Six Practical Steps to Improve Contracting

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Linda Jacobs Washington: Supporting Mission-Critical Operations

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Elaine C. Duke: Supporting a Dynamic Mission

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The creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security(DHS) represents one of the largest reorganizations in governmentsince World War II. Its mission consists of five priorities:

Admiral Thad W. Allen interview

Friday, February 23rd, 2007 - 20:00
"I think the Coast Guard has got it right in our core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 02/24/2007
Intro text: 
Admiral Allen was selected by U.S. News & World Report as one of the 20 best leaders in 2005 for its America's Best Leaders issue.In this radio show interview, Allen discusses the: History and mission of the U.S. Coast Guard; U.S. Coast Guard's integration...
Admiral Allen was selected by U.S. News & World Report as one of the 20 best leaders in 2005 for its America's Best Leaders issue.
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, November 11, 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 at the web at

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 Admiral Thad Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Good morning Admiral.

Mr. Allen: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And also joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Dave Abel, director of homeland security services.

Good morning, Dave.

Mr. Abel: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, perhaps you could share with us a bit of the rich and proud history of the United States Coast Guard as it celebrate its 216th anniversary as one of the oldest U.S. government agencies. Can you tell us who founded the Coast Guard, and how has it evolved into the critical component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security?

Mr. Allen: Well, the Coast Guard was really the brain child of Alexander Hamilton. And you can first find a reference to a Coast-Guard-like entity actually in the Federalist Papers, where he states that a few vessels stationed at the entrance to our rivers and bays would at very small expense be useful sentinels of the laws.

When the first Treasury Department was formed in 1789, and he was the Secretary of the Treasury, he envisioned a fleet of cutters that would enforce the new tariffs that were being applied to help us pay off the war debt. There was a lot of British smuggling going on at the time. So on August 4, 1790, there was legislation approved that would authorize the building of the cutters, and we take that as the starting date of the Coast Guard. We were the first Customs officers, and during the period in the late 1790s when we had disbanded the Continental Navy we were the only maritime force that the country had. And so we when had a quasi-war with France, our cutters were the line ships for the fledgling government. So right at the earliest possible time in our history we really started out as a dual character service. We were a member of the Armed Forces, the Naval Service. And we were also a federal law enforcement agency, and we are unique in the world in that regard.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, you talk about this uniqueness of having both the dual military and law enforcement status. Could you elaborate a little bit on the scope of your multi-mission agency? How is it organized, and tell us how large the Coast Guard is, and give us a sense of the scale.

Mr. Allen: Well, we're not very big. With our military members and our civilians we're anywhere between 45,000 and 50,000. We have 8,000 selected reservists. We have about 36,000 volunteers, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which are terrific and help us out a lot. But the basic -- I would call it the organizational genius of the Coast Guard is the fact that without having to have a bunch of different agencies do different jobs, we have one agency that can shift its focus and its people and its capability and its platforms to do a specific job one day, and then a different job the next day.

I recently visited Canada, and we had a summit with the Canadian Coast Guard, and they do search and rescue and law enforcement up there. But to meet all the different entities that do the jobs that we do down in United States, we had to meet with Transport Canada, the Department of Public Safety, and their military. So if you can imagine being able to cover all those different types of roles in a single agency, you don't have to build all those different agencies. That's our economic model that we offer to the government. We think we're pretty good value.

Mr. Morales: At first brush folks may think of the Coast Guard as having a domain immediately around the United States, but in fact you have a worldwide purview.

Mr. Allen: Especially as it relates to defense operations and our law enforcement capabilities. For instance, we have authority and jurisdiction over U.S. flag vessels anywhere they might be in the world for the purpose of enforcing U.S. law. And as we speak this morning we have patrol boats deployed in the Persian Gulf that are protecting the oil platforms off of Iraq which are their major source of revenue right now.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, let's talk a little bit about your specific responsibility as the 23rd Commandant of the Coast Guard. Can you tell us a little about your role within the organization?

Mr. Allen: Well, I'm the Chief Executive Officer. This is more like an aquatic holding company in some regards. We do search and rescue law enforcement. We deal with Homeland Security issues. We do polar ice breaking. Managing that portfolio and making sure you have the resources to be ready to do that and also to be mission effective is probably my number one job. And it takes a little bit of understanding, as far as how you run the organization, to know how to balance those various mission requirements that are on you, and make wise decisions on the allocation of resources as our field commanders have to do when they're deciding where they're going to put their cutter patrol hours. But I would say managing that portfolio of all of the tasks we have on the water is probably job one.

Mr. Morales: The Coast Guard is within the Department of Homeland Security. So you also have a relationship with the leadership in the departmental over all. Can you tell us a little bit about the nature of that role as well?

Mr. Allen: Sure. The way the department is organized, they have what they call operating components. And that would be like the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection and so forth. And then they have departmental entities like the under secretary for science and technology, the under secretary for management. So there are two lines that report to the deputy secretary and the secretary. The deputy and the assistant secretaries, and then the component commanders, there are seven of us. We call ourselves the gang of seven. And we have a direct reporting relationship with Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, and Secretary Chertoff.

Mr. Morales: That's great. Admiral, the Coast Guard has a strong reputation for leadership development, a long history of being in to develop strong leaders in government. Can you give the listeners a sense of your career path, and how the Coast Guard helped you to be able to develop your leadership skills?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think every job I've had in the Coast Guard has involved increasing responsibilities and exposure to leadership opportunities. In a way, the best way we can help the Coast Guard is to grow leaders, because we put people in leadership positions much, much earlier than a lot of the other services do. Junior officers coming off their first assignment on a ship can be assigned as commanding officers of patrol boats. We have pilots qualified very, very young; they're out there flying. And we put a lot of responsibility on folks' shoulders early on in their career. That's good, and that's bad. It's good in that we get them seasoned early on, and by the time they mid-grade and senior officers they've had a lot of operational experiences. The bad part is we've got to make sure that the organization is doing its part in preparing those folks to meet those responsibilities, and that's a tremendous challenge for us. The way we do that, we've developed 21 basic leadership competencies, and whether we're talking about enlisted personnel or cadets at the Coast Guard Academy or officers coming in through OCS, we try and train and teach to those 21 leadership competencies.

Mr. Morales: So how critical are the concepts of strategic intent and mission focus in this leadership approach?

Mr. Allen: Well, one of the things I'm trying to do as commandant is trying to get us to focus a little bit more strategically, and kind of look up over the dashboard to the horizon a little bit. One of the things I tell my folks -- and it's very, very easy to fall into this trap in Washington, as we get caught up in what I call the tyranny of the present. Those are the data calls, the questions for the record, the preparations for hearings, all the budget submissions that just pervade our daily life around here. And you get so caught up in the annual budget cycle, the annual hearing cycle, that it's hard to kind of lift your head up, look over the horizon, and see where you're going.

Since I was a one star Admiral back in 1998 and 1999 working for Jim Loy, who ultimately became the commandant, we have been trying to create a way to have officers think more strategic about the context the Coast Guard is in in government, what we are trying to do, and make decisions with strategic intent. If you think about it, when you enlist somebody in the Coast Guard, you're potentially making a 30-year decision. And I don't think we always realize that day with everything else that's going on, that we're laying out, where the organization is likely to be that far down the line. And I think when you take a small step, you ought to know the general direction we're moving towards. So I've stressed to the greatest extent possible to my flag officers and the folks who work for me that we have to develop the competencies in our senior leaders to think more strategically, and then when you're dealing with budget or anything else, you need to source the strategy or act with strategic intent.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, how have your experiences as previous chief of staff of the Coast Guard, and more recently as the principal federal official during Katrina, shaped your outlook and prepared you for your current role as commandant of the Coast Guard?

Mr. Allen: Well, first as chief of staff, I was the chief operating officer of the Coast Guard as opposed to the chief executive officer of the Coast Guard. So I handled most of the business end, and that included budget, the management of headquarters -- I was also the commanding officer of headquarters. And as part of my portfolio of duties there, since when I came into the job we were actually part of the Department of Transportation, I was the departmental executive who was responsible for transferring the Coast Guard from DOT to DHS, all the various line items of support, and services that we shared with DOT, and how that transition took place was my responsibility.

So I gained a great deal of insight into the structural underpinnings of the Coast Guard that had to be transferred from one department to another. I think that helped a lot in understanding our organizational context within the department. My assignment as the principal federal official to Katrina probably gave me the same type of insight, but in the operational dimension of the department, in that how FEMA, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection all work against the larger problems that are mission tasking, and how that all comes together, and that informed a lot of my thinking when I was interviewed by Secretary Chertoff to be the commandant on where I thought the Coast Guard needed to go under his leadership.

Mr. Morales: Fantastic. How is the Coast Guard partnering with other Homeland Security agencies? We will ask Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I am your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen. Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, director of IBM's homeland security services.

Admiral, how has the integration into DHS impacted the Coast Guard, and what have been some of the critical macro issues related to this integration, as well as the benefits?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think our integration into the department has been a great thing for the Coast Guard. We've had a hard time over the years finding a home because we're so diverse and multi-mission you don't find a perfect fit in any particular department. In 1967 we were moved from Treasury, our original home, and put in the Department of Transportation when it was formed, and then in 2003 moved from Transportation to Homeland Security. I think the integration is going along very nicely. We feel like we're a contributing member in the department. We think we add stability and maturity, because we were basically transferred over without any impact on our mission set or our resources, and I think we bring a lot of stability to the department.

I think that we're working very, very well with our component partners in the department. We always had relationships with Customs and FEMA, but those are stronger than they ever before. I tell a lot of folks I think that FEMA is better off because they are in a department with the Coast Guard, and I think the Coast Guard's better off because we are in a department with FEMA.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, we talked earlier about the deep culture and the leadership within the Coast Guard. How has this leadership style influenced the broader DHS?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think in a lot of ways. The example we set through our delegation of authority and putting responsibility at the lowest levels in the organization is something that I think everybody would strive to do, and hopefully we are an example in the department to do that. One of the things that allowed us to be successful during the Hurricane Katrina response is that we expect that our operational commanders will exercise what we call on scene initiative, and when we were cut off from higher echelons and communications weren't working down there everybody knew how to do their job, and they did the right thing, and they did what was expected of them. And I think in the long run, I think that's what the American public and the secretary would like to see out of this department.

Mr. Morales: Great. The Coast Guard has developed its maritime security strategy. Can you tell our listeners about this strategy, and how does it directly support the national strategy for maritime security, NSMS, and the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002?

Mr. Allen: One of the things that we've been working very, very hard on in the Coast Guard since the attacks on 9/11 is what this means in the maritime environment. And we were very, very pleased last year when the president issued the national strategy for maritime security that lays out an overall umbrella concept on how they intend to look at maritime security issues. We've never had an overarching umbrella document like that before, and we are very pleased with it. There are several supporting plans that are required under the strategy that directly either impact the Coast Guard or we are responsible for executing. The first one is maritime domain awareness. And that's creating a system by which you're able to sense what's going on offshore and create the ability to act so you can defeat a threat as far offshore as you can before it gets close to the coast. But to do that you need to have information about what's operating out there and you have to be able to know which vessels are legitimate and which ones aren't. So maritime domain awareness is a very big part of that national strategy for maritime security. The other one is maritime operational threat response. And that's how you actually put forces together and go out and deal with the threat that's out there.

And then global maritime intelligence integration, which is taking all the different pieces of information and putting them together into what we will call a common intelligence picture so you know why you're acting and you have good intelligence on which to base your operations, and finally there's a requirement for a maritime recovery plan. We hope we never have an incident in our ports, and we're going to try and prevent them, and then we're going to try and respond as best as we can if there is an event. But the reality is, if there's an event in a port, how you restart the waterway, how you deal with the impact on commerce is going to be very, very important. And there's requirement for us to develop a plan for that also.

