Deputy secretaries cite their proudest accomplishments

Political appointees serving as chief operating officers at five departments named their top accomplishments at a panel hosted by the nonprofit National Academy of Public Administration on Wednesday.

The Obama administration deputy or undersecretaries at the Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy and Veterans Affairs departments are among top political appointees profiled in a new book Paths to Making a Difference: Leading in Government by consultants Paul R. Lawrence of Ernst & Young LLP and Mark A. Abramson of Leadership Inc.

The appointees’ self-assessments came in the course of discussing challenges and priorities, such as taking advantage of contacts at the White House, motivating career employees in a short timeperiod, cutting through agency silos and implementing agencywide performance management tools.

Rebecca Blank, now acting deputy Commerce secretary, said her proudest achievement is her department’s work in disaster prevention, describing a positive outcome from a 2011 budget battle over funding for a new satellite crucial to weather forecasting.

Kathleen Merrigan, deputy Agriculture secretary, cited her department’s ability to make progress despite a 12 percent cut in discretionary funding during the past two years and an institutional memory depleted by 7,000 retirements. She said her employees still managed to improve nutrition programs, conservation, aid to farmers and food safety.

Anthony Miller, deputy secretary of Education, described his team’s feat of getting 48 states to adopt standards and 21 states to enroll in the Race to the Top grants program to boost K-12 academic standards and reform teacher evaluation.

W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, spoke of progress toward the goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015, reporting that his team has reduced the number of cases from 131,000 to 76,000, with 12 percent reduction in the past 12 months. Daniel Poneman, deputy Energy secretary, cited work that “measurably reduced nuclear threats,” including dismantling weapons in the former Soviet Union.

Poneman was asked about his department’s handling of the controversial loan guarantee to now-bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra, and he said his staff “did not lose a wink of sleep” over the politically controversial incident. He cited Congress’ statutory requirement that the program fund innovative technologies and said an observer looking at Energy’s credit review process compared with that of a corporation would find no difference.

Asked whether chief operating officers get together frequently enough, both he and VA’s Gould said they meet regularly with the President’s Management Council. At those meetings Jeffrey Zients, the federal chief performance officer who this week took over as director of the Office of Management and Budget, provides a “rich agenda” of private-sector influences in such areas as information technology and recruiting.

Though most of the speakers mentioned additional organizational accomplishments, Merrigan recounted one that was “most personally satisfying.” During the recent holidays, she discovered an artificial Christmas tree displayed in the lobby of her building. Noting that the Forest Service is part of USDA, she brought in a real tree.

CORRECTION: A earlier version of this story identified Rebecca Blank by her previous title. She is now acting deputy Commerce secretary.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.