United States Department of Education

Remarks by Greg Woods
to Employees of the Office of Financial Assistance Programs
Swearing-In Ceremony
December 8, 1998
Washington, DC

Swearing-In Ceremony
Greg Woods in Profile


Greg Woods has just become the Chief Operating Officer of the Office of Student Financial Assistance Programs (OSFAP), a new, congressionally-chartered Performance Based Organization, the first of its kind in America. To underscore his commitment to our nation's students, Greg asked Anthony Samu, president of the United States Student Association, to administer the oath of office. Then Greg addressed all OSFAP employees.


Thank you Anthony for administering the oath. Thank you Jessica - you did a wonderful job. [Jessica is Greg's six-year-old granddaughter who held the family Bible for his swearing-in ceremony.] My thanks to Secretary Riley and Deputy Secretary Smith - and to all of you from SFA - you here in Washington for hiking down the street in the rain, and to those of you listening in around the country. Thanks, too, to my colleagues from reinventing government and the Government Information Technology Systems Board, and other friends and supporters. A special thank you to Linda [Greg's wife] and the rest of my family for being here on this special day.

"We put America through school"

This is a great day for me. I've been looking forward to telling all of you how proud and excited I am to have been picked for this job. For a couple of reasons: To start with, I'm proud to be part of the Student Financial Assistance team. It's because of the job we do! It's literally part of the American dream. We help put America through school.

What a great mission. What a great thing to be able to say. To your friends. People you meet. To your kids. "Mom, Dad, Grandpa, what do you do at work?" We put America through school. It's gotta be one of the best jobs in the country.

How great it is to have been picked for this team. It shows my luck is holding. Because I've been on quite a few winning teams. I helped build life support systems for the Apollo Project. I helped work out force reduction agreements between us and the Soviets Union. I've built successful technology companies and created award-winning software. And most recently I've been helping reinvent government to forever change how it works.

All that was homework for what I get to do now - the second reason I am so excited about this job. I get to lead the very first, congressionally chartered, Performance Based Organization in government. It officially shifts the focus of government from red tape to results. This has the potential to be huge.

The PBO concept was championed by Vice President Gore and his National Partnership for Reinventing Government. But it was actually applied, in a solid, bi-partisan way by the Department and a Congress that knows good business principles when it sees them. It is a new way to run the government. And I am determined to make this first PBO an unambiguous success, so that more and more PBO's will be created all across government.

"Our formula for success"

Our formula for success will start with what worked for me as a private sector CEO, but we will add what I've seen work to reinvent government. With a constant focus on results, this is what we'll do:

First, we'll be obsessed with customers. That means you have to know who your customers are - pretty simple in our case. They are students who need money for school. And you have to know what your customers want. That's a little trickier. Because you have to ask them. If you assume you know what they want, you'll get it wrong.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago, the Internal Revenue Service assumed that what their customers wanted most was to receive their tax booklet in the mail as soon after Christmas as possible. I don't know about you, but I wasn't in any hurry to get that booklet. In fact, it used to make me mad. I'd toss it on the corner of my desk and glare at it occasionally while I waited for the rest of my tax information to come so I could file my return.

When the IRS surveyed their customers - asked what was important to them - they got a big surprise. The number one response - the thing people wanted most - was minimal contact with the IRS. I see that is no surprise to you. Knowing that their customers want minimal contact has driven lots of changes at IRS, like electronic filing, filing over the touch-tone phone, and their goal of answering all your questions in one phone call. They made lots of improvements, but first they had to ask what their customers wanted.

IRS wasn't the only agency to get it wrong. People at Veterans Affairs used to think that veterans enjoyed sitting around in waiting rooms because it gave them a chance to swap war stories. But when VA asked their customers, they found out veterans don't like waiting any more than anyone else.

The point is that if you don't ask your customers you're probably going to get it wrong. We are going to spend a lot of time listening to our customers.