Mr. Morales: I'd like to go from the very strategic topics that we just talked about in maritime security to one very tactical one, I think is at the forefront of the issues that you face. The Coast Guard must combat the potential threat of watercraft coming close to U.S. ports with IEDs, improvised explosive devices. How is the Coast Guard tackling this issue?

Mr. Allen: What we're tackling is part of a broader strategy on how to deal with maritime security regimes for the country. There's been a lot of focus on container threats, and container threats are important. I believe in the long run there is a technological solution to threats posed by containers either through tracking containers or non-intrusive inspection technologies, and all those are being worked right now. And I think you are going to see within a few years a fairly robust program that will address container security issues.

When you look at port security or maritime security, though, you have to look at the broad spectrum of threats and vulnerabilities that are out there, and you have to kind of allocate resources based on risk, and you have to try and mitigate the threats that are liable to cause the most damage. Based on the research that we've done since 9/11, and this includes extensive surveys of our ports regarding vulnerabilities and threats that exist, we do believe that more attention needs to be paid to improvised explosive devices carried by small boats.

And in general we need to look at the small boat population out there that is not as governed or regulated as well as the larger commercial traffic. This is in regards to how they're registered, how they're operated, what they might be carrying, how we can discern legitimate from illegitimate activities out there. This is anywhere from fishing vessels to small work boats to recreational vessels. And it's something that we're starting to engage in a conversation around the country, because I think we need to build a consensus about what constitutes a maritime security regime for this country that goes beyond containers and looks at a full spectrum of threats that we might encounter in our ports.

Mr. Morales: Let's shift gears from threats against assets to the assets themselves. The Coast Guard has embarked on a comprehensive recapitalization of its critical asset platforms through the integrated Deepwater System program. Can you elaborate a little bit on the Deepwater program?

Mr. Allen: I can. A few years ago, actually when I was a commander I was part of a program that extended the service life of our large cutters. And we engaged in a conversation way back then, that we did not have a good plan for when those ships ended their service life about what was going to replace them. As a result of those conversations we decided that it would good to take a look at our mission requirements in the offshore operating environment, and rather than going for a one-for-one replacement of these ship hulls to take a look at acquiring a system of cutters, aircraft, and sensors that were networked together, and focus on the entire performance of the system as opposed to a single platform. We thought if we did that we'd have more capable platforms, we'd have a more capable system, and we would be a much more intelligent acquisition of our capital plan.

Now, that ultimately evolved into our Deepwater System. We awarded the contract in 2002. We're into our fourth year of that contract. We recently launched our first major cutter, the National Security Cutter. Associated with that acquisition we recently have flown our first aircraft associated with that system. And what we're trying to do is build this architecture of platforms that are all networked together, and at the same time take the legacy platforms that are operating, the old cutters and the old aircraft, and backfit them with command and control systems that will allow them to integrate into the new stuff, and slowly phase the old stuff out as we build the new platform.

Mr. Morales: With the contract having been awarded in 2002, much of the requirements for Deepwater were developed prior to September 11, 2001. Has there been any impact from the post September 11th world to the requirements in Deepwater?

Mr. Allen: There was, and we were in quite a quandary. After the attacks of 9/11 we were faced with two choices, one was to withdraw the requests for proposals and start the acquisition over, or to go ahead and award the contract and then go back and look at our system performance specification, and go back and adjust the requirements for the platforms. A good example would be we had no capability in our cutters to survive a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack. Well, we know now, faced with the current threat environment, if you're going to operate in and around a port we may need a vessel that can go into a noncompliant or non-permissive environment and be able to operate in those environments. So we went back and we changed the requirements for the National Security Cutter, for instance, to include survivability against these threats.

When you do that, that changes the requirements that get rippled through, and there are some cost issues associated with that, and we're working through those now. But we generally have had those post 9/11 requirements validated through the joint requirements process at the department. We briefed up on -- it won't be in on the Hill, and everybody generally understands that; we rebaselined the program, and now our focus needs to be on mission execution.

Mr. Morales: Let's move from assets to talk a bit about people within the Coast Guard. In order to perform multiple missions, Coast Guard has developed specialized units that can be deployed on short notice. Can you elaborate on the plans to reorganize these units under a single command structure called the Deployable Operations Group?

Mr. Allen: I'd like to do that. That's a very important issue to me personally because I am vested in it, if you will. Over the years the Coast Guard has developed what I will call specialized deployable forces. But they've been developed within programs for specific program goals, and employed within a narrow stovepipe as far as operations go. For instance, we have oil and hazmat strike teams, and they're some of the best in the world. They can do level A entry. They participated in the anthrax attacks in the Capitol building. They have been employed traditionally only for oil and hazmat spills.

We also have port security units, which are reserve units that we have deployed to the Persian Gulf and other places that secure the ports of embarkation and debarkation to actually move military equipment in and out. Since 9/11 we've also been authorized to build maritime safety and security teams which are deployable into ports to provide on-water boat teams and then law enforcement tactical teams to lock down ports, and they include dive capability, K9 capability, and remote operated vehicles for searching underwater hulls.

All of those operated independently within different chains of command for different mission requirements. My intent is to bring them all together under a single command, not to move them, but to create a command structure by which we can optimize their employment and be able to what I will call adapt a force package. So if we have a particular event like a Katrina, taking down New Orleans, or a massive oil spell locking up a port, or an earthquake, let's say in San Francisco, you can take the elements you need for each one of those deployable teams, put them together, and deploy them through Coast Guard aircraft, and get the right force package on the ground, and be able to do that within four to eight hours, the flyaway package.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, earlier you used the term "aquatic holding company." And we understand that many of the Coast Guard's shore facilities date back to the 1915s. What are your plans to evolve and transform the shore-based forces in order to meet the new demands facing your agency in this post 9/11 threat environment?

Mr. Allen: Well, there are two issues. They are one of the shore-based forces themselves, and the second one are the facilities they occupy. We organized the shore-based forces into sector commands, and that was the right thing to do. And now we have shore-based commands that are capable of all-hazard response with a single commanding officer. Before, we used to have multiple commanding officers in and around our ports based on their mission assignment. We have done away with that and we have consolidated the command structure.

The challenge we have before us is we have very, very old shore facilities, we have search and rescue stations that date back to the -- some of them go clear back to the 19th century. And we have not done a good job keeping up with the recapitalization of what we will call our shore plan, or the actual physical facilities that our shore operators operate in.

There are three significant challenges that I don't think we have spent enough time assessing, estimating the impact of and then moving forward in the budget process, that I have to deal with as commandant. One of them is the condition of our shore facilities. The second one is the condition of our polar ice breakers. And the third one is, where are we going to go with our AIS navigation mission. And especially in a post 9/11 environment where we can be expected to try and reestablish AIS navigation in a port as we had to do following Katrina.

Mr. Morales: Great. What are some of the United States Coast Guard's key organizational priorities? We will ask Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen. Also joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel, the director of IBM's homeland security services.

Admiral, can you describe to us some of your key organizational priorities for fiscal year '07?

Mr. Allen: I can. One of them is maintaining our legacy fleet while we build out the new deepwater fleet and making sure that it's supported. We have used our assets up faster since 9/11 than we'd anticipated. And the gap between our old equipment and the arrival of new equipment has created some problems, especially in air patrol hours and patrol boat hours for us down south. So I guess the number one priority would be to make sure we maintain our current fleet so we can execute our mission.

A second priority is to establish our new mission of air intercept for the national capital region which we started last week. Fiscal year '07 carries the resources for us to do that. And we'll be operating out of Reagan Airport, and we'll be intercepting general aviation aircraft that happen to stray into the national capital area. Continuing the deepwater project is important for us too to make sure we keep our capitalization on track. And we've had great support from the administration and Congress in that regard.

And finally, to make sure that we are sustaining our homeland security missions, there are also extra resources in the budget for us to increase our inspection of waterfront facilities and overseas ports.

Mr. Morales: Could you describe the Coast Guard's principles of operation as outlined in the publication America's Maritime Guardian? How do these principles empower and enable the execution of your critical missions?

Mr. Allen: Well, a few years ago we decided to boil down the essence of the Coast Guard, or quite frankly sketch out our organizational DNA, the doctrinal publication we call Pub 1, and it's very similar to what they do in the DoD side of the House. There is a joint staff Pub 1 that lays out this is what we expect, these are the principles by which we operate under. In the Coast Guard Pub 1 we have laid out principles of operation, and they include things like the principle of restraint. Since we are a law enforcement organization, when we're not operating with DoD we need to understand that the constitution applies when we're dealing with our fellow citizens, and so we need to treat them with respect. In fact, Alexander Hamilton wrote a great treatise admonishing his revenue cutter captains to make sure that they understood that they were dealing with fellow citizens in doing boardings.

Another one would be the principle of on-scene initiative that I mentioned earlier. That's the notion that if you're on scene, you have the resources, and you have the capability, and you're empowered to do that, we expect you to act, and do what you are supposed to do out there. And that was shown no better than in the skies over New Orleans.

Mr. Morales: Speaking of the skies over New Orleans, the Coast Guard received much praise in most post-Katrina assessments, rescuing over 33,000 lives. Is there something unique about the organization of the Coast Guard that allowed such an exceptional response to a complicated circumstance like Katrina?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think most folks in the Coast Guard would tell you that we were just carrying out our normal mission under our normal doctrine, but we just encountered an anomalous asymmetrical event that completely was off the scope in terms of scale. But we were able to get enough aircraft into the area to have a meaningful impact. We didn't rescue everybody down there. There were some wonderful people from Fish and Wildlife from the State of Louisiana and other folks that really contributed. But as a result of our air forces, our small boat forces in the evacuations of the nursing homes by our people there, we were able to save between 33,000 and 34,000 people.

The reason that was possible is that we have multi-missioned aircraft and we have multi-missioned people. We basically took every existing aircraft that wasn't being flown for search and rescue in the Coast Guard and brought it down to the New Orleans area, in excess of 40 aircraft. And in fact to the point where we asked the Canadians to come down and assume the Search and Rescue Guard in New England so we could take the helicopters and move them down there. Once we did that, because we train our people as multi-mission, we were able to intermix pilots, crews, and maintenance crews from all over the Coast Guards. One day I was flying on an 860 helicopter from Cape Cod with a pilot from San Diego, a co-pilot from Michigan, and a rescue swimmer from Mobile, Alabama, all in the same airframe working seamlessly because they operate under the same doctrine, and there's repeatable training and tactics that they use, and you can go to any aircraft, put the crew together, and they can fly.

Mr. Abel: One of the things that was very complicated in the overall response to Katrina was the necessity for communication and interoperability between federal, state, and local organizations. How has the Coast Guard's relationship with different levels of organizations changed or strengthened since the response to Katrina?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think it has changed and I think it has strengthened. This is not a Coast Guard issue, this is an overall federal issue, and there are two components to this. I testified recently on the Hill and I try to break this down into an organizational component and a technology component. The organizational component is interoperability at all levels of government, and then horizontally, and that's the ability to get into the same command center, share the same spaces, understand the doctrine, understand what you're trying to accomplish, and be able to work seamlessly across all the federal agencies and then down through the state and local governments. That's the organizational component of command in control.

There's a technical component to that, and that's interoperability of communications. And that's who's got what radios, what frequency they operate on, and who can talk to whom. That was probably the bigger problem in New Orleans than anything else. Number one, they lost the communications infrastructure in and around the city, and when they were trying to bring that back up, to have all the different first responders down there, sometimes operating on different radio spectrum was a problem, and it was identified as a problem. It's being worked right now as a result of the lessons learned, reports that came out of Katrina.

