Archive for October 2009
We told you about the major reorganization of the Agriculture Department’s management structure.
The plan — and you can read all the documents here — essentially creates an uber-USDA “Departmental Administration” that includes most of the management functions — procurement, IT, HR, finance and budget — all under one umbrella.
I haven’t been able to get somebody at USDA to talk about it officially yet — we’re still working on it. But USDA spokesman Justin DeJong provided me with this statement:
We take our responsibility to ensure we use hard-earned taxpayer dollars wisely, and these changes will help us to serve more people and in a more efficient and effective manner. By optimizing and streamlining the various operations, we plan to eliminate duplicate functions; improve quality of services and communications; and streamline processes and improve transparency to our customers. Ultimately, effective USDA management means effective results for taxpayers and the people USDA serves.
We began having discussions with employees and unions in the early months of the new administration. On June 18, all employees received a letter from Secretary Vilsack about the pending reorganization. This letter was followed by further discussions, meetings and additional outreach to employees and unions, in addition to the required notifications.
The CFO and CIO will continue to have the opportunity to report directly to the Secretary on core responsibilities as outlined in statute. There will be no Reduction in Force (RIF) associated with this reorganization. No employee will lose pay or grade.
I’m happy that USDA is talking about this in a more public, transparent way…. and I continue to hope that they will come on Federal News Radio 1500 AM to discuss the thinking behind the really massive change.
And before focusing on the specifics of the plan itself, I think the way that it is rolled out is important.
To be fair, DeLong and I had a discussion about the transparency of this initiative. And he correctly notes — both in our conversation and in the written statement — that Secretary Vilsack sent out a letter in June to employees and all of the documents about the reorganization are posted on the agency’s Intranet. But this specifically want not discussed in any kind of public way.
My point to him is that this is not just a USDA internal matter — it has broad ramifications about how USDA is run and, frankly, there are people who have ideas and thoughts outside of the agency. It seems to me, that is at the heart of the Obama transparency initiative — agencies should only keep information locked down if there is a reason for that information to be locked down. Frankly, I spoke to several people on Capitol Hill yesterday and they hadn’t heard of the reorganization. Using the Obama transparency and openness measures — transparency, participatory, and collaborative — it sure seems like business as usual.
I think USDA missed out on an opportunity to tap into the collective wisdom — and build support for the idea of a changed management structure. And management issues are ones that particularly touch the employee, so I certainly hope that USDA will not use this as a model for how they view openness and transparency. In the end, if transparency is only within your organization, it fails — and, in the end, it isn’t any different then what has been done in the past.
On the issue of the reorganization itself…
There are still a number of questions out there:
- How does USDA envision this working?
- Nobody disagrees that agencies need to spend money wisely. How does this reorganization spur that?
- What spurred this kind of massive change?
- What data demonstrates that a single organization works better then a diversified one? Or is the decision based on philosophy?
- What will this mean for the agencies within USDA? Will they all be using this uber-management organization for procurement, HR, IT, budget and finance?
- If the organization chart specifically shows that the CIO and CFO report to the UDSA manager, how does this comply with the CFO Act or the Clinger-Cohen Act — in letter or spirit?
Furthermore, Congress Daily spoke to Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan who said she would still have budget authority, which would seem to undercut this actual management organization from the very top.
And then there are questions about the early retirements, which I understand are more complex to address.
In the end, nobody disagrees with the need to spend money wisely… and most everybody agrees that the head of an agency gets to decide how to run their organization — and different management styles work for different people. But leadership and management necessitates that people know where they are going — and why.
My concern is that USDA seems to have missed an opportunity. We have all seen many previous management overhauls that were conducted just the way this one has been so far — largely behind closed doors with, frankly, token efforts to make information available. Most of them go on to fail because they didn’t convince people that it was the right direction. They didn’t see questions as opportunities to improve the plan.
I don’t think anybody disagrees with the plan on the face of it. But buzz I keep hearing is deep concern about the role of the CIO and CFO… and why the determination was made.
Again, as I have re-read this post, it sounds harsh. I don’t mean it to be — and we look forward to getting more information.
