers' needs along with properly managing taxpayer dollars. During my career, I worked with a wide range of managers and executives and I tried to develop my style as a combination of what I saw as the best of both. During the latter part of my federal career, I spent lots of time with people who were experts in continuous improvement. And above and beyond the procurement field, I started getting into the concept of continuous process improvement.

I'm not the most organized person in the world but I do recognize the value that predictable processes, improvement processes, being imbedded in organizations and I try to capture that through a process improvement program. So, I worked with process improvement experts that have helped me get in place documented repeatable processes that make my organization extremely efficient and effective.

Mr. Morales: What is CBP's acquisition and improvement initiative? We will ask John Ely, Executive Director of Procurement at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 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 today's conversation is with John Ely, Executive Director of Procurement at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Also, joining us from IBM is Solly Thomas. John, much like finance or information technology or human resources, you lead one of CBP's core business functions. Could you take a moment to describe in a bit more detail the procurement function? And tell us a bit about some of the key elements of acquisition management.

Mr. Ely: I'll give you the basic process. It involves early definition of requirements by the customer. That's a little more complicated than it sounds because articulating what your needs are for a government customer sometimes can be difficult. But, we seek to get a good solid definition of the outcomes or the products that our customers are looking for. And then we secure the funding associated with those requirements. There's a collaboration between the procurement organization, the contracting officer and the customer over a strategy for acquisition. There are multiple ways to acquire things and the best fit for the customer and the particular product is something that we arrive at in collaborative way.

At some point, we release a solicitation or a request for proposals for pricing and descriptions on supplies and services that we're looking for. We take those products and we give them to our customers to do an evaluation. And evaluations are either for compliance and award to the lowest cost or we also have what's known as best value awards, where there is technical merit associated with an offer's proposal and those technical merits are evaluated. And then a balance is drawn between the offered price and the technical merit and what we call a best value acquisition can be awarded.

That is very much different than a low cost award because you can actually pay more for something if the government team's perception of the value warrants that extra payment. Then comes the notice to the contractors and the debriefing of unsuccessful offers. What I think is really important is that debriefings to unsuccessful offers are not just I'm sorry, you didn't get the job. We are required to give meaningful, helpful information to companies as to why they did not receive the award of the contract without giving away proprietary or trade secrets for the winning offer.

Finally, we initiate contract performance and contract management activities that in and of itself, is a very important complex process. And then at the end of contract performance, or delivery period, there's a contract closeout where we double check and make sure everything was provided to the satisfaction of the government customer, the contractor's been paid and then at some point we close the contract out completely.

In terms of success in procurement function, I'll give you some ideas about what I view as steps in ensuring procurement success. That mutual understanding between the customer and procurement personnel regarding the procurement process, the roles and responsibilities of the different parties and building a solid, trusting, working relationship between the government procurement personnel and the mission individuals that are representing the customer needs is absolutely critical.

Good contracting organizations have people that are not just buyers, but they're good business specialists. They understand their customers. They seek to engage both the customer and ideas from contractors throughout the lifecycle of whatever product or service is being ordered. Good procurement organizations are involved in all aspects of the lifecycle. We know about our customer. My border patrol buyers are very familiar with the border patrol function. My legacy customs support buyers, they know customs; they know what custom officers do. And all of our buyers are very close to the functional needs of our components and it makes them very good at what they do because they're continuously involved in the mission and the needs of the organization.

In most organizations, weaknesses are found in contract management. And to be honest with you, I think that's a problem with government contracting in general. There aren't the people out there and the emphasis. Even though we've been trying to place the emphasis, it's still not there in terms of what happens once the contract is signed. The government in general needs to be more attentive to what happens after the contract's signed because you've only just begun. But shortage of federal contracting personnel still keeps us in the hole that we're in and not as able to manage contracts after they're awarded.

Mr. Morales: Now John, on that note, in our earlier segment, you made a reference to continuous improvement and you used the word repeatable. So, tell us a little about CBP's acquisition improvement initiative. Where does it focus and how is this program defined, developed and deployed these customer-focused solutions that you reference?

Mr. Ely: When I first started working at IRS, I ended up working with some information technology specialists who were focused on software development and one of the people that I worked very closely with was a certified process improvement expert. And I soon came to find out that these people are out there and they're very good at articulating and stringing together processes so people understand how you get from point a to point z when you're trying to develop and build an end product. In this case, it was software, which is pretty complex. But, the concept behind these process improvement experts is they articulate the process, they make it as efficient and effective as possible and they stick to standards where they repeat the process and you should be able to get the same exact outcomes in terms of your desired results.

In meeting and getting engaged with people like that, I started realizing we could apply this to the procurement process. And I eventually hired a process improvement expert and brought them on as senior staff in looking at the procurement process. One of the problems that we had is our customers felt that every process or every procurement was run differently. And what I basically did is I implemented a very structured environment where we very clearly outlined the process, outlined the outcomes and the roles and responsibilities of all the people that were involved in the procurement process.

It's actually done a lot for me in terms of being able to be predictable in terms of results to my customers. In terms of the acquisition improvement initiative, that is what we've stood up at customs and border protection procurement. And again, I have a full-time process improvement expert responsible for that. In CBP's AI2 program, we focus on four broad areas: assets, business, customer and data. We call it the ABCD model. The asset piece is our people, it's our systems. The business piece is our customers; what they do, what they acquire to achieve. The customer is our customer themselves, you know, who is that customer? What is it that they're looking for? What do they stand for? And then data, which to us, is probably one of the most important things. We strive to collect and understand data relative to what our customers need, what we've bought in the past. And that data helps us optimize how well we do in the future in terms of performing the acquisition function.

The bottom line is all of our efforts in AI2 are geared to supporting customer's needs and mission success in creating a work environment where people can grow and thrive. AI2 generates improvement opportunities from both top down and bottom up. And what is real exciting to me is that with a lot of the new entry-level people we have working in the procurement organization, we have some people that have just walked in the door and they have been with us more than a year, that are coming up with some fabulous ideas because of their fresh perspective. They're not mired in the federal process. And we're starting to listen to those ideas and actually build some improvements in the program based upon somebody who's just walked through the door saying, hey, why not? And that's been very, very good for us.

We have participation goals in acquisition improvement. I have expectations of all my directors on their folks and what percentage of those people will continuously be involved. That hasn't been a problem because what has happened is when people in my organization see that they really can change the direction that we're taking and deliver better results for our customers as a result of their efforts, they participate. And they don't have to be asked to participate because they see that they're making a difference.

I'll give you an example of some of the teams we have because AI2 is broken down into some teams, different teams, and that's how we control memberships and outcomes. We have the quality of life team. The quality of life team really does focus on how are things going for the people in the organization. What's the work life like? What do people like, don't like? How can we make the quality of life from 9-5 better for our people and therefore, make them more productive and effective as federal employees.

We have a contract administration team. Again, federal procurement organizations tend to sometimes award the contract, walk away from them because they've got the next thing they've got to focus on. When we, in fact, with our contract administration team are looking for ways to stay there with our customer, administer the contracts and assure them that they receive the desired products or services.

And then, my data and spend analysis team is probably one of the ones I'm really the most proud of. Although, I really shouldn't say anything about being the most proud. But, our ability to slice and dice the data has been one of the most rewarding things for me. You can ask me how many light bulbs we bought last year and I can tell you. You ask me how many mainframe computers we bought, I will tell you. If you ask me how many detainee meals we bought and where they went, I can tell you. What that has done for us is it gives us the opportunity to sift through our spend data and look for low hanging fruit or even high hanging fruit for our strategic sourcing initiatives. When we decided that we needed to start hitting strategic sourcing, we looked at the spend and it gave us a profile of where our CBP money is going all the way down to the day to day subsistent level.

And then, the strategic sourcing teams. And I also have a mentoring team which is a very structured program around bringing our entry-level people up faster up into operational mode.

Mr. Thomas: Now John, it's been my experience that agencies need to have an effective strategy for organizing and retaining its intellectual resources and its institutional memory. So, to that end, can you elaborate on your efforts to implement an effective knowledge management system. And I'm particularly interested in hearing more about your Acquisition Resource Management System and how it factors into this efforts and provides the one-stop shopping capabilities.

Mr. Ely: We have implemented ARMS. And ARMS is something I'm extremely proud of because we do have, in the organization, a fairly mature knowledge management system. With our aging workforce and the expansion of our headcount, it's imperative that we have that knowledge and that we share the information and this ARMS is a repository for information and also for exchanging ideas, communications across a large, geographically diverse work environment.

And really, one of the most important things that has come of our knowledge management system is connecting our broad customer base and a youthful workforce. We have people now that are attracted to technology and the ARMS system is something people tend to move towards and use because it's got data in it, it's got communications in it; and those are the things people need to communicate effectively.

ARMS is a way to both get knowledge into the repository and a better way to use and improve the knowledge and our collaboration for the betterment of the mission. Our documents, our announcements, our regulations, our memorandum are all posted through ARMS. And probably one of the most interesting things is the discussion threads. We have chat rooms and discussion threads where people can talk about the collaboration of improving a contract document or how to manage a contract better. We have a birds of a feather area in ARMS where people can gather and talk about areas that are of common interest. And we also have a message center and I have a blog now that helps me connect to a very geographically diverse organization. I log in and I can just say hello and talk to my people without ever having to worry about dialing or being in any physical place. And that's been a wonderful, wonderful benefit for me.

Mr. Thomas: Now John, you eluded to strategic sourcing a little bit earlier and of course, that's typically defined as a means to achieve benefits through an organized, systematic and collaborative approach, to acquire goods and services. Could you elaborate more on your strategic sourcing program? What types of opportunities have been identified and to what extent has it enhanced your coordination in strategic thinking across the department?

Mr. Ely: What I'd like to do before I get into the rest of that question, I'd like to talk a little bit about how I got into strategic sourcing in the first place because I think it's a fairly interesting story. When I was at IRS, I signed up for a course, and it had some mundane title and I don't even remember what that course was -

Mr. Ely: -- but a gentleman that I worked with and I went to this course. I believe it was in Dallas, and we ended up in this room full of people and not one of them was a government employee. And it turned out what this group was, and it had something to do with sourcing, sourcing was in the title. Basically, what it was, was a group of people who were part of the sourcing organizations for very large companies. If I'm not mistaken, TI was there, Ford Industries was there, IBM was there. Several other major companies were there. And all of these people had one thing in common and it struck us very quickly that this was going to be an interesting environment.

Every one of those companies were at one point on the brink of going out of business. And what those people in that room had done is through the sourcing of supplies and services into their production process or their delivery process in a service environment they turned to strategic sourcing and said, if we do business the old way we will be out of business. What is the new way of doing business? And I spent about three or four days with those people and I learned a whole lot about how you can adopt that mindset, the stay in business mindset. Even if we're government, let's pretend we could be sent home and fired tomorrow. Let's get lean and mean and look at ways we can be effective, efficient and save money all at the same time.

We came back to IRS and that's when we started realizing our capability in spend analysis; knowing where the IRS dollar was going. And knowing where that dollar was going, we started targeting commodity and service groupings and looking at how can we do business better. We brought in some people that consulted with us to talk to us about smarter ways of doing business and we took on strategic sourcing initiatives for cell phones, guard services, copiers, faxes and printers. And to give you a little bit of insight into the true strategic sourcing concept; copiers, faxes and printers, the idea to strategic sourcing those is not to get economy of scale on contracts. That's one objective. But the perception that we had was that there might be a better way to deal with copiers, faxes and printers.

Now, in a federal environment, a lot of times you'll see a copier, a fax and a printer. And in some cases, you'll see all three of those around an individual's desk and you'll see those all over the place around different individual desks. We started talking about multi-function machines, acquiring multi-function machines. A single machine that copies, faxes, prints. And having those machines in a central environment rather than dedicated to a given workstation. So, you think about how often your printer's humming or fax is humming on your desk dedicated to your work, you can start seeing how a multi-function machine might actually be economical and provide the services that everybody else needs at a significantly lower cost. That's where strategic sourcing comes in.

We changed the way we were doing business. We saved money, yet we delivered the same results. So, when I got to CBP after IRS, I instantly knew that I had to make a difference by standing up a very similar program at CBP and that is our acquisition improvement initiative. And that is the same process. It has a very similar approach where we want to stay in business. We want to take the stay in business mindset as a government entity.

I've already stood up a team that now has the spend analysis capability. I can look at any, every piece of everything CBP has bought and we're now focusing on how products and services are acquired. We've had a few near term hits on strategic sourcing. One of them is body armor. In the old days, we bought body armor, the body armor would be shipped, the employee would put the body armor on, measure his specific fit and then send it out to be tailored to fit him or her. We now have awarded a contract for body armor that has a film clip in the website where you're shown how to measure yourself for body armor ahead of time before you order it. So, you ship the order, you ship the measurements, the body armor's delivered and it goes right out of the box and onto your back saving your life sooner. That is a real good example of how strategic sourcing works.

Again, economy's a scale but also a significant improvements in how we utilize the commodities of services. We are looking at canines. We've had some success with puppies. We do a lot of buying of puppies. They're really cute and even when you buy them in quantity, they're really cute. But, we're looking at strategic sourcing of canines, industrial laundry and we're also looking now at our spend on detainee meals. An early glance tells us that there are different kinds of detainee meals that are being served up all over the southwest and actually in all the detention areas. And while they're all fairly low cost, we think that if we standardize that and bought large quantities of detainee meals that were not perishable or could be used over long periods of time, we could save significant amounts of money. So, there's just a few examples of that strategic sourcing environment.

Mr. Ely: Sure. We have an overwhelming workload as most procurement organizations do. We also have a young emerging professional workforce. Those two have come together for us when we started looking at technology. And there are reverse auctioning tools. We use a tool called FedBid, and basically, what tools do is it allows your contracting officials to post their requirements on an electronic forum and bidders will bid on the requirements electronically and then the buying activity can come back to the end of the day and look at the bidding history and make an award.

Basically, it is a seamless, automated process for running our competitions. Its usually done for commercially available items, but we've had a lot of success in the post and go. And again, we post it, we come back, we see what the natural bidding process that occurs through the system and we make awards to the low, responsible offers. Reverse auctioning has done so much in terms of our ability to load those smaller requirements, while we work on the more sophisticated requirements that require attention; where our employees need to develop their skills. At the same time, we're saving lots of money. And I have some statistics about what that automated reverse auctioning process has done for us.

Basically, it is a seamless, automated process for running our competitions. Its usually done for commercially available items, but we've had a lot of success in the post and go. And again, we post it, we come back, we see what the natural bidding process that occurs through the system and we make awards to the low, responsible offers. Reverse auctioning has done so much in terms of our ability to load those smaller requirements, while we work on the more sophisticated requirements that require attention; where our employees need to develop their skills. At the same time, we're saving lots of money. And I have some statistics about what that automated reverse auctioning process has done for us.