In relation to the Coast Guard, we operate under maritime mobile radio frequencies, and we have a coastal radio system that's set up to get the mayday calls when they come in. We were able to reestablish our system, but our system ultimately needs to be able to talk with the land first responders, which are in a different frequency spectrum. We're in the process right now of changing that, our Coast Guard radio system, under a project called Rescue 21, that will allow us to be more interoperable with state and local responders. And I would say that is an enduring challenge for the entire United States. And when the state and localities are buying radio systems they need to really think about the interoperability with the federal first responders.

Mr. Abel: You referred to the flooding of New Orleans as a weapon of mass effect unleashed on a city without criminality. It's an interesting view. Can you elaborate a little bit on that assessment?

Mr. Allen: I can. The reason I used that term is it invokes a different paradigm than normal hurricane response. And I think one of the failures in the Katrina response was the failure to understand that we weren't operating in a traditional mode against a traditional hurricane, as far as mounting a response, that something else had happened that made it more complex, that made it asymmetrical, that made it anomalous. And that was the breaching of the levees. If the levees had not breached in New Orleans, you would have found what I would call ground zero of the event to be Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, which were almost wiped off the face of the earth by a 25- to 30-foot tidal surge. But with the flooding of New Orleans, you had a different degree of a problem set, and what you're really dealing with was the equivalent of a weapon of mass effect being used on the city without criminality.

And the reason that I say that's significant is if there had been criminality involved, we would have known what to do. There would have been a senior law enforcement officer in charge. We would have been trying to fight the thing as a crime scene. We'd have been trying to deal with the implications associated with criminality involved in that. But since there was none, there wasn't a cue for anybody to understand that it was something different. And in the absence of understanding that there was something different and anomalous about it, we treated it as a regular run-of-the-mill hurricane, which was not the right response.

Mr. Abel: You mentioned some of the things that we can do going forward technically, to be able to prepare ourselves for similar responses. Are there things that we need to do organizationally or operationally to be able to do that as well?

Mr. Allen: There are and we're already working on those. For instance, FEMA is the federal coordinator for what we call mission assignments. If there's something that needs to be done, FEMA is not expected to provide that particular service. They're expected to go find it and provide it to the state and local governments. They do that through what's called a mission assignment. And they can issue a mission assignment to the Coast Guard, to the Corps of Engineers, and that's how they handle things like debris removal with the Corps of Engineers.

Between FEMA and the Coast Guard over the last year since Katrina, we have come up with pre-scripted mission assignments. So we come up with a scenario on which you need let's say Coast Guard airlift or Coast Guard surveillance of a coastline, we write it out. With the exception of filling in the date and the time, we both hold the piece of paper. When the event occurs and they need to move us, it's a matter of filling in the blanks on the paper, and we're gone. And we can actually launch on verbal notification, which is what we would.

It's this pre-negotiation of mission assignments plus we have trained Coast Guard admirals to be principal federal officials similar to the duties I perform, and have jointly trained them with FEMA's federal coordinating officers. And we have deployed as teams, we have evaluated evacuation plans, and we have tested the deployability of this folks. And that's way far ahead of where we've ever been before.

Mr. Abel: Admiral, with the very broad mission that the U.S. Coast Guard has, collaboration must be critical to your operations. How is the Coast Guard enhancing coordination and collaboration amongst all the other components of the Department of Homeland Security?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think the first big example is something I've been involved in for the first three years at the department, until I went down to Katrina last year, and that's the Joint Requirements Council. That's an entity that takes a look at all the requirements of the department. And as major acquisitions are being looked at at the department, they review them, see whether or not there are commonality requirements so you're not buying two platforms when you can buy one. And this relates to everything from aircraft clear down to -- one of the most successful projects that they ran was a consolidated handgun buy for the entire department, where whether you were Secret Service, Coast Guard, or Customs and Border Protection, we were buying off the same handgun contract with a tremendous cost savings.

They've done also the same thing for IT licenses, software licenses and things like that. And I don't think there's probably any end to the particular partnerships that we can form that will achieve better efficiency and effectiveness inside the department. But the Joint Requirements Council would be one example of that.

Mr. Abel: Along the same lines of collaboration, how does the Coast Guard plan to better integrate operations and assets with the Department of Defense, specifically the U.S. Navy? And how does the national fleet policy assist in facilitating this integration?

Mr. Allen: Well, you know, we have great relationship with the Navy, it's never been better. And we have an enduring requirement to be interoperable with them in time of war, and when we're needed for a combatant commander. Admiral Mike Mullen and I have a great relationship. And we believe if you take the Navy's fleet and the Coast Guard's fleet and you put them together you have a national fleet. We have the world's best Navy, and we have the world's best Coast Guard; together they make the world's best maritime force. So he and I are working very, very hard to operationalize this concept. And a good example of that would be Littoral Combat Ship, which was just launched a couple weeks ago. It has a deck gun, a 57-millimeter deck gun. It is the same deck gun that we will use on our large cutters. And wherever we can, we're looking that where we have commonality of requirements, to have commonality of systems or platforms, and that would be a good example of that.

And that's needed because -- you talked about interoperability with DoD, we have negotiated as part of the national strategy for maritime security, protocols under which the Navy and the Coast Guard and other forces will work together, and whether or not it's a Homeland Security or a law enforcement issue, if you will, or whether it's a Department of Defense homeland defense type of a mission. And under the agreements and the protocols that we have negotiated, you could have Coast Guard forces working for a naval component or you could have Navy assets working for a Coast Guard entity in trying to intercept a boat offshore, let's say, and do a boarding.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the U.S. Coast Guard? We will ask Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Albert Morales and this morning's conversation is with Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen. Also joining us on our conversation is Dave Abel, director of IBM's homeland security services.

Admiral, the role of the Coast Guard has evolved over the last five years. How would you characterize this evolution, and how do you envision the Coast Guard over the next five to ten years?

Mr. Allen: Well, I wouldn't say it's evolved so much as we've gone back and resurrected a mission that was given to us years ago that's become prominent again. A lot of people ask us about the maritime security mission we've got right now and how it impacts us, but frankly, we've had this mission since 1917.

There was a piece of legislation passed after a sabotage event by German saboteurs in New York harbor in 1915 resulting in something called the Espionage Act, which is some of the organic legislation that FBI holds right now. That is the original authority for our captain of the ports to be able to direct to close ports, protect facilities, and so forth. So, the port security mission is not new, it just emerges from time to time.

During World War II, the Coast Guard was over 200,000, and a good deal of our authorities then were to direct and control the ports. So it just happens to be a reemergence of a longstanding mission that we've had, that is what the American public needs from us now. And we're capable of diverting our resources, realigning them, putting them where they need to be, and be responsive to the American public.

Mr. Morales: What about the next 10 years, any major changes that you see in the next 10 years?

Mr. Allen: Well, I think the challenge before us is to come up with what the end state is for a maritime security regime in this country. We made a lot of changes since 9/11. We significantly improved port safety and maritime safety, but the question is what is the end state that we are driving to?

We have a very good example in aviation security where there's a 200-mile air defense information zone. If you penetrate that zone and you haven't called in or you're not using a transponder, you get met. We have never thought about the oceans in those kind of terms. And the water is very, very different. We have 95,000 miles of coastline with rivers, lakes, and everything else that are potentially -- have to be covered in this country. 95 percent of all the cargo moving from outside the hemisphere comes by vessel.

But we're not dealing with bright borders like we see in the land areas. What you see are layers of legal structures that overlap on the water because they developed quite differently. They have a 12-mile territorial sea. You have a 12-mile contiguous zone that allows you to enforce customs, immigration, and sanitation laws. Then you have an exclusive economic zone out to 200 miles.

We have never tried to manage the water like we do the air. But the question is how should the water be managed, and I don't think there's been a discussion in this country or an agreement on where we need to go. One of the things I'm going to try and do during my tenure as commandant is lay out what I propose would be a security regime for a costal nation state in the current transnational threat environment. And we're also going to have to make sure that we understand how to do this globally, because if we do it unilaterally and our other partners around the world don't, we're going to create an unlevel playing field, not only in terms of commerce, but in terms of reciprocity on how we're treated everywhere.

So the challenge I've laid down for my people in Coast Guard Headquarters is to start working on this, so when we deal with legislation, rulemaking, our agenda to the International Maritime Organization, which is where we handle international issues, our budget, outreach to stakeholders around the country, we can say here's what we're building to. Here's how we think we ought to regulate the waters, here's where we think people ought to carry transponders, and it's a discussion we need to have with the country. That's what we need to be doing in the next five to ten years.

Mr. Morales: You've been quoted as saying that your enduring goal is to lead a Coast Guard that is steadfast in character but adaptive in its methods. Can you elaborate on this, please?

Mr. Allen: I sure can. We don't want to lose that organizational DNA that goes back to 1790, that started with independent cruising cutters that has evolved into the principles of operation that we use right now, including on-scene initiative. We want to keep that always. But how those resources, how those capabilities are being applied in a different threat environment, what you have to understand, there's an entirely threat and political context that we're operating in right now, so we need to be adaptable.

For instance a few years ago, when Admiral Loy was the commandant of the Coast Guard, he made a very brave decision that was not always well received throughout the organization. He was bound and determined that we should arm our helicopters. That was something that was almost unheard of in some areas of the Coast Guard. But we did it. And it's been the single most effective drug interdiction capability we put out on the waters in the history of the organization. And last year we seized 150 tons of cocaine. Most of that was as a result of warning shots and disabling fire from our helicopters. So what you need is an organization that has the ability to keep those core values and that organizational history of being able to act and do the right thing but be adaptive enough to coming threats where you're able to bring in technology and manage change so the organization gets better every year, as far as dealing with the current threats.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, how does the Coast Guard grow and improve the competency of its workforce going forward?

Mr. Allen: Well, that's probably our biggest challenge, because the requirements are changing radically and we're inserting new technology all the time. And every time you hire somebody in the Coast Guard, you're potentially making a 30-year decision. Being flexible and agile in how you train people and how you develop competencies is extremely important.

I've got a team taking a look at our human resource strategy right now as it relates to the new mission set and where I'm trying to drive the Coast Guard. And within a couple months I've asked them to come back and tell me what the major changes we need to make as far as how we're managing accessions, how we're training them, how we track competencies.

A key thing for us right now is to get much better at training our junior people in law enforcement; we do a lot of that on the job, on cutters. We think a lot of that needs to be in the classroom. We need to have more of a professional certification for some of our folks that operate out on the water. We're closely aligned with what you would see with the CBP or other law enforcement organizations.

Mr. Morales: Picking up the discussion of the classroom, how valuable are service academies such as the United Sates Coast Guard Academy to your long term strategy?

Mr. Allen: Well, they're extraordinary valuable because you need a mix of officers, you need a diversity of background, and you need a diversity of education. One thing the academy does for us is it allows us to produce engineers. Engineers are in short supply; everybody's fighting for them, trying to recruit them and everything else. So there's a certain amount of capability and competency that you need to indemnify the organization against by home growing it, if you will. And the academy is one place where we can do that. It is also a place where we can take young people coming out of high school, give them a college education, but in the four years also imbue them with the history and traditions of the Coast Guard and create a nucleus by which we can build an officer corp. And then we can surge officer candidate school, which is much shorter, and we can vary the sizes of those classes to complement, to fill out the entire officer corp.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, earlier you described a relatively young workforce within the U.S. Coast Guard. But we do talk to many of our guests about some of the pending retirement waves and challenges within government. What are you seeing within the Coast Guard and how are you planning for the future?

Mr. Allen: In relation to our military personnel, we don't have the pending problem that a lot of people are going to see, and that is the retirement of the baby-boomer population and the loss of intellectual capacity and intellectual capital in organizations. I think we've done a good job on the military side. It's more of a manner of how do you manage competencies and reshape that workforce as you need to once you have them for a 30-year career. We need to do a better job in recruiting and retaining our civilian workforce. If you were to take a look at where our shortages are now in the Coast Guard, our major shortages are in our civilian workforce, and our ability to recruit, retain, and then provide promotional ladders for these folks is extremely important.

