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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Former Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould

Office of Management (O-M) Town Hall
January 24, 2012

Good morning, everyone.

I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this Town Hall forum. It's the undisputed place to be for the latest in O-M updates, information and data, and plans. These quarterly meetings mark our progress and provide a snapshot of where we've been, where we are, and where we're going.

They are also a sign of your engaged leadership and focus on communication.

Most of you are probably familiar with Shakespeare's observation that, What's past is prologue.

That phrase means that history influences and sets the context for the present and, to an extent, shapes the future. And judging by O-M's recent track record of accomplishment, it's clear that you are likely ready for another big year.

There's no question about it, O-M has a huge responsibility.

It manages VA's $132 billion checkbook—a balance that reflects the scope, scale, and importance of our network of operations.

  • 152 medical centers, over 800 community-based outpatient clinics, 8.3 million enrolled Veterans;

  • 280 Vet Counseling Centers;

  • 58 regional benefits offices with outlays to four million recipients;

  • 131 National cemeteries interring 120,000 Veterans annually;

  • Delivering education benefits to more than 840,000 Veterans and family members, second only to the Department of Education;

  • 1.6 million individual home loans;

  • $1.3 trillion in life insurance coverage for over seven million Veteran clients.

If we were operating in the private sector, our size and scope would make us a Fortune 10 company.

In one way or another, O-M touches all of the mission-critical programs and services I just mentioned. And from my perspective, O-M stands as VA's touchstone for transformation.

Over a very short period of time, it has driven major, unprecedented improvements in financial management and program integration. As a change agent, it is leading by example: Here's the short list:

  • O-M led and managed the Secretary's budget review—in pre-year, mid-year, and end-of-year cycles.

  • Developed incisive analyses, options, and recommendations for budget decision-making.

  • Ensured that performance information is fully integrated in the budget process.

  • Reviewed, scored, and prioritized over 1300 business cases for capital projects against a common set of criteria to develop the FY2013 OMB budget submission.

  • Leveraged the Program Planning Budgeting System to make informed program policy decisions which tie to our budget and specific multi-year plans.

  • Working on our financial frontlines, O-M advanced and defended our annual budget requests to OMB and promoted VA's program plans and budget estimates, negotiating and appealing OMB's passback decisions.

  • As well as serving as our primary liaison with Congress, developing our testimony and managing all aspects of our budget presentation to Congress, the VSOs, and the press.

  • If we look at the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, ARRA:

  • 100% of VA's ARRA funds were obligated—$1.8 billion.

  • 89% of funds outlaid—$1.66 billion.

  • ARRA projects awarded in all 50 states; 98% of contracts competitively awarded; 75% of ARRA contract dollars went to Veteran-owned small businesses; and, 3,100 jobs were created.

  • Our Integrated Operating Model, or IOM, implemented change to VA's prioritization and decision-making processes and linked them VA-wide. It targeted 38 cross-functional area dependencies, and developed action plans to create a more streamlined, unified, stronger management infrastructure.

  • Our program management and accountability system—PMAS—provides us a measured approach to ensuring early identification and correction of under-performing IT projects.

  • The Office of Information and Technology implemented PMAS training, published a PMAS Guide, and developed a dashboard tool to help manage and ensure project accountability. The results? In FY11, OI&T delivered on 89% of all IT project milestones—a significant increase over the 30% success rate prior to PMAS implementation.

  • Other good news IOM stories are coming out of Facilities Management, Human Resources Management, Acquisition, and Financial Management.

Meanwhile VA's $17 billion purchasing program has improved fund accountability … efficiency and effectiveness by initiating financial management training for 80% of the FM workforce .and updating and overhauling 169 FM regulations.

In green management, VA has awarded more than $347 million in green contracts energy efficiency. We've seen a 3.3% reduction in emissions from 2010. We've made 4.2% of our buildings sustainable, and over 7% of our electricity renewable.

By any measure, these achievements systemically contribute to a high-performing, results-oriented VA. And it's not just me saying that. Thanks to your work, we've received awards from the White House and the Department of Energy. Just two months ago, I accepted the Palladium Award in recognition of VA's Balanced Scorecard approach to performance management excellence. And last September, the Partnership for Public Service awarded Todd its Service to America medal in honor of his leadership in creating a forward-leaning, transparent, strategy-based VA management structure.

The bottom line to all this is that O-M has empowered VA to spend its available money more wisely; reduce unnecessary costs; and free-up funds to improve and optimize services for Veterans.

