My PSC Story: Garey Rice
Garey Rice, Acting PSC Director, has been with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for 26 years. He worked most of his career in the Office of the Secretary (OS), along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This is an abbreviated interview.
Tell me about you and your background.
My background is predominately in budget and appropriations. I started in the federal government with the FDA as a clerk/typist GS-4 in the Office of Human Resources Management, where I answered the phone and filed documents. I took the job as a way to have an income and health insurance while finishing my graduate degree.
In 1993, when in graduate school, the economy was bad. Jobs for recent business school graduates were scarce, and in most instances, limited to sales. I opted to come to federal service for the stability. My degree was in finance and marketing. I liked the finance side, but I didn't know much about federal budgeting. A colleague said there was an opportunity in SAMHSA as a budget assistant, and it was a great office. I applied, was selected, and loved it. I am a numbers guy, kind of right-brain logical.
The appeal of the budgeting went beyond my academic interest in finance. I found budgeting and appropriations interesting because it was a lot of what you hear about in the news — dealing with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congressional appropriations committees. Putting documents together and learning how decisions were made was fascinating, and it helped me settle on federal budgeteering as a career path.
In 1995, there was this fledgling organization called the Program Support Center that was looking for people with business degrees to work in different lines of business. A colleague referred me to the Acquisitions Management Service where I learned how to audit contracts and analyze business proposals. While the position was analytical and appealed to my interest in financial management, the process was repetitive and very structured, and did not have the same appeal as budgeting.
After the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) was reorganized and became the Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS and later to be again renamed OASH with a different scope), I was contacted regarding a budget analyst position to support program offices (i.e. public health grant-making offices). I wanted to get back into budget formulation, and accepted the job opportunity. I worked in OASH for 18 years, working my way up from a GS-9 budget analyst to the budget officer. I had many opportunities to work on programs and projects, and led two major reorganizations and helped to advance many community-based programs to help protect the health and safety of the nation. That was an exciting, great process for me as I learned a lot about public health as well as administrative management.
OASH provided a lot of opportunities for me, and over time, I was able to establish many partnerships and bring my experience to help OASH establish new programs or facilitate reorganizations that expanded the OASH mission. One such opportunity was the realignment of the human research management for the U.S. Public Health Service’s Commissioned Corps from PSC to OASH under the leadership of the Assistant Secretary for Health and the Surgeon General. This opportunity brought me back to the shared services world as I led the business operations for Commissioned Corps Force Management.
After many wonderful years in OASH, I was presented with an opportunity to temporarily fill a vacant position with the Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources (ASFR) during a critical phase of the budget cycle (OMB Passback through Congressional hearings). This opportunity provided me with greater insight into the OS budget and the missions of other staff divisions. That detail opened my eyes to a much bigger world and ultimately enticed me to leave OPHS, a position I very much enjoyed.
After serving as the OS Formulation Chief for three years, the Director position became available and I was selected as the OS Chief Financial Officer/Budget Officer. This position brought me back into the shared services world where I served as HHS Service and Supply Fund (SSF) manager.
My shared services journey has encompassed many roles, from a service provider with the Acquisitions Management Service, to a customer in OASH, to a shared service activity director in OPHS, to oversight of the entire HHS SSF, to the Acting Director of the largest shared service provider in HHS.
What do you think the keys have been as you have navigated your career at HHS?
The key for me has been to be available. Also to make myself open to any opportunity that comes up. If you don't have the background knowledge, then make the necessary partnerships you need to get that knowledge and to work with people to move the ball forward. I think I demonstrated that most clearly with the reorganization of the Office for Human Research Protections from NIH to OASH. OASH needed a point person to lead the administrative reorganization of the NIH’s Office from Protection for Research Risks to OASH.
This became an opportunity to expand my skill set beyond budget and leverage connections in the old PSC Facilities Management Branch to source and lease a new facility for OHRP. I never worked directly with the facilities team, but we worked together, which helped me be successful. That's something I try to return, whenever someone has a comment or concern, make yourself available. That's how you build relationships.
