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Transcript of Secretary Bodman's June 14 Address

(Photo - Bodman) As we move forward to confront the many challenges that lie ahead, I hope that we can work together as an organization, not just as a loose affiliation of smart, successful individuals. In other words, it is my aspiration that we can continually strive to be an outstanding, collaborative organization. If thereís anything that stands at the top of my list, that is it. I believe that we have made some significant improvements in our organization this year: from the seemingly minor ones, although it turns out theyíre not so minor, but minor ones like answering our mail in a timely fashion to the major ones, like more effectively managing our massive capital projects and restructuring our human resources functions. I appreciate the active involvement of so many of you as we have developed and executed these changes. I especially appreciate your help because we are not done. And thatís really what I want to talk about today because too often we focus on what we are doing as a department and not how we are doing it.

In my view, whether you work in the private sector where—most of my experience is, as I think most of you know—or in government, and this is my, coming up on my sixth year of service in the government. Whichever of those, whichever area you work in, itís been my experience that to create meaningful results, you need two things: you need a responsive organization, and you need individual accountability.

The way I think about it, a responsive organization is one in which leaders—at every level, including the line managers—are empowered to make constructive, positive changes. It is an organization that is willing to change, but also does not change just for the sake of doing so. It is an organization that says: letís take a hard look at just what we must do better in order to meet our mission. Letís decide on a path forward, letís communicate it to everyone, and then letís get on with it.

I would add that a responsive organization is also a responsible one. It does what it says it will do, and it does not make promises that it canít keep. In my view, this department has had a somewhat unfortunate history of getting itself into situations where it must break—or adjust—its public commitments in a way that damages our credibility and our ability to meet our mission. We should continue to look at why that is and also be mindful of how to develop our program goals in a reasonable, responsible way. Sometimes it involves saying no. Sometimes it involves saying, I donít know the answer, and I canít answer that question, and so I canít provide it for you. Many of our bosses, whether over across the street in the White House or up on Capitol Hill, donít like to hear those answers. But at times, especially given the type of mission that we have, it is the only responsible answer, at least at certain points in time.

Now, letís face it, change is not easy in any organization. And it is certainly not easy in the Federal government—for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that there is new political leadership at the top every few years. And I think Iíve talked to you about that before, to many of you, at least, as I have visited the facilities around the country. Iíve also expressed my great admiration for the career civil servants who serve in the midst of what can, at times, be viewed, Iím sure, as chaotic change. Whatever oneís political beliefs are, any individual that can serve Bill Clinton on January 20th and George Bush on January 21st is a flexible person. And we certainly have flexible people who serve in our government, and they make our efforts, at least in my experience, all the more positive.

It is for all those reasons that I am hopeful that the changes that we bring about—and Iíll talk about them in a minute—that these changes can be institutionalized because I believe they should carry, whatever president in office, they should pertain. It is my goal that this organization function well even as leadership and policies change over time.

And, in my mind, an organization will not run well unless it is populated by individuals who are both empowered and accountable. The idea of individual accountability starts with taking responsibility for each of you doing your own job well—each of us doing, including me, doing our job well. But it has to go beyond that. It must also involve a personal commitment to the health and success of our co-workers and of the organization.

These two concepts are mutually reinforcing, and they apply to everyone, including me. I am personally accountable for changes that are made around here, for good or ill. As a leader of what I hope is—or is becoming—a responsive organization, it is my responsibility to carefully consider how organizational changes will impact the well-being of each individual here and of our whole department. I consider it my responsibility to adequately explain any changes and to link them directly to our ability to successfully meet our common mission.   Read more...