That's no small job. I'm proud of your work—and I hope you are, too.

From healthcare to homelessness, VA's come a long way over the past three years. If you remember, we started out by taking a long, hard look at our operations, from top to bottom.

We identified and assessed our strong points, our vulnerabilities, and our weaknesses—and then moved forward to develop a strategy for sustained, positive change.

We stepped up the OPTEMPO, established aggressive goals, and instituted metrics to measure our success in achieving them. We sharply focused our cultural lodestar—Veterans—and made customer service Job One for every VA employee.

Toward that end, we fielded the training and tools employees need to reach their potential and deliver optimal service to Veterans. We significantly strengthened our collaborations, public and private, because in the 21st century, in our interconnected national and global environment, no organization can go it alone. And we've focused our collective commitment and resources to achieve breakthrough organizational performance.

In short, we laid the foundation and built the supporting structures for a 21st century VA—flexible, agile, effective and efficient, and sharply attuned to the Veterans we serve. That's important, because to paraphrase Charles Darwin, it's not the biggest or strongest organizations that survive, but the ones that are most responsive to change.

For all the changes and progress we've made, there's a lot more to do.The array of initiatives we started three years ago have established a future-forward operating platform for VA—a springboard to effectively managing the challenges of a new century.

However, the bottom line is results. So let's look at three major priorities of our operational areas.

Veteran homelessness—among Secretary Shinseki's top priorities.

In 2009, on any given night, it was estimated that 131,000 Veterans were living on the streets. Today that estimate if 76,000, and projected to be below 60,000 by this summer thanks to a multi-faceted strategy that includes:

  • Outreach and education

  • Treatment

  • Prevention

  • Housing and support services

  • Income and employment benefits

  • Community partnerships and alliances.

Let's look at access to healthcare and benefits.

  • We've built more than 50 new community-based outpatient clinics.

  • We're constructing five new hospitals.

  • We've invested heavily in our mental healthcare workforce …

  • Today our staffing level is more than 20,000—up from around 13,000 just six years ago.

  • We've put our resources into telehealth technologies to link Veterans—wherever they live—with the care and services they need.

  • We've aggressively stepped-up our outreach to women Veterans by adding 144 women program and benefits coordinators at our key medical centers and at our 56 regional offices.

  • We've addressed longstanding issues from past wars—Agent Orange, Gulf War Illness, and combat PTSD—making it easier for hundreds of thousands of Veterans to receive the benefits they earned.

  • Through Blue Button technology, we've given Veterans the ability to view, save, print, or download and share the health information they've entered in My HealtheVet.

Let me talk about benefits for a moment—it, too, is among our department's top priorities. We are attacking the claims backlog through a focused, multi-pronged approach.

Thanks to the president's support, VBA's budget increased by 27% last year. However, we've seen an explosion in disability claims—the second straight year with more than one million claims, each with an average of four issue items. Yet we continue to make progress. Production at VBA continues to climb—our adjudicators completed those one-plus million rating claims at an 84% accuracy rate.

We are investing heavily in automated claims processing—our Veterans Benefits Management System has a planned national rollout this year. We will then begin taking down the backlog.

Secretary Shinseki has committed to ending the claims backlog by 2015 by putting in place a system that processes all claims within 125 days—at a 98 percent accuracy level.

I could go on listing improvement after improvement, achievement after achievement, all across VA.

Who made it all happen? The answer is you—you and your 316,000 colleagues. That's why I'm such a staunch proponent of incorporating the people factor in the way we operate, the way we manage, and in the way plan for the future.

People are VA's most valuable resource, bar none. The best policies and programs and the most forward-leaning initiatives and innovations, amount to nothing without them. And the fact is, studies have shown that there is a direct link between an organization's investment in its employees and that agency's optimal performance.

VA has put its money on the table—$293.4 million—in support of a well-trained, proactive and professional workforce. We're also working, government-wide, to improve employee satisfaction by revamping hiring practices; reforming outdated recruitment and retention processes; and, expanding professional development opportunities.

We're targeting twin goals: 1) achieve optimal mission performance and, 2) make VA a national employer of choice.

VA's adopted the long view. Assistant Secretary Sepulveda and Team HR have developed an array of tools, training, and resources needed to help you and your colleagues get the job done. Not only for the job you may have today, but for the job you may want tomorrow.

We're leveraging leader development by transforming employee potential into performance, and growing people who have the knowledge and know-how to best deliver our services over the long term.