We're challenged in our civilian workforce in that we don't have as many as other agencies. And they are commingled with the military workforce, so making sure that they have career progressions is very, very important. Our challenge is we may not have a critical mass of those positions that will allow us to be able to promote them up and allow them the virtual certainty they can stay in the organization and still work in their specialty and be promoted. And that's one of our big challenges right now.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, you've had a very successful and distinguished career. What advice can you give to a person who is interested in a career in public service? And in particular for that young person who may be out there who is interested in a career in the Coast Guard?

Mr. Allen: Well, whether it's a career in public service or the Coast Guard, you need to understand that when you're involved in public service, in addition to the compensation that you get that may not be as great as you would be able to enjoy in the private sector, you're being compensated psychologically for doing something for your country. And there's a notion of a service in serving something that's bigger than yourself when you do that. And I think that's embodied in public service. It's particularly embodied in service in the Coast Guard.

And the advice I usually give folks is that, number one, you need to understand that you're serving the country. Number two, you need to get up every day and go to work and enjoy it, and if you're not, then you should do something else. And number three, if you're coming home from work and you're not enjoying it, then you need to look at yourself and what's going on in your personal life.

I think the Coast Guard has got it right in our core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. And when people are looking to come in the Coast Guard, I would just say they need to think about those three core values. And I think of them as concentric circles when I'm talking to young folks in the Coast Guard. The first one is honor. And that's a compact you make with yourself on how you're going to conduct your life and the principles you're going to live by. Respect, which is the next one, is how you're going to conduct your life in relation to those around you, the compact you make with your teammates, your officemates, the people in your own organization. A devotion to duty is a compact you make with your country.

So honor, respect, and devotion to duty I see as concentric circles that build the individual from their self out to that larger sense of duty that's related to the blue uniform we all wear.

Mr. Morales: Admiral, that's a great model and great advice I think for all of us. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule today. But more importantly Dave and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country.

Mr. Allen: Well, thank you very much. I would just advice your listeners if they want to find out more about the Coast Guard, we do have a website, it's You can also go to and you can find more information about our service.

Mr. Morales: Great, Admiral, thank you.

This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

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

As you enjoy the rest of the 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 the government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

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

Kimberly Nelson interview

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

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

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

Ms. Nelson: Good morning.

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

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning Dave.

Mr. Abel: Good morning Paul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Abel: Have there been any early successes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is Paul Lawrence, thank you for listening.

Amy Comstock interview

Friday, November 9th, 2001 - 20:00
Amy Comstock
Radio show date: 
Sat, 11/10/2001
Intro text: 
Amy Comstock
Complete transcript: 

Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. To find out more about the Endowment, visit us on the Web at

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with Amy Comstock, Director of the Office of Government Ethics.

Good morning, Amy.

MS. COMSTOCK: Good morning.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, let's start by finding out something about the Office of Government Ethics. Could you tell us about its history and its activities?

MS. COMSTOCK: The Office of Government Ethics was created in 1978 as part of the Ethics in Government Act, under the leadership of President Carter, actually. It was created in the wake of the declining trust in government, following Watergate. There was, obviously, a lot of responses to that scandal and one of the concerns was that the public had lost its trust in government and also, needed a little more ability to assess for itself the integrity and impartiality of government officials.

So the Office of Government Ethics was created, as I said, in 1978. At that time it was part of the Office of Personnel Management, OPM. In 1989, the Office of Government Ethics, which I will refer to as OGE, was made a separate agency and it has been a separate agency since.

We are a nonpartisan agency. I am a presidential appointee, but I have a term appointment, so that my position doesn't change as a result of the recent election, for example.

Our mission is to oversee ethics programs for the entire Executive Branch. We establish the policies and regulations governing conflicts of interest and other ethics matters for all Executive Branch employees. We, as we'll discuss in more detail later, we work directly with each of the departments and agencies in the Executive Branch to ensure that their ethics programs are functioning properly.

So, that's a quick thumbnail sketch of what we do.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, one of the questions I have is does OGE have enforcement responsibility?

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, we're responsible for overseeing the ethics programs, but if we determine that they're -- or an agency ethics official determines that there is a problem or a question with one of the employees in their agencies, we generally rely on the Inspector Generals for investigation. And, then, if there's still determined to be a problem, the matter would be referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution.

So we do not consider ourselves an enforcement agency, although we are responsible for ensuring the integrity of the programs and if we need to, we will then refer and rely on other agencies for the enforcement actions.

MR. LAWRENCE: How big is OGE and what type of employees work there?

MS. COMSTOCK: OGE is 82 full-time employees. So we're actually, as government goes, pretty small. And we have a very specialized skill. We have a very strong staff of, oh, maybe 20 lawyers and a strong number of maybe 50 government ethics experts. Because what our field, our function is fairly unique to the federal government, we have people who are trained on the job and come and learn about government ethics.

We have -- I'm happy to say, we have a lot of long-time employees who really enjoy the work they do and feel strongly about our mission. And that's really good, given the fact that the skills that we need for our job are really unique to OGE and people learn it on the job.

MR. LAWRENCE: And then what's the relationship between OGE and the other organizations that are also working with ethics? How do you all work with the departments?

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, we're the only agency that does government ethics, as defined by the federal government. But ethics officials in agencies often are also responsible for giving advice on matters such as political activities, discrimination issues. Those are handled by other agencies. Political activities, the Hatch Act, are covered by the Office of Special Counsel; EEOC, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, deals with discrimination matters. Obviously, as I indicated, the Department of Justice prosecutes; Inspectors General investigate matters.

So, our jurisdiction relates, if you will, but our jurisdiction is only on what are considered absolutely ethics conflict-of-interest matters.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, let's spend some time talking about your career. Could you tell us about your career and how you got here?

MS. COMSTOCK: After graduating from law school, I went to a private law firm in Washington and, to be quite frank with you, I just decided that that was not going to be for me. It did �

MR. LAWRENCE: How long did that take?

MS. COMSTOCK: About two years. Actually, I decided right away, but I didn't leave for two years. I just decided that the private law-firm mission was not going to be mine. And started looking into the government and, actually, had always been interested in teaching. And saw an attorney position open up at the Department of Education and thought, well, that might be a good compromise; kind of combine my interests. And I applied there and started working there in 1988. I worked in the field of special education as a staff attorney for a couple of years and that was a fascinating job.

But then moved on from there and started -- became the executive assistant to the general counsel, which is where I was first exposed to government ethics issues. And I think that was in 1990. And I moved on from there and became the assistant -- at the Department of Education, assistant general counsel for ethics, I think in 1993. And I oversaw the ethics program at the Department of Education until 1998.

At which time, I went on detail, which I can explain in a minute, to the White House to oversee the ethics program there for about 15 months. On detail meant, I went as a career employee; I didn't become a political in the Clinton Administration, although I was working in the White House.

It was during that 15-month period that I was nominated to be the head of the Office of Government Ethics. And my -- I was confirmed in 2000.

MR. LAWRENCE: Which of the positions that you described gave you the best preparation for your work now? I mean it seemed as though each one of those was a function where you didn't have a lot of management responsibility and now, you have a great deal. How did -- or did I not hear the descriptions correctly?

MS. COMSTOCK: No, in the education, as the assistant general counsel, I was head of the ethics division, so there was a fair amount of management and responsibility there. And in both agencies, Education and the White House, I oversaw the ethics programs, so there certainly was a lot of management responsibility in that perspective.

Both of them were excellent training for the work that we do from the perspective that the ethics program, and we'll talk about the details of what it encompasses in a bit. But the ethics program is actually something that has a huge impact on the lives -- can have a huge impact on the lives of Executive Branch employees.

The areas that we oversee are, in fact, the areas where someone's job and their personal life may overlap. And that's pretty serious business. You're talking about affecting someone very personally. The experience that I had in running the ethics programs at Education and the White House, the experience of having to train employees, having to counsel employees, having to sit with employees when you're telling them they simply can't do -- either in their jobs or in their personal lives -- that which they very strongly want to do -- that's a hard thing to do.

I think it was important for me to be able to bring that kind of experience to OGE. I am, actually, the first director of OGE to come from the ethics community as someone who has run programs working directly with the employees we work with. Again, OGE basically has an oversight function. So I think it was good for me to be -- I know -- it's important for me to be able to bring to that job the perspective of the person who has to deal directly with the unhappy employee or the frustrated employee. And that kind of customer orientation is something I've been able to instill in OGE, since I've been there.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, I'm curious. What was the most effective tool in those conversations, because without enforcement ability, I guess, you're left with education to explain why they can't do these things? But at some point, obstinate people probably didn't listen.

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, I have to say; I've been pretty lucky. I mean, each of our -- we should always try and run a prevention program and so we do try, and it's very important, to educate people why the answer is either no that you can't do that or, if you're going to do it, you know, you must do it the following ways.

But I've been very lucky that I haven't run into too many obstinate people. I mean the fact is that the rules and regulations and the laws that we implement are all designed to ensure impartiality and integrity in decision-making by government officials. But behind all those rules, obviously, there are regulations that you cannot violate and criminal statutes. So, while I may never have been able to personally have the enforcement, I mean, the fact is if you're sitting across from someone and you say, you cannot do that; that is criminal. It generally works.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, you've had a chance to be around some leaders in, I guess, a unique perspective. What qualities have you observed are crucial to be a good leader?

MS. COMSTOCK: There are a number of qualities that are important for leadership. One is, obviously, honesty and to try and actually be the kind of person you would want to have as your most trusted adviser, someone who's honest, someone who's up-front, someone who will always be open-minded and fair. And I think those qualities are infectious in terms of the people you work with directly, either on my own staff or on the clients that I serve.

I also think, as a leader of an agency, that has such a broad impact on the entire Executive Branch, it's extremely important for me to be able to instill a sense of mission in my own staff and in ethics officials across the agency.

MR. LAWRENCE: It's a good breaking point, so it's times for a break. Stick with us through the break, because when we come back, we'll ask Amy Comstock, Director of the Office of Government Ethics, about the financial disclosure processes for political appointees. Did you ever wonder what you'd have to reveal if you were asked to join the Administration? We'll find out when The Business of Government Hour returns.


MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with Amy Comstock, Director of the Office of Government Ethics.

Well, Amy, in the first segment, you mentioned a couple of things that I probably want to make sure I have a complete understanding of. And that's conflict of interest and disclosure. Could you spend a minute telling me -- making sure I got the right definitions of those?

MS. COMSTOCK: Absolutely. A conflict of interest, in the government sense, means that a government official may have worked -- or a conflict would be where a government official works on a matter or participates in an issue, if you will, where they also have a personal financial interest.

And so the criminal statute at issue and then the regulations are actually written in a prophylactic way. They prohibit federal officials from working on any matter in which they have a financial interest.

An easy example of this would be if I have $50,000 worth of stock in a particular company that would be affected by a decision I make as a government official because the decision would affect that segment of an industry. For an example, the easiest one is companies that make tires and I'm working on a regulation that might affect the tire industry. And I, in fact, own $50,000 of stock in a company that makes tires. I, under these rules, cannot participate in any decisions that would affect the finances of the tire companies.

What's interesting about these statutes is, as I said, they prophylactic, they keep people from having to decide am I doing the right thing -- am I sure I'm not making a decision just because I own stock in the company or, in fact, what they do is prohibit the employee from participating at all. They keep the federal employee from having to do the right thing or struggle to do the right thing.

That is the easiest example. There are a couple possible resolutions. Because, in fact, if we step back and look at all the different kinds of people who come in to the federal government, either as career servants who will be there long term or during the change of administration, as we've just seen. People have all different kinds of investments and they come in with all sorts of assets that they own.

