Former Education Department official, e-gov pioneer dies

Greg Woods, a former Education Department official who helped lead efforts to make the federal government more citizen-friendly, died of pancreatic cancer last Thursday.

Woods, 59, was the former chief operating officer of the Education Department's Federal Student Aid (FSA) office and one of the pioneers of the electronic government concept.

"If there's a school in heaven, and if a student needs financial aid, there's a new administrator there today who probably can't wait to get down to business," said G. Kay Jacks, general manager of FSA's Web site about financial aid, referring to Woods.

Woods was the FSA's first COO, joining the office when it was created in the fall of 1998. He retired this September.

"Greg was truly dedicated to the mission of the department to provide access to postsecondary education for millions of students," Education Secretary Rod Paige said in a statement. "He was committed to his work and the challenge of streamlining and updating the technology systems that deliver aid to help make the goal of college education a reality for so many."

While trying to help his six-year-old granddaughter understand his job, Woods came up with the slogan used by the roughly 1,100 FSA employees: "We help put America through school."

Woods also made his mark pushing the government to provide citizens with wider electronic access to its services. He developed the Access America Program, a predecessor to what is now known as "e-government," a core element of the president's management agenda.

"Few possessed the sweeping knowledge and experience in information technology, successful business practices, and government reform that Greg Woods brought to bear on the challenge of delivering federal student aid to America's students," a FSA statement said.

After graduating from the University of Southern California with a mechanical engineering degree in 1965, Woods worked as an engineer at AiResearch Manufacturing Co. and helped design the Apollo command module's life support system. He was an expert in thermodynamics and held several patents for heat exchange systems.

Woods began his career with the government in 1970, when he served as chief European analyst for the secretary of Defense. In that position, he helped engineer the Mutual Balance Force Reduction Agreement between NATO and the Warsaw Pact by assisting the negotiation delegation and presenting congressional testimony on the agreement's viability. In 1974, Woods won the Arthur Flemming Award, which recognizes outstanding young people in government.

Following a 17-year stint at private consulting firms, Woods returned to public service in 1993 to help with then-Vice President Al Gore's "reinventing government" initiative. He used his business expertise to help the government develop more cost-effective methods for buying technology.

These methods were later incorporated into the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, which eliminated some rules and reporting requirements to make government purchasing easier.

Woods also drafted President Clinton's executive order on improving government customer service and chaired the Internal Revenue Service's customer service task force. He worked on regulatory reform as well, helping the Clinton administration develop a strategy to reach its goals for regulating water quality and air travel safety.

In addition, Woods helped lead efforts to create Performance Based Organizations in the federal government. In PBOs, executives are given broad exemptions from federal procurement and personnel rules in exchange for tough performance standards. The organizations are based on the belief that some federal programs can perform better if they are run more like private companies.

Woods is survived by his mother, Helene; wife, Lee; two daughters, Denise Shultz and Kristen Martinez; a son, Brian; and six grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 312 S. Royal St., Alexandria, Va.

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