Meanwhile, here is Congress Daily had report:
Deputy secretary asserts control over Agriculture budget
By Jerry Hagstrom
October 19, 2009
Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan is planning to continue running the USDA budget, despite an organizational revamp that has placed the budget office under Assistant Secretary for Administration Pearlie Reed….
“I will be running the budget process at USDA,” Merrigan told CongressDaily on Friday, adding that she had presented USDA’s fiscal 2011 budget to the Office of Management and Budget and will make the presentations of future budgets.
The deputy Agriculture secretary has traditionally been in charge of developing the budget and received reports from the budget officer. But since the reorganization, which went into effect Oct. 1, farm lobbyists have worried that if an official below the level of deputy secretary made the presentations, USDA would be at a disadvantage.
The federal government is losing another of its rising stars — but only the larger goal of public service.
Earlier, we told you that GovLoop — the burgeoning online government-focused collaboration platform that describes itself as the Facebook for feds — was purchased by Scott Burn’s GovDelivery. The announcement got a lot of coverage — including Federal News Radio 1500 AM got the first opportunity to talk to GovLoop founder Steve Ressler and GovDelivery founder, president and CEO Burns.
Krzmarzick will be charged with encouraging outreach, partnership, and engagement to help the community grow and bring even greater value to members.
In addition to that news, GovLoop officially passed the 20,000 member milestone in it’s continued rapid growth in just more than a year.
Krzmarzick is one of the leaders in the “Gov 2.0” community. He will leave his post as senior project coordinator at the Graduate School — formerly known as the Graduate School USDA. Ressler and Krzmarzick are good friends — but he has also proven to be a powerful advocate for public service.
We had Krzmarzick on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief earlier this year talking about iampublicservice.org, which crowdsourced a book highlight the work done by feds. He and Ressler also appeared on Federal News Radio’s FedTalk program.
Here is the note Krzmarzick sent to friends:
Guess what? I’ve got a new gig!
Mr. GovLoop himself (aka Steve Ressler) has asked me to join his team as the GovLoop Community Manager (Read: “Wingman”)!
So what does that mean? It means I’ve resigned from the Graduate School and will dedicate myself full-time to making GovLoop THE place where people in and around government can connect and achieve new levels of awesomeness (that’s in my contract, by the way – to use this word at least once in every conversation) beginning October 19.
Seriously, I am going to be Steve’s lead in growing and engaging members, listening to and learning about your needs and honoring and highlighting the great work you do every day. As a former priest wanna-be, I see myself as a cross between a pastor and an evangelist for GovLoop, someone whose role is to serve the public servants. I want to make your life easier by linking you to the information and people who have the answers to your questions and solutions to your challenges.
I can’t wait to get started.
Here is his bio from his blog…
Andrew Krzmarzick, PMP, is a leading thinker, trainer, and trailblazer on the four generations, social media and telework. As a Senior Project Coordinator at the Graduate School, Andrew designs and delivers high-impact, hands-on training, including courses titled “Focusing the Power of Four Generations,” “Wikis and Webcasts and iPods, Oh My!” and “Telework: A Manager’s Perspective.”
Andrew has facilitated workshops and presented at numerous government agencies and conferences, including ASTD’s International Conference, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) Annual Conference, the Advanced Learning Institute’s “Social Media for Government”, the Telework Exchange’s “Telework in a Box” series, and the Training Officers Consortium (TOC) Annual Institute. In order to share presentation content and disseminate best practices, he bookmarks articles and information at Delicious, posts his presentations at SlideShare and engages in thought leadership here at the GenerationShift blog. Andrew is also the co-creator of IAmPublicService.org, a website and ebook project dedicated to improving the perception of public service and attracting the next generation of government talent. He is a Community Leader at GovLoop.com and a member of the Executive Board of Young Government Leaders. His work and insight has been featured in the Washington Post, Public Manager and Government Executive magazines, the FEDManager E-Report, and on Federal News Radio.
In addition to training and speaking, Andrew has produced hundreds of winning proposals and other promotional content over the past ten years to earn over $100 million for non-profit organizations, Federal, state and local government, health departments, school districts and educational institutions. In 2008 alone, Andrew helped organizations across the United State to capture over $12 million in grant awards in support of their vital missions.