Mr. Morales: What about CBP's acquisition workforce management strategy? We will ask John Ely, Executive Director of Procurement at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to share with us as the conversation 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 with us today is John Ely, Executive Director of Procurement at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Also, joining us from IBM is Solly Thomas. John, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, otherwise known as the Recovery Act, provides some $680 million dollars to CBP for investment in aging infrastructure. First, could you tell us more about your procurement strategy and how the money will be spent. But, more importantly, what role does your office play in this area and how are you managing the procurements associated specifically with the Recovery Act funding?

Mr. Ely: Much of the ARRA funding is targeted for port modernization in both the northern and southern borders. We are very much engaged in writing contracts and facilitating that modernization effort. Our goal is to make awards in a timely manner while competing contracts as much as possible. We've stood up an FM&E facilities management and engineering contracting organization to meet this challenge we're working hand in glove with the CBP FM&E organization to implement. We're competing requirements for technology and construction directly with commercial sources, but we're also utilizing the services of the Corps of Engineers and GSA for construction contracting requirements.

Mr. Morales: It strikes me that balancing the appropriate number of CBP contracting officials with the growth of your portfolio is perhaps a challenging task. What changes have you made to your recruitment process and does CBP use flexible compensation strategies to attract and retain employees who possess what you would deem as critical skills?

Mr. Ely: Excellent question. Initially, when I first came to CBP, we focused on recruiting higher-grade personnel; but, it's really hard to find them. It's really very difficult to find them across government. So, we've moved to entry-level hires and we're supporting the rapid growth through mentoring, training and phased-in levels of contracting sophistication. So, we're trying to bring them up fairly quickly, but we are making sure they're ready for each phase. We think we've got a good plan for getting the entry-level hires up to speed faster than people were ever before by using technology, mentors, etc.

The DHS Chief Procurement Officer supports us through their Acquisition Career Program. They have a very sophisticated program and we are on the recipient list for the ACP interns. And that's born out well for us as well. We're still hiring higher-grade personnel for complex and critical procurements. And if any of you out there are the higher-graded, highly capable contracting types, just let us know.

Actually, on USAjobs, we have a great video clip from one of our CBP contracting officers and some information on job announcements. So, if you go to USAjobs, you'll probably find that icon to click on and see one of my folks with a lot of the products and services in the backdrop giving you some information about working for me. CBP offers flexible work schedules, tuition reimbursement for permanent status employees and in some cases, recruitment bonuses and/or payment of relocation services.

Mr. Thomas: John, staying on that topic, in recent years the size of the acquisition workforce has remained relatively the same while procurement spending has pretty much skyrocketed. For over a year, agencies have had the ability to re-hire the retired acquisition personnel, but only a few agencies have sought to formally use this authority. Could you talk a little bit about the benefits, as well as the possible limitations, of this particular strategy? And more importantly, what are your plans to use this authority as a tool to fulfill staffing needs?

Mr. Ely: Sure. Good contracting people are, as I've said before, are always in high demand both in government and industry. DHS has been successful in implementing authority to hire retired procurement personnel, known as retired annuitants. And we are pursuing the hiring of retired annuitants who offer a wealth of knowledge, skills and abilities and we're seeking to take as much advantage of that as we can. That is still a fairly small number, relatively speaking, of potential resources.

And the flipside of the benefits of that is also that these people will re-retire as some point in time. So, you can't really stake your future on retired annuitants, however, they do help in the near term.

Mr. Thomas: Now shifting from the recruitment discussion to developmental, what are you doing to ensure that your staff has the appropriate training and skills and how are you leveraging the resources from organizations like the Federal Acquisition Institute?

Mr. Ely: I'm very proud of our training program. It's extremely important in our line of business. Our training program is fairly well funded and we have a specific training curriculum in place. Employees can count on receiving specific, substantial training in the procurement business area. And there are training tracks associated with each level of procurement professional. We have a fully funded training. Each employee receives a minimum of forty hours per year. And we utilize FAI for both classroom and online training. And the DHS Chief Procurement Officers Organization has entered into an agreement with DAU to reserve seats in their classes for DHS procurement personnel, and that includes my folks as well.

Mr. Thomas: Now John, at last count, the federal government spends approximately $140 billion dollars on services to meet agency needs and the use of performance-based acquisition is the federal government's preferred approach for acquiring these services. Tell us about CBP's efforts in implementing performance-based acquisition strategies.

Mr. Ely: First, to comment, a personal comment on PBAs. I agree that they are the desired vehicle, but there is something complex about them that needs to be understood and that is that it is an outcomes-oriented acquisition approach. That's where we truly have to get away from the nuts and bolts of how you get from point a to point b when the outcome is articulated get me to point b. And you don't spend a lot of time talking about how you get there. It's the outcomes that drive a performance-based contract to success.

So, in this environment, the government personnel serve as facilitators for contractor success, which is a little different than some government folks you are used to, where they believe that they are supposed to be directing the activities of the contractor. In performance-based acquisitions, they're facilitators. They help the contractor get to the successful end. Again, acting as facilitators versus directors. In CBP procurement, performance-based acquisitions are now automatically the first consideration for service contracts. Every service requirement that we get in, we look for the applicability of performance-based contracting as a solution.

All of my people receive training in performance-based acquisitions and our CBP Acting Commissioner supports performance-based acquisitions, and has asked his assistant commissioners to develop metrics and measures for their contracts to make sure they're receiving value for their dollars. We have a long way to go to reach our PBA goals, but we're working hard and I think we're doing a pretty good job learning more and more as we move along about the unique method of contracting.

Mr. Morales: John, I talk with many of my guests about collaboration. And certainly, procurements and acquisitions are perhaps some of the more complex business processes within a large entity such as CBP. What kinds of partnerships are you developing now to improve operations or outcomes at CBP and how many of these partnerships change over time?

Mr. Ely: That's an excellent question. I think acquisition by definition is a collaborative process. If you're not collaborating with your customers or your contractors who are helping you deliver results, you're going to be surprised by what happens at the end of the day. Procurement's close relationship with our parent organization, which is the Office of Finance, has helped us become very collaborative in terms of working with the components of finance which is budget, asset management, facilities, management and engineering and our financial operations organization.

We work together with them to make sure that CBP's needs are met at a fair and reasonable cost and that taxpayer dollars are properly expended. Our partnerships within the parent Office of Finance have enabled us to leverage our financial management capability. And our relationships with the customers and industry help bring best value for the taxpayer dollars that are entrusted to CBP. I see the further positive change, we build a greater capability in the big A, acquisition arena. The big A, which is acquisition, will bring us closer to being worldclass acquisition organization that's forward-thinking and focused on return investment for the mission and the American taxpayer.

Mr. Morales: Now, since its inception, DHS has had some very large and complex procurements such as, the Coastguard's Deepwater Program and CBP's SBInet. What are some of the key lessons learned from these large acquisitions and how are they shaping and informing your operations today?

Mr. Ely: I'm going to give you a generic answer on that, because I'm not as specifically familiar with Deepwater. I have some familiar, but with CBP's SBInet program, but I'd like to keep it generic because it does apply I guarantee to both programs and probably other, most complex government programs. The key to success with these procurements is planning, proper planning. The formulation of strong acquisitions teams and efficient, effective and responsible source selection process. And most importantly, properly staffed and managed postwar program and contract management organizations.

Too often, we think we've hit the home run. The ball is out the park once the contract's signed, when in fact you haven't even swung yet. I think it's also essential that when managing programs, one must realize that detractors are natural and important part of a balanced government business environment. And while these detractors may be disheartening at times, their presence can help keep acquisition personnel focused on the proper outcomes of their programs.

Mr. Morales: So John, you've eluded a couple times to CBP's acquisition function and its relationship to the broader DHS organization. How does this alignment benefit CBP and DHS' overall acquisition strategy and do you think that DHS will be adopting a more centralized model going beyond just mere oversight?

Mr. Ely: That's an excellent question. I've felt this issue going back and forth. Naturally, the components would like to retain control over their procurement organizations. And it's understandable that DHS would like to centralize, capitalizing on economies of scale, ensuring a consistency in the way that we spend the DHS dollar. But actually, there is a dual accountability role right now at DHS. While, I report to Customs and Border Protections Chief Financial Officer, I have very specific responsibilities for which I'm accountable to the DHS Chief Procurement Officer. And the same holds true for the procurement executives and the other DHS components. They also have that dual accountability.

I would also like to state that the DHS Head of Contracting Activities Organization, that is all the HCAs for the DHS components, are a group that works collaboratively and embraces the authority and leadership of the DHS Chief Procurement Officer. We meet on a regular basis and are actually quite effective in helping make DHS procurement functions as efficient and effective as possible.

Mr. Morales: So what does the future hold for CBP procurement? We will ask John Ely, Executive Director of Procurement at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to share with us as the conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to our final segment of The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and with today's conversation is with John Ely, Executive Director of Procurement at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Also, joining us from IBM is Solly Thomas. John, CBP's experience in applying innovative solutions to help address agency procurement issues has provided some valuable lessons and insights, many of which we've talked about. But, could you summarize some of these key lessons and some of these critical insights?

Mr. Ely: I'd be glad to. Number one, continuously improve. The American taxpayer deserves it. Secondly, get people involved in creating solutions. The old saying, two heads are better than one, holds true. Groups of individuals working with common goals will get you there a lot faster than individuals who are spinning off on their own path. Constantly seek to improve and get industry input on a regular basis. Industry must succeed or die and they're a good model to look at when you're looking at the best way to run your own government operation. Finally, communication is key. When you think you've done it or done enough, do more because trust me, you probably haven't.

Mr. Thomas: Now John, since acquisition is a fiduciary responsibility, the business of government must be conducted with complete impartiality. Could you elaborate on efforts being pursued to ensure procurement integrity, making sure the proper standards of conduct, both ethical and legal requirements are being followed by the Federal Acquisition staff?

Mr. Ely: Sure. First, I'd like to start by saying that I'm very proud to be a federal procurement professional. We've all seen situations where integrity has been an issue in procurements and it's inexcusable. And people that don't use integrity will get caught. But, I have faith in the federal procurement process. The vast majority of people that work in that environment are honest, hard working public servants that want to do good. Furthermore, all federal agencies have programs that emphasize standards of conduct and provide continuous training in the areas of procurement integrity.

Mr. Morales: John, I'd like to transition to now to the future. Could you give us a sense of some of the key issues that will affect acquisition and procurement offices government-wide over the next few years?

Mr. Ely: Sure. Shortages of contracting and program management personnel is a huge challenge. Balancing highly innovative ways of doing procurements within a highly regulated environment is another. Increased oversight and the need for transparency for large scale programs with congressional and public and customer scrutiny in how we do business is again, another. The constant pace of change and the scale of procurements that we're seeing as it continues to grow. And finally, the time constraints for planning large major acquisition initiatives.

Mr. Morales: So, then more locally, what are some of the major opportunities and challenges that your organization will encounter in the future and how do you envision your area will evolve over the next say three to five years?

Mr. Ely: I see significant opportunities in the future as CBP becomes more and more sophisticated in its view and management of investments for the good of its mission. I see an organization that's becoming more and more enlightened in ways to efficiently and effectively invest its resources. And I see my procurement organization as one of the best in government; fully integrated with the CBP customer and delivering the best value for the taxpayers' dollars.

Mr. Morales: So, John you've had a very extensive career with the federal government and you just had a wonderful story of how you got started. So, I'm curious what advice might you give someone who's out there thinking about a career in public service and maybe even perhaps a career in the acquisition community?

Mr. Ely: I've been there. I was there on the brink trying to decide which way to go and I will tell you that serving the American public is an honor and a privilege and has significant financial and personal rewards. The government pays well and the work is rewarding. There is an incredible satisfaction delivering good things to the American public. And our government works hard to take care of its people and public service is an incredible opportunity to be a part of that important task.

Mr. Morales: That's just great. Unfortunately John, we have reached the end of our time. I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule, but more importantly, Solly and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country across your 34 years of federal government service.

Mr. Ely: Thank you so much for having me both of you.

Mr. Morales: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with John Ely, Executive Director of Procurement at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. My co-host has been Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's public sector consulting practice.

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

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

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

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Jonathan Q. Pettus: Enabling IT Collaboration Across the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008 - 16:16
Posted by: 
As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration(NASA) celebrates its 50th year, it continues to pursue oneof the most complex and exciting missions in the federal

Robert Howard: Transforming IT Processes to Better Serve Veterans

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008 - 16:10
Posted by: 
 

Toni Dawsey interview

Friday, June 15th, 2007 - 20:00
Phrase: 
Ms. Dawsey is responsible for setting the agency's workforce development strategy; assessing workforce characteristics and future needs; aligning the agency's human resources policies and programs with organizational mission, strategic goals and performance outcomes; and, serving as a member of the Office of Personnel Management-led Chief Human Capital Officers Council.
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/16/2007
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Human Capital Management...
Human Capital Management
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, June 16, 2007

Washington, D.C.

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

The Business of Government Hour is produced by the IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the Center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org.

And now, The Business of Government Hour.

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

As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration approaches its 50th year, it retains one of the most complex and exciting missions in the federal government.

With the Shuttle Program, the International Space Station, and its cutting-edge research in aeronautics, space science, and earth science, NASA expands our knowledge of the universe and applies these insights to our daily lives.

A few years ago, President George Bush gave NASA a defining challenge for the 21st Century, to expand human presence in space. The success of this ambitious vision rests on NASA's pursuits of an effective workforce strategy.

With us this morning to discuss NASA's critical effort in this regard is Toni Dawsey, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Management, and Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA.

Good morning, Toni.

Ms. Dawsey: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's human capital practice.

Good morning, Solly.

Mr. Thomas: Good morning, Al, and good morning, Toni.

Ms. Dawsey: Good morning, Solly.

Mr. Morales: Toni, many of our listeners are generally familiar with NASA as an organization, and certainly given its public recognition.

But can you give us an overview of NASA's history and its mission today?

Ms. Dawsey: Congress sent the legislation creating NASA to President Eisenhower less than one year after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. October 1, 1958 was the official start of NASA, and almost immediately, NASA began working on options for human space flight.

Between 1961 and 1975, NASA completed the Mercury; Gemini; the Moon Landing Program, Apollo; Skylab; and Apollo-Soyuz Programs. After the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz test projects for the early and mid-1970s, NASA's human space flights efforts again resumed in 1981 with the Space Shuttle Program that continues today to help build the International Space Station.

NASA also has continued to conduct cutting-edge aeronautics research; launched a number of significant scientific probes that have explored the Moon, the planets, and other areas of our solar system; and sent several spacecraft to investigate Mars.

The Hubble Space Telescope is very popular, and other space science spacecraft have enabled science to make a number of significant astronomical discoveries about our universe. NASA has helped bring about new generations of communications satellites, and NASA's earth science efforts have also literally changed the way we view our home planet.

NASA technology has resulted in numerous spin-offs, also in wide-ranging scientific, technical, and commercial fields.

And then, as you said, in January 2004, President Bush gave us a new vision, and that is to go back to the Moon and then on to Mars and beyond. That vision changed our mission. We are planning to retire the Shuttle in 2010 and launch the new Crew Exploration Vehicle by 2015, and hopefully return to the Moon in 2020.

Our New Crew Exploration Program is referred to as the Constellation Program.

