The department is focusing on several areas that employees identified as most in need of change, he said in his keynote speech at the Excellence in Government conference sponsored by Government Executive Media Group.
To improve communication with employees, Donovan said, HUD has begun distributing newsletters and holding quarterly town hall meetings. The department also is allocating more of its budget and resources to training practices than in years past.
In addition, Donovan highlighted the I Believe in HUD campaign, an effort begun in March to improve internal communications. He acknowledged his own initial skepticism, but said the campaign has drawn an "incredible groundswell" of support from employees. Several HUD workers have posted YouTube videos in which they explain how much the department means to them.
"Folks believe in the mission of HUD and that shows up consistently," Donovan said. "We make a fundamental difference in people's lives. A decent place to live is a foundation of so much else that happens in your life."
The department this week saw modest improvement in its placement on an annual ranking of the best federal agencies to work at, after coming in last in worker satisfaction at large agencies in last year's report.
"You don't go from last in the Best Places to Work in Federal Government survey to first in one year," he said.
"In the past, HUD was often as isolated as many of the communities that we serve -- overlooked, with not enough opportunities for professional advancement, and facing many of the management challenges that come with an aging, geographically dispersed workforce." he added in an email to Government Executive. "But we're definitely seeing improvement, and I'm confident that the surveys in the years to come will reflect that."
Since arriving at HUD from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Donavan has implemented HUDStat, a metrics-based evaluation tool that allows the department to use data to determine program effectiveness.
To improve its rental assistance program, for instance, the department used HUDStat to calculate how many federally assisted housing units were occupied so that it could adjust to individual occupant turnover rates. As a result, Donavan said, HUD was able to assist an additional "tens of thousands" of low-income families.
HUD's new budget is expected to be released Friday.