Andrew earned his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute and a Master’s Certificate in Project Management from Villanova University. He also has a MA in Theology from The Catholic University of America and a BA in Philosophy from Iowa State University.
DorobekInsider EXCLUSIVE: USDA undertakes extensive management reorg – downgrading the CIO, CFO, and seeking early retirements
Agriculture Secretary Thomas Thomas J. Vilsack last week rolled out a major management reorganization of the agency that downgrades the roles of the USDA chief information officer and chief financial officer. As part of the plan, the agency has also requested the Office of Personnel Management grant USDA permission to proceed forward with early retirements.
The plan: Create a uber-USDA “Departmental Administration” — including operations such as procurement, IT, human resources and finance.
The goal: A more efficient organization, according to a series of memos obtained by FederalNewsRadio.com’s DorobekInsider.
Combining the various operations like procurement, information technology, human resources and finance into a unified USDA management area will eliminate duplicate functions and organizational layering; improve quality of services and communications; and streamline processes and improve transparency to customers. Ultimately, effective USDA management means effective results for taxpayers and the people USDA serves.
Here is the memo that was sent out to USDA personnel:
FROM: Alma C. Hobbs
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration
DATE: October 1, 2009
SUBJECT: Creation of the New USDA Departmental Management
Every day, USDA programs touch people across the country. We have a responsibility to make sure that these programs meet the needs of the American Public and that they are managed in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Over the years, there have been many changes in Departmental Administration creating duplication of functions, fragmentation and organizational layering. This has created inefficiencies and reduced the effectiveness of the Administrative programs. We have an opportunity now to realign these programs, strengthen integration of activities and create an organization that will increase our capacity for accomplishing mission critical work.
We are pleased to announce the creation of the USDA Departmental Management organization. This new organization will replace the current Departmental Administration organization, effective today. The reorganization will improve the management of USDA and reflect Secretary Vilsack’s desire to transform USDA into a model organization. On July 29, the Secretary approved the organizational structure for the new Departmental Management. On September 8, 2009, the Secretary issued a Memorandum to effect the changes necessary to implement the reorganization beginning October 1, 2009. There will be staffing changes effective October 11, 2009, the date of the first pay period of the new fiscal year.
We need your assistance to make this effort successful. Improved integration of management support activities at the Departmental level will move us collectively towards achieving a model organization, positioned to meet the present and future needs of our programs. This transformation is a tremendous opportunity for us to decrease redundancy, increase efficiency, and improve employee morale, and for all of us to make better use of our resources.
We would also like to reiterate Secretary Vilsack’s point that no employee will lose their employment, grade, or commuting area as a direct result of this reorganization. We have also engaged Unions to ensure that bargaining unit employees are represented throughout this process. As we move to the new organization, all employees will be treated fairly and consistently.
Leadership will schedule meetings with employees soon to discuss the reorganization and any necessary realignments or reassignments. These meetings will also provide opportunities for employees to ask questions. Also, we are establishing a web site to go live on Friday, October 2 (www.hqnet.usda.gov/DM_reorg) that will provide a list of frequently asked questions and updates on our progress. A Fact Sheet, Frequently Asked Questions, Secretary Vilsack’s June 18 letter, and an approved Organizational Chart are included for your information.
We are also pursuing Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP) authority from the Office of Personnel Management to present as many positive options as possible during this transformation. A fact sheet on this topic is also included for your review.
As we implement this new organization, we are going to need everyone’s support to make this reorganization a success. We encourage you to stay engaged to ensure a seamless transition that benefits not only our organization, but the American taxpayers as well.
It has been clear that USDA has been in management chaos for some time — but most people believe that was the result of specific personnel, not the structure. (The Bush administration has combined the CIO and CFO job one person — Charles Christopherson — and the agency is still struggling to recovery from the senior people who managed to escape.
I certainly hope that the Obama administration isn’t following a model where they come in and spring a reorganization on employees without asking for ideas? There are also questions about how USDA manages to dodge the CFO Act and the Clinger-Cohen Act, which require that agency CFOs and CIOs respectively report directly to the secretary?