Mr. Morales: Now, Toni, these are very, very broad and complex missions. Could you give us a sense of the scale of the organization? Can you tell us a little bit about how NASA is organized, the overall budget, a sense of the number of full-time employees and contractors, and its geographic footprint?

Ms. Dawsey: Sure. NASA's organization is comprised of NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. and 10 principal field centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and many smaller facilities located around the country.

In addition, NASA has a wide variety of partnership agreements with academia, the private sector, state and local governments, and other federal agencies, and a number of international organizations.

NASA's appropriation for fiscal year 2007 is $16.2 billion, and we have about 16,400 permanent employees and over 18,000 civil service employees of all types. We also have over 38,000 on or near-site contractors.

Mr. Thomas: Toni, now that you've provided us with a sense of scale of the larger organization, could you tell us more about your specific role? What are your responsibilities and duties as NASA's Chief Human Capital Officer? And could you tell us more about the areas under your purview, such as how the office is organized, as well as the size of the staff?

Ms. Dawsey: Sure. I have responsibility for NASA's civil service workforce. I'm responsible for setting the workforce strategy, assessing workforce characteristics and future needs based on mission and strategic plan; aligning the human resources policies and programs with organizational mission, strategic goals, and performance outcomes; developing and advocating a culture of continuous learning to attract and retain employees with superior abilities; identifying best practices and benchmarking studies; and serving as a member of the Office of Personnel Management-led Chief Human Capital Officer Council.

Mr. Thomas: And regarding your responsibilities and duties as the agency's Chief Human Capital Officer, what are the top three challenges that you face in your position, and how have you addressed these challenges?

Ms. Dawsey: Well, as I've said, we're going to continue Shuttle flights to complete the International Space Station, and then retire the Shuttle by 2010, and in the meantime, prepare to launch a new Crew Exploration Vehicle by 2015. This is going to cause major workforce transitions.

So the top three challenges that we in Human Capital face are developing good workforce planning processes and tools; ensuring workforce skills stay aligned with changing mission requirements; and providing HR systems that ensure timely, reliable, and authoritative data for agency workforce decisions.

Mr. Morales: Toni, you're returning back to government, so I'm curious. Could you describe for our listeners your career path? Many probably don't know that you came back first as Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer and now serve as the Chief Human Capital Officer.

What brought you back to NASA?

Ms. Dawsey: In brief, my career as an HR specialist started at the Federal Trade Commission, back where we started as functional specialists. So I started as a staffing specialist and then moved on to classification.

And I left FTC to join NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center to broaden my experience, and there, I became a personnel management specialist, which not only incorporated the first two functions, but broadened them into employee relations, and I was an HR advisor on all programs to the head of the Engineering Directorate.

From Goddard, I went to the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service and became a team lead and then a supervisor. From there, I moved on to the Department of Transportation's Office of the Secretary to work on the policy and program development side of HR, and later to manage their HR Operations Branch.

I left the Office of the Secretary to become the Personnel Officer for Transportation's Office of Inspector General, and then two years later, I left HR altogether to serve as the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Inspections and Evaluations. And there, I directed headquarters and regional staff in providing independent and objective inspections and evaluations of Transportation's programs and operations.

I retired from that position, and then after nine years of retirement, I rejoined NASA in 2004 to serve as the Director of the agency Human Resources Division, and then in December of '05, I was appointed to my current position.

When I was offered the opportunity to work for NASA, I was honored. NASA had just received an award for being the first human capital office to go Green on the President's Management Agenda, and the agency was working hard to return to flight, and I wanted to be working in this agency that was so progressive, had employees dedicated to a terrific mission, and had many exciting challenges ahead of it.

Mr. Morales: That's a great set of broad experiences. So I'm curious: how have your previous roles prepared you for your current leadership role and shaped your management approach and your leadership style?

Ms. Dawsey: First, as I said, I started out as a specialist in two of the major HR areas -- staffing and classification. And that gave me a very important and thorough grounding in those two functional areas.

I then accepted other positions earlier in my career, with the intent of building a well-rounded HR portfolio, and then later, working to build a leadership portfolio, which gave me both credibility within the HR community and confidence.

Second, I was greatly influenced by the director of the Engineering Directorate at the Goddard Space Flight Center. As I also mentioned earlier, I served as his Personnel Management Specialist and advisor. And very importantly, he included me at his table, along with his management team, and he treated me accordingly.

He told me the same thing he told them: I want to hear how we can get things done, not how we can't, and I want to hear solutions for problems, not just problems. It would require that we think outside the box, and I never got back in that box.

Lastly, just moving across different occupations, working with different leaders, and in different types of agencies was very developmental, and it went a long way in building my knowledge base and my confidence level.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.

What is NASA's human resource strategy? We will ask Toni Dawsey, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Management, and Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA, 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 Toni Dawsey, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Management, and Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's human capital practice.

Mr. Morales: Toni, according to the 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey, NASA ranked in the top three agencies in job satisfaction, leadership, and workplace performance. Why do you think your co-workers think so highly of NASA as a place to work, and what do you think the secret is?

Ms. Dawsey: The secret really isn't a secret. It's our mission.

NASA is filled with employees at all levels who love what they are doing. They're inspired by supervisors and managers who love what they are doing. And they are surrounded by highly educated dedicated co-workers who keep the bar high and make for a challenging, exciting environment.

Mr. Morales: Toni, earlier you mentioned the PMA, so let's delve into that for a moment.

NASA was one of the first agencies to achieve a Green status in human capital management under the PMA. Could you elaborate on the challenges and your efforts to getting to Green, and what's the Department need to do to achieve and sustain a Green status rating?

Ms. Dawsey: NASA got to Green quickly because the human capital organization had tremendous support from the Administrator and his management team. They believed that the human capital agenda was an agency agenda, and we continue to operate that way. And that is not only how we got to Green, but how we have remained Green.

Mr. Morales: So pretty straightforward, then?

Ms. Dawsey: Yes.

Mr. Morales: Let me switch gears a little bit. The NASA Flexibility Act of 2004 gave your agency certain flexibilities for recruitment and retention purposes. Could you talk a little bit about some of the flexibilities you were given, and which of these has had the biggest impact on recruiting and retaining a high-quality workforce?

Ms. Dawsey: Well, we were given over a dozen flexibilities that include enhanced recruitment, relocation, and retention bonuses, expanded use of term appointments, pay authority for critical positions, and enhanced travel benefits and annual leave benefits for new hires. And what works best for us really is combining all these different flexibilities into incentive packages tailored to the needs of specific candidates.

And that's been a particularly successful strategy for us.

Mr. Thomas: Toni, earlier, you had talked about the workforce planning efforts at the agency, and I want to talk a little bit more about that, if you don't mind.

NASA's most recent workforce strategy represents a new, more centralized approach to workforce planning. Would you talk about this new approach? What are some of the central components of this new planning process, and how does it better position NASA to meet the demands of its mission?

Ms. Dawsey: NASA has a number of initiatives underway to improve workforce planning, which, as I mentioned earlier, is one of our primary goals in human capital.

We needed to go from a near-term, budget-driven process to a longer-term, scenario-based workforce planning process. And we needed to go from a center-centric planning to an agency, a corporate workforce planning process. So we established an agency workforce planning governance structure. We enhanced workforce data tools to identify people with programs, and to be able to locate expertise across the agency.

We've developed workforce capability measures so that we can identify early gaps and surpluses across the agency. And we've established a Shuttle Human Capital Council just recently that includes not only NASA HR directors, but contractor HR directors so we can work with another as we transition and learn from one another's best practices. And we've integrated -- and this is the most important -- we've integrated this workforce planning process with our budget process.

In addition, we're currently engaging with Mission Directorates and the Centers in scenario planning. We're developing a workforce planner's handbook so that we're all talking a common language across the agency, and most recently, we've started a mapping process. We're developing a process where we can map employees from the Shuttle workforce to Constellation program work.

And with a strong workforce planning capability, the agency will be able to synergize its ability to meet challenges and perform the overall mission. We're integrating workforce planning with the program, budget, and business support functions, and that will allow us to take workforce planning from the near-term that I was talking about to the longer-term process that starts as soon as program requirements are defined and as far out as they can be defined.

Mr. Thomas: And staying on the workforce planning topic, NASA's workforce strategy places very strong emphasis on the development of 10 healthy centers that are fully engaged and productive.

First, within a human capital context, what is a healthy center? And second, what are the seven key attributes that you see of a healthy center?

Ms. Dawsey: Within the human capital context, a healthy center is one that first of all can assess its overall capability of total workforce and has the ability to align that workforce to future work.

The second is to be able to surface workforce misalignments that require agency intervention; that is, solving the problem at the agency level. And the third is to be able to shape the size, composition, and the management of the center workforce over time.

The seven key attributes that we use are: one, core, clear, stable, and enduring roles and responsibilities for a center; two, clear program project management leadership roles; three, major in-house durable spaceflight responsibility; four, skilled and flexible blended workforce with sufficient depth and breadth; five, technically competent and value-centered leadership; six, capable and effectively utilize infrastructure; an seven, strong stakeholder support.

Mr. Thomas: Toni, NASA's new approach seems to reflect planning and integration at many levels of management. What are the specific benefits of this enhanced workforce planning capability, and how do you feel it better enables NASA to address the workforce challenges and issues?

Ms. Dawsey: Well, leaders will be able to identify skill gaps quickly and plan strategically to address surpluses and gaps in a targeted and deliberate way across the agency, and to quickly identify expertise and be able to use it wherever it is needed in the agency.

Mr. Morales: Toni, it's been said that NASA's workforce is not ideally aligned to the programs and projects that are being undertaken to support the vision for space exploration, and it's commonly referred to as uncovered capacity.

Could you elaborate on NASA's efforts to reduce its current uncovered capacity level?

Ms. Dawsey: Sure. Two years ago, we had over 2,000 FTE that we called uncovered, and that translated to far more than 2,000 people. So we went into what we called a transformation mode, and today, there are very few what we call now "available for new work."

To solve the problem, we conducted buy-outs and early-outs. We held job fairs to place employees within and outside NASA. We used our new legislative authorities. We had hiring freezes. We set tight ceiling controls. We moved work across the agency. We reassigned staff, provided career transition assistance, and we started retraining programs.

Mr. Morales: Along those lines, could you elaborate on recent NASA initiatives to close the core competency gaps? Specifically, could you tell us about NASA's competency management system?

Ms. Dawsey: Yes. The competency management system first of all was built in-house by engineers at the Kennedy Space Flight Center, one of whom is still on my staff.

And it's an agency-wide competency inventory in a common language, populated with both an employee's position and individual competencies. And it enables NASA to know first of all what the current competencies are in the workforce, and then, as I mentioned earlier, locate expertise that's required to implement specific tasks.

And it also gives a good demographic snapshot to enable us to do more in-depth workforce data searches. It aids in the competency gap surplus problem, and it assists in assessing center readiness for new activities.

If you use it in conjunction with the workforce planning processes, which we're doing, we can help assess workforce impacts on programs and projects at a greater level of detail. And it also provides, then, information to our Office of Education so we can recruit students in those areas, and we can help employees in determining how best to expand and develop their careers.

Mr. Morales: How is NASA managing its blended workforce?

We will ask Toni Dawsey, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Management, and Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA, 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 Toni Dawsey, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Management, and Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's human capital practice.

Toni, NASA has a fairly heavy reliance on contractors. I believe in earlier segments, you mentioned 38,000. Could you tell us how federal managers can effectively manage an ever-increasing blended workforce composed of contractors and federal workers? And what are some of the key differences intrinsic to these two core groups?

Ms. Dawsey: Just to give you some perspective, less than 15 percent of the agency's authorized funding is expended on civil service salaries and benefits. In fact, one of our most renowned installations, the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, is run entirely through a contract with Cal Tech. We have approximately, as you said, 38,000 contractors working on or in close proximity to our NASA sites.

In managing our blended workforce, we have to make sure always that the government is in the driver's seat. There are, of course, numerous inherently governmental activities carried out in NASA. These are defined by the Office of Management and Budget, and they include the exercise of discretion in applying government authority or the making of value judgments and making decisions for the government. Civil servants make the plans, formulate the budgets, and decide strategy and policy.

In managing the blended workforce, we need to ensure we have a sufficient in-house knowledge base to be a smart buyer of services from industry. And that means we have to have sufficient depth among civil engineers and scientists to specify our requirements, and not only oversee the contractor efforts, but have insight into the technical issues that arise.

In the end, it is NASA personnel who make the go, no-go decisions for our programs. Additionally, it's also critical for us to have strong capabilities in systems engineering and project management, since these skills are critical not only to our mission success, but also to getting the most out our contractor workforce.

Mr. Morales: Toni, I also want to go back to one of the other topics from our previous segment, and that's around recruitment. Could you tell us what changes are you making to the recruitment process at NASA? Does the agency use flexible compensation strategies to attract and retain high-quality employees who possess these mission-critical competencies?

Ms. Dawsey: NASA is refining our recruitment process, our recruitment strategy, in several ways. We're conducting more targeted recruitment. For example, we're recruiting for mission-critical occupations and underrepresented groups in diversity.

We're increasing our collaboration with our Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity and our NASA Education Office, and we're enhancing and expanding student programs that can serve as a pipeline into our workforce. We're developing our partnerships and relationships, for example, with non-profit organizations, industry, other federal agencies, professional organizations, and educational institutions that can be beneficial in future recruitment efforts, initiatives, and strategies.

Mr. Thomas: Toni, although it's important to bring new talent into NASA, your organization's approach to strengthening competency needs also involves leveraging the talent that's already available in the current workforce. Could you elaborate a bit on NASA's retraining efforts?

Ms. Dawsey: Yes. NASA is engaged in several activities designed to realign our workforce to meet our new objectives. We have training and what we call retraining programs in support of program and project management, systems engineering, and quality of mission assurance, and we're also training technicians to be technologists.

We're developing a deliberate and systematic growth and development opportunity path through actually what we're calling a career pathing approach, and through redesigned leadership development programs.

The career pathing is providing for each discipline a transparent career progression path. Ordinarily, employees when they enter government are looking to see what duties they need to perform to be promoted to the next-higher grade level. But in NASA, we're looking to build pipelines for our journeyman level, our program project management level, senior executive service, senior technical, and senior leads.

And that requires more than just working to be better within what we consider a stovepipe of the promotion career ladder. We're trying to give employees a look at the broader goals they need to seek to be part of the technical management leadership team at NASA.

So each career path will not only show the duties they need for the next grade level, but it will show recommended and sometimes required assignments, competencies, developmental experiences, training, certifications, if needed, rotational assignments, coaching, and mentoring.

And the purpose of this is to have employees that we can select from inside who understand all of NASA, not just one center, to have employees understand the institutions and the programs side of the house, and employees who have networked and know how to network and collaborate, both internally and externally.

So we're trying to start at much lower levels in the agency to develop well-rounded professionals to take on our management positions over the next several years.

Mr. Thomas: Toni, staying on the employee development theme, could you talk a little bit more about NASA's key learning and development strategies and initiatives? And in particular, what is NASA doing to ensure continuity of leadership through succession planning and executive development?

