Day in the Life by Carol Maloney

"Day in the Life" by Carol Maloney, Director, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) & Records Management, Program Support Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The Program Support Center (PSC) is a federal entity that provides support services to all components of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and 31 other federal government agencies worldwide. PSC has a broad range of nearly 60 services and products, which include: administrative operations, health resources, information technology support, financial management and strategic acquisitions.

PSC selected 23 key managers as "Service Managers," representing nearly 60 different services and products offered. Collectively, they mind the essential services in the business of government. They possess a wide range of knowledge and skills in budgeting, contracting, sales, staffing, resource management, rate determination, funding and shared services competition and best practices. As business owners, they are the customers’ primary contact for information about each service. Carol Maloney is one such service manager and here is a glimpse into her world.

"It’s Monday night, and the telephones rang constantly today. The office was abuzz with staff discussing FOIA requests with customers. Thank goodness I empowered my staff to conduct regular business items. It freed me to plan our operations, attend meetings, and make larger business decisions.

The role of Service Manager is intertwined with my responsibilities as the Director of FOIA & Records Management, a shared service offered by PSC. Apart from managing recordkeeping requirements for an organization that handles a trillion dollars in business, my office processes FOIA requests and appeals and handles privacy and records management-related issues. In any given year, we process close to 700 FOIAs; each requires fact-finding, analysis, and review in compliance with federal regulations.

The thing that’s foremost on my customers’ minds is how to keep their service costs down. But how do I keep my service rates down when my own costs of doing business are going up? That’s when I wear my Service Manager hat and start analyzing every aspect of my business.

Process efficiencies have helped us manage our workload to be more responsive to our customers. The Divison has had great success in reducing the backlog of FOIA requests and appeals. It’s tedious work but we were able to reduce a quarter of our backlog in just one year.

Starting at 8 a.m., I talked to people all day long. I gave advice, touched base, and stayed in tune with what was going on. I worked on larger cases with customers, but I was also available if someone just needed advice. I took telephone calls from other people in PSC on privacy matters and acted as the subject matter expert when my staff had questions about projects on which they were working.

After lunch, I got my second wind. Time for ‘big picture’ thinking. Right now, I’m managing a specialized area in which I need to be aware of the substantive aspects of what I do. Like any dynamic business, mine is fluid, evolving. I’m analyzing data on a daily basis. When customers ask for advice — they expect and deserve my staff to be knowledgeable about their area of concern. I’m keeping abreast of laws, regulations, and policies and consciously thinking about changes in the outside world. How can these changes affect my day-to-day activities?

When I became a Service Manager, I changed the way I did business. I became more aware of the end-to-end process of what I did. I decided to take nothing for granted. From the budget setting to the billing and collection end, I was responsible for all the financial aspects of the business. I was promoted into my current position because of my subject matter expertise. The Service Manager role made me more aware of thinking about our business operations. I better understood the need to communicate with my staff about the Division’s goals, PSC’s goals, and their alignment with HHS’s goals.

My employees want to be successful, and, if I can show them where the finish line is, it helps them focus on what really needs to get done. I’m lucky to have a committed staff — they have welcomed new roles, greater responsibility and/or complex assignments. I asked them how to cut costs, save time, do outreach and business development, and implement other process improvements.

I’m so glad I took their suggestion about modifying the FOIA database. We now have an inventory to track and maintain our closed and pending requests and appeals. It has made a big difference in pulling together the annual report on workload and rates of closure to send to the Department of Justice. This database is so flexible, I can run a myriad of reports, electronically track the progress of individual files, and quickly generate often-used standard letters. More of our time was freed up to answer data calls and respond to requesters.

As I reflect, I feel a sense of relief and satisfaction about making business enhancements. I’m a believer in innovation, time management, productivity and the saying, "work smarter, not harder." I realize that I can get more from my day without having to work more hours. The process improvement and my staff support has allowed me to devote more time to working as a Service Manager and business owner, and be a more effective leader.

It’s late and the office is quiet except for the ticking of the date/time stamper we use for incoming FOIA requests. My staff have left for the day. This is my time for quiet reflection and preparation for the next day. There is so much to do. One of my challenges is the overwhelming number of responsibilities versus the time available. When we’re busy putting out fires, when do we have the time to actually strategize and be forward-thinking?

I focused on the last piece of paper on my desk — the final edits to our service description that I need to submit to the Office of Communications for publication. It made me remember what’s important — we’re keeping customer satisfaction up and keeping our costs down. As a taxpayer, I greatly appreciate that there are federal organizations like PSC always looking for ways to operate more efficiently.

My BlackBerry is still buzzing…"