Here is the new USDA organization chart:
I should note, the items mentioned in the memo from the USDA Web site — I’m guessing that it is an Intranet site, so most of us can’t access those documents. Therefore, I have posted them below:
Of course, I’d love to get thoughts from people who have been there and done it — is this the right move for USDA? Post your comments… and we’ll even open the DorobekInsider poll seeking your assessment of the USDA reorganization.
Matt Dunie, who joined Government Executive as general manager back in April… and was then promoted to be president of the group over the Fourth of July week, has left the organization after only six months, the DorobekInsider has learned.
Details are sparse at the moment… and the departure has raised all kinds of questions… for example, why did Dunnie leave? What does this mean for Government Executive Media, which includes Government Executive magazine, GovExec.com and NextGov.com, the up-start government IT Web site. Government Executive, of course, is owned by David Bradley, the chairman of Atlantic Media Company. Bradley, of course, is extremely influential and is widely respected.
As I say, we don’t know much officially. Unlike when Dunie joined Government Executive last April or was promoted over the summer, there was no press release announcing his departure — or, frankly, who was taking over. In fact, Dunie’s bio is still listed among Atlantic Media’s leadership team on their Web site.
What people have been told is that Dunie was brought in to come up with a strategy for Government Executive — and that he did that and that he has a management team in place to carry out that strategy. Again, I don’t have anything to quote because there wasn’t even an internal e-mail sent around, I’m told.
That official cause seems to stretch credulity. With all due respect for Dunie’s skills — and I met with him several times and he seemed very smart — it seems difficult to believe that somebody with no prior experience in the government market was able to so alter Government Executive’s strategy in six months.
Dunie’s departure would seem to be good for Steve Vito, who was the leader at Government Executive. GovExec had left many people scratching their heads when Bradley hired Dunie as, essentially, Vito’s boss — and then Vito was shifted to a “strategic” role. Insiders say that Vito has told Bradley that he is not interested in going back in time. Vito currently works part-time for Government Executive.
So these changes could spur some changes within Government Executive — and, essentially, a new senior leadership team for the media organization.
They could, of course, put out a search to fill that post, but it is a very unique skill set. (Just ask the folks over at the 1105 Government Information Group, which went through an exhaustive search to find a group publisher before hiring Jennifer Weiss this summer.) There are only a handful of people who have a publishing background and have knowledge of this market, which is unique and takes a long time to know and learn.
And these are challenging times for publishers — even in this market. Government Executive seems unusually well positioned, thanks largely to decisions made by Vito who has made a conscience effort to reduce the organization’s dependence on print — and thereby have created new revenue streams from online, including creating NextGov, a whole Web site focusing on government technology. Yet publishers have to be very agile these days — and so it will be interesting to see who Bradley taps to lead Government Executive.
Eying Governing magazine
A few other publishing notes… First, apparently Atlantic Media/Government Executive have decided not to bid for Governing magazine. We told you about parts of the Governing story this earlier, but… Governing was owned by Congressional Quarterly. When The Economic Group’s Roll Call brought CQ, they did not buy Governing, a somewhat sleepy publication that covers the government state and local market. And so… Governing has been shopped around. Word is that Atlantic Media/Government Executive have decided that… well, the price wasn’t right. It is unclear who else might be bidding — Neal Vitale of 1105 Media is believe to be interested and, in fact, sent 1105 staff an e-mail recently saying that despite 20 percent salary cuts, the company could still buy properties — if the price is right. The question: Is the price right? Vitale is known for seeking good deals, but we hear there is a steep price tag on a publication that doesn’t make much money. That being said, 1105 has been interested in having a foothold in the government state and local market, which is overwhelmingly dominated by eRepublic‘s Government Technology. But if 1105 were to buy Governing, they could make a cogent argument that they are the most efficient way to reach the government market — at all levels.
Frankly, I haven’t heard about other bidders.
Editor’s note: Post updated to correct the spelling of Matt Dunie’s name.