Ms. Dawsey: Okay. I started to touch on that, but we are doing so much at NASA, I really like to talk about it, and so I'll expand on that a little.

We have a corporate integrated approach to leadership development first of all. NASA has created a leadership strategy, which is used by both agency-wide and center leadership program managers as a framework for designing and implementing leadership programs. This framework provides continuity through succession planning and executive development.

We've redesigned the agency's residential leadership programs -- that includes a program focus on the strategic alignment of leaders to the NASA vision for space exploration, as well as programs that focus on current hot leadership topics relevant to achieving mission.

We have a new program. What we've done is we realized that while we have excellent leadership training programs, those programs have been geared to employees at the journeyman level or close to. And we realize in today's world that this type of training is very important at much lower grade levels. We need to teach our professionals at -- for example, grades 11 and 12, which we started doing with a new program called NASA First.

We're teaching them about NASA, about rotating around centers to learn what centers are doing, and learning the leadership skills of collaborating, benchmarking, using best practices. And with that program, starting at grades 11 and 12, we're getting to people when they're also -- it's a lot easier to get them into training and start the culture change. And in NASA, that means learning that mobility is important, and that being called from one center to another center is something that they should expect and probably will be required to do in the future as the mission transitions to Constellation.

And they set up a network that has been really, really helpful, and that they're seeing how an engineer can help an information technology person, who can help a scientist, and just through the different kinds of tools that we have in common, for example, systems tools, and hear that exchange and see the network -- for example, of an engineer expand to include people in the chief financial office and in other business support offices -- for example, procurement, even human capital. It's very exciting.

And so the leadership development program now basically starts at a much lower grade level and then proceeds up through into our senior executive candidate development program, which is a rigorous program, and we're very proud of it. It has Office of Personnel Management approval. It is a program that they hold out as a model in government.

We also have fellowship programs that ensure that employees have the opportunity to obtain best-in-class development at the finest educational institutions. And in terms of our succession planning efforts, we've developed and implemented a succession planning framework also.

The plan centers around NASA's leadership model and includes a newly created leadership framework which is designed to articulate developmental experiences for all leadership roles within the agency. This corporate leadership succession strategy supports creating a skilled pipeline for leadership within the agency. It includes a variety of components -- workforce planning and analysis, formal leadership development programs, formal and informal coaching and mentoring programs, and leadership training -- and is supplemented by center-level developmental activities.

The plan capitalizes on the agency's long-time support of leadership development and training. It defines a leadership life cycle of development and enhances existing programs by incorporating, as I said, the entry-level leadership program NASA First, and we have created an advisory council composed of senior leaders that will oversee succession management within the organization, including participating in selections for our formal leadership development programs.

The group also will complete an annual review of the succession management framework to ensure that it stays relevant to agency needs.

Mr. Thomas: Toni, NASA is also addressing unique challenges presented by retiring the Space Shuttle. Could you talk about some of the specifics of these challenges facing the organization, and also, what is NASA doing to address these challenges?

Ms. Dawsey: Yeah, NASA is facing some unique challenges associated with Shuttle retirement, and we need to retain skills necessary to safely execute remaining Space Shuttle missions to the very last flight, and then we need to manage the transition of appropriate Shuttle workforce into Constellation; and we need to retain skills between fiscal years 2010 and fiscal year 2015 necessary to safely execute Constellation flight operations.

To address these challenges, one effort underway is what we are calling the Shuttle workforce mapping project. Many of the employees currently working on the Shuttle program will be needed to work on the Constellation program. For that reason, a team of headquarters and center representatives is developing a mapping of the Shuttle workforce to Constellation work. This plan will reflect the planned migration of our employees supporting the Shuttle program to Constellation, phased to correspond to key milestones in both programs.

And the first mapping is scheduled to be completed in mid-August. It will be iterated and refined regularly after that date, particularly as Constellation program needs and the Shuttle flight manifest schedules are updated.

In addition, we're holding agency-wide capability assessment forums to further refine our workforce planning picture. Several modeling, simulation, and analytical tools also are being evaluated in our quest to better capture system dynamics and requirements-driven workforce and skill mix forecasting.

Cumulatively, these activities and prospective tools will enhance our analytic capability in these areas.

Mr. Morales: Toni, let me switch gears for a moment now. Under its Integrated Enterprise Management Program, and sometimes it's commonly referred to as the IEMP, NASA is transforming its finances, human resources, assets, and processes through a combination of supporting technology and business infrastructure. Could you elaborate on the IEMP's human capital information environment project, and could you give us a sense of the benefits from its implementation?

Ms. Dawsey: Sure. Until just recently, we had 75 different human resource systems that were not integrated. They didn't talk to one another. So we set out two years ago to integrate them first, and that was, as I said, accomplished last month, and as of the end of this month, our HR portal, as we call it, will be open throughout the human capital community.

We are now, as part of what we're calling the human capital information environment, working with IEMP to incorporate that HR portal into the other business support systems. We intend to provide authoritative single source and timely workforce data this way.

To kind of give you an idea of what the human capital information environment will provide, we'll be able to integrate existing NASA budget data with workforce data, and we'll be able to view projected workforce information, budget actuals, and workforce planning data. And we've not been able to do that.

We'll be able to view employee-related cost information, view a collection of current and historical workforce information to support the budget planning process, and we'll understand the total workforce composition, moving from a system with compartmentalized, self-contained capabilities to a system with a better understanding of all its capabilities. We'll be able to facilitate informed decisions regarding the current and planned workforce, to view their status based on plans and actual labor charges. And we'll be able to assess full cost data and loaded rates.

Mr. Morales: Toni, we talked earlier about some of the challenges around the blended workforce. And so given the composition of NASA, how does your organization evaluate HR field performance, as well as impart the best practices to NASA's HR community? And what steps are you pursuing to ensure that these policies and procedures are documented and communicated in a timely and comprehensible manner, and that its implementation is being monitored?

Ms. Dawsey: NASA evaluates center HR performance through a comprehensive human capital accountability system designed to assess the health of human capital programs across the agency. The accountability system ensures accountability for efficient, effective, and aligned human capital programs while balancing the need to assure that human capital decisions are made based on merit.

NASA has embraced the five-pronged approach to managing the assessment activities. We do agency program studies. We do agency quality reviews. We do agency on-site reviews. We do center self-assessments, and we do external oversight audits.

We utilize several methods to evaluate center HR performance and to impart best practices to the HR community. The workforce strategy division within the Office of Human Capital conducts human resources on-site reviews on a quarterly basis at the NASA centers. The overall purpose is to focus on three specific goals: first, the review team seeks to understand how NASA's workforce implementation plan sub-goals are translated at the center level. And we haven't talked about it, but our workforce implementation plan was developed from the agency's strategic plan, and it contains approximately 150 tasks that we need to perform to meet the goals that I talked about earlier in workforce planning, workforce alignment, and systems and accountability. So that is one area of the review.

The review team is also concerned with strengthening relationships within the HR operating community, and the review team assesses NASA's compliance with human resources laws, rules, and regulations. That review focuses on the HR authorities that sustain the three key drivers of human capital management: strategic competencies, performance culture, and leadership and learning.

At the conclusion of each of the reviews, a comprehensive report is prepared which includes recommended and required actions as appropriate. The report is sent to the center human resources director and the center director, describing significant positive, for example, best practices or negative findings.

On a monthly basis, NASA headquarters conducts video teleconferences--we call them VITS -- with the HR community on a variety of subjects. The VITS affords NASA the opportunity to communicate information in an interactive format in real-time. NASA also issues personnel bulletins on a variety of HR-related issues. The personnel bulletins supplement current NASA policies and procedures, and if necessary, provide guidance to clarify any existing policies and procedures.

Mr. Morales: So, Toni, along similar lines, recently, the National Academy of Public Administration, otherwise known as NAPA, released a report entitled "NASA: Balancing a Multi-Sector Workforce to Achieve a Healthy Organization." And in this report, it recommends that NASA continue to find ways to balance its multi-sector workforce and restructure its existing civil service components.

Could you tell us briefly about this report, and to what extent is NASA planning to implement any of the human capital recommendations?

Ms. Dawsey: The NAPA report is quite far-ranging, and was done as a joint request of NASA and its appropriations committees in Congress. NAPA believes that NASA has an opportunity to lead the public sector as it manages and realigns its multi-sector workforce, the civil servants and contractors, for Constellation.

In planning and decision-making, NAPA recommends that we develop a risk-based planning strategy to deal with alternative futures, including program, budget, and schedule changes. NAPA favors scenario planning to inform decision-making, workforce plans, and strategies.

We have been thinking the same way, and, as I've explained, we are currently exploring methodologies for doing budget and workforce scenario planning.

Our administrator has set the policy that all 10 of our centers will contribute to the work required to implement Constellation. All have their own strengths and will be needed. The program work assignments have been managed in NASA to ensure all 10 centers can remain strong and healthy. NAPA proposes a health center framework and metrics with critical factors and success elements. They believe that NASA headquarters should conduct annual center health evaluations, and centers should perform ongoing assessments. This is something we are increasingly engaged in, and we will look carefully at NAPA's recommendations in this area.

Other areas covered by NAPA in its report include acquisition management, the engagement of the human capital function with agency planning and decision-making, maintaining an appropriate balance between contractors and government personnel, and between permanent and non-permanent civil service appointments, and finally, some ideas for new civil service flexibilities to enable more-rapid expanding or shrinking of the workforce. And as I've mentioned, we're already engaged in a lot of what NAPA is recommending.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.

What does the future hold for NASA? We will ask Toni Dawsey, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Management, and Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA, 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 Toni Dawsey, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Management, and Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's human capital practice.

Toni, with the evolution of NASA's new vision for space exploration, how do you envision NASA's human capital needs evolving in, say, the next three to five years? And specifically, how do you envision your office will evolve to meet these challenges?

Ms. Dawsey: I see human capital evolving in a very positive way. I see human capital specialists becoming true partners in the strategic planning process, not only internally with our stakeholders, but externally.

And I think in terms of skills, I was talking earlier about how important it was to have the functional expertise. A lot of that is being sent to shared services centers, and what's evolving is the real true professional human capital expertise, which means looking more towards people who have some of the skills that I was talking about earlier -- workforce planning skills; that is, statistics and modeling competencies -- and skills in systems development and integration, program project management skills, because we're helping to develop and implement programs on an agency level -- and a lot of them.

And I think we need human resource specialists who have real good communication skills not only in writing and speaking, but the ability to see the way to communicate a huge amount of data that we create nowadays in a format, in a dashboard, for people at all levels in the agency. We can't give all this workforce data I'm talking about as it is to the leadership when they need to make decisions. We need the kind of HR people who are analytical enough to know what of that data is critical for the immediate decisions.

Mr. Thomas: Toni, today's broader multi-sector workforce requires the high level integration of acquisition and human capital planning, which is long overdue for the federal sector. How will NASA be at the forefront of the 21st Century governance, perhaps pointing the way for other federal agencies facing similar workforce challenges?

Ms. Dawsey: Well, we're finding it quite difficult to forecast the workforce and human capital policies we'll be needing five, 10 to 20 years out, and especially for Constellation. The decisions to what we call make or buy, meaning do work in-house or contract out -- the decisions to do that -- to decide how the work will be accomplished is a critical one, and greatly impacts the size of the civil service workforce we'll need.

What we found is that the critical make-buy decision needs to be addressed earlier in the planning process rather than later. We're making changes in our planning processes to move these decisions up and make sure the right players, including human capital, participate in the decision-making.

Mr. Thomas: There's much talk about commercial best practices in the government, in particular in service areas such as human resources. What emerging technologies do you see that hold the most promise for improving the federal management of human resources?

Ms. Dawsey: We believe that automation is key to improving the management of human resources. I've already talked about our human resources portal and our human capital information environment. And we've implemented a lot of other automated systems.

The one that we haven't so far that we're looking into is our performance management system. We want to implement a system that will not only contain electronic documents, but also route them appropriately and provide immediate notifications and feedback to employees and management officials.

Mr. Morales: Toni, I often ask my guests about the pending retirement wave in government and what type of impact it may have on their operations. What are you seeing within NASA, and what are the plans to mitigate these effects?

Ms. Dawsey: Well, right now, we have about 12 percent of the workforce that is eligible for immediate retirement, and this is normal for NASA. Fortunately, the percent of scientists and engineers that are retirement-eligible is less. They're only at about 11.3 percent.

Over the next five years, each year, about three percent of the current employees will become new retirement eligibles, and about three percent of all employees will actually retire each year.

We have forecast total expected retirements over the next five years. Some of the retirements will cause a loss in our corporate memory. Nevertheless, as NASA moves out of the Shuttle era and into a new phase of space exploration, retirement losses should be well within our capabilities to hire replacements, and retirements will give us the opportunity to bring in new talent.

Mr. Morales: Now, Toni, you've had obviously a very successful career within public service, and as we mentioned at the start of the show, you're actually returning to federal service again. What advice would you give to a person who perhaps is out there thinking about getting started in a career in public service?

Ms. Dawsey: I think there is now so much information available on a career in the federal service that we didn't have years ago. And so I recommend that those looking for employment and trying to decide between the public and private sector make sure that they do their homework about all the career possibilities across government and within each department or agency. For example, people are surprised when they hear about all the career opportunities in NASA, because they tend to think engineers, scientists, and astronauts. So do your homework.

The second is learn about the work/life benefits and flexibilities that now exist in government and which allow us to be competitive with the private sector. We have put a lot of focus on that in government, and I think it would surprise a lot of people of how important that work/life balance is in government now.

And I guess lastly, I asked a new employee whom I just hired from the private sector why he chose to go federal, and he replied that after years of working in the private sector, he did not have the feelings that he saw existing at NASA, and that is contributing on a team to fulfill a real mission for the nation, actually for the world, and so I think that's important that you look at a job in terms of what it is you're contributing to society, and the government gives you plenty of opportunity to do that.

Mr. Morales: So it's a real sense of pride and accomplishment in the role.

Ms. Dawsey: Yes.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.

Toni, unfortunately, we have reached the top of the hour, and we've run out of time. I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule today, but more importantly, Solly and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country.

Ms. Dawsey: The last thing I would like to say is we're very proud of NASA. There is a lot going on at NASA. And we invite you to learn about us on nasa.gov.

Thank you.

Mr. Morales: Thank you.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Toni Dawsey, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Management, and Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA.

My co-host today has been Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's human capital practice.

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

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales.

Thank you for listening.

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

Until next week, it's businessofgovernment.org

R. Allen Pittman interview

Friday, January 26th, 2007 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"Where we need to move from where we are today, how do we transform ourselves -- it is moving from a personnel transaction-based organization into a human resources consulting behavioral-based organization."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 01/27/2007
Guest: 
Intro text: 
R. Allen Pittman
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, January 27, 2007

Washington, D.C.

Mr. Morales: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the Center by visiting us on the web at 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 Mr. Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Good morning, Allen.

Mr. Pittman: Good morning, Albert.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice, and former Acting Associate Director for Human Capital at the Office of Personnel Management.

Good morning, Solly.

Mr. Thomas: Good morning, Al.

