ATD Blog

Business Is Business—Whether It’s the Private or Public Sector

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Russell C. Deyo is undersecretary for management at the Department of Homeland Security. As the Number 3 leader in the department, he exercises authority over all DHS management programs, products, and workforce. He came to the department in 2015 after 27 years at Johnson & Johnson. For the May issue of the The Public Manager, I interviewed Dey about his vision for collaboration at DHS. I also asked him to share how managing in the public sector is different—and the same—as private industry. Here’s what he had to say. 

You were a senior executive for nearly 30 years in the private sector. Can you talk a little about the differences and similarities with the public sector? 

In terms of similarities, I am pleased to say I found strong mission-focused leaders and dedicated hard-working colleagues at both Johnson & Johnson and here at DHS. People here care deeply about the mission and strive to fulfill their responsibilities. Whether you are in private industry or government, success requires trust, collaboration, and mission focus. 

In terms of differences, I find the bureaucracy in the federal government presents different challenges than in the private sector. For example, in the government, hiring, procurement, and budget processes are typically more complex and can be lengthier than in private industry. To that end, we need to continue to strive to streamline processes, while retaining fairness, transparency, and accountability. 


In the end, however, change, including new collaborations, is challenging in any workplace. You need to help people understand the value of working together until they actually experience and see it. Once they do it and see the benefit, you will see the culture change whether you’re in the public sector or private industry. 

There’s also the belief that federal leaders are far more constrained by regulations. Do you find that that’s true, or does the private sector have its own web of laws and rules? 


I think, fundamentally, there’s more regulation and statutes to follow in government. In some ways, these are more constraining. However, I understand the purposes they are intended to serve. 

You do need to figure out how to navigate these processes. This is an area for me where personal one-on-one collaboration is essential. Having colleagues who are familiar with the structure and the regulations—what is real and what it myth—is instrumental to my success. If it weren’t for my colleagues’ guidance and open, candid discussion, my work would be much, much tougher. 

And we can’t let the web of laws and regulations become an excuse for not taking action and making progress. 

For more insight from DHS Under Secretary Russ Deyo, be sure to check out the May issue of The Public Manager

About the Author

Ronald Sanders is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton, and the firm’s first fellow. In that capacity, Ronald helps the firm’s most strategic clients deal with pressing human capital and organizational transformation challenges. Ronald joined Booz Allen after more than 37 years in federal service. Over the course of his career, he served as the U.S. Intelligence Community’s first chief human capital officer,  U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s first chief human resources officer, and the U.S. Department of Defense’s director of civilian personnel and equal employment opportunity. His most recent book is Tackling Wicked Government Problems: A Practical Guide for Enterprise Leaders.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.