As Russell Deyo sailed through his nomination hearing Wednesday to be the next undersecretary for management at the Homeland Security Department, his management approach and priorities centered on data.
The retired Johnson & Johnson executive told Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs lawmakers that getting DHS to have standard financial data will lead to better and more strategic decision making.
If confirmed, Deyo would replace Rafael Borras, who left in February after more than four years on the job.
DHS reached a milestone in 2013 when, for the first time ever, it received an unqualified opinion from auditors for its financial management processes.
Deyo said he recognizes that accomplishment and wants to make sure DHS doesn’t slip back from there.
At the same time, he said the next step toward better financial management has to happen sooner than later.
“The next big piece, as far as I can see so far, is we need to have a fully integrated financial management system across all the components. You have to have reliable information, so you can make smart budget decisions and have good analytics to make good strategic decisions. And having ledger sheets that don’t match up, and you can’t compare apples to apples across the groups, makes it very, very difficult to make informed, strategic decisions,” Deyo said. “I think it’s critical the agency have a long-term focus, and you can’t do that if you don’t have reliable data. So that is an existent high priority within the finance group and indeed the leadership of the department, and I strongly embrace that.”
He said during his time at Johnson & Johnson, having a common financial system was essential in making strategic decisions.
DHS is heading down a path toward reducing the number of financial management systems used by the agency. Right now, there are 13 separate systems, but three components are moving to Interior’s National Business Center, including the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard.
ICE, USPS nominees have their day
Deyo was one of three nominees coming before the Senate committee.
President Barack Obama nominated Sarah Saldaña to be the assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at DHS — a position without a Senate confirmed leader for more than 14 months.
The President also nominated Mickey Barnett for a third term to be a governor for the U.S. Postal Service. Barnett has been in that role since 2006.
Lawmakers expressed little concern for Deyo and Barnett. But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Saldaña will have one of the toughest jobs in government, given all the challenges with immigration and border security.
But Saldaña said her leadership skills developed over the years will be important if she is confirmed.
“In a position like this, the demands are great, and you cannot get into the weeds necessarily, but you can make sure the people around you running the day-to-day operations are the finest, best trained and that you work as a leader of that office to provide them the tools they need,” she said. “Decision making — deliberate but timely. You can’t just sit on decisions, you have to think them through. Be thoughtful, get all the information you can and do what’s in the best interest of the America people. And finally, communication, communication and communication. In this position with 20,000 employees across the world, with all the agencies we have somewhat overlapping jurisdiction with all of that is important to be communicating with them.”
Coburn wanted more details and assurances from Saldaña about several challenges facing ICE, including the decision to release 600 illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds.
While Saldaña’s job is important for DHS externally, Deyo’s position is more important than ever, said former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. Chertoff introduced Deyo and supports his nomination.
Procurement process needs more rigor
He said as DHS faces more and more challenges, from ebola to a constrained budget to the foreign fighter problem that could impact border, aviation and infrastructure security of the country, Deyo’s ability to help the agency become more efficient and effective is what will help them be more successful.
Chertoff said the acquisition, finance and human resources systems need to mature, which could mean DHS having more funding for mission-critical functions.
Deyo said his initial priorities align with those that Chertoff and others such as the Government Accountability Office have detailed.
One area that needs more immediate attention, Deyo said, is adding more rigor to the procurement process.
“The structure of the lifecycle management of acquisitions looks pretty good. What’s needed is discipline about each stage being reviewed to make sure the requirements are clearly defined. Each step is being met before being moved on. That takes discipline and it takes collaboration between the center and its components,” he said. “I think it’s a question of shared accountability where both feel accountable for the outcomes, particularly on the highest priority acquisitions that are most critical to the mission. We need to gain alignment with the components and the center on what those are. They need to be the highest priority, appropriately addressed, put at the top of the list and managed well, because the outcomes are so critical.”
Deyo’s views on acquisition are shaped by his 27 years at Johnson & Johnson, where he had broad experience as general counsel and managing human resources, procurement, real estate and other back-office functions.
“I do think my experience in private industry should bring a fresh perspective to this role. As you do well know, DHS consists of several operational components. The undersecretary for management leads a group of six administrative functions that provide support to these components,” he said. “But importantly, this management group is also an engine that can drive better outcomes and efficiencies through collaboration by and between the components and by standardization of strong policies, practices and reporting.”
Anticipate problems, plan for contingencies
Deyo said one of the biggest lessons learned he wants to bring to DHS is how to prepare and address current and future challenges.
“In a tough competitive environment, companies like Johnson & Johnson need to be proactive, anticipating problems and opportunities and planning for contingencies,” he said. “If confirmed, I would try to reinforce this proactive approach going forward. In sum, I believe my experience at Johnson & Johnson should serve me well in meeting the challenges that the department faces to collaborate, align priorities, manage money effectively and deliver on its critical mission.”
In some respects, DHS already is heading down this path of using data to make better decisions. DHS launched the Management Cube approach about a year ago, where it is using information from across the agency to inform senior officials about opportunities and potential roadblocks.
The third nominee, Barnett, continued to beat the Postal reform drum.
He said the Postal Service is in a crisis mode with $6 billion in liabilities on its books.
Barnett said Congress needs to step in now to give the agency the flexibilities it needs to improve its business model.
“The primary way that I think Congress could come in and the President would be to free us up to do it. We’re treated as a utility, which was certainly a reasonable model for a couple of hundred years because, we were more like a utility,” he said. “But this side of the business, we are talking about package delivery is extremely competitive and there is no longer any need to regulate it as a utility. We would encourage you to take most of the rules and regulations off.”
Barnett said the Postal Service needs to be more nimble in how it implements ideas and changes. He said today it can run tests or trials, but the Postal Regulatory Commission must approve any changes, and that process takes too long.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the chairman of the committee, said the Postal reform bill is before Senate now, and he expects it to be debated and voted upon during the upcoming lame duck session.