Mr. Morales: Allen, perhaps you could start by giving our listeners an overview of the history and the mission of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Mr. Pittman: Be more than my pleasure to do so. Veterans Affairs actually was established through an Executive Order creating an agency by President Hoover in 1930. In 1989, we became a Cabinet-level department under President Reagan.

Mr. Morales: Could you give us a sense of the scale of the VA? Also, how is it organized, the size of its budget, the number of full-time employees, and its overall geographic footprint?

Mr. Pittman: Absolutely. VA has 235,000 employees, and that fluctuates every month, typically goes up to about 238,000, drops down to about 234,000, but we're currently about 235,000 employees. Of the 235,000 employees, just to give you additional information, we have approximately 190,000 employees that are members of the union. So that's taken into consideration. The VA itself is broken into three major operating groups.

We are kind of different than the rest of the government in that we're actually an operating company if you look at us as a business entity. We have Veterans Health Administration. That has the largest component of employees -- approximately 190,000 employees. Then we have Veterans Benefits Administration, and then we also have the National Cemetery Administration. The remainder would be the staff offices supporting those three operational groups.

We have 1598 locations made up of 156 hospitals, 877 outpatient clinics, 136 nursing homes, 43 residential rehabilitation treatment programs, 207 readjustment counseling centers, 57 veterans benefits regional offices, and 122 national cemeteries.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about your specific role as the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and also as the Chief Human Capital Officer. Could you tell us a little bit about the areas under your purview, the organizations, the size, the budget, the resources available to you?

Mr. Pittman: I have five program areas. There's human resources. There's labor relations management; there's administration; there's diversity management, and then the Office of Resolution Management. I have -- reporting into those five program areas, I have approximately 550 employees, and I have a budget responsibility for around $101million.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, I want to shift the focus now and ask you to describe your career path for our listeners. How did you begin your career? Could you talk about your experiences, and also what drew you to this critical position at the VA?

Mr. Pittman: Well, let me go back a little further than what you anticipate by that question, but I think I have to set the stage. I actually was a money and banking major in college, with the University of Arkansas. I had returned from Vietnam -- I'm a Vietnam veteran -- and I was on the G.I. Bill. And majoring through money and banking, I had reached the last semester of my eligibility out of the G.I. Bill and was running out of money. And I had to take one class which remained in my core criteria in reference to my major. Unfortunately, there wasn't anyone available to teach that class. So I switched to personnel management. That's how I got into personnel management.

Upon graduation, I started interviewing within the area that the University of Arkansas was located in, which is Northwest Arkansas. Unfortunately, the only jobs I was receiving came from Tyson Foods. And at that time, the offer that I was given was actually $2,000 less than the poverty level. And my dad, who was a family physician -- here comes a tie as far as health care -- suggested that possibly I get into pharmaceutical sales. So I ventured into that arena as far as that industry sector, and I went to work for American Cyanamid Lederle Laboratories, and eventually for Pfizer Labs.

So I became a pharmaceutical detail man. In my background in the military, I was a hospital corpsman. Again, you'll see there's a thread of health care. So I was able -- I was a caregiver in the Service, obviously, even though it was in a combat-oriented environment. But with pharmaceutical sales, I started understanding pharmacology. After I left Pfizer and went to work in the private sector, I went to work at a hospital, where I was a personnel manager.

I eventually went to work with Fluor Corporation, which was an engineering construction organization, and that was one of the best moves I made, principally because it was so fundamentally sound in reference to its training and development organizations. And from the human resources component, they soon put me into a fast track program where they wanted to make a general manager out of me. But in order to do that, I had to complete all the various disciplines within human resources.

And at Fluor Corporation, they had everything but labor relations. So therefore, I became a fundamental human resources technician, in that I've been in every discipline that there is within human resources, either as a technician or a supervisor or a manager. With that then I soon went on down the road in human resources, but I was soon contacted in the early '80s by a gentleman that I worked with for about 22 years. And we started two companies, both in health care -- both were ambulatory care, but one was home infusion, and the other one, the last one, was U.S. Oncology, which was a cancer-based community-based organization for the treatment of cancer. That's really helped me out. The background that I had created a situation for me in these operational companies that we started up not only in maintaining the direct responsibility for human resources, but also being the operating executive within those two organizations.

So I bring a different fit into the government in that I'm a true operational executive, and have been for over 20 years. However, I'm also a human resources professional. And I think that's always important. When you look at a career in human resources, it's unusual to have someone that understands health care to the degree that I do, and can apply it through a human resources aspect.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, with such a fascinating background and wealth of experiences, I'm curious: how have these experiences prepared you for your current leadership role, and how has this informed your current management approach and leadership style?

Mr. Pittman: Well, it's been beneficial from this respect. I think that you know I'm a political appointee. And with that, a political appointee comes into an environment that the majority of -- at least 98 percent or 99 percent of the employee base are career employees. At the VA, we only have 15 political appointees. We're treating veterans. This is not political, this is an apolitical environment.

So with that, the fact that I have this experience, that brings credibility. So when I talk, I bring credibility from the standpoint of -- again understanding the business, and being able to relate the business to a human resources decision or strategy. And that's been most important.

The other aspect, too -- in those two organizations in particular that I referenced about starting up, we had approximately 40, 45 acquisitions in those two organizations. So needless to say when you acquire an organization and try to transform and transition those two organizations together, it is very, very difficult. So it requires a lot of selling experience and being to sell the program, but importantly, you have to work collaboratively and participatively. I am a collaborator in reference to my management ability. In addition to that, I believe in participation.

That's where ownership comes in as far as whatever strategy or initiative you may have, and ownership by those that are participating in that initiative. I think that's been crucial, because there's such a short time to be able to come into the VA to hopefully impact and move that organization from a collaborative standpoint to where it should be.

Mr. Morales: Fantastic.

What is the VA's human resource strategy? We will ask Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer of the VA, 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 Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

Allen, could you elaborate on the four-part HR consulting model that you and your team had recently rolled out? And how does it frame your human capital strategy?

Mr. Pittman: Well, to give you just a little bit of background, first of all, VA, unfortunately over the years, has not kept up as far as leading edge technology or actually systems from a people perspective within the VA. And you might understand why. VA is mostly known for health care and also veterans benefits. So therefore, when the budget comes through, from an appropriation standpoint, it's typically for health care and benefits administration, plus for national cemeteries, of course.

So when you talk about overhead, which we are, it's very difficult to get those dollars that are necessary to move forward. What we've done since I've been there is to identify what we need to be within the future. So we're going through an HR transformation process. And I will tell you something that I think is somewhat funny. When I first came here and did an assessment of VA from the human resource perspective, I mapped out what I thought needed to be done before we sat down and did a collaborative strategic plan as far as human capital plan is concerned. Turns out that it matches the President's Management Agenda, and I would prefer to say that the President is following my lead, but unfortunately, that is -- that is not -- as it turns out, it's a pretty good fit.

And this is not rocket science when you look at human resources. If you look at the fact that fundamentally you're a personnel organization, a personnel department, even though we are 235,000 strong, then you'll soon see what we must do. And automation is almost non-existent to VA. We have a payroll system that has a component for human resources in it.

So taking a look at where we need to move from where we are today to where we're going to in the future, and the people involved, and how do we get there, how do we transform ourselves, a lot of it is moving from a personnel transaction-based organization into a human resources consulting behavioral-based organization. But you also need to have the tools that allow you to do that.

We went through that process and soon realized that if we're going to become a consulting organization, then what do we need to subscribe to? And you mentioned the four-step consulting model. Well, it includes the focus on customer needs, exploring solutions, developing and executing action plans, and closing the loop with our HR practitioners, but also the line managers that they work with.

So what we're trying to do is take those four components and develop core competency training programs so we can create an organization that is a consulting organization. We have a three-year plan in reference to that training and development piece as far as human resources and the human resource professionals are concerned. A lot of it's contingent also upon automation.

Mr. Morales: You talk about the scale of transition. Could you elaborate a little bit more on the VA's plan to transition to an HR line of business? And how does this move factor into your strategy, which you talked about, of moving your HR function to a more consultative and less transactional focus?

Mr. Pittman: Well, if one understands -- if you're a personnel transaction-based organization -- I'll give you an example of that: within the federal government, there is a Form 52, which is actually a change of status for an employee that's filled out typically by either the supervisor or human resources. And it's a paper form, and that's the way we do it at VA.

Understanding that that's a transaction itself, and then also understanding that our survey has shown us that approximately 36 to 42 percent of our HR professionals are transaction-based tasks, then you can see just how much labor it's taking in order to move an individual from one slot to another to perform any function within human resources. So just imagine if we automated those functions, then wouldn't that give us more capacity without even adding staff? And that is our strategy right there.

We want to automate, thus increasing capacity of our human resources professionals to allow them to do consulting without adding FTE. In order to do that -- that's where our HR line of business comes into play -- pretty much tells us where we need to go, and that's even better. Why? Because we don't have to build it. The HR line of business goes through a process through OPM. And OPM goes through the due diligence process of not only creating the project teams that represent all the departments and agencies within the federal government, to be able to select going through a due diligence process of who can perform these functions from a transaction-based piece.

Most people call these organizations "service centers." So a service center can offer, for example, classification. What we're doing is buying that service from either another agency and the agencies that have been identified within the federal government have been identified, and there's four that meet the criteria we need from the human resource information standpoint.

However, at the same time, OMB is going through a process of due diligence as far as the private sector is concerned, allowing them the opportunity also to become service center operators. So we're waiting for that one aspect to be complete. But by utilizing a human resource information system, this allows us to go into the database. And the database, in this respect, comes from a personnel file.

Once we automate that personnel file, the official personnel file, then this human resource information system -- an automated system can reach down into that database and pull out all these various aspects of an employee. And that will help us in managing our workforce.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, I want to talk a little bit about performance management. I want to know if you could elaborate on the VA's five-tier performance management system, and your experience implementing the performance appraisal plans. In particular, I'm interested in hearing what kind of findings, what your experience was under your performance management data site.

Mr. Pittman: Well, most people are unaware of this, that there is an awful lot of publicity in reference to the Department of Defense and Homeland Security and the issues they're having to train and to implement a five-tier performance appraisal system, which is absolutely crucial to performance planning. VA is the second largest agency and department within the federal government -- 235,000 strong.

All 235,000 employees are on the five-tier system. We had that ratified by the union six months ago. And we've worked with our union partners to get that. That was an essential piece. If we didn't do that, other than our Senior Executive Service who is on a five-tier system already, and that's approximately 300 of our executives -- if we didn't have a five-tier system, we'd still be on a pass/fail system. Now, the pass/fail system doesn't bode well for lots of different reasons. If you and I -- Solly, for example, are in the same classification and the same job title and we perform the same work, and you receive a pass and I receive a pass, but you work extremely hard and I work just enough to get a pass, then who can the supervisor and who should the supervisor invest in from a training and development standpoint for the future of this succession plan and also strategies of VA?

If the investment goes into you, I have every right to raise my hand and say, "How come you're not investing in me, I also have a pass?" We need to be able to distinguish between the levels of performance to give us a determination of who from a career path and career progression standpoint is going to move forward; also, who needs development, how can we invest those very valuable and scarce resources, dollars, that we get from the Congress, to invest in you?

So from a five-tier system, we started this process just this last six months, with the exception of the Senior Executive Service. So we have gone out and we've tested it, we've implemented it in all parts of the country. We are writing up the objectives as we just speak now that align with incentives, the incentives being defined as the strategies of the VA, strategies of the organization and also the objectives of the individual. So we can have measurable metrics that will afford us the opportunity to move people through the system based upon performance.

Now, the experience we have has been short-lived other than the Senior Executive Service. We've piloted this program and it's working extremely well. We had approximately three VISNs. VISNs are integrated systems within VHA. So it's Veterans Information and Integrated Service Network -- that's what a VISN is. So we've done that, it's working extremely well, and now we are doing a wholesale rollout in reference to the five-tier performance appraisal system. Unfortunately, we don't have that much experience to speak of.

Mr. Thomas: And you mentioned that you worked with the unions. I'm sure they raised some concerns at the outset. How did you address those concerns?

Mr. Pittman: Well, I speak very openly and short and to the point. And if I'm asked a question, I'll answer the question, obviously, but if there is a confidential situation, I'll explain it's confidential, I can't explain it. But in talking with the unions, I've been very, very clear about their relationship. When I first came into the VA, I read the master agreement with reference to the American Federation of Government Employees master agreement and saw that it was a pro-union master contract. In talking with the unions, I expressed that, and I said, well, what we need to do is not to create a pro-management agreement, but to create one that is equitable for not only the unions, but also for management, which would impact, obviously positively, the employees.

It's very, very difficult to manage an employee, the human capital asset, if in fact you can't do it directly. And if you have to give 30 days' notice every time you do something, whether it's a salary increase or whether it's a performance appraisal or et cetera. And that's what we talked about. We talked about how we could collaboratively develop a master agreement that would allow us the opportunity to manage the employees for the benefit of the veterans that we serve. Otherwise, we are too restrictive right now. In addition to that, I did talk about the fact that, you know, there's a trend within the private sector in particular that unions are becoming more and more minimized. And there is an opportunity to work with us in a partnership to develop an equitable plan, an equitable agreement to allow them to participate properly in the future.

You know, I talked about performance planning. Their concern was performance planning. And when there is an issue, whether it's positive or negative, but typically negative, then there is not a performance plan in place that allows the employee a good-faith effort to turn around and to continue employment. We have a philosophy at VA, I have a philosophy at VA -- it's our job to retain an employee. It's not our job to separate an employee. It's difficult enough bringing someone on board, so why not keep them. So through a performance plan request that they had as far as negotiations are concerned, I said absolutely, that's what supervisors are supposed to do.

Again, some of the very basic elements of labor management relations that should have been there were not there. We are creating that.

Mr. Morales: How is VA transforming how it manages its workforce?

We will ask Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA, 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 Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

Allen, we often talk with our guests about the pending retirement wave in government and the type of impact that this will have on their operations. What are you seeing within the VA, and what plans are in place to mitigate its possible effects?

Mr. Pittman: This is one of the most important areas that not only VA, but also the government, needs to respond to and respond to very quickly. Director Springer of the Office of Personnel Management uses the phrase "retirement tsunami." And I think that's a pretty good graphic, as a matter of fact, when you start talking about retirement. At the VA, which is in parallel to the rest of the agencies, but speaking about VA, we actually have 60 percent of our employee workforce that is eligible to retire within the next five years, not 10 years.

And doing an analysis in reference to where they're at as far as their retirements are concerned -- they being the employees, we've done two things. One is we have started a program of actually asking the employees -- which is part of succession planning -- it really surprises me when I first came on this, has anybody ever asked the employee when they have an expectation of retirement? And it's not illegal to do so. And the reason behind that is anyone can apply for retirement. They have to fill out an application actually to retire. They can actually pull that application anytime they want to, even though they've said they're going to retire. But from a planning perspective, you need to understand that.

What's even more important, not only from a planning perspective, is also understanding the intellectual, institutional knowledge that they have. They maintain a lot of information that's not written down anywhere. And it's absolutely necessary that we try and transition that knowledge base to someone else.