What we do is, through a process of financial disclosure, we review someone's holdings and assets to determine if we think they will have a conflict of interest. We have something called a public financial disclosure form, which is filled out by all presidential nominees. And then, once a year, by the 20,000 top government executives, federal government executives, that form discloses all assets someone owns, financial transactions they've had in the last year, any outside positions they may hold, gifts they've received for -- not for nominees, but beyond that, gifts someone's received.

We review those forms to determine if there are any conflicts or, potentially, will be any conflicts. If a conflict, again, the tire industry, for example, if a conflict is found to have -- to be at issue, the possible resolutions are that someone divest themselves of the holding. In that case, I would sell my tire company stock or I agree to recuse, meaning I agree to not participate in the tire company decision or another common resolution is a waiver. Ethics officials throughout the federal government have the authority, if they review a number of factors that have to be taken very seriously, they have the authority to determine that, given all the factors, and looking at exactly how much stock this person owns and what the government question at issue is they waive the conflict and they've determined the person can participate in it.

The example I gave that might not be a good candidate for a waiver because that seems to be a pretty clean conflict -- pretty clear conflict. And it's a liquid holding, something I really couldn't divest.

When I referred to public financial disclosure forms, this is an important aspect of our program. The mission behind the Office of Government Ethics is not just for us to assess conflicts of interest or for ethics officials throughout the Executive Branch to assess conflicts of interest. It's also to ensure that the public has the ability to assess the integrity of government decision-making on its own.

So for those 20,000 Executive Branch employees who file financial disclosure forms every year, they are available to the public for the public to view themselves. They -- and they are viewed. They're requested quite regularly by the media and are used to determine whether there might be questions behind a public official's decision-making.

MR. LAWRENCE: What are some of the management challenges that OGE faced in the most-recent presidential election?

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, in terms of the most-recent presidential election, we did -- because we review for every presidential nominee -- Senate-confirmed nominee -- the financial disclosure to determine if there will be any conflicts of interest -- quite frankly, the extended election did mean that we began that process a little bit later than we expected to, but I have to say that the staff at OGE and the agencies and the White House have worked very hard so we feel that we are caught up in that. So that was just a -- that was just some late nights in the spring when we expected to have the late nights in late winter.

But in terms of the management challenges that I think I've seen at OGE since I started in November -- and actually in the years that I've been working at ethics -- one issue that I struggle with is, honestly, the name of our agency. We are, of course, the Office of Government Ethics and I have had many conversations with people who feel that we have, therefore, usurped what you and I might consider to be ethical decision-making.

Our office does issue a code of conduct that all federal employees are expected to abide by. We have conflict-of-interest regulations, we have post-employment regulations that everyone, based on statutes, that everyone is expected to abide by. But it was never intended that the codes-of-conduct that we have would usurp individual employees' and executives' personal decision-making.

I am a strong proponent of ethical decision-making and values-based decision-making by all executives. And I would always challenge everyone that the code-of-conduct is not the last place to -- is not the last stop for your own decision-making as a government executive. We establish minimal standards for behavior, but if something -- one must always bring their own values, their own judgment to any decision that they make.

If something feels wrong, you need to pursue it. If one of our rules tells you that something is wrong and you firmly disagree with it, you need to call me. I -- government executives, I firmly believe and will always will encourage, still need to bring their own years of experience and judgment to any issue they consider to be ethical -- now if it's -- an ethical question, if it's clearly covered by our rules, we need to talk about that and have that conversation with someone in my office or with an ethics official. But never think that our office has usurped individual ethics decision-making values, if you will.

MR. LAWRENCE: Are there any challenges around the disclosure form? The example you gave of the tire company and the stock and that kind of decision, seem clear. But I'm wondering about the sort of blurring of companies and services and the Internet and how even to unravel that in a possible �

MS. COMSTOCK: It's getting harder. I think you've hit on a real point that we struggle with. Investments are getting more complicated. Companies are getting more complicated, in terms of parent companies and subs. We will discuss in a little bit some legislation that we've sent up to the Congress just this summer to try and streamline the financial disclosure process. But one of the components of that legislation is a new provision to help us deal with limited partnerships, for example.

Ten years ago, most often, even for very wealthy individuals, assets tended to be just straight equity stock holdings. Many, many people now have limited partnerships where they hold something that then holds another partnership, it's much more complicated to even figure out, believe it or not, what someone actually owns. And if you buy some share of a limited partnership, you don't even always know exactly what you own. You may know what industry it is. So that is becoming more of a struggle.

We're trying to achieve that perfect balance between not putting so much burden on an employee that it's hundreds of hours work to fill out the financial disclosure form. But, quite frankly, the public still absolutely, under our system and I believe it, has a right to know what this person owns and where their interests are.

Remember -- and this is an important concept we always have to keep in mind in our office -- our government is basically designed to turn over at the highest levels every four-to-eight years. So we do have a constant churning of new people coming into the government. And we're trying to ensure that our system of disclosure is not so burdensome that, without need, without unnecessarily, that it deters people -- that it's such a struggle, in and of itself, to do these forms that it deters people from wanting to come into government.

I don't think we've ever reached that point, but there -- in the last two years, there have been some complaints that we're close.

MR. LAWRENCE: That's a good place for us to stop for a break. We'll come back. We'll ask Amy Comstock of the Office of Government Ethics more about how the ethics programs work.

This is The Business of Government Hour.


MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with Amy Comstock, Director of the Office of Government Ethics.

Well, Amy, in our last segment, you talked about new legislation that you're developing and you described some of the characteristics, could you give us a little more insight into the legislation?

MS. COMSTOCK: One of the things that I mentioned is that there has been sense, and I agree with it, that the nominations process and the financial disclosure or public financial disclosure process has become too burdensome. I'm focusing, primarily, on the financial disclosure aspect of that.

The information that we've required for the last 20 years for public financial disclosure is actually quite detailed. And as a result of the Presidential Transition Act, legislation that was enacted last fall, OGE was asked to do a study to see if that process could be streamlined.

Quite basically, what we did was go in with the mandate that we were not going to lessen our or ethics officials' ability to assess conflicts at all. But we went in with the mission that after 20 years of experience is there information that we receive from that form, that is either never used, useless, redundant? So we just went through with those questions in mind and, as a result were able to propose legislation that really eliminates a lot of the, I would call, unnecessary information that we accept on the form.

For example, currently, if someone comes from a private corporation and they're coming into the government, they have to list on the form the exact dollar figure of their salary from their prior corporation. Quite frankly, it doesn't matter what that dollar figure is, it will not change the fact that they should have a one-year cooling off period from their corporation and any official decision-making they make unless they receive a waiver. And if they own stock in the corporation it will be a conflict. It doesn't -- they -- but someone has to actually go through the -- take the time to get the exact dollar figure written down on the form. We've proposed to eliminate that requirement.

In addition, the current form has 11-different categories for the range, the value of an asset you hold. And this is -- this is the most significant change that we're proposing. Currently, if you have to -- if you own stock in that tire corporation, again, you have to check in a range if it's worth between I think it's $15,000 and $50,000, between $100,000 and $250,000; but, with certain limits, if that asset is worth maybe $50,000 or $250,000, there is a conflict. It actually doesn't matter to assess a conflict the exact value of that asset but, especially for people who have any significant assets at all, the amount of the hours it takes to go through and determine the exact value of all their assets is phenomenal.

We've been able to eliminate the 11 categories or propose eliminating the 11 categories of value and reduce it to three. I could go through all these and I don't think our listeners want to hear all the details of all of them. But the fact is that if these proposals are enacted, we will be able to reduce hours and hours the amount of time it takes to fill out this form. But we firmly believe not impede at all an ethics officials' or the public's ability to determine whether someone has a conflict and assess integrity in decision-making.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, earlier you mentioned that you were, in fact, a political appointee, yourself. Do you have any suggestions or lessons-learned for those nominees who are currently involved in the process?

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, be patient, I think would be the most important guidance. Answer all questions you're asked fully, but most important hang in there because it's worth the wait. From my own experience, as well as from surveys that I've read, a position as a presidential appointee, a Senate-confirmed position, according to a presidential appointee initiative survey, the vast majority of people who have held those jobs would recommend it to a friend. It's just a wonderful opportunity for public service and to really work on issues and matters that are important to the country. And I think it is definitely worth the wait.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, let's shift a little bit in terms of talking now about manage OGE. What are the strategic priorities for OGE for the year?

MS. COMSTOCK: Paul, obviously, the number-one priority will be to do anything we need to do to ensure the passage of the legislation that we've just talked about. I'm hopeful that it will go through. We sent it up in July and it should be introduced in the fall. It is nonpartisan, good-government legislation, and I'm hoping it will go through.

But keeping my fingers crossed and assuming that that task is done because it's up on the Hill and we'll be successful, I am now committed to starting a review of the criminal conflict-of-interest statutes. We haven't really talked about that, but the criminal statutes that underlie the need for financial disclosure cover the areas of conflict-of-interest, post-employment, and issues of, for example, representations a federal employee can make to other agencies on behalf of outside organizations, volunteer activities, that kind of thing.

These statutes are very broad; they need a lot of modernization. Some of the activities that are actually criminal under these statutes, in my mind, should not be criminal and are not even intuitively wrong. This is an area that I'm very committed to working with the Department of Justice to see what proposals we can come up with to revise these statutes.

The criminal conflict-of-interest is, obviously, the main topic today. And there are some areas, I think, where that statute is very broad and the most educated person, in terms of government ethics training still can be surprised sometimes when I say not that would be considered a conflict and you need to be careful and stay out of that.

MR. LAWRENCE: What process does OGE go through to choose those strategic priorities?

MS. COMSTOCK: Obviously, I'm a firm believer in team management. And we work as a -- I have some excellent, excellent deputy directors. And we work, as a team to focus on the issues that we think are priorities for the next year or two.

I have a five-year term and, so, I have four more years within that term. The -- I also look very closely and take very seriously the issues that are raised with me by the ethics officials in the agencies, in terms of the problems that they're seeing or the issues that arise when they deal directly with their clients.

We haven't talked about that in great detail, but every department in the federal government and agency, has a designated agency ethics official. They're the people who bring to life, if you will, the programs and regulations and policies that are set by our office. They are each tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the ethics program within that agency. It's really a -- at least, in hindsight -- brilliant structure because it allows each department and agency to have someone who can tailor the ethics problem within that agency to the needs of that agency.

For example, the ethics issues that might arise at the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, could be very different than the ethics issues that would arise at the Department of Education. And so, it's very important for those DEOs, that we call them, to be able to tailor the ethics rules to the needs of their clients.

MR. LAWRENCE: What role does OGE have in terms of evaluating the successes of those different ethics programs?

MS. COMSTOCK: It's our responsibility to oversee those programs. Under the statute, we're called the supervising ethics office, so that if particular issues arise, it is our responsibility to follow-up and ensure that that agency is responding to that issue to ensuring that that issue is dealt with properly. And, unfortunately, issues do arise occasionally.

And we keep in fairly close contact with the DEOs in the sense of we have regular written guidance, obviously, a number of the DEOs at the larger departments we speak with personally on a fairly regular basis. We have other communication tools that we use. Once a year we have an annual conference of between 400 and 500 ethics officials who come together to talk about the hot ethics topics of the year.

But, in addition, we every four years, audit the ethics program of every agency and department. We send out a team of staff from our office who will go and look at various aspects of the ethics program at each agency and, always, they walk away with some recommendations because, obviously, everything always could use a little improvement or tweaking.

But that's the process we use to ensure that the fundamental components of a program are in place.

MR. LAWRENCE: What is or does a successful ethics program look like? How do you measure it?

MS. COMSTOCK: A successful ethics program, in terms of the components that the law requires, would include a financial disclosure system, obviously, that is being monitored; the forms are being reviewed carefully in a timely manner. It also includes a training component, which we haven't really discussed, but at the highest levels, federal employees, all those who file these public financial disclosure forms, are required to be -- to receive ethics training once a year and a strong ethics program includes a training component. And these are all things that we can measure.

