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Monday, December 04, 2006

David Norquist - Protecting the homeland and its tax dollars

David Norquist’s friends had mixed reactions after he was tapped to be the Homeland Security Department’s new chief financial officer earlier this year.

“Half the people said congratulations,” Norquist said. “The other half said, ‘Why would you do that?’ “

Indeed, Norquist’s job has its share of challenges. Not only does he oversee the department’s $35 billion budget, he has the responsibility for straightening out its many problem-plagued financial management systems.

Some systems are so bad that several agencies and offices within the department — such as the Coast Guard and Norquist’s own office — have been left incapable of accurately tracking the money they spend, the department’s inspector general has reported.

Homeland Security in 2005 tried to consolidate its eight financial management systems into one called eMerge2. That effort foundered after the department invested $18 million, leaving many senior officials questioning whether a departmentwide system was the right approach. So in early 2007, Norquist may begin migrating some agencies with troubled financial management systems to other well-performing systems — either elsewhere in the department or outside the department.

The problems don’t stop there. Many of Homeland Security’s financial management offices are understaffed, and the department has been criticized for having lax purchase card rules.
In an Oct. 6 interview, Norquist did not appear daunted by the tasks before him.

“There are two things I care passionately about,” Norquist said. “One is protecting the country, the other is protecting taxpayers’ dollars, and there are very few jobs where you get to do both.”

Norquist came to Washington in 1989 as GS-9 budget analyst for the Army after graduating from the University of Michigan. He got an early taste of how crunching numbers could let him help his nation in 1990, when he came up with a streamlined way of assembling the Defense Department’s intelligence budget that eliminated an information technology support contract with an annual cost of $1 million.

“I was making $24,000 a year, and someone said, ‘You just saved the taxpayers $1 million a year,’” Norquist said. “I thought, ‘I could do this for a living. This is cool.’”

Norquist is preparing a plan to solve the department’s financial management problems with specific deadlines. And the department has just begun a new mentorship program that he hopes will mold young employees into future financial managers.

READ MORE, including Q&A with David Norquist

- Stephen Losey, FederalTimes.com

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