The Commerce Department faces some growing pains under President Donald Trump’s administration, including new challenges for the 2020 Census. But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he anticipates a “special renaissance for the Department of Commerce” that includes making it the best place to work in the federal government.
That goal isn’t much of a long shot, actually, since Commerce currently ranks as the second best large agency to work at, according to the Partnership for Public Service’s most recent Best Places to Work Survey. The agency to beat is NASA, which has enjoyed the top spot on the employee engagement survey for years.
“Commerce is already regarded as one of the very best places at which to work in the entire federal government. My goal is to overcome NASA as the very best employer,” Ross said in an address to the department’s workforce at the Herbert Hoover Building on Wednesday.
In his first week on the job, Ross thanked Chief Financial Officer Ellen Herbst for serving as acting secretary until his final confirmation by the Senate on Monday.
“I especially strongly support her initiative to improve the quality of our HR functions. We must accelerate this process and set and example for other departments to follow,” he said.
Following Trump’s first address to a joint session to Congress on Tuesday, Ross said the president has tasked Commerce with unprecedented authority that includes identifying outdated regulations to repeal under Trump’s “one-in, two-out” executive order.
“President Trump has already given us at the department more responsibility than ever before. If we perform well, both at our normal tasks and our new assignments, I have no doubt that our scope will continue to expand,” Ross told the department’s workforce.
During his undergraduate years at Yale University, Ross worked as a part-time enumerator for the Census Bureau. Decades later, serving as the secretary of a federal agency with 47,000 federal employees, Ross said one of his top priorities is overcoming some of the technological challenges in the upcoming 2020 Census, which has already been flagged by the Government Accountability Office.
Ross said he’s also looking to launch more weather satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and seeks universal implementation of FirstNet, the department’s first responder network. In order to achieve this, he called on the president to set appropriate funding levels for the department in his upcoming budget proposal.
Ross also outlined some tenets of his management style to the career federal workforce. In light of a number of leaks from federal agencies and the White House, Ross said he expects to hear about agency problems from the chain of command, and by reading about in the newspapers.
“I can take bad news if I learn about it from inside our department, and I will stand alongside all of you as we confront whatever challenges may arise,” he said. “I will be quite open to dissent at meetings, but once has been made, we must act with unanimity, both internally and externally.
The secretary also told federal workers to strive to cut down on verbose policy documents.
“A few pages that are substantive will get you much further with me than thick binders with lots of repetition and pretty blue pages and fluff,” he said.
On a lighter note, the Commerce secretary also appears to have some new apparel for his new role. During the president’s speech to Congress on Tuesday, Huffington Post reporter Christina Wilike snapped a photo of Ross’s shoes, which appear to have the Commerce Department’s official seal on them.