Take our ADVANCE initiative. It's structure supports continuous learning and expanding employee skills and abilities.

  • VA's Learning University—a full complement of tiered courses and programs.

  • Change Academy—generating innovative solutions from their front lines.

  • The HR Academy—a training ground for strategic consulting across HR functions.

  • Talent Management System Training with its state-of-the-art online interface.

  • MyCareer@ VA—a one-stop portal with all the tools, technology, and information to help employees manage their long-term VA careers.

  • And for those aiming for the top—our Office of Corporate Senior Executive Management, provides the full scope of services for effective executive management.

But our efforts extend beyond the classroom to our culture of unalloyed advocacy for Veterans and their families. From the oldest Boomer to the newest GenY on our rolls, VA employees are all bound by the time-honored mandate affixed to our building, just outside these walls—to care for him [and for her] who bore the battle.

And we need to reflect that in everything we do.

We've taken the initiative and codified the expectations we have for ourselves in terms of our tremendous commitment to—and compassion for—Veterans and their families. This past year, for the first time ever, we developed our Values Statement. I CARE defines our persona as an organization.

Integrity—We act with high moral principle, adhering to the highest professional standards.

Commitment—We work diligently to serve Veterans and other beneficiaries.

Advocacy—We are truly Veteran-centric when we indentify, fully consider, and advance the their interests.

Respect—We treat all we serve and with whom we work with dignity and respect.

Excellence—We strive for the highest quality and continuous improvement. We try to be thoughtful and decisive in leadership. Accountable for our actions. Willing to admit mistakes, and rigorous in correcting them.

I believe those five maxims are truly words to live by, both personally and professionally.

Now, the question is, if the past is [indeed] prologue, where do we go from here? How do we build on our successes? How do we forge a future that will best serve Veterans, their families, and taxpayers alike?

The vision forward must always be guided by Veterans. We must rigorously link and align our products, services, and initiatives to what they need, want, and expect. We want customer service to be our hallmark.

That means we must anticipate the needs of future Veterans through improved data collection and analysis. More than that, we need to improve our strategic management process to deliver on those needs—short-term, mid-term, and long-term. And because we are results-driven, we want optimal individual and organizational performance.

Our training initiatives are making VA second to none among the federal government's professional development programs. However, we need to tighten the links among planning, programming, budgeting, execution, and evaluation if we are to improve our overall performance as an organization. As part of that effort, we must also revise and extend the IOM to better synchronize operations VA-wide.

In these difficult economic times, it's incumbent upon us to be mindful of the VA checkbook and always strive to improve our cost position wherever possible. In other words, get the biggest bang for the buck and do the most with the least.

We're operating in a turbulent external environment, positioning VA to respond quickly and effectively to any demands made on it. As part of our preparation, our next generation MPR, or management performance review format, must give the department the ability to better address self-identified, operational risks. That's important because it allows us to resolve issues and develop strategies to mitigate those risks before they become operational deficiencies.

We've made good progress over the past few years. Nonetheless, we must continue to press forward to achieve the end-results we want—in expanding access to our healthcare. In resolving the claims backlog. And in reaching our goal of zero homelessness by 2015.

In every one of these areas I mentioned, our success will be determined by our employees. And so, the vision forward starts with people. We need to continue to model and apply our core values. We need to ensure our future by developing next-generation leaders. We need to invest in our employees. Advance their talents. Mine their good ideas. Empower and provide them recognition.

Training and development is key. It's essential that we continue to improve the core competencies of our entire workforce if we are to sustain high levels of individual performance and, in turn, organizational performance. The two go hand-in-hand.

Next month, Fortune Magazine comes out with its annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. The primary reason companies make the list is because of their laser focus on the people factor. Aside from outsized perks, employees at the Number One-rated (2011) software firm, SAS, report that they feel (and I quote): Regarded—seen … attended to … and cared for.

Put another way, they are valued.

Now VA might not be able to provide an on-site 66,000 sq. ft. gym, beauty salon, or the car cleaning service, like SAS does. But we do provide something far greater in terms of the spirit of service … of working for a greater good. And that's the opportunity to serve the men and women who are, and always have been, the lifeblood of our nation.

President Theodore Roosevelt said that, Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.

In my view, there's no more worthy work in life than working hard for the men and women who protect and defend us—and who, by their service and sacrifice, ensure our way of life.

Thank you, all, for your work and many efforts on their behalf.