Yes — more than 10 months into the Obama administration — and Martha Johnson, the nominee to be the administrator of the General Services Administration, is still awaiting Senate confirmation.
The issue: Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) has put a hold on Johnson’s nomination because of a Kansas City federal property, as we told you back in August — and Federal News Radio 1500 AM spoke with the Kansas City Star reporter Kevin Collison.
GSA puts twist in downtown project’s plan
By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star
Downtown Kansas City can have a new federal office building and 1,200 employees, but under a different development plan than first envisioned.
A top General Services Administration official has given the Missouri congressional delegation the green light for the $175 million project — but only if the federal government owns it.
The plan that had been pitched locally since 2006 called for a building to be developed privately and leased to the GSA. The 430,000-square-foot project would be filled with federal workers moving from the Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City…
Peck’s letter is the latest twist in a political battle that has stalled President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the GSA. Bond has placed a hold on the appointment of Martha Johnson to apply pressure on behalf of the Kansas City project…
Bond’s office greeted Peck’s latest offer with caution, and the senator will continue to hold up the Johnson appointment until more information can be obtained.
Read GSA’s letter to the Missiour congressional delegation here:
As the Kansas City Star reports, it remains unclear if this will resolve the stand-off… and how quickly that be resolved.
Last week on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, we spoke to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) about a letter he sent to President Obama essentially saying that the government was not taking proper precautions for their PDAs — BlackBerries and the like.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today called on the president to hold a confidential cabinet briefing on the topic of cybersecurity and to make the protection of federal data a top administrative and policy priority.
Wolf, whose office computers were compromised in August 2006, continues to express concern that not enough is being done to protect critical data.
“The continued vulnerability of computer and telecommunications networks remains the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of U.S. national security in the 21st century,” Wolf wrote in a letter dated today to President Obama. “I hope you will lead our executive agencies by demonstrating to your cabinet the seriousness with which you consider this issue.”
In fact, this issue was addressed by the Federal CIO Council more than a year ago. Here is the memo:
This afternoon on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief, we’ll talk to Karen Evens, who signed that memo, about the issue.
I certainly don’t think anybody is suggesting that this issue not get full attention — so we’ll take a look at it and why it is important.
Why Email No Longer Rules… [WSJ, Oct. 12, 2009]
And what that means for the way we communicate
Services like Twitter, Facebook and Google Wave create a constant stream of interaction among users—for better or worse.
By JESSICA E. VASCELLARO
Email has had a good run as king of communications. But its reign is over.
In its place, a new generation of services is starting to take hold—services like Twitter and Facebook and countless others vying for a piece of the new world. And just as email did more than a decade ago, this shift promises to profoundly rewrite the way we communicate—in ways we can only begin to imagine.
We all still use email, of course. But email was better suited to the way we used to use the Internet—logging off and on, checking our messages in bursts. Now, we are always connected, whether we are sitting at a desk or on a mobile phone. The always-on connection, in turn, has created a host of new ways to communicate that are much faster than email, and more fun.
Why wait for a response to an email when you get a quicker answer over instant messaging? Thanks to Facebook, some questions can be answered without asking them. You don’t need to ask a friend whether she has left work, if she has updated her public “status” on the site telling the world so. Email, stuck in the era of attachments, seems boring compared to services like Google Wave, currently in test phase, which allows users to share photos by dragging and dropping them from a desktop into a Wave, and to enter comments in near real time.
Little wonder that while email continues to grow, other types of communication services are growing far faster. In August 2009, 276.9 million people used email across the U.S., several European countries, Australia and Brazil, according to Nielsen Co., up 21% from 229.2 million in August 2008. But the number of users on social-networking and other community sites jumped 31% to 301.5 million people.
The story is good — and has started a wonderful conversation with more than 168 comments when I last checked — and most of them fairly angry and recalcitrant.
The WSJ story doesn’t fully capture why these other tools are expanding in popularity, particularly for businesses — it’s the collaboration aspect. Many of these tools tap into the ideas that all of us know more then each of us individually… and information is more powerful when it is shared.
I wrote about this in June in my Signal magazine column:
The First Step Toward Collaboration Is to Stop E-Mailing
E-mail works well for person-to-person communication but today there are better options.