The fact is, though, that the best ethics program is one that is used by employees, where the employees will reach out to ethics officials and ask their questions. They receive answers that are workable for that agency. It's very important to me, as a leader and in terms of the mission of OGE to ensure that our program is not just a stand-alone, bureaucratic program. We need to be able to give guidance that is integrated well with the mission and the programs of an agency.

And that's much harder to measure. But counseling in a really strong program -- whenever we've seen a really strong program, it has a very strong counseling component.

Now, when you step back -- the bigger picture -- how do we know if the ethics program for the whole Executive Branch is successful? I don't really know. And that's what I meant if someone knew the answer.

If you see -- if an ethics official is getting an increase in calls, does that mean people understand the issues more and are calling more? Or does that mean they didn't learn a thing in training, they're totally confused and they're calling with questions? If the calls stopped, does that mean they learned all the answers, or they don't care about the issues?

I don't know how to measure that.

MR. LAWRENCE: Okay, and that's a good breaking point. Come back with us after the break, and we'll find out what the future of government ethics might look like. Will all this technology be an advantage or a disadvantage?

This is The Business of Government Hour.


MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with Amy Comstock, the Director of the Office of Government Ethics.

Well, Amy, what advice would you give to a young person who's interested in a career in public service?

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, I actually, Paul, have to say that the first thing I want to say because my husband is a high school teacher, is work hard, stay in school and go to college. Beyond that, I'm really proud of my career in government service. I'm proud of the fact -- I still consider myself a career public servant, in spite of the fact that I am a presidential appointee. And I have to say that in the, I guess, 13 years that I've been in the government now, I have seen so many instances where a person's personal interests, personal passion, hard work, has allowed them to get a policy through to effect a change in the government, to actually have an impact. So, when I hear people espouse that the government is so big, it's such a large ship it can never be turned around that, you know, what's the point of going there, you know, you get lost in bureaucracy -- I can't deny that that occurs, I mean, obviously, I've seen enough of that in government, too.

But the fact is that that's not always the case. I've seen just as many instances where a person does come in, they do make a difference, their passion shows through in the work they do and it has an effect. So I would encourage people to keep the government in mind as an option for your work, because it really can be an effective, exciting place to work.

MR. LAWRENCE: Is there any set of skills you recommend they acquire?

MS. COMSTOCK: Gosh, it really depends on what area they want to go in. I'm a big believer, personally, in a liberal arts education because someone who can write well and who can speak well, will always be able to argue most -- argue their case and position very effectively.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, how about somebody who's very interested in ethics, perhaps now, as a result of this conversation? What skills should they be learning or acquiring?

MS. COMSTOCK: Certainly that would be one where you'd want to write well. Someone who's interested in ethics, that's still -- that's a really broad term. You can have, you know, you can go back and talk about the philosophers, you can talk about codes-of-conduct, which a lot of corporations have. There are a lot of private organizations out there, which are now looking -- working with private corporations are looking at ethics from the broader perspective and the impact on society. If anyone's interested in those, I would suggest they go on the Internet, there are a lot of organizations that are dealing with ethics in the workplace now or ethics and society.

MR. LAWRENCE: Let's think a little bit about the future. What will be the future demands for ethics programs?

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, I think that the demand should remain the same and I hope it does. The mission, in terms of, for government ethics, ensuring integrity and impartiality in government decision-making should always remain the same. I think how we achieve that may change over the years -- and I hope it does because there's a lot of benefit that we can achieve through technology.

Currently our system is very paper-based and, as I indicated earlier people, for example, file an annual form. I think that -- I hoped that in ten years, for example, that will not be the case anymore. I foresee the day where employees will be able to go onto their computer and put in the asset, hopefully, because we run a prevention program that they're thinking of buying, not that they've already bought -- and determine if it's a problem. That they'll be able to instantaneously receive advice on a question about an outside position they want to take or something related to that; post-employment question for our former employees.

I really see kind of more immediate response. I do, eventually, believe, for example, that the public will be able to receive financial disclosure forms over the Internet. I don't know if they'll -- excuse me, over email. Currently, it's a very paper-based system, but I think there's a lot we can do through technology.

MR. LAWRENCE: Will there be any other benefits from technology that you can imagine other than replacing paper?

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, certainly, the instantaneous guidance is what I enjoy about the Internet, it's, you know, you basically can receive your information immediately. And the ethics program does not necessarily guarantee that now in terms of conflict-of-interest guidance, review of financial disclosure forms, it's a much longer process right now because it goes -- it will travel from person to person. And I would like to see that -- or I foresee the day where that will be -- that that will simply already be in the computer in terms of what problems are and someone will receive instantaneous guidance. And that will prevent a lot of problems.

MR. LAWRENCE: If it became easier, could we imagine a world in the future where lots more government employees participated in this process of disclosure, that it was rolled out much wider?

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, currently, we have 20,000 who file the public financial disclosure form now. But beyond that, there's, I believe -- gosh, I believe it's 250,000, although I'd have to check that figure, Paul, who file a confidential financial disclosure form. These are public officials who are not at the level that it's been determined that the public, really, should be able to determine their own decision-making, but they're still officials who have a lot of discretion in decision and have potential for conflicts.

Of course, all these people, I believe, are honest good civil servants. But they file financial disclosure forms, as well, but those forms are only reviewed by the ethics officials to determine that there aren't conflicts.

I don't know that we'll ever get to the point where more people than that need to file, but we may. But I think we've tried to cut it off at the people who already have the discretion, have the ability to have a conflict.

MR. LAWRENCE: How do you think OGE will evolve in the next ten years?

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, one other area where I think we will evolve and that also will be impacted by technology is training. The Executive Branch, as you know, actually has employees all over the world because of the Department of State, certainly, people at all sorts of embassies; Agriculture has people in all sort of -- in many parts of this country where there aren't large offices for the federal government.

So, another area where I see technology benefiting us is training. It does allow us for immediate interaction through the Internet, conversations that are significantly improved over telephone conversations. But that are more, you know, face-to-face interactive, but where people do not have to fly, to a post that is, you know, to have a conversation with one or two people. So I do -- I'm very excited about the opportunities that technology will give us in terms of reaching out to people individually, but without having to travel there because training, again, training will always be a very strong mission.

MR. LAWRENCE: How important or what are the characteristics of a good ethics program in an agency? I've heard it said that having strong leadership support for ethics is really key in having a program. And having all the other things but without that leadership support, probably it'll be difficult for that message to be carried?

MS. COMSTOCK: I think that's right. We all look to our leaders to see how they act and, in terms of setting our own standard. But -- and there's no doubt -- there's many studies that show that the actions taken and the standards set by our leaders, by our CEOs establish the culture for the agency.

But I have to say that in the federal government, I think, as is often the case, it's more complicated than that. We certainly look to our leadership, we look to the President to establish the standards and the Cabinet for ethical behavior and that's an extremely important influential statement.

But, in addition, quite frankly, we also look to the culture of the agency and to individual supervisors. One of the areas that I'm trying to focus on is to reach out, clearly to reach out to the highest-level leaders but, also, to reach out to the supervisors in all the agencies and ensure that they understand the importance of ethics and their role in ethics.

Quite frankly, if an employee ever has a problem, a dilemma, and they walk into their boss's office and say here's my dilemma, you know, where should I go with this and the boss gives them an answer. For most of us that is the answer, that's where they'll stop. So, one of the things that I'm trying to do in terms of building on this leadership -- the impact of leadership, is to include in our concept of leadership all the supervisors and managers in an agency and instill in them the highly influential role they have in establishing the ethical culture in the workplace.

MR. LAWRENCE: What kind of conflicts or challenges result because of what you just said, that those are, in fact, the people that you would turn to with issues and if they're not, perhaps, enlightened?

MS. COMSTOCK: Well, I don't know if it results in a conflict, but it certainly results in a challenge for us because our system -- as I came to OGE, our system is to basically communicate through, as I said, the one person whose the designated agency ethics official. In a large department, like Treasury, you know, that one person, I then in the system as we're structured, I kind of expect that person to then filter down what I said into the incredible number of people who work at Treasury.

The challenges -- what I'm talking about is reaching out more directly to supervisors and instilling in them from us the sense of mission and ethical culture that we're talking about. We're working with HUD to establish a pilot project to reach out directly in terms of ethics training to the supervisors at HUD to address the issues that we're talking about. And I'm hoping that that pilot project will show that the kind of training we want to do for supervisors will be effective and become a part of the culture in the agency.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, Amy, I'm afraid we're out of time. I want to thank you for joining us this morning.

MS. COMSTOCK: It was a pleasure to be here, thank you. Oh, and I do want to mention that if anyone is interested in more details about what the Office of Government Ethics does, they can go to our website which is And, again, thank you for having me.

MR. LAWRENCE: Great, thanks a lot. This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Amy Comstock, Director of the Office of Government Ethics.

Be sure to visit us at the website, there you can learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. And you can also get a transcript of today's interesting conversation; once again, that's

This is Paul Lawrence, see you next week.

Mark McCloy interview

Friday, July 13th, 2001 - 20:00
Mark McCloy
Radio show date: 
Sat, 07/14/2001
Intro text: 
Mark McCloy
Complete transcript: 

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Arlington, Virginia

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

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with government executives who are changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with Dick Burk, Associate Deputy Chief Information Officer for IT Reform. Welcome, Dick.

Mr. Burk: Hi, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: And Mark McCloy, Director Office of Information Technology Reform. Welcome, Mark.

Mr. McCloy: Thank you, good afternoon.

Mr. Lawrence: Both Dick and Mark are in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at HUD.

Well, as you can tell from our introductions, today's guests are going to talk to us about dealing with technology but first let's start by finding out more about HUD. Could you tell us about HUD and its missions?

Mr. Burk: Certainly. HUD is the cabinet-level agency that's charged with the responsibility for providing a decent home and a suitable living environment free of discrimination for every American and a relatively small federal agency, only 10,000 in number, compared to most other federal agencies but we have a fairly large budget, 32 billion a year, to carry out this mission.

We carry this out through alliances with state and local governments, with nonprofit community-based organizations, with about 3,400 housing authorities around the United States, and with several thousand lenders. So it's a large operation even though we're relatively small. So we partner a lot which has implications for the technology we utilize and for other management decisions that we make.

Mr. Lawrence: And tell us about the office of the Chief Information Officer.

Mr. McCloy: Basically the Office of the Chief Information Officer handles the technology at HUD. We run the systems. We build a lot of the software along with our contractors. We're responsible for the operating systems, the technology of the future for HUD, the technology of the present for HUD, and we still have a lot of technology in the past at HUD.

Mr. Lawrence: And let's bring it all the way back, then. What are the activities under the purview of the Office of IT Reform?

Mr. McCloy: I think that's probably easily summarized. We try to make sound business judgments for information technology investments, things like software, things like hardware, things like tele-communications networks. What is the best return on investment for the government? What is the best investment for HUG in general? You can look at a lot of dollars that we actually do spend but those dollar are in short supply because they're appropriated dollars and the idea is to get the best for HUD on any given year and get a project that can improve the general welfare of the people who use our services, the people who receive grants from HUD.

So it's a challenging job because we don't have enough money in any one to do everything that we'd like to do so we try to figure out what's best. A group of us get together often and analyze information technology, what we want to do, what can serve the public, what can serve our other business partners, other government agencies, and how we would get from one place to another in a short period of time with a reasonable return on the federal dollars that we invest.

Mr. Lawrence: Give us a sense of the order of magnitude. How many people at HUD are working on technology and what type of people are they? Are they just the stereotypic computer science folks or are there other disciplines?

