By: Charles Tansey
I initially came to Washington in June of 1999 as a Presidential appointment to the SBA. I had spent the previous 25 years in corporate banking and finance primarily in New York. My job was to bring Wall Street technologies to certain programs at the SBA, specifically in the areas of risk management and expansion of SBA programs to women and minority businesses. I had no previous experience in government and limited exposure to politics, so it was a learning experience. The biggest challenge, perhaps, was the form of accounting, but the biggest surprise was the exceptional quality of the staff I had to work with. It was a terrific team—highly qualified, motivated and disciplined. In a very short space of time we were able to establish bold new (and lasting) innovations in expanding credit to low income, minority and women-owned businesses and in managing the risk of our 3,000 participating lenders. We initiated the first data capture and predictive modeling of lending risk for the agency. It is a platform that has been improved brilliantly in subsequent years and is now a model for the private as well as the public sector.
After the Clinton administration, I went back to the private sector, but public service had gotten under my skin (once you’ve done it, the mission becomes irresistible). Within a year of leaving government, I returned as a civil servant at the Congressionally chartered and funded NeighborWorks America. NeighborWorks provides funding and training to financing and development entities in low income communities across the country. We saw early on what was happening in the housing market and in 2004 – 3 years before the market blew up – established the Center for Foreclosure Solutions (a tip of the hat to the late Federal Reserve Governor, Ned Gramlich, for leading this initiative in the midst of a general regulatory neglect of the obvious desultory trends). We also developed a path for achieving access to the capital markets for community development corporations, and software-based trainings to enable them to make the most efficient use of financial resources for themselves as well as their constituencies. We were also ground zero for crafting and funding homeownership counseling for the many people who found themselves in difficulties with their mortgage payments.
From NeighborWorks I moved to the Export Import Bank of the US, where I headed up the Small Business Lending Group. Getting more small businesses comfortable with exporting is a major economic priority for the US—and a challenging one. The team was able to develop a new product, announced by President Obama, which made it dramatically easier and cheaper for businesses to borrow and insure payment for their exports. This was pivotal in perhaps the most gratifying experience I had in government: working with the 12 agencies involved in international and export activities to “consolidate” their programs and present a single face and line of products to the to the domestic and international public. It was an initiative that was fraught with risk: in addition to the fear of consolidation and job loss at the agency level, there were conflicting and duplicative programs that had to be dealt with, as well as the standard partisan differences at the Congressional as well as Administration levels for the programs. Nevertheless we developed an inter-agency group that met offsite over a period of 18 months to hammer out a “virtual” consolidation of the programs – complete with tailoring and prioritization of programs, and marketing strategies. No, we didn’t get to implementation: we ran out of time. But the plan is still there on the shelf for future decision-makers, and for me it was the best example of people from competing agencies and programs--and from all sides of the political spectrum--working together to make a vital government function more efficient and effective. The essence of good government.
There are five people in the public service that I have been inspired by in particular:
Ed de Seve
I don’t need to say why or repeat what they did – they are all members of the National Academy!!
I have also been a great fan of the Simpson/Bowles effort on reigning in spending and revising the tax code. Although there were things that could be tweaked, it still stands out as THE most ambitious and magnificent effort to set things straight and re-institute fiscal discipline.