Is allowing yourself to be in a position of being uncomfortable something you had to get used to or always felt comfortable with?
That is a good way to describe it. I was not afraid of what I was not comfortable doing. If you are very comfortable in doing something, and you do it very well, that's not a negative, it is very positive. With the opportunities early in my career, I was willing to put myself in the position where I would have to be uncomfortable and break out of that “comfort bubble” to move my career ahead. I built my skill sets that put me in the position where when I was ready for the next step, I had the credentials and backing. Doing that little by little over the years, I became comfortable being in uncomfortable positions. I think that was very important.
When you go back 26 years, at an employee level, what do you think your brand is and what values drive you in the workplace?
I think my brand is predicated on reliability. Being a reliable person means there are other sub-competencies that you can drive from. Those sub-competencies are things I have pulled out. Things like transparency and being accountable. People know where you are coming from and where you're going. That gives you a lot of credibility.
Accountability means say what you are going to do, and do what you say. If you have to pivot, that's perfectly acceptable, just let people know what you are doing. That has really been why I was looked at to support the Commissioned Corps reorganization, establish the OHRP, and transition from a component organization, OASH, to an OS leadership role in ASFR.
Did you have any opportunities or thoughts to leaving HHS or the federal government?
Early on, that was definitely part of my MO (modus operandi). Out of business school, I wanted to be the next corporate raider. For a long time, I looked for private sector jobs, but one thing that influenced me to stay in the government was stability. Part of what occurred to me was the comfort of having the federal career. I knew many people in the private sector who had success, and came to work one day to find their services were no longer needed.
Over the years, as I expanded, I received offers with other agencies, but what appeals to me about HHS is the mission. I think HHS touches everyone's life from before you are born until the day you die. There is somebody in your life, at all times, being positively impacted by the work we do at HHS.
One of the things about working in OASH that made me feel good was knowing that doing my job well meant that people on the front lines had the things needed to be successful at the local community level. That's how I look at PSC. The work we do empowers the opioid work, serious mental illness work, research at NIH, FDA, and CDC. By providing the best value we can for the dollars we receive, we are furthering research, we are taking it to the next level, whatever that area is.
What impact do you want to have as PSC Director and what part of HHS would you like to touch next?
For PSC it’s making sure we provide maximum value to our customers. Every nickel is spent wisely toward supporting the mission of our customer organizations. That does not mean we shouldn't spend money. It means we should be judicious and cautious on what we spend and ensure the products and services we provide are of the highest quality and consistent with our lines of business.
I very much like OS, having been in OASH, ASA, and ASFR, and I think if there was one thing I could do that would be beneficial would be to make sure OS is leading in a collaborative way. I think too often there are silos within organizations which leads to a lack of understanding regarding how the individual missions fulfill the larger HHS mission. We have staff divisions that are program-focused, compliance-focused, policy-focused, or service-focused; and, we have hybrids. I think it is important for everyone to have an understanding of other staff divisions’ mission.
Looking at your 26-year career, what are you most proud of and what is your biggest regret?
I think the thing I am most proud of is the fact that I started as a GS-4 clerk/typist. I have earned my battle scars. I worked my way up. I did not start as a senior executive. If I started at a higher grade, I would have missed steps and experiences that help me today. I am happy and proud that I stayed in the government, and started out with those humble beginnings.
The regret. I think if there was one thing that I would have liked to explore, is what it would’ve been like to actually work at OMB for a little bit. When I worked for ASFR and saw what happened with the information and how decisions were made, that helped me inform staff divisions how to do better with their budget justifications, and how to get access to resources they need. I think if I had worked at OMB, it would've helped me to help HHS. That is not out of the realm of possibilities, but I am very HHS loyal at this point in my career. I think that walking in those shoes for a while would make me more effective to help people in HHS a little better because I came from within. It puts things in context of reaching the bigger goal.
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