Commerce Secretary Pritzker layers people, customer service throughout strategic goals

Listen to Jason Miller's exclusive interview with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Jason Miller | April 17, 2015 6:52 pm

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People and customer service are the leading indicators at the Commerce Department.

After nearly a year on the job, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is paying close attention to how every one of her goals addresses these two factors.

“Taking good care of our people is the most important thing I’ve learned through my now 28 years in my professional career, and it’s no different in government than it is in the private sector. If we don’t take good care of the people who make things happen, we will get nothing done,” Pritzker said during an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “I believe the Department of Commerce is a service organization. Our number one stakeholder and customer is the business community. They come to us whether they need information from Census or they need a patent or trademark, or they need data, or they just have a problem helping to navigate a non-tariff barrier in some country. I’m focused and really a nut about the idea of, are we following up? Are we getting back to people? Do they feel they are getting an answer? Even if the answer is ‘no,’ business people need to know where they stand. That’s part of certainty. We want to get to ‘yes’ and be of help, but sometimes you can’t, but let’s follow through. That’s the most important thing, so our customer knows we are on it.”

The strategic vision Pritzker laid out in November focuses mainly on this second part of customer service.

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Employees matter

Whether it’s trade and investments or innovation and advanced manufacturing, she said these strategic goals are what came from a series of meetings with Commerce leaders.

The fifth pillar is around management and employee engagement — something Pritzker recently said leaders at every agency must do more of to make sure employees know they matter.

“From day one, I’ve been focused on how do I connect and how do I motivate the 47,000 people who work in various aspects of the Department of Commerce,” she said. “What have I done, and what are we doing? I’ve been out there. I’ve been at the front door, welcoming people to work. I’ve been in the cafeteria. I’ve been to almost all of our facilities. [Recently], I was in a triathlon and saw a guy with a NOAA T-shirt — one of our pilots — and I yelled at him and after the race, we took photos together and we’ve been emailing. The goal for me is to not have the secretary and leadership of the department be a mystery, nor where we are going. But instead, make it understandable to everybody, whether it’s the person at NOAA who’s in charge of the large fishing net, whether it’s a pilot, whether it’s someone at the Patent and Trademark Office or whether it’s someone who’s out doing surveys for our Census. I can’t touch every person personally. But I can set an example, and hopefully that ripples through an organization.”

Pritzker said connecting with federal employees, those who work at Commerce and those who do not, is the best way to create that sense of mission and understanding of what the department’s goals are.

“When I connect with that person, when we are able, whether it’s the secretary, it’s a bureau leader or it’s someone throughout the organization connecting with other employees and it’s concrete about our mission and what we are trying to get done, why it’s real and how it affects Commerce, people light up. They feel, ‘I get where I fit in the effort to try to make a difference,'” Pritzker said. “So that’s the goal. We all want to know where we fit in the process. It’s no different than how I feel. I want to know how I can help move the ball forward on behalf of the administration and on behalf of the country.”

Strategic and high priority goals

While employee engagement is key to moving the ball forward, Pritzker said the customer service aspect is marbled across every part of the strategic plan.

She said Commerce has tangible targets and timeframes for achieving each of the goals under the strategic vision.

Under the Performance.gov portal, each of Commerce’s five strategic goals has more specific high priority goals.

For example, under supporting a data-driven economy, Commerce said it will transform the data capacity to enhance the value, accessibility and usability for its data.

Under the fostering an innovative economy goal, Commerce said it will accelerate the growth of innovative-intensive economic sectors to improve how quickly the private sector can invent, improve and commercialize new technologies or products.

Pritzker said she’s ensuring Commerce meets these goals by tracking their progress through a dashboard.

“Right now what we are really focused on is what we call the last mile of reporting,” she said. “My deputy, my chief of staff, my head of policy, my general counsel and I are working together to say, ‘How do we make that more efficient?’ We probably have 40 or 50 major projects going on at any one time. There is no way personally I could be on top of all of those things. That’s why we have such distributed leadership. But as the leader of the organization, I need to make sure, as does the team, we are on track to meet our objectives. So we are working to clarify that right now, and make sure everyone understands what they are responsible for and the reporting isn’t cumbersome.”

Boosting cutting edge research

Pritzker added too often the reporting is a burden on the agency or bureaus and doesn’t tell enough about whether the goals are delivering on mission-related outcomes.

Along with the strategic and high priority goals, Pritzker said she also is focused on working with Congress to pass the bipartisan National Network of Manufacturing Innovation bill.

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are the lead sponsors of the bills in their respective legislative bodies.

“This is where we are funding pre-competitive research. I’m a big believer that the United States needs to continue to lead the world in innovation, but we can’t do it if we don’t invest in pre-competitive research,” she said. “These institutes, which the President has piloted four so far and intends to pilot another four, but we need much more.”

Pritzker said she’s optimistic because both sides of the aisle can see these institutes are good for the country and have a return on investment of about $10 to $1.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved an amendment in the nature of a substitute on April 9. The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology hasn’t acted on the bill since Reed introduced it in August.

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