The next part of the success formula is to constantly collaborate with partners. Most businesses can't function without partners. We can't either.

Look at Ford Motor Company; they need suppliers and retail dealerships to succeed. They are all independent companies free to do their own thing, but their fates are linked inextricably by their ultimate customer, the Ford buyer. We're no different.

Our partners are the lenders and guarantors and schools. They're our delivery system, and the way we deal with each other strongly influences the cost and the quality of service to our ultimate customer-the student. By the way, if our partners have a problem, we have a problem.

Working with our partners, we'll carry out the third part of the formula. We'll get all of our systems aligned to deliver what our customers want. You start with a picture-a system architecture-so you can actually see where you want to go. Then you draw a blueprint that will take you there from where you are today. You get there step-by-step-buy a little, test a little, fix a little-and at each step try to use commercial software that's already proven itself. Better a 90% solution off-the-shelf than a 100% new design.

The fourth part of the formula is to build a financial management system equal to the best in business. We can't operate the PBO with anything less.

Okay. That's the winning formula: be obsessed with customers, constantly collaborate with partners, align systems to deliver what the customers want, and run a best in business financial management system. Every bit of it is essential.

But, it's not enough. There is one more piece that makes the whole thing work. I call it my secret weapon. Because lots of top executives want their organizations to be customer-driven, to work smoothly with their partners, and get all their systems aligned to deliver. Who doesn't? But they don't succeed because they don't know the secret weapon.

"My secret weapon is you"

I'll let you in on it. My secret weapon is you. It's employee empowerment. Nobody can improve customer service more than the employees who meet the customers, talk with them, and listen to them day after day. Nobody knows our partners' needs better than those of you who interact with them. Or knows better than you the glitches in our systems, and how to fix them.

Even though I haven't met you all yet, I have heard from enough of you to be absolutely positive that you want to make a real contribution, to add value, to help put America through school. This desire is a powerful thing. A potent force that has been trapped in an old style bureaucracy. In the PBO we're going to tap that force.

When I've seen other organizations tap this force the results were amazing. In just one week, I've seen examples here that hint at what is possible.

Keith Wilson and Amy Luycx knew students well enough to know that they would love to be able to use the Internet to apply for loans on-line. So they teamed up with some other SFA folks and created FAFSA-on-the-Web, one of the best Web-based customer service gems in the government. I recently presented this team with one of the government's top technology awards.

When our partners at schools in Puerto Rico said they could use some training in default management, Tara Porter, Nancy Height, and Steve Tessitore put together a 3-day course that 80 schools attended. Many said was the best training the Education Department had ever provided.

And life's been simpler for our own debt collectors since Eric Vanburen, developed the Debt Collection Service intranet. All the manuals, laws, regulations and guidance they need is at their fingertips on the computer instead of buried in mountains of paper.

I'm sure you all have ideas that will improve things. Each and every one of you knows specific things that SFA could do, or could help our partners do, that will improve service and cut cost. You know because you live the business every day.

Some of you may have tried to make changes and got tired of trying. Some may even have learned to keep their mouths shut. That's the first change we have to make. That's my job: to get those good ideas out of your heads and into operation.

So, I'm going to kick off a customer service task force composed of you. And you are going to start changing SFA.

The task force will be done in cooperation with NPR and the Department. But the primary staff will be front-line employees. The union will be our partner on the task force - by the way last week we reconstituted a Labor Management Partnership Council focussed on the PBO.

The task force will be a focal point for your ideas on how to improve SFA. There will be a hotline to the task force so that ideas don't have to go through me or other managers to get heard.

The task force will also be a focal point for customer and partner inputs on how we can do a better job.

