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FCW : September 15, 2015
A s the first chief customer officer at the General Services Administration, Phaedra Chrousos is infusing some entrepreneurial know-how into an agency that is in the process of reinvent- ing itself. The CCO position is not just new to GSA. It’s new to the federal government, which has rarely been accused of being a bastion of customer service. Chrousos joined GSA from the private sector in June 2014. She had already co-founded two New York City-based start-ups when then-GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini was introduced to her through the Partnership for Public Service. “It was about choosing a hypothesis we both had that a dedicated, empowered team around the customer could actu- ally move the needle at GSA when it came to the way that customers think of the agency,” Chrousos told FCW. Greg Godbout worked with Chrousos on customer service projects for about a year during his tenure as executive direc- tor of GSA’s 18F. “She’s an experienced business owner and an experienced entrepreneur,” said Godbout, who’s now CTO at the Environmental Protection Agency. “Government needs more entrepreneurs, people who can think outside the box.” ‘No stone unturned’ Chrousos took on a second set of responsibilities in Janu- ary when she was named associate administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies. She now oversees 18F, but Godbout recalled an earlier interaction when Chrousos was a customer and her team needed software for an important project. “She left no stone unturned,” he said. “That’s the type of tenacity you need to figure out ways to get things done.... 18F is that way. It was fun for me to watch her doing that in another office in a different capacity but totally related to driving better services for the American people.” GSA manages 9,000 buildings for the government around the country, so the bulk of the agency’s customers are other federal agencies. One of the first things Chrousos did as the new CCO was survey more than 1 million of GSA’s tenants. “It was the first time we had actually surveyed every single tenant of ours,” Chrousos said. The agency followed up with focus groups and then devel- oped action plans for building-related measures GSA plans to implement this year. ‘The right person at the right time’ GSA’s other main customer base, of course, is contracting officers. To better