And much of criticism of these new collaborative platforms is part of the reason why I think it is so important that we move away from the term “social media.”
There are corollaries here with the introduction of e-mail… and maybe even the introduction of the telephone. In my Signal column, I recalled when the General Services Administration, under then-administrator David J. Barram, was one of the first agencies to provide each and every person in the organization have e-mail — in fact, they made it a big deal and launched the initiative on Flag Day 1996. I remember covering this issue and I remember people asking, ‘Why would everybody need an e-mail account? Why would everybody need access to this InterWeb thing?’
GSA, thankfully, still has the press release online under the headline, “GSA Employees Join Super Information Highway through Intranet.”
That release, dated June 14, 1996, quotes Barram defining what the Internet even is. Really! How delicious is that?
The “Internet is known as the global communications network and it is being called by many experts the most promising avenue for business in existence today. Through the use of Internet, companies and government agencies worldwide are finding exciting new ways to serve their customers and communicate with each other.”
E-mail revolutionized the way we communicate… and e-mail definitely has a “social” aspect to it, but… it isn’t “social media.” It is a tool that enables organizations to do their job better and more effectively.
Unfortunately, since then, we try to use e-mail as a collaboration tool. (We send out these e-mails with 75 people cc’ed… and with some attachment. That attachment gets changed by individual people — and then we have to bring all those pieces together. Or even worse — when you are number 72 on the cc list and you may have been copied more as informational.
Today, there are better tools out there that enable real collaboration.
What is interesting are how people react to this changing landscape — mostly negatively.
The 20 somethings (and younger) use Facebook as a tell all, as an “analog” generation guy, I find it unseemly, I don’t care about the kids’ dates, how much they drank, who they met, and so on, this is small-minded, tabloid stuff.
As an employer, facebook “history” reflects peoples character, I will not hire someone who lives an outrageous lifestyle away from work.
I have always found this assessment baffling — and, frankly, just uneducated. In fact, Facebook — or any of these tools — are not just about dating or how much they drink. And, in fact, it isn’t just kids. So this just sounds like somebody who refuses to try something new or different.
And I’ve never understood using collaboration and transparency as a bludgeon. The fact is that people do date and they do drink — and a lot of our lives are taken up by “small-minded, tabloid stuff.” So people are doing these things. This is really going to be the determining factor in hiring? Really?
Furthermore, people simply don’t talk about drinking or dating in their work environment out of context. (We are generalizing, of course, but… in general, it has been the case.) In fact, what one finds is that in work situations — enterprise 2.0 — people don’t talk about dating. They talk about work. It isn’t anonymous. It is work — so ones name is tied to what one is saying. People get that — and they take it seriously.
But there is also a real apples-to-oranges comparison that goes on with these tools. So Mr. Diaz, you are saying that none of your e-mail is about personal matters? There is no e-mail that involves “small-minded, tabloid stuff”?
I’d recommend you try some of these collaborative tools before you throw stones at them.
Not for business. While at work, I don’t have time to watch or respond to people’s questionable quality chatter on all of these various services. Email lets me work in a disconnected fashion and respond “in bursts” when I am ready.
If you have time at the office to read about constant updates such as where a person is going to dinner, or who’s dating who then watch out, you might find yourself downsized.
Again, it seems like an apples-to-oranges comparison — there is a reason why people are connected to their CrackBerry. And I see people all the time who put their lives aside when their PDA buzzes with a new e-mail.
If you don’t like the information that people are sharing, then you are probably following the wrong people.
Over all, people’s fears seem disconnected from reality — people complain about e-mail, the amount they get, the number of unnecessary e-mails, their inability to keep up with it — and yet terrified of looking at new ways of doing business.
E-mail isn’t going away. What we’re talking about is using the right tool for the right purpose — and today, we have greater access to a wider variety of tools. I guess I remain baffled about why one would simply reject those tools outright.
Again, in my Signal magazine column, I challenged people to look at new ways of putting out information. For managers, rather then sending out an e-mail blast, why not blog it? — put it out there for everybody to see and read and reference — and even discuss.