And the way that we are trying to approach it is actually multifaceted. What we're looking at and doing an analysis, which was the first part of what I was starting to answer a moment ago, is we were looking at those eligible to retire from an age perspective. When is it that they will retire based upon tendencies? If you look back over the years and look at the individuals that hold certain positions, you'll see that the higher the level, the shorter the time they will have as far as an age perspective. They may retire at 55, they may retire at 58, depending upon the number of years and combination. But you'll find, for example, senior executives, they normally do not go to age 65. Our senior executives typically go right at 59-1/2. And the rationale behind that is they have their high threes.

But if you look at that, that's when an individual -- an executive -- I happen to be 59, just for your information -- I know that I have a lot of years left. You may not think so, but I do. And you're at your peak. So why in fact should we work hard on trying to retain those individuals, how can we retain those individuals, not just plan for future replacement of the individuals through succession planning, but why can't we -- from a legislation standpoint, why can we retain without impacting their high threes as an individual, moving them into another slot parallel for a year or two-year period, to be able to transfer that institutional knowledge they have, and also to mentor their replacements, et cetera. That's an example of what we're trying to do.

The other aspect as far as succession planning is concerned also: the federal government has a tendency of really spending a lot of time on workforce planning. It has been an exceptional tool for the last two to three years. But it is now time to move to succession planning. Director Springer actually has taken this under her objectives and strategies. I believe VA started that process.

Part of what we need is automation -- if you recall, we need to have a learning management system that catches the skills inventory of each individual, not only their skills, but also their educational licensures, to be able to create a database so we can at that point develop a gap analysis in reference to where their skills and where their experiences and professional knowledge are in reference to where we're going from the VA perspective.

The federal government typically does strategic planning on a five-year basis. We are moving to a 10-year plan. There is nothing that you can accomplish in the five-year period. So why don't you look further out, look out further and see what your lines of business are going to be, what your technologies are going to be, what skill sets are necessary to support those lines of business, and start looking not only internally through a gap analysis, developing those competencies through leadership development programs and/or skill development programs to be able to support the lines of business into the future. And also to sit down and review the strategic plan on an annual basis. Right now, there's legislation out there that you have to review your plan every two years.

Well, typically an agency or department will take that plan off the shelf every two years, dust it off, enhance it, put it back on the shelf. It needs to be a living document, where you are looking at it every year and determining that if your lines of business that have been identified in the future have changed, you need to revise your strategies, which means you revise your skill sets necessary to support them.

So one of the things we need to do is to develop career pathing programs. VA does an exceptional job, and I'm serious, an exceptional job, for the highest levels of leadership. That includes the Senior Executive Service. And we have a program that's called the Senior Executive Career Development Program, which actually is a feeder program into the Senior Executive Service. We also have another program called the Leadership VA. The Leadership VA is actually the first executive-level, usually GS-13, 14 and 15 level development program, that is a feeder into the SESCDP, which feeds into the SES program.

However, the void is this: we don't have anything universally across the VA for the GS-3s through 12s. How do you create the pools of talent, how do you create the developed pools of talent in order to succeed? And this succession plan itself identifies positions based upon not only skill sets, but also careers. We have a tendency of recruiting. When we recruit for future purposes, we don't really recruit for the future. What we are recruiting is for now, for the vacancy. We are changing our recruitment strategies, our recruitment strategies for the future development based upon the skill sets necessary to support the strategies of the future and also technologies in the lines of business. So when we go out and recruit, we actually are offering a career based upon a need for the VA, not the vacancy.

Mr. Morales: I want to go back to some of the earlier comments you made about the -- certainly the size of the VA and its geographic dispersion. I'm curious. How does the VA evaluate HR field performance as well as impart some of these best practices to the HR community? And what steps are you taking to ensure that the policies and procedures are documented and communicated in a timely and comprehensible manner?

Mr. Pittman: Well, this is twofold. Again, when I came onboard and did an assessment, I asked first of all, do we have the human resource information system? That system is absolutely crucial to anyone that is in the profession of human resources. Why? For example, when you are talking about field audits, you can do system audits if you have a human resource information system, it will save you a ton of time to ensure that you have compliance to various policies, to include, for example, veterans preference on the hiring process. So a system that we will have on board over the course of the next two to three years maximum will be on board to allow us to do that.

In the meantime, I looked at also again what OPM was requiring us to do to go green. And by the way, we have gone green. We went green approximately six months ago. So we are the largest federal agency that has a green status at the current time. And part of that process, and what we needed to do, is to create an accountability organization. The accountability organization functions like an audit organization that comes out of human resources.

So it's a manual process, and what we do is we started out with just one individual. And we now have 11 staff that's in the accountability office. That's how important it is to our organization, and also one of the most important strategies we've done to ensure compliance. I think that you know that first of all, we are Veterans Affairs. So therefore, one of our most and greatest priorities that we ought to have is the hiring of veterans. And as you well know, there is veterans preference from a legal perspective that needs to be complied with.

We are the second-largest department behind the Department of Defense, with 30 percent of employment being veterans. And we absolutely believe in the merit system to begin with. I'm a strong supporter of the merit system, which surprised me when I came on board, coming from the private sector. However, I'm a firm believer that that needs to be there and to be maintained. And the other aspect of it, too, is that any preferences that we have as far as legislation is concerned needs to be followed to disability, age, whatever it might be -- needs to be followed.

So this accountability organization has been absolutely crucial. What it does, it checks every aspect, every function of human resources, not only from a recruiting standpoint, but from a classification standpoint, compensation, disciplinary action, it ensures compliance. Unfortunately, being the size that we are, 235,000 employees, and the dispersion that we have geographically as far as our locations are concerned, needless to say, this is a little bit difficult when you have a staff of 11. What we are doing though is, we're now training up the field staff, field human resource organizations, coming out of each one of our administrations -- that's Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration and National Cemetery Administration -- their human resources staff, to function as a team with us.

We've taken an integrated team approach. Those individuals that come from field operations will now be auditing their own facilities or even in their own administration. Therefore, we will have more capability to be able to do that. That's how we do it currently. We are anticipating automation. It will help us as far as system audits.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, you had mentioned some changes you had put into place to focus on the recruitment process. Maybe you could elaborate in a little bit more detail. And on a related matter, does the VA use flexible compensation strategies to attract and retain quality talent?

Mr. Pittman: To answer your question in reference to flexibility, the answer is yes. We extensively use such things as recruitment relocation and retention incentives. We use special rate ranges to attract and retain quality employees that possess mission-critical competencies. So we use all the flexibilities that OPM allows, and we use them very aggressively. The other aspect, too, in mentioning the recruitment strategies, when I first came onboard -- again, and it seems like everything that I have done is being matched by someone else from an initiative standpoint -- either the President or the OPM, so they are following me extremely well, by the way. But I will tell you, we needed help as far as our recruiting strategies, in reference to bringing people onboard.

Our analysis of the general schedule, the GS classifications, in the hiring of the general schedule employees was that we were exceeding in the neighborhood of 95 days to bring on a general schedule. From a Senior Executive Service onboard process, we were in the neighborhood of 220 days. So can you imagine? We're sitting here trying to compete with the private sector, and a private sector employee has been offered a job from us for the Senior Executive Service probably has gone to work for three or four companies during that 220-day period.

So you can just imagine the talent that we were losing. So what we ended up doing is we sought help from the Office of Personnel Management actually. And they have a process; it's called a hiring makeover. We asked them to come in and help us. We are an operational organization, so we don't have that much staff to sit back and assess, analyze. We have to operate an organization, and at the same time try to do these assessments. So OPM offered their services; we took advantage. They came in, and it was most beneficial. From a general schedule standpoint, taking a look at what we were doing and how we were bringing people onboard, we have now gone down to 38 days in reference to the onboard process for the general schedule, which also helps us as far as going green and maintaining our green status.

Also from the Senior Executive Service standpoint, we've reduced the 220 down to 98 days, and we're on our way to an objective of 45 days. Now, one aspect that we've done just recently is the utilization of USA Staffing. USA Staffing is an application of recruitment that also enhances and expedites the process of delegated examining units. So the delegating examining function, which actually rates and ranks applicants and their applications, takes into consideration the preferences and creates a certificate. It's done automatically through the automated USA Staffing approach.

So that's been most beneficial in impacting what we are doing. Now we are in the process of rolling that out. We have 800 licenses that we are going to be going after pretty soon through the Office of Personnel Management, which will help us again trying to bring that onboard process down to something manageable, and therefore not losing the talent as much as we have in the past, because competition with the private sector is just huge.

Mr. Morales: How is VA planning for its future staffing needs?

We will ask Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resource and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA, 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 Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

Allen, you talked about your movement to a 10-year plan. So as you look at this horizon, what types of personnel challenges do you think the VA will face?

Mr. Pittman: From a personnel challenge standpoint, if you're talking about human capital into the future, we have a huge challenge ahead of us. I'd just very briefly talk about succession planning. Obviously, you have to ensure that you have a flow of candidates for employment. That's absolutely crucial that we not only focus there but also understand what we are about in the lines of business that we're going to support in the future.

Again, mentioning our three administrations, if you know that VHA, Veterans Health Administration, is the largest component of our operating units and it is patient care-oriented, then that tells you pretty much the focus that we would have in reference to that administration. Doctors, nurses, health care professionals and health care technicians.

And we need to ensure that there is a constant flow, and we're taking steps to do that. We've developed, for example -- we're trying to brand ourselves within the minority community. It's an unusual approach; again, this is thinking outside the box. The private sector and the federal government typically go after anyone that they can recruit, but the most overlooked segment of our society happens to be the minorities. And that speaks very, very clearly. I mean, if you look at under-representation within the government, that speaks to where we are not getting candidates for employment from.

So why not become the brand within that minority community? I'll give you an example. We developed just recently and implemented in Puerto Rico a community prosperity partnership with one of the nation's largest Hispanic organizations, LULAC, and also the American GI Forum, which is a Hispanic veteran organization that's chartered by the federal government. And what the intent is is to look 10 years in the future and see what our job requirements are based upon the lines of business, the skills necessary to support those, and turn it right around and go into the Hispanic community through the storefronts that belong to American GI Forum and also LULAC; they're inviting us into their community.

The problem with our recruiting strategies typically is we don't understand the culture. So by working with them to develop those strategies, what we're doing is taking those job requirements into their youth development programs and developing that individual to where they are qualified for the job openings. The biggest barrier that we have is finding a qualified candidate for the job posting. So if we have a qualified candidate, that minimizes that barrier approach. Well, there's other approaches, too. Nursing; nursing shortages continue to happen. And it's not that there are not individuals that want to become nurses, the numbers are there. It's just that the nursing schools don't have the number of openings because they don't have enough instructors.

So therefore VA, has taken another unique approach. The Deputy suggested -- again thinking outside the box -- why doesn't VA have a nursing school, a national nursing school? Well, we're looking into that, so we can have people come to us. I also have been talking with the surgeon generals of the British Military Services. And they are very, very supportive of this. The allied health care professionals, for example, the non-nurses, non-physicians, those that have made the actual decision to separate from Service, why can't we bring them into our organization? Remember, we hire veterans. But also, we are bringing in qualified individuals.

If we had someone, for example, that was a hospital corpsman in the navy that wants to come to VA and become a nurse, we have a program where they can actually come in and we'll send them to a nursing school. We'll pay them 100 percent of their salary while they are going to school, and then whenever they get out of school, then they'll sign a contract with us for a number of years of service in order to pay us back for taking them through that process. But in talking with the military branches, they are wholeheartedly supportive of that. The one concern they have is that our program becomes so good that those individuals that were in the military or on the border, I mean on the edge of making decision whether staying in the military or leaving, that they may make the decision to leave or separate. So that's a concern we have is making sure we have a human capital for the future.

Mr. Morales: Along sort of the same lines, what challenges and adjustments do you foresee as a result of the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Mr. Pittman: There is a program that we have that's actually called Coming Home to Work Initiative. And for those young men and women, the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the theaters, that have been severely wounded or disabled, they typically would go through a process of rehabilitation assessment, for example, at Walter Reed -- or it could be Bethesda Naval or it could be in San Diego, it could be at Madigan in Seattle. There is a process they're going through where there's determination being made as to whether they can stay in the service, or unfortunately, from their perspective, being discharged.

And I would tell you, if you ask them, they want to stay in the service, they want to stay, and they actually want to go back to Afghanistan and Iraq. And it makes you so proud when you talk to them. But what we have is in the Coming Home to Work Initiative is actually a compensated work initiative. What that means is while they are going through rehabilitation and being paid by their military branch, by the Department of Defense, we have them come to work for us for 17 hours a week, and our one commitment is and the top priority is getting back for rehabilitation therapy. Any employment they had, we'll get them back. But what we're trying to do is during the 17-hour-a-week process, is to help them develop a new profession, a new occupation.

And we started that program about 2-1/2 years ago, and since that period of time, we have hired onboard with us -- mostly in information technology actually. It's about approximately 45 individuals, but we have more that's coming through the process itself. So we're trying to anticipate, from an employment perspective, those individuals coming back. From a network perspective, from a Veterans Health Administration standpoint, obviously we have health care needs also. And we're trying to adapt to that. And we're doing an extremely good job there. And particularly when it comes to brain injury and spinal code injuries, we actually have Centers of Excellence across the country, eight in number. And we're known now as a Center of Excellence for those severe injuries.

Mr. Thomas: Allen, I want to talk a little bit about technologies that are used in the Human Resources area. There's a lot of talk about commercial best practices, and certainly you have an interesting perspective coming in from the private sector. What emerging technologies do you think hold the most promise for improving federal human resource management?

Mr. Pittman: Well, I really think that what we need into the future is really what we are trying to do now through the HR lines of business. However, to take a step further, we need to have an opportunity to where we created a desktop management, human resources management approach for each manager and supervisor. If you look at the flexibility that we have by automating personnel files through the electronic official personnel file process under e-gov and also the human resource information system under the HR lines of business, the intent is to create an icon sitting on that desktop, that computer desktop, that not only sits there with the other icons you may have, like Word and et cetera, but to be able to tap into this icon that says H-R-I-S.

Now, through access rights to whatever applications may be within the human resources information system and also field rights, that supervisor -- as I had mentioned to you earlier, we have a Form 52 which is a manual process on an employee change of status of some sort -- if that supervisor wants to initiate an action, then they can just tap that icon, go into that -- the certain field of an application, fill out electronically that form and also transmit it -- if it requires upline management approval -- to transmit it.

It also has the learning management system that sits within it. For example, the individual development profiles of those employees that they supervise; what kind of training is necessary; what's necessary into the future? So it's to create a desktop approach that's absolutely essential for every manager in order to manage the workforce of tomorrow.

Mr. Morales: Allen, you have a tremendous passion for the business, and you started your career in the private sector and sort of had a variety of experiences. I'm curious and I'd love to learn, for those folks that are out there possibly thinking about a career in public service, what advice could you give them to get started?

