Career feds who refuse to hallucinate

My favorite quote of the week: “We have transformed our agency in five years and leapfrogged just about everybody. It can me done. Stop the excuses and get it done.”

That’s the chief information officer of a federal agency — we don’t know who — responding to the fifth annual Federal News Radio survey of CIOs. (You can sign in and download the survey results here.) What he or she got done, we can’t be certain. Clearly this person is fed up with the slow/no-pace in IT modernization.

Have you heard the saying, “Vision without execution is hallucination”? Envisioning a significant change or program outcome in a federal bureaucracy might be easy, but getting it done can seem impossible. It’s not.

At last night’s Service to America Medals awards gala, you could see a parade of federal career employees who got it done. For the Sammies people, the  “it” they got done carries high impact and visibility. For instance:

  • Tom Mariani Jr., Sarah Himmelhoch and Steven O’Rourke, civil prosecutors in the Justice Department’s Natural Resources Division who secured a record judgment against BP for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
  • Lisa Jones, who joined the Treasury after a career in investment and banking, to stand up a program of guaranteed bonds for lenders in poor areas.
  • Kirk Yeager, the FBI’s top bomb expert, to whom everyone in law enforcement, it seems, turns when dealing with things that blow up.
  • Jean Moody, Dennis Wagner and Dr. Paul McGann from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — who won employees of the year — somehow marshaled thousands of hospitals and practitioners to put their heads together to reduce death-by-hospital by 87,000 and fewer sick-by-hospital occurrences by millions. I mean, it’s crazy. You go into the hospital for, I don’t know, a gall bladder and end up being killed by some infectious microbe swarming over the bed. Less of that happens now, though.

A theme in the acceptance speeches hit on the long hours, the time away from family. One finalist, James McFadden of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,  has been examining the insides of hurricanes from airplanes for 50 years. He wasn’t there last night. A storm approached Florida and he decided to fly and meet it rather than endure a black-tie dinner in Washington.

You can see one sign of the significance of the Sammies in the level of people who attend to mingle with the finalists and winners, and present the awards. Among last night’s attendees: NASA administrator Charles Bolden; Secret Service Director Joe Clancy; Office of Personnel Management acting Director Beth Cobert, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, and Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan.

In talking to the Sammies people for Federal Drive, I’m always impressed by their background intensity. When I was a kid the teachers called it stick–to–it-iveness. They don’t jump up and down, but they possess tangible and steady enthusiasm.  They don’t hallucinate.

More commentary


Sign up for breaking news alerts