We did a task force like this at the IRS and provided a framework for the dramatic, top to bottom changes that are going on there now. The employees had great ideas. For example, the IRS customers were frustrated because they couldn't get through on the phone. IRS was trying their best but only managing to answer 50% of the calls. One of the frontline workers on the taskforce came to me and said he knew how to fix the problem. He had drawn up some charts that showed there were big peaks in the volume of calls. He told me that the peaks came right after they sent out certain letters, and that if we spread out mailing the letters, we could spread out the calls and eliminate the peaks. He also suggested spreading out the hours when operators were on duty. We did that and IRS was able to answer 80% of all the calls instead of 50%. Next year, they will have operators available 24 hours, 7 days a week, and will answer over 90% of the calls. That's the kind of improvements our task force will be able to make, too.

The task force work will also get to help set the goals I'll have to meet as Chief Operating Officer-goals in customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and financial performance. When was the last time you got to set goals for the boss? How's that for a change? How's that for fun?

This is gonna be fun. It's gonna be fun to surprise students with fabulous customer service. Fun to astonish bursars and astound bankers, those critical partners of ours - they are always critical to our effort, and sometimes critical of it.

Cutting cost can be fun, too. Even if you're not an auditor. Some people think cutting costs just means cutting jobs. That's not what it means to me because there are so many opportunities to save money. Helping schools and banks save on administration. Helping more and more students avoid default. Big opportunities.

"An organization that everyone can trust"

What's going to be the most fun, though, is the chance to do what you joined government to do. To make a difference for America. I know that's why you signed up. I know that's what's in your heart. It's in mine, too.

We have a rare opportunity to show everyone what we can do. You see the sad truth is that public opinion doesn't trust government to do the right thing. Just doesn't think we can do as good a job as the private sector.

Well I know we can. Congress and the Administration have given us the chance. We're going to do a great job serving customers from this PBO. And we're going to give all government employees something to brag about in the process. They don't get much chance to do that at a soccer game, at church or across the back fence. We'll give them a story to tell.

We are gonna show 'em service like they've never seen, and we'll have fun doing it. We're going to show them that the people who work for government are good people too often trapped in bad systems.

And when we get the kind of results I know we will-better than their wildest expectations-then more and more people in government will get this same opportunity-more and more government workers will get to show what they can do as PBO's.

We're going to make the government's first Performance Based Organization an organization that everyone can trust. Students will trust us to get them their money in time for school, and to keep their accounts straight. Our partners will trust us to keep them informed, in mind, and in the loop as we make improvements. The taxpayers will trust us to be careful with their money while we use it to accomplish our proud mission-while we use it to put America through school.

Thank you all for listening.

Swearing-In Ceremony

***** Student Swears in OSFAP's New COO *****

Mr. Anthony Samu administered Greg Woods' oath of office as OSFAP's new chief operating officer. Anthony represents OSFAP's customers, the students of America. He does that officially as president of the United States Student Association. And he represents our student customers in a very personal way, too.

Anthony was the first member of his family to graduate from college - even the first to graduate from high school. His dream of a college degree would never have come true without federal aid, and he has worked tirelessly to increase funding for other students, especially grants for low-income students.

While attending the University of Colorado at Boulder, Anthony worked as a financial aid advisor, helping other student through the application process. He also is a student representative on Project EASI (Easy Access for Students and Institutions), a government-private sector partnership working to simplify and improve student aid customer service.

Greg Woods in Profile

Since 1993, Greg has been the deputy director of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government concentrating on technology, customer service, and regulatory reform. Greg spearheaded Access America, designed to provide families electronic access to a wide range of government services from applying for Medicare and pension benefits to making reservations at national parks. One of the first pilot tests of Access America will allow students to use commercial financial systems and the Web to receive financial aid accounts and monitor them.

For eight years before that, Greg was the CEO of Science and Engineering Associates, a startup company that develops computer systems and innovative software. Earlier, he was deputy CEO of Science Applications International Corporation, a consulting firm, and president of its subsidiary, JRB Associates.

In the early 1970s, Greg worked for the Secretary of Defense, winning the Fleming Award as one of the outstanding young people in government. It's good to have him back in government.

Related Resources:

Performance Based Organizations

Student Financial Assistance

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