Mr. Pittman: I think it's an honor to serve for the public, with the public, in any kind of opportunity that one may have, whether it's the federal government, state, local, could be the Peace Corps, could be the military. If one were to ask me 35 years ago what I would do for anyone coming out of high school, I would highly recommend having a two-year tour duty in public service. And I'll say the Peace Corps again, or it could be the military. I happen to be one of those individuals coming out of a process to where I was a little bit on the wild side, and I needed to have an understanding of a little bit more discipline in my life.

And what I understood in the military, as an example -- and this happens in public service, it's not about I, it's about we. It's a team. You cannot move anything to an outcome unless you have others to help you and to be part of that team approach. And just by the mere fact that you know that you're giving back to your community in one form or another, truly, truly excites me day-in and day-out.

Some say this is a sacrifice. This is not a sacrifice; it's an honor.

Mr. Morales: Great, that is fantastic. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule, but more importantly, Solly and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country and our veterans.

Mr. Pittman: Thank you very much. Again, I would just like to emphasize, if one has the opportunity for public service, please serve. I can't miss this opportunity to say something about Veterans Affairs; the Veterans Health Administration itself. If you have been reading anything about the VA over the course of the last two years, you now know that the Veterans Health Administration has the highest quality outcomes of any health care distributing system in the world. It's known for its quality care. What a change.

And our Secretary has a tendency -- Secretary Nicholson has a tendency of saying this is the best story never told. And that's true. We're taking an approach now that every opportunity we have, like I do now, to talk about Veterans Affairs, talk about not only medical care, but the Veterans Benefits Administration, and also the shrines that we have for those veterans that are going be laid to rest.

And again, thank you very much. Again, it's an honor to be here and it's an honor to talk about the Veterans Affairs Department.

Mr. Morales: And it is a wonderful story.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Allen Pittman, Assistant Secretary for Human Resource and Administration, and Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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 conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

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

For The Business of Government Hour, I am Albert Morales.

Thank you for listening.

Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady interview

Friday, October 20th, 2006 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"Our job is to make sure that we have the right airmen with the right skills in the right place at the right time."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 10/21/2006
Intro text: 
In this interview, Brady discusses: the Air Force's transformation strategy; Force development initiative; Personnel Services Delivery (PSD) initiative; National Security Personnel System (NSPS); Supporting Air Force families; and the Air Force's organizational...
In this interview, Brady discusses: the Air Force's transformation strategy; Force development initiative; Personnel Services Delivery (PSD) initiative; National Security Personnel System (NSPS); Supporting Air Force families; and the Air Force's organizational culture.
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, October 21, 2006

Washington, D.C.

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

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Lt. General Roger Brady, Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel, United States Air Force.

Good morning, General.

LTG Brady: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Bob Bleimeister, partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

Good morning, Bob.

Mr. Bleimeister: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: General, can you tell us about the mission of your office and how it supports the mission of the Department and the Air Force specifically?

LTG Brady: Well, as much as it might seem like a clich�, we like to say that our job is to make sure that we have the right airmen with the right skills in the right place at the right time. That's important for the Air Force; obviously for the individual as well. But we support Air Force commanders, and by extension also combatant commanders around the world, in the variety of missions that airpower is assigned.

Mr. Morales: General, can you give our listeners a sense of scope and scale, how big is the Air Force in terms of military personnel, Reserve civilians; how big is the manpower budget and how big is the overall personnel community?

LTG Brady: Well, it's rather large. When you add civilians and all the components that you talked about, active Guard and Reserve, about 700,000 people. About 350,000 of that is active, about 75,000 Reserves, 105,000 Guard and about 160,000 civilians. So it's a large enterprise of very talented people.

Mr. Bleimeister: General, could you focus a little on your role as Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel, and tell us more about your specific responsibilities?

LTG Brady: Yes, I'm responsible at the headquarters Air Force level. I guess you'd think of it as corporate headquarters in the civilian context for the Air Force's policy on education, training, development, benefits, compensation, also services; the services that we provide our people on bases for family support and recreation as well as manpower. We kind of handle a lot of the cultural issues of the Air Force, like we do uniforms and things of that nature, and currently, we're -- as you may have heard, we're working on a rather significant personnel reduction within the Air Force, which occupies a lot of our effort at the moment.

Mr. Bleimeister: You've had a pretty lengthy career. Could you give us some highlights of that, and perhaps what some of the most important things you did that may have prepared you for this role?

LTG Brady: Well, I think -- I'm not sure that anything prepares you for this role, actually, but I started out during the Vietnam era. I in fact went toVietnam as an intelligence officer, as a lieutenant, then later went to pilot training and flew in the mobility world for a number of years. Also, I was a training command instructor -- pilot training instructor for a long time. I've served in plans jobs, in acquisition and maintenance, personnel operations for many years. So I've seen a wide spectrum of the Air Force.

Mr. Morales: General, I'm curious, you mentioned earlier you have about 700,000 personnel in total in the Air Force community. About how many individuals are in your organization that service those 700,000 people?

LTG Brady: I have a little over 200 people here at Air Force headquarters, but then I have -- we also execute the assignment system for the Air Force, which is -- unlike most industries you would see, we move -- transfer about 160,000 of our people every year, and that execution process is accomplished by an organization in San Antonio that's another 2,500 people. That's our personnel center, and they're kind of the execution arm of Air Force personnel policy.

Mr. Morales: That's a large number. You surely don't see numbers like that in the private sector.

LTG Brady: That's rather large.

Mr. Morales: Great. You talked about some of your earlier experiences going back to the Vietnam War. How have these experiences, such as being a command pilot involved in a variety of major deployments, prepared you for your current role, responsible for Air Force manpower and personnel issues?

LTG Brady: Well, I think the most -- as I look back on my career, I don't think anybody planned back in the late '60s for me to be the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. But as it happens, I have a great background for doing this because I've seen so many parts of the Air Force. Obviously, being an aviator I think teaches you lots of intangibles about situational awareness and knowing what's critical and what's not and what decisions have to be made now and what decisions could be made later. But I think specifically for this job, I have pretty good familiarity with a lot of the different -- as we like to call them -- a lot of the different tribes in the Air Force, the different functional communities, and so they have a different kind of -- sometimes a thought process, cultures within the Air Force culture, and an awareness of those is very helpful in dealing with them in what can be very personal and sometimes emotional issues.

Mr. Morales: Well, I've got to expect with 700,000 people, it's probably several cultures within an organization of that size.

LTG Brady: Yes, there are -- there are.

Mr. Morales: Excellent.

How is the Air Force transforming, maintaining and shaping its force structure? We will ask Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel, 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 Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel.

Also joining us on our conversation is Bob Bleimeister, partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

General, many pressing issues have required the United States Armed Forces to reassess and transform the way they operate to properly meet future challenges. Could you give us an overview of the Air Force's transformation strategy?

LTG Brady: Sure, I'd love to, but let me first spend just a moment telling you the environment that we are in that makes this transformation critical. We find ourselves in a situation, as you can well appreciate, fighting the Global War on Terrorism, which we refer to as The Long War. It's going to go on certainly for the rest of our careers, if not the rest of our lives, we anticipate.

So we have to win that war. We also have to be prepared for the next war, whatever that is. And so we find ourselves with a very high tempo operations tempo. We find ourselves with operating costs that are very high, and there is not much flex there because the tempo is so high, and we find ourselves flying very old equipment; the oldest equipment we have ever flown -- the most effective equipment in the world but old -- 23 years old on average -- we'll be over 30 years old, even if we get everything we are trying to buy in the next few years.

So we are way behind in our investment strategy, and people -- as any business will tell you, the cost is going out of sight, particularly health care. So where is our flex? We need to look at our portfolio of human capital and see what we can do there to be more effective, because we can't affect our operating tempo; we have to win. And if we don't want to fly 75-year-old airplanes, we've got to find a capability to recapitalize ourselves.

And so our flex is in people, and we also have to get -- people are our most important asset, and when I say that, you would ask, well, then why are you getting rid of them? I say because they are very valuable, but at the same time, they are very expensive. And the people we have have to be the most flexible, the most educated, the most appropriately trained, and we have to maintain the capability to sustain the benefit -- the benefits that our people have had over the years and have come to expect and deserve, including health care, et cetera.

So we cannot afford to have too many people. We got to have the right number. And so that brings us to the transformation that led to a reduction of some 40,000 full-time equivalents in our people over the next few years, which gets me to your question of strategy. What's the strategy for doing that? Well, again, warfighting is job one. If you do nothing else, you got to win the war. You can't get to be second place in our business. So we're focused on warfighting skills and those capabilities that deploy forward.

We then worked ourselves back from the deployed locations and said, okay, what does it take to sustain the institution, and as you go further back, what does it take to sustain garrison locations, and look at how efficient we are there. We do not want to take risk forward. We will manage risk in the rear, in CONUS, which drives us to seeing how efficient we can be in our organization and our processes, and the use of our very precious human capital resource to affect the future and to be as good and better than we have been in the past.

Mr. Morales: General, you alluded to these reductions in manpower, and I believe you alluded to the program name AFSO21, which stands for the Air Force Smart Operations 21. With all of these reductions and this change, what do you expect the impact to be on the corps airmen and women, especially those that remain?

LTG Brady: Well, I think that we're going to have -- as I said, we're going to have to use our people more efficiently, more effectively. Now, if we don't change the way we do things -- I mean, we can't just expect people to run faster. So we have to help our people learn to work smarter, and that's what AFSO21 is about. Air Force Smart Operations 21 is a combination of all those great management process improvement efforts that have been successful in industry and within the Air Force, such as lean initiatives and things of that nature, so that we can use the people that we have more effectively, help them work smarter and not harder to get the job done. And in many ways, we will broaden the capabilities of our people. We want to enhance their educations in every way that's appropriate, and I think we will make many of the jobs that our people have much more fulfilling. We will expect more of them, but we will prepare them to meet the challenge, and they will.

Mr. Bleimeister: General, given the reductions you've talked about, what actions are being taken to make sure that's the right number, and the shape of the force, once that reduction is taken, meets what you need to do for your strategy?

LTG Brady: Well, we have a -- as you know, we have a volunteer force, which is a huge challenge over time. It's the force we want. 100 percent of our people want to be with us, but they can also leave when their tour of duty is up, if they want to. So we have to be on top of taking care of our people, and we have to have some good analytics that tells us historically what our people are going to do -- you know, we always say it's easy to make personnel policy, but you don't always know how your people are going to respond to it in a voluntary environment.

So we have a very rich history, career field by career field, specialty by specialty of how a career field tends to behave over time, how it relates to market forces, et cetera, and obviously, this is -- I have to tell you, there is a lot of science involved, but it's frankly more art than science in my view. But we have a lot of people who have a lot of talent in this regard to determine, you know, what the force will look like, what it takes to maintain a certain force.

Some of our highly skilled technical people, for example, are the same people that are greatly valued in the outside world. So you find yourself having to perhaps recruit more of those kinds of people, because they tend to not retain as long because there are other attractive opportunities for them. So throughout your force, you have to look at all of those things to make sure that you have the right number of folks, and that you retain the right number of folks for the future to have your force structure look right.

Mr. Bleimeister: A lot of alternatives to work with, but you still have to meet mandated end strength targets each year. For our listeners, end strength refers to the limit set by Congress on the number of people the military can have on active duty.

General, how did you do on end strength in FY '06 as far as those targets went?

LTG Brady: Yes, at the end of fiscal year '06, which ends, of course, at the end of September, and we will -- we came in about 6,000 under, and that's good because we are going down. We're coming down at about 20,000 people in fiscal year '07, so being 6,000 ahead at this point is a good thing. So we would like to stay within one to two percent of our authorized end strength. Given that we are in a reduction mode, we are pretty happy with where we are at the moment.

Mr. Bleimeister: And will normal conditions get you to the '07 number, or are you going to have to implement other force-shaping actions? In the past, things like reduction boards have been held.

LTG Brady: Right. We will do some of that. We have greatly relaxed the requirements for people to get out in terms of -- we've expanded their opportunity to leave if they want to. We've relaxed some of the requirements to serve out commitments that they've made in the past. Career field by career field, as I implied earlier, you know how many people you need in each year group, because at the Air Force, unlike a civilian business, we can't go to another company and hire somebody of a certain grade, certain skill level and certain rank.

So all of our people are all homegrown, so we have to pay attention year group by year group to how big that force is. And so you know how many people you want to leave in each year group. We will provide some monetary incentives and some voluntary separation pay for some year groups, and for people who are already retirement-eligible; in other words, those people at 20 years and out, there will be a selective early retirement board. And again, we will allow some of those people to, who might not be eligible to retirement by virtue of a recent promotion, we've relaxed those rules as well. So we've tried to put together a portfolio, and with the help of the Congress, we are getting the authorities we need to shape our force by a combination of methods.

Mr. Morales: It sounds like there's many levers that you can actuate to meet those goals. I'm not going to ask you which is more complicated, doing that or flying an airplane, although I think many of our listeners may be interested in that answer.

In addition to maintaining and shaping the active duty force, we understand that you also spend a fair amount of time focusing on some of the specialties between the regular, the Air National Guard, the Reserve components as well the civilian components and the contractors, and this is usually described as the total force. Could you describe some of the total force initiatives being pursued to ensure that this balance such as Blue to Green and Palace Chase, among others?

LTG Brady: Right, yes. And I'm glad you mentioned the total force. We are extremely proud of all the components of our force. Our civilians are just absolutely top notch, and our Guard and Reserve are absolutely second to none. They are maintained -- we maintain them at exactly the same level of proficiency as the active force, and when we go forward there -- it's absolutely transparent as to who they are. You wouldn't be able to tell a Guardsman from an active duty from a Reservist.

So they are very critical to that. So we look at -- as you imply, we look at what size we needed those components to be. A lot of our young people that leave us from active duty will look for opportunities in the Guard and Reserve, and there are some opportunities for them to do that, because we need to keep them robust. We are also looking at opportunities for people who are perhaps in skill sets that are overmanned to stay with us as civilians, and there is some opportunity for people to do that and to stay in government service. So you're exactly right, we do pay attention to the size of each component and where those reductions are taken.

Mr. Morales: So it's really a very large portfolio management process in terms of managing the blends of all these characters of people?

LTG Brady: Yes, it is.

Mr. Morales: Excellent.

How is the Air Force personnel function specifically being transformed? We will ask Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel, to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel.

Also joining us on our conversation is Bob Bleimeister, partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

General, force shaping and reductions are only part of the equation. The Air Force is involved in numerous force development programs as well. What is its fundamental purpose of the force development initiative, and can you provide an overview of some of the initiative programs in place to enhance force development, such as the International Affairs Specialist Program.

LTG Brady: The fundamental purpose of force development is to deliberately connect education, training and experience with the goal to be, as I said from the very outset, producing the right number of airmen and with the right competencies at the right time. And recall what I said earlier about we can't hire somebody off the street, you know, mid-level in their career. So we grow our own. So the development part of the personnel business, the human resources business in the Air Force, is absolutely critical to us. And so through the force development initiatives, we want to deliberately develop a cadre' of airmen equipped to tackle our toughest challenges.

Now, before we instituted force development, frankly, it was more ad hoc. Members accrued the right sets of skills eventually, but most of the time the skills were required outside of a formal system, and perhaps sometimes even in spite of the formal system. So force development in its latest iteration, which began about 10 years ago actually, started with a realization that at some times at our most senior levels, our people were too stovepiped.

