People, sticky, tech

An interview with Gary Winkler, Army PEO-EIS

I’ve got a brief profile of Army Program Executive Officer for Enterprise Information Systems Gary Winkler appearing in tomorrow’s FedTech Bisnow.  But there’s only so much you can shove into an email newsletter. So here’s some of what Mr. Winkler had to say as he prepares to leave government service, raw and uncut. Be sure to pay attention to what he says about the mounting federal government talent drain…

(On succession plan:)

For the interim, Ms. Terry Watson, the deputy, will be acting. Dr. ONeil is still contemplating what the long-term succession plan will be. There are some options — he could move somebody else in here, and Terry could stay the deputy .  Dr. ONeil could “harvest my slot” — he looks across 13 PEOs and the SMT organization he has, and he may need the SES slot somewhere else, knowing Terry has been in the PEO for most of her career and knows our business area very well — he might be comfortable keeping her in the PEO position and using my slot somewhere else thrpught ASALT, maybe in the SMT community, Then we would go back to having a PEO and a military deputy at the col. level, which is what we’ve had before Terry came in back in December.

(On why he’s quitting now:)

I’ve been here close to 4 years, just past the 3 1/2  year mark, and I think we’ve done a lot. We’ve restructured, developed a lot of our staff, we have stability in the program offices, we have a strategic plan, we have a strategy map, a balanced scorecard we measure our performance against monthly — we’ve got a very mature  Lean Six Sigma organization, and  make sure that we do continuous process improvement.

We just have come a long way in the past 3 years from an org. maturity standpoint so the org doesn’t have to rely on superstars, and no one is a single point of failure — including myself. We’ve got processes in place and great people throughout.  So now is an appropriate time for me to move on — I feel like I’ve done all I can do here except doing the same., And what I’ve been focusing on in the last 6 mos to a year is developing our workforce, our younger leaders, because a lot of the programs are being very well executed. So I feel pretty good about where our office is, I need some more challenges.

(On Federal and DOD IT consolidation plans:)

(DOD consolidation roadmap) #00:06:08.0#

I think we have been working toward all of those (Kundra’s ) objectives all along.  Kundra’s 25 points on where he wants CIOS to go, we’ve been working toward that direction long before he came into the office. So from a strategic, operational and tactical standpoint. I don’t see too many changes for our programs. We’re trying to move our apps into data centers, whether they’re DISA, Army or commercial;  we have a procurement in source selection which should be completed in a month or two for commercial data center services.So I don’t see too many changes. It’s all good. And that shouldnt be surprising because we’ve been in business for a while here.  It will have more of an impact for organizations that have not had information technology systems acquisitions as their core mission — there will be a lot more changes for those who haven’t been doing what we do all the time.

(On his biggest challenges:)

The biggest challenge for anybody with this job is Time management — there’s just not enough time in the day, or night or weekend or holiday .  There are a lot of programs in this PEO, and they’re very diverse.  Just working the actions, knowing the issues and working them up at the headquarters level or the  OSD level just takes a lot of time.  Every one of our programs has a general officer sponsor, so I’m dealing with 30 to 40 general officers on a continual basis to address the hard problems and hard challenges, and those are the ones that usually cross org. boundaries. The tech issues aren’t so much a challenge, it’s all the other elements, wether it’s doctrine, organization, personnel, facilities, money… I don’t see money as a super big issue but the budgets are going down, so our PEO staff are going to have to be as creative as possible  to keep progs moving forward to deliver capabilities on schedule as resources shrink.

(On applying Lean Six Sigma across procurement:)

I do think we should apply Lean more widely.  The problem is a lot of that is outside our control. I can only control what we execute inside PEO EIS — a lot of the contracting process is really outside of our organization, so we work the pre-solicitation materials, but once an RFP goes out on the street we lose control of the procurement and contracting process after that., It’s really up to the contracting orgs.  I’d like to see more application of lEan 6 sigma in the contracting world.

