May 2016
Issue Map
The Public Manager

Management Is Management

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Many of us have wondered whether our jobs as public managers are any more (or less) difficult than those of our counterparts in the private sector, and this issue's Public Manager interview provides some compelling insight into this age-old question. It's with Russ Deyo, who happens to hold one of the most demanding jobs in government: undersecretary for management at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). English translation: That means he's the chief management officer for one of the federal government's largest—and arguably most complex—cabinet departments. His portfolio includes the "Full Monty" of management functions: HR, IT, acquisition, strategic planning and budgeting, financial management, facilities, and security.


That's enough to cause me to hyperventilate, especially when I think about the stakes involved. At DHS, mission failure is not an option, and by definition, the same applies to the management functions that enable them. However, I've had the chance to sit down with Secretary Deyo on several occasions (including but not limited to our interview), and to say he's calm and unflappable in the face of those challenges is an understatement. You see, he comes to his daunting position after a full career in the private sector doing very similar things, and he's pretty much seen it all.

To be sure, he acknowledges there are some significant ­differences—for example, the media "fishbowl" that we all live in, a 535-member board of directors that is perennially running for office, and the degree of rigid regulation in some areas like HR. However, at the end of the day, he says that management is management—no matter how complex the management challenge (whether in the public sector or private), if you break that challenge down into its individual components, deal with them one by one, and stay true to your core principles and priorities along the way, you'll get there.

That's what gets him through a day, and it's an approach worth remembering—especially when the world of public managers gets complicated.

Ron Sanders
Chairman, The Bureaucrat Inc. Board of Directors
[email protected]

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.

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