Mr. McCloy: A lot of our folks are not the computer scientists. A lot of our folks are people who run contracts. We have an incredible amount of contractors within our organization so our job is to clearly understand a requirement from a user community and to build the system that would actually make that job profitable for the federal government. "Profitable's" not maybe the right word but when can we get a system deployed, when can we get an actual benefit to the people that we actually work with on a daily or a weekly basis?

Mr. Lawrence: And tell us about your careers.

Mr. Burk: Well, my career with the federal service actually started back in 1974 at HUD. I tell people sometimes, you know, I came to HUD when Nixon was in office. I tell that to some of the interns and they almost die thinking how early that was. But I was in the United States Peace Corps overseas and knew I wanted to spend some time in public service, came back, got a graduate degree in public administration, worked for the City of Columbus, Ohio, and anytime you're in the public sector you ought to spend sometime with the feds. So I came to Washington, D.C., and came to work at HUD, mostly in the program area.

The majority of my career is in running grant programs, housing rehabilitation. Housing finance is probably my deep skill. And coming into the information technology field, which I only really did about six years ago, mid-nineties, what you come to is you really bring the program side to this. And I have a bias, obviously, toward the business end of our endeavor.

So getting IT, information technology, to support the business area is properly what I bring to this and I got started several years ago with a geographic information system that we developed at HUD and it was very successful and then parlayed that into enterprise-wide systems and now into a cheap architect role at HUD.

Mr. Lawrence: And, Mark, how about you?

Mr. McCloy: A long time ago in a place far, far away at Social Security Administration I started to build the first COBOL programs for Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. So a lot of my early experience was with large master files and in the federal service. I'm in the federal service because it's a good job. It's an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. There have been very many long days. I mean, most people say well, when was the time that you were at 3:00 a.m. in the morning on the job and I can remember some of those days at IBM running benchmarks on computer programs.

From Social Security Administration I moved into the private sector for a short bit of time and then back into the government at the Department of Commerce. One of the projects that I was involved in at Commerce had to do with the NEXRAD (?) radar. NEXRAD radar is the weather radar that's used throughout the United States and in our territories which actually brings us day to day weather.

I think that the crowning achievement of that was that we were able to forecast weather fairly accurately. Within four hours we were dead center on accuracy. We were able to predict tornadoes before they killed people. We were able to save lives. So that to me was probably one of the crowning achievements that I helped manage.

I was actually the program manager and fielded the first ten units for the NEXRAD radar. And the other 162 units fielded at that time were throughout the country while I moved onto another project.

Went back into the private sector and played IPO in a time that might not have been a good IPO time. So I had a very good offer from HUD to come in and help run the Office of Information Technology Reform, which is an interesting commodity in government because now you're applying business rules to the federal government and trying to make wise financial decisions when you're going to invest money.

That's something that when you're looking at an IPO and some of the different problems that you have are very, very similar in nature. So if you put the two together I'm a dead ringer for something called IT reform and how do you do a project, how do you build the system.

I was fortunate because I'm one of the older folks that have actually done a real web-type program. I've been involved with the Internet and we've made some money through the Internet in the company that I was involved in which at that time became a little bit difficult as the market did its topsy-turvy things.

But smart business people can survive in any kind of a market. Why did I come into the government? It's a good job. Don't kid yourself. I mean, we make good bucks and we have a good time doing it and plus there's some incredible challenges in working with people and working with systems that are 20 years old and working with systems that are one minute old.

So it's an interesting place to be and the folks I work with are very interesting, also.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with Dick Burk and Mark McCloy about innovation at HUD, find out more about the information technology that they're using when The Business of Government Hour continues.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and our conversation is with Dick Burk and Mark McCloy of the Office of the Chief Information Officer at HUD.

We know that HUD has completed an enterprise architecture plan in the last year. Could you tell us what this is and how you went about completing the plan?

Mr. Burk: Well, I might take just a second to say we didn't complete the plan. We've just begun, in fact. There isn't really a plan per se when you talk about enterprise architecture as much as it is a process for bringing all the relevant parties together to make sure that the information technology appropriately supports the business mission and does it in a way, as Mark points out, that we get a decent return on that investment.

That return is that we're able to deliver the message, get the information to whomever needs it at the right time, and get the right information there. So the architecture helps you do that in the sense because it's basically divided up into four layers as we characterized it.

You have the business architecture itself. What is HUD's business from a functional point of view? Then what information does it need in order to support those business lines? So you have an information layer, if you will, and that is architected in a particular way, then the applications that those data are manipulated by, and then the systems and the technologies that are utilized that those applications reside on.

And you want to be able then clearly to interrelate those four layers and so one of the processes that we were able to develop to help was a tool that we borrowed from the Customs Office, where it was initially developed, and this was a way to give us a picture of our current state of the architecture. And then you could go into any one of those levels and look up, let's say, if I went in the applications layer and I took a look at all of the applications that HUD has. We have 241 information systems at HUD. That tells you something, a little bit.

So you want to be able to look up to see well, what data do those systems manipulate and in support of what business line and then look down to be able to see well, what is the architecture that it resides on. And you can come in at any layer and take a look at those aspects.

So if you want to then go in to modify the systems or develop a new system or eliminate one of the systems or achieve other goals, end obsolescence, reduce redundancies where appropriate, or introduce new technologies you then have an ability to be able to say okay, I want to carry out that project. How does that now impact my whole architecture, and how am I now bringing that whole system along because this is a moving target, we have additional drivers, we have new laws that get passed, new policies by the new administration.

You want to be able to accommodate those and to accommodate them quickly because you cannot have these long 12-, 18-, 24-month window of opportunity. For most of the folks that come to HUD that are in political positions that's their term here and they want to get a response fairly quick.

So you have to be able to be able to respond quickly. You have levels of complexity here within, as anybody who deals in this field understands, so responding to both of those plus the changing technology really force you to need to do this with engineer principles, with architecture in mind, and not simply happenstance as perhaps it has been done in the past.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the implications of enterprise architecture on IT capital investment?

Mr. Burk: Anytime you want to make a decision with regard to a particular project, and Mark really heads up this area, you want to be able to say is this in conformance with where we as an organization, as an entity, want to go in information technology. And you need to be able to answer that question at a variety of levels.

It may be in support of the business line appropriately but it's not in tune with appropriate technology. We may be collecting a lot of that information. As you well know, as most people in large organizations know, we collect a lot of different kinds of information and sometimes we don't even know the data that we collect.

And so in a response to developing a new system we may say okay, let's develop a whole brand-new system and we'll go out one more time to the public and we'll ask those kinds of questions and get that data in when we are already doing that. So we need to know already what data that we have. And in every one of these areas, you want to be able to do it as intelligently as possible, in line with new technology, and at a cost that is reasonable.

Mr. Lawrence: What lessons have you learned from this process?

Mr. Burk: How tough it is to get everybody on the same sheet of paper because this is a collaborative effort. This is not a group of architects who sit in the room and decide by themselves and then come out with a set of standards or guidelines. If anybody attempts to do that we know that will fail.

So it must be a collaborative effort with the business side as well as the IT side and, as I was saying beforehand, coming from the business side I appreciate that very much and in order to get buy-in from the business area they need to participate in the development of the standards themselves and then approve them.

So I think that is one big lesson that you learn, plus it's very important to make sure that there is a process, again I go into that, for having the individual business areas come together and see the commonalities that they have. So at HUD we have public and Indian housing, we have the Office of Housing, which is single-family and multi-family, and we have community planning and development. Lots of times they operate in their own particular stovepipes. The systems get built appropriately as well.

So to afford them the opportunity to come together to see some of the same common issues that they're dealing with some of the same clients and need to be addressed and need to be supported in IT with the common platforms, the common data elements, with common systems.

Mr. Lawrence: We also know that HUD has recently completed an e-government strategic plan. Could you tell us about this plan?

Mr. Burk: What we've done is gone out and taken a look at both our business partners and the citizens and HUD folks themselves internally and say how can we better connect with them utilizing the Internet. We did a couple of things, took a look across the entire panoply of programs that we have and identified certain particular areas that were appropriate that worked for us and then tried to project out into the future what are some other things we could do.

For example, we sell 70,000 properties a year at HUD that come into our portfolio and we have a lot of people who come to our Internet page and say gee, I've had a life-changing experience. I've got divorced or just got out of jail or something along that line. Can the federal government help me in terms of does it have a house that I might be able apply to?

So having that connection with the public directly is part of our Internet strategy. As I mentioned beforehand, most of our business, though, is done through outside organizations, business partners. So the whole issue of how do we work with those business partners to serve citizens becomes critical for us.

So for us it becomes very much government to business or government to government and our e-strategy emphasizes those areas in particular.

HUD is very location-specific. We are in 90,000 locations every day. So knowing where we are working across the entire enterprise is critically important so one of the things that we have developed and we'll just be rolling out this month in fact will be a presence on the Internet on our home page, geographic information system, that ties together a variety of data sources within HUD and answers the question what is HUD doing in my area, in my congressional district, or my city, or even my neighborhood? And go in and zero on down to that, answer those kinds of questions across the entire range of HUD's programs. That's useful. Those are some parts and elements of the strategy itself.

Mr. Lawrence: HUD has also taken steps to improve its financial management of the IT capital investment process. Could you tell us more about these activities?

Mr. McCloy: I think I can help on that. Last year we really got into it heavy. My boss, Deborah Stoffer, actually was the leader in putting the programs together supported by our Chief Information Officer, Gloria Parker. But the idea in capital planning and what we've done over the past is we try to establish a baseline.

A baseline's established on schedule, a baseline's established on cost, and a baseline is established on risk and technical involvement. And effectively every quarter we sit down with about 200 different projects and their project managers and find out how folks are doing against those plans that they originally created and we use a term called "earned value."

The term "earned value" means where are you when you said you would be someplace in time and dollars expended. If you're behind schedule and have got some problems then we try to help by slowing the project down some. If you're ahead of schedule and you need more money then we're happy to try to move more money around within the organization so that you can make the day and your project a little bit better.

So it's an involved process. It's checked often through technical reviews and these control reviews, and we try to do what's best globally for HUD.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Today's conversation is with Dick Burk, Associate Deputy Chief Information Officer for IT Reform, and Mark McCloy, Director, Office of Information Technology Reform, in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at HUD.

Well, let me follow up on our last segment. The Information Technology Reform Office supports the Technology Investment Board Executive Committee. Could you tell us about the Technology Investment Board?

Mr. McCloy: Yes, and maybe the way to describe it is through a process. I had mentioned on a quarterly basis we got together and reviewed projects and on a yearly basis we get together and review what is going to be funded. But after we review it we make recommendations to what we call the Technology Investment Board Executive Committee. This is the committee headed by the Secretary of HUD and all the assistant secretaries are members of the Board.

So once we've made technical decisions these folks can sit down and apply whatever decisions or priorities they wish. If they disagree with us then they change whatever they want to change.

It could be that the Secretary of HUD decides that he wants to put emphasis on Project X or bring in his own project and he wants to apply different funds for that. Obviously that is a go at that point but the issue would be we only have so many dollars. So we try to figure out where the dollars will be subtracted and how we can do a secretarial or an assistant-secretarial initiative at that point.

So we recommend to the Executive Committee exactly what we think is best for HUD and they either agree or disagree. Most of the time they do agree but, as I said, if they have some priority that they want to make happen or put more emphasis or more dollars on something then they do it.

And the system actually works. It gets a little difficult because there are limited dollars and on an average year we probably have 30 to 40 percent more requests for dollars than we actually have dollars so obviously we've got to figure out what is the best process to make this happen.

We try to do it. We recommend where the best returns on investment are and the Executive Board chaired by the secretary actually make it happen. Until their approval, nothing is real.

Mr. Lawrence: We understand that the Office of IT Reform is charged with developing and implementing an IT performance measurement program. Could you tell us about the program you're currently using?