In other words, their background was too narrow, and so we had very senior people who were very deep in a particular part of the Air Force -- operations or maintenance or whatever -- and yet we needed them and their expertise in a broader set of skills. So the initial effort began with this realization, and the desire perhaps to develop along the way some second competencies for people. A primary competency perhaps and a secondary competency.

And that has become even more important as we find space operations becoming even more important, and now, of course, cyberspace operations. So we need a set of leaders and certainly mid-level people who understand the operational and the strategic level of war and can operate in the different media, the domains that we operate in airspace and cyberspace. So our efforts are along that, with that side picture.

Now, in terms of specific efforts, what we look at is, young airmen and young officers come into the force, and initially their focus is on technical competency and what you might call an occupational skill. But as they get further into the career, we need to broaden them so that they see more of the operation, so they understand how their particular specialty contributes to the overall joint effort within Air Force and with other services.

So when we do that then, we focus on education, we focus on training in schools in which you put all of these people together and they gain a renewed respect for the different talents that are in the Air Force, and they learn how to bring all the different talents of the Air Force to bring to bear combat capabilities that are required. And we have -- we send people to school. We spend a lot of money educating our people.

We send them to a school called Squadron Officer School, for example, at about the four-year point. Now, these are captains, essentially. We then have an intermediate school, when people have made major, and that's at about the 10-, 11-, 12-year point. We bring them -- and that's where they learn more about command and staff. In fact, we have a school called the Air Command and Staff College. Then they go usually and have their first command, squadron command, or go to a staff position. And they will come later to a senior development opportunity at our Air War College, et cetera, where they learn more about the operational art of war, and how you bring all the forces together.

These people are lieutenant colonels and colonels, and they've been in the Air Force around 20 years by this point. So we then continue even after people -- those people who go on and perhaps become general officers and senior leaders in our Air Force, we provide them educational opportunities within the Air Force and also in the civilian world so that we can be as broad as we need to be, at the same time be technically proficient.

Mr. Bleimeister: And how are you aligning these programs to support joint officer requirements as well?

LTG Brady: That's a very good question. As you may know, there was an act passed, I believe in 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which required -- which dictated joint service -- service in joint assignments with other services at certain times in your career, particularly for those individuals who were going to rise to general officer rank, to flag rank. And so there are times in your career -- that usually comes about the time, for most people, at the major, lieutenant colonel realm -- between, you know, 10 and 15 years, that's about the time that you would get into joint assignments.

And that's where you learn a great deal about not only your own mission, you bring to that effort the expertise of an airman, and so the services provide interdependent competencies that are unique to that service. And we feed the joint fight that way to be what we are, which is the best military in the world. So joint experience gives -- exposes our people to that environment where we see all the competencies of the services and the unique capabilities that they have to come together to perform a mission.

Mr. Morales: General, obviously you are making large investments in people, and whether you are in the public service or even in the private sector, you lose very talented people with critical skills at any given point in time. How do you go about correcting these potential skill imbalances, especially as a result of trying to drive towards a particular end strength requirement?

LTG Brady: Well, as I said earlier, first of all, we have some experience with what the retention rates you might say are -- how good we are at retaining different kinds of skill sets. Now occasionally, the economy will throw us a curve on that, but we have pretty good indications year-in, year-out on what people are going to do in the different skill sets. And quite frankly, we have some skill sets that are very difficult to retain because they have -- people have, with the skill sets, have lots of options. But we are able to deal with that now. As you get more senior, we are able to use people more broadly, so specific technical expertise becomes less -- relatively less important than managerial skills and leadership skills.

So as we get more senior, we can use people a lot more broadly, and we typically, just like industry would do -- you know, you might move a CEO from one company to another, where he really knows nothing about the business, but he understands business. It's the same in the Air Force; you can move many times a colonel or a general officer from one portion of the business to another, where he may not have a specific technical tactical expertise, but he or she understands the Air Force and how things fit together in the fight, and the leadership skills and certainly the talent of the people below you make you successful.

Mr. Bleimeister: General, I'd like to shift our discussion to the personnel function and the personnel organization. We understand there is a lot of transformation being worked with the organization itself called an initiative, Personnel Services Delivery. Could you tell us about PSD and what some of the goals are?

LTG Brady: Certainly. And this is perhaps one of the most challenging things that we've done, certainly in the personnel community, in a long time. To be quite candid, personnel services, or HR, as your audience might be more familiar with, in the Air Force has been and still is to a large degree very much a hands-on operation. If you want something done with your payroll, if you want something -- if you need to talk about benefits, if you want to talk about your next assignment, if you want to talk about another training opportunity, in the Air Force, you can go talk to a human being.

You can go talk to someone. And that's both good and bad, because in many cases, it means you leave your job, you get in your car, you drive across base, you find a person who knows something about what you want to talk about. It's very much hands-on. About 90 percent of our operations are hands-on. In the civilian world -- industry have kind of moved away from that model long ago.

So our challenge that we find ourselves in is how do we do that more efficiently without losing the personal touch and taking care of people? So we have really gone to school with looking at a lot of the civilian world and how HR has done, and so we are looking at how we use call centers, how we transform our processes so that we can reach back from overseas to get thing done. How people could go online and take care of a lot of the purely transactional things that have to do with personnel. If they need to change allotments in their pay, if they want to volunteer for an assignment, if they want to retire for that matter, they can now do that online.

They don't have to get in their car, drive across base, find a parking spot, et cetera, et cetera. So what this means is our personnelists, HR in civilian terms, our specialists in the human capital, are now going to be focusing less on transactional activities and more on being advisors to commanders as to how to train, develop, and take care of their people. So this means, quite frankly, that you are going to need fewer personnelists then we've had in the past, but I think it also means that it's going to be a richer job.

Something that is different in the Air Force that will not change, different from much of the civilian community, is again that cradle-to-grave business we have with our people. And so a large part of human resources in the Air Force is cradle-to-grave development of our people, and so a large part will be advising and being strategic advisors to commanders about how we take care of and mentor, evaluate, motivate, et cetera, our people. So I think it's an exciting possibility.

But it's changed, which means it's challenging, people view it with some suspicion sometimes, some fear, perhaps, a little uneasiness about something that is that significant -- because it's a very significant change in what personnelists have traditionally done in the Air Force. But our folks are starting to embrace it, and I think it's going to do great things for our people and for our Air Force.

Something that's very interesting about this is that the change is also generational. Those of us who are a little older in the force and were around before computers came -- as I like to say -- were used to having our hands held by personnelists. So it's a more difficult change for us to take care of ourselves online or in a call center. But the younger generation has never known anything but that, and so they are eager for it. So it's an interesting challenge, as you relate to the different generations in the Air Force, as to how we take on this issue.

Mr. Bleimeister: So it sounds like the personnel field isn't exempt from the reductions and force shaping initiatives that are going on?

LTG Brady: No. Absolutely not.

Mr. Bleimeister: And what about -- are there initiatives to better integrate from a total force perspective how you manage civilians, Reservists, even the contractor work force --

LTG Brady: Absolutely. In fact, we use our civilians and we use our Air National Guard and our Reserves interchangeably with active duty. And that means that you've go to be as consistent as you can in how you manage those people. So what we are looking at is, as part of our transformation, is when we transform a process, an end-to-end global process -- and because, as I said -- because we move about a third of our people every year, we have to have global processes, because if you move from here to Germany to Japan in your functional community, you need -- we don't want to have to retrain you every time you go there. So it's very important that we have global end-to-end processes.

And when we change a process, unless there is a legal or statutory or Secretary of Defense directive that requires that we treat a component differently, those processes need to be the same. So that's a change for us, but we will work through that. So unless there is a bona fide reason to do something differently in one component from another, we won't.

Mr. Morales: General, we've talked a lot about the focus on the core of the Air Force, and you talked about the 106,000 deployments that occur every year. With these ongoing deployment demands, I'm curious, how are you helping the airmen and their families maintain a total life balance? Are there any key initiatives focused on supporting the Air Force family?

LTG Brady: Now, that's great, that's a great question. It's long been understood in the U.S. military that you recruit the member but you retain the family. And regardless of how happy the military member may be, if the family is not, you're eventually going to lose that person. So families are absolutely critical to us, and unlike a military of generations before us, we are largely a married force. So we are principally a family organization.

So yes, we are. We have great programs in our airmen and family support centers that provide support to people when -- to their families, when they are gone. We have great programs where the individual is left behind, the spouse and family that's left behind, we stay in contact with them. They can always rely upon the service for support. We have sponsored programs that do that. We have capabilities to provide child care for people, to give spouses a break.

We have a very robust program when we reintegrate people back into a family after a deployment. Sometimes separations do interesting things to family relationships, and so if there are challenges or frictions, when that happens, we follow up with people and we do -- we stay in contact with people so that we can provide families whatever support they need, and so there just lots of effort that goes in to make sure that we take care of the entire family unit.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.

How will innovative change shape the Air Force of the future? We will ask Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel, to discuss this with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Lt. General Roger Brady, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel.

Also joining us on our conversation is Bob Bleimeister, partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

General, as you look over the next 10 years, what type of personnel concerns do you think the Air Force will face?

LTG Brady: Well, I think there are a couple of challenges as we go forward. We are becoming more and more a technical force. We always have been on the leading edge of technology. But as we go into space and cyberspace, and as we operate in those domains, as equipment becomes more technically oriented, we -- that requires a skill set of people, that requires us to have really good people and to continue to develop, educate, and train them and provide them with a wide variety of experiences. We also find ourselves operating around the world in coalition environments. We need to understand whoever the hostile force is, in a cultural sense.

We also need to understand our partners; our coalition partners, and we will inevitably go to war in the future with coalition partners, as we have -- as we are now and as we have in the recent past. So continuing to develop our people to operate effectively, both in terms of the interface with the technology that we have and the equipment that we have, and also with our coalition partners will be increasingly important to us. And we're placing great focus on that.

Mr. Morales: General, in our time, we haven't had a chance to discuss in too much detail the BRAC and QDR, but I am curious -- how is Personnel and Manpower involved in helping ensure seamless transition to some of the new structures and missions while preserving its unique vital capabilities?

LTG Brady: Well, that's a great question. And obviously, when you move people around and you have units move as we have had associated with the Base Realignment and Closure activity, you have missions that change, you have particularly -- Guard and Reserve, you'll have units change missions. So you've got a lot of people that you've got to train for the -- retrain for the new mission. So there are challenges there.

And as we -- as we draw down also, as I said earlier, we have a reduced manpower pool, but at the same time, we have a mission that's demanding as ever. So that means that we have to pay even more attention than we have in the past -- what we call our tooth-to-tail ratio. So you've got to look at your management structures, because management structure's our tail. And so we have to look and see to make sure that within our processes at every level of the organization, we don't have redundancy in the things that we do.

And as we like to say, we can't have checkers checking checkers. And so a lot of work that we're doing is to make sure that our process is aligned and then we cut out as much redundancy as we can, and we make our organizations as flat as we can.

Mr. Bleimeister: General, I would like to shift to another force of change; the National Security Personnel System, NSPS. Can you give us your -- that will impact the civilian workforce. Can you give us your understanding of NSPS and how you think it will impact the Air Force civilian workforce and your own organization?

LTG Brady: Yes, NSPS is critically important to us. Our civilians are absolutely vital to everything that we do, and we're using them more and more, in fact, right up to a general officer level, and in many cases we're using them interchangeably with general officers, which gives us great flexibility in our general officer corps.

But what NSPS does -- unlike the system that we now live under, NSPS will give us the flexibility to reassign people more easily. It will give us the capability to reward our best people. It greatly cuts down on the bureaucracy associated with skill levels and reclassification of jobs and things like that that make reassignment of people painful for everyone; for the individual, for the organization, et cetera.

I think it will be a great boon to our people. It allows us to move our people around more easily and identify our best people with greater precision, and give people the development that they need so that those civilians who want to serve at higher levels have the capability to get development to do that. So I think it's a wonderful initiative and we're trying very hard to implement it now, and it will pay us great dividends, both to the institution and the people.

Mr. Bleimeister: Organizations going through large scale change like you're going through often conflict with the current culture of the organization. How do you think the Air Force will adapt culturally over the next coming years as this change is implemented?

LTG Brady: Well, we like to believe that we're the most adaptive of all military folks, but you raise an important question. We are a large organization, and some would say a large bureaucracy, and that's true. However, we're an organization that is used to change. We have been, for example, operating in the deserts of Southwest Asia since August of 1990, constantly. So a lot of our people have seen the sandbox.

And when you do that, from the people who have come from the various parts of the Air Force and perhaps grow up in a particular functional area, all of that -- to even a greater degree than at home base, gets melded together, because you are focused on a absolutely critical mission, you live together, you eat together, you work together, and there is a great bonding of airmen in that experience. You gain an incredible appreciation for what the services people do, for what the personnelists do, for what the fighter pilots do, for what the aircraft maintainers do. And if you didn't have that appreciation before, you come away from that experience understanding that it takes all of us to make this work.

So I think we're looking forward to this challenge. And it is change, and because we're humans, we tend to resist change, and change is difficult, but at the same time, I think we've proven over many years that change is something that we can accomplish and we'll thrive in this environment.

Mr. Morales: General, your passion has given us a window into the exciting personnel transformation going on in the Air Force. What advice can you give to a person who is interested in a career in public service, especially in the military? And finally General, what do you say to a young enlisted Lieutenant Airman about the career opportunities and climate of the Air Force in the future?

LTG Brady: I think we would like to say that we have a rich heritage and we have an endless horizon. We're a force that operates in air and space and cyberspace. It is the ultimate high ground. There are incredible challenges. We ask our young people how can we do things better, and they tell us. There is great opportunity for people who want to serve a cause that's greater than themselves. And it is an exciting place to be.

And when you go forward and particularly -- you go to the most difficult, what might be the seemingly most difficult place to serve in our Air Force, you will find the highest morale among our people, because they know they're serving a cause that's greater than themselves. They have come to trust, rely on, and respect each other. It's a wonderful thing to see. It's a very rich life, it's a very demanding life.

I think that many Americans -- young Americans are going to continue to want to do this. We need very talented people who are willing to serve this country and be a part of something very important. And so I think there is great opportunity across a whole array of educational backgrounds and skill sets, men and women -- women have done an incredible job in our force. They represent about 20 percent of our force now, almost, and they're involved in virtually everything that we do and are succeeding marvelously. It's an absolutely -- a great team to be a part of and I'm excited every time my -- every day I come to work to be with great young people -- and they're looking younger and younger to me -- but to be with young people who want to succeed, who want the Air Force to succeed, and want to serve this nation, it's very gratifying.

Mr. Morales: General, that's fantastic. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule today, but more importantly, Bob and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country in the various roles you've held in the United States Air Force.

LTG Brady: Thank you very much. And again, thank you for having me here. I always relish the opportunity to talk about our Air Force and the great young men and women who make it such a great institution.

Mr. Morales: Thank you. This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Lt. General Roger Brady of the United States Air Force.

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

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

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

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