(On the mounting talent drain from government, and whether new career paths like the Program Manager track will help:)

I don’t think so. I think there’s going to be such a squeeze on money that it’s going to be hard to develop new career tracks, courses, and training.  That’s all an investment and I would be surprised if it happens. It would be nice, but I think our professionals and our younger work force are going to learn through experience more than anything else — they’ll get acquisition certified, but anything above and beyond they’ll be swamped in doing hte work their mission requires,  The support contracting workforce is supposed to go down, The government workforce is going to shrink. It’ll shrink through attrition and hiring freezes like we’ve had.  In the Army, we’re supposed to attrit  10,000 people civilians out of the workforce over the next three years.  So, I think it’s going to be a big challenge. As people move up into more senior leader positions, do they have the experience, training and knowledge to do a really good job in those  more senior positions? I think they’re going to need some help.

(So, government is going to need to lean on private sector more?)

I think so.  I think as with every other industry there will be a shakeout .  And government suppporet contractors — you see that from time to time in other industries, where there’s a weeding out of different companies, and the market shrinks, but the ones left standing will be the ones that provide the best capability for the money, and provide government agencies the best expertise at the best price.

(that’s the business you’re moving into?)

That’s where I can see that I can contribute and add value . I don’t need to malke a lot of money, I just have to pay the bills. and if I can capture people leaving the govt workforce, for whatever reason they leave, whether its a pay freeze or they’re just frustrated — they’re leaving not because they don’t like the mission but morale issues.  So if I can capture them, take care of the morale issues and keep them working on the gov side helping those new leaders, it’s win win.  I know right now is exactly the wrong time to get into government support contracting, but if someone is in there providing great support at a great price, they’re going to do well as opposed to some of the companies that haven’t differentiated themselves.

(On the morale of senior folks in fed tech. )

That’s how I qualify it (morale issue). It’s probably a mixture. A pay freeze doesn’t help. The technical people are in demand ,and they have options, and the new retirement system people have options. So no longer are civil servants held by the golden handcuffs of staying in until they’re 55 and having at least 20 years, and if they leave before that they have no retirement. Under FERS, vested after 3 yrs of service, get a pension when  you hit 62 which is 1% of avg of high 3 salaries x num of years you worked.

Pension isn’t as good as the old system, but then again people can leave.  And I’m not sure the Army or gov. senior folks recognize that paradigm shift — that they now have a mobile workforce where people in demand don’t have to stay until they’re 55 and a min of 20 yrs of service.Unfortunately, I think the government is going to see a lot of good people leave because they can, and they want to do more.

(time off?)

That’s a good one. No.  I don’t mind working 15 hour days.  It becomes a habit after a while. No, I actually have 3 or 4 months of vacation that the Army is going to have to pay me for. So that will sustain me for the near term.  The big benefit of being an SES is you get to roll over more vacation because you don’t get to take it, and you get better parking spots.

Cross my fingers I can pay the bills — I’m used to being poor, I’m a gov. employee, so I wouldn’t know what I would do with more money.

My motivation is I can do more. I love the job here, love the people and the mission, but I feel I can do more.  Unfortunate that I’ll be banned from the Army for one year, so I’ll have to go help the OSD, and the Navy, and the Air Force and Cyber and Agriculture and other orgs that need my help. I think I can help them. I’ve got all the bruises and scars from working in this business over the years.

(Things that were important to your professional development?)

Professionally, not knowing what the heck I wanted to do, and bouncing around doing a variety of things, and never feeling like I fit in anywhere. So that seemed to work pretty well here.  There’s a good hodgepodge of programs here, and I have a technical background, and I have a business background too.  I worked in private industry, and then I came back into the government, and  I worked at headquarters, I worked here, I worked in an Air Force office, so, I think that diversity and just moving around seemed to be a good fit.  When I was in college, I was a EE, but I don’t think I was your typical engineer. Then I went to graduate school and I was an MBA student, but I wasn’t your typical MBA student, because they were wearing blazers and bowties to class, and I came in with jeans and a flannel shirt, then grew a beard, so I didn’t really fit in there either. But that was ok, because I had nearly a 4.0 so they couldn’t give me a hard time.  But I’m still trying to fit in somewhere.

(Words of advice for whoever takes over PEO-EIS:)

Just the standard words of advice: don’t screw it up.  Somebody has to do things their way, and I think with Terry Watson here everything will go smoothly. We have a great set of directors and PMs , and I think the organization will continue to thrive, even in the challenges that they’re going to face with budgets are shrinking.  Even with budgets shrinking, you know Sean, how the IT budget is.  Nobody can do anything without technology, so I don’t think this office will be hit as hard as a lot of others.