Mr. McCloy: Basically we're in the process of developing the performance measurement program. That is the tail end of the process. When we put together an investment portfolio what we sit down and say is that we need X dollars and at some point in time something will happen. That something is measured after the system is delivered.

We're in the process of trying to put it together with other federal agencies, how you measure performance at the end of the process, but it really isn't the end. This is the many years, the operational dollars that are important to the government on a year to year time frame.

If we said that we're going to process 10,000 new housing applications in six months are we doing that? Does the system meet up to that? Does it need more dollars to do it? Is the system that we have in place the wrong system, meaning that it might have been aged technology because it takes a while to field some of the systems out there and we might need new technology.

Obviously there's new software released every day and we might have to upgrade it.

It continues the process through the entire life cycle by measuring it when we actually have an operational system and it's done by establishing a baseline and then reporting against the baseline that you've already established.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let me skip back to the beginning of the process because the Office of IT Reform is charged with conducting economic and risk analysis of proposed IT projects. What lessons could you pass along to other government leaders about undertaking these types of reviews prior to committing to an IT project?

Mr. McCloy: First thing, pay attention to your mission. Don't go outside of the mission of the department. A lot of folks we talk about creeping requirements. Don't do that. I mean, do what the mission says.

If it's housing, stick with housing. If it's safe housing, stick within the parameters of safe housing. Understand clearly what your requirements are and don't go monkeying around with them and get user buy-in. Too many projects in the federal government we haven't had a clear understanding of what the user said and we chase the project all the way around the scoreboard and can't figure out what the actual requirement was.

You have to put those in concrete and you have to make sure that senior management has a positive buy-in, they understand what you're going to do, and then do it, and don't keep changing the requirements. So effectively the lesson learned is hold the folks to the task that they agreed on before they got the capital venture from the United States Treasury.

That's it. They made a deal with a requirement and you don't go changing it in the middle unless you get senior-level approval that you're going to pitch a different way. And, I mean, when you don't it doesn't work. I mean, we have too many projects in government that just don't work.

Mr. Lawrence: Other guests have discussed the difficult --

Mr. McCloy: Of course, we don't have them at HUD.

Mr. Burk: No, that's right. Yes, HUD to the contrary notwithstanding.

Mr. Lawrence: Other guests have discussed the difficulties in implementing large IT projects or even halting the momentum of an expensive project. How do you deal with those two issues?

Mr. McCloy: One of the things that we've learned about building software over the last ten years is small teams work very, very well; large teams don't work. To me if a project is off-track cut the dollars, slow it down, get different management running the project.

Bring in a superstar or two or a technical wizard or genius. They're few and far between but when you bring them in, I mean, there are folks that are gifted and talented in the government doing fellowships, et cetera, or you could bring in a Lincoln Lab. You can bring in a very, very credible organization that has faced the same problems in another place and let them help you and don't be so "prideful" is the right word that you won't listen to some of the advice that they give you.

Go back, make sure that your users are happy. If your user is unhappy, take a hike. I mean, it's the bottom line. Dick?

Mr. Burk: Well, I think experience is the key factor here that you're looking for. Even if somebody is terribly bright and understands a particular field, whether it be data warehousing or whatever it happens to be, but if they haven't walked through that once before, if they haven't walked through that in a pretty good-sized organization and understood not just the technology or it but the other side of it, how do you get and maintain user buy-in to the project at hand and extend it over a period of time?

Some people use it as terminology is marketing. I don't know if I would really talk about that but there's an educational process in it and there is a constant feedback loop back to the business owners and to the people affected that has to happen as you move through the development of the project in order to sustain that kind of support.

In those instances where the project is going South you can have the best policemen in the world but I will tell you that the end user, the project buyer, will let you know soon enough if that thing is going wrong.

Then what you need to have is a mechanism in place so that issues around that project can get surfaced and get dealt with. Some folks talk about having an enterprise-wide project management office, some office where you can go to say hey, I've got a serious problem here. I've had changing requirements or the user-owner has changed and therefore has a different set of requirements or we've run into a snag here technically and we need to get this resolved.

We either need to bring in somebody stronger or we need to reconfigure the integrated product team or a whole variety of other factors. We need to take a look at the new technology because something's gone wrong with the firm or something's gone wrong with the technology in a place where the project director can get that resolved and then move on and do it quickly.

So much of the real problems that I have experienced and seen, some firsthand, I might admit, have been simply that these things have let go and there's not a resolution of the issue quickly.

Mr. Lawrence: What's the relationship between strategy and IT modernization?

Mr. McCloy: I think when you're trying to do a strategy you're trying to look at a process that will get you to a location in time and place and equipment. Where IT modernization is you just might have to crank something up that actually is more compatible to the technology of the day. You really have to sit down and think before you act.

I learned something from NASA a long time ago. And what I learned is if you have ten seconds to solve a problem use the first nine to think about it and do it in the tenth.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good point for a break. Coming up, we'll discuss the expected wave of retirements and find out whose going to be running HUD. More of The Business of Government Hour in just a minute.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Today's conversation is with Dick Burk, Associate Deputy Chief Information Officer for IT Reform, and Mark McCloy, Director, Office of Information Technology Reform, in the Office of the Chief Information Officer of HUD.

One of the many challenges facing organizations is recruiting and employees, especially in the technology sector. How do you find this at HUD?

Mr. Burk: Yes, it is a serious problem, to restate it. We lost a large cadre of our technology folks several years ago as HUD moved from approximately 17,300 down to 9,300. Similarly, at that same time, as I mentioned earlier, you go from 3,400 loans per day to 5,400 loans per day. In an earlier time we were not making any homeless grants. We now make close to 5,500 grants a year.

So the work has gone up exponentially while the staff has been cut in half and if you really have IT supporting the business that means IT grows, the number of systems, the size, the complexity of them enormously, and the need to move quicker and at the same time you don't have the people around.

So we've relied heavily on contractors. We've made certain issues clear to the contractors who do come on board with us and that is that we are in a partnership role. We will try as best we can to define precisely what it is we want, the deliverable out of every task and contract, and hold contractors responsible.

We ask them to take a little bit broader view of the role. We can't write into every contract exactly this partnership role, although we try to articulate it, but, as one of the examples I used earlier, when you think about well, what is going to be the buy-in to this particular piece of technology that I am preparing and developing, how is that organization going to adapt accordingly, I expect a contractor to think through that. I expect a contractor to make suggestions to me with regard to all right, now would be an appropriate time now to begin to approach these levels. At HUD we see that they are responding or have the potential to respond or need to buy into the technology or buy into the solution right now and so that's what we do.

Mr. Lawrence: There's a lot of talk about partnership and even you talked about it broadly when you said think broadly. What does partnership mean to you?

Mr. Burk: Well, to understand HUD in its broader context, not just the 9,300 people in the 88 field offices, to understand our business and our business is working with these business partners and so when a contractor comes in I expect them to understand that concept.

It is a special relationship. I don't know if it is unique in the federal government but certainly working with state and local government folks we offer them maximum feasible participation in deciding where those dollars go and how HUD business is developed and worked. That is a critical piece to the way we work. Understanding that is part of being a business partner.

I think there are other aspects to it as well. I suppose maybe it's similar to other areas of the government where you really are sitting side by side at the table together and you ask them to participate, be critical. This is not just a one-sided relationship. I expect this is a two-way conversation. I will be critical of them but I expect them to also come back to us and say we don't see it that way at all. Here's the way we see it type of thing.

That's an honest relationship. That's an honest partnering relationship and we look for it. I might add I think that's exactly what we've gotten from PWC and other contractors.

Mr. Lawrence: Are you concerned as the skills of the technologists at HUD change from perhaps people who were hands-on doing all the work before to now the people who monitor contractors?

Mr. McCloy: Our skill base has changed. I mean, clearly I grew up in an environment where I was a programmer and now I'm having to give those instructions to a contractor and it's difficult because there's a ton of rules and regulations and codes that have to be followed and the penalty for not following some of those can be career-ending.

And it's important, this partnership, that you work with a team, that everybody understands the same general guidelines, the same general rules, that you have to play by and then you try to make it work the best.

I mean, I always try to explain it like the 4 by 100 relay. When you pass that baton the Olympic team's done it 1,000 times and when you're passing information, data requirements, hopefully you're passing it friendly to the contractor, the contractors are working in a friendly environment with you, and that it's a team effort.

And every once in a while I always like to say when I've screwed up something my team knows what to say. They say what Mark really meant to say was, and that's the indication, Mark, you just blew it. Let's try something else.

And it has to work that way. You can't be afraid to say if something is really off the wall or something is really good, and they don't want to be in a position when something's really good to let it go by the board. I mean, you don't want to have somebody in a meeting who's a dynamic super-star but out of his field for that day dominate a meeting. So it's interesting.

Mr. Burk: Getting back to that issue about the partnership, there are times when a contractor needs to come in and say look, for the dollars that you're asking for and for what you're looking for you're not going to get there, given our best experience. Now, that is very tough for a contractor, particularly because they're going to say well, the likelihood here is they may terminate the contract and I'll be out and I just spent a lot of money bidding on this thing.

So I fully understand the pressures on the both sides. There is another day and this is a relationship that is being built between a contractor and HUD and we want to maintain that and I think the contractor does, too.

The worst thing that can happen is for the contract to go forward, HUD not to be satisfied or the government entity not to be satisfied, and the thing falls on its face. And you go back to the contractor, the contractor says well, this is what you asked me for. You've articulated and you say well, okay, fine, we'll deal with someone else from now on, thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: What kind of advice would you give to a young person who's interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Burk: Oh, come in. It's very interesting. Everybody's talking about the dearth of folks who want to come into the federal government. I don't believe that's true at all. We announced 700 positions, I think, back in the fall or back last year and we had 27,000 applications. I mean, it was just phenomenal.

So I think people do want to come into public service. It's a challenge. Where else would you find this kind of breadth moving from all of the different fields that are represented even just in one agency like, HUD?

I've found it fascinating over the years as I've moved around within HUD from policy development and research to the program areas into IT, into the Office of Administration. And the ability to move around and move up and have increasingly challenging positions, I think, is very appealing.

Mr. McCloy: Let me sum it up maybe a different way. Federal employees led the mission to put a man on the moon and federal employees put thousands of people in homes along with our partners in government and in housing authorities have put thousands and thousands of people in homes. What an incredible challenge to make the planet a tad bit better.

Mr. Lawrence: What kinds of skills would you recommend a young person have or what were you looking for in those 27,000 applications?

Mr. Burk: Well, the breadth of capabilities. It's hard to be specific about that. I don't think it's any different from in the private sector. You're looking for some deep skill, some skill that a person feels associated with and comfortable with, whether that be budgeting or finance or IT in a particular area but some grounding and then the ability to remain flexible and the willingness to continue to learn because I hate to hear this but when I came into the federal service the thought that I would be in IT later on was the most foreign thing in the world.

And so the willingness to learn and the ability to then stay current, those are some qualities. I think you have to be creative and that's a funny word to use. A lot of people don't think about that in the federal government but I think you have to be creative, particularly, like, in the scenario I painted beforehand where you have twice the work and one half the people and you still need to make things work and work better than they had earlier. You have to be creative to be able to do that.

Mr. McCloy: And they would be working with dynamic personality people like Dick and myself and that is a real plus.

Mr. Burk: Oh, my gosh, we just lost thousands of people who potentially would come to HUD, Mark. Watch out.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, that's probably a good point to end because I'm afraid we're out of time. Dick and Mark, I want to thank you very much for our conversation today. It's been fascinating.

Mr. Burk: Thank you, Paul, very much.

Mr. McCloy: Thank you, have a good day, and Go, Redskins.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Dick Burk and Mark McCloy of HUD.

To learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness visit us on the Web at And at the site you can also get a copy of today's transcript of this interesting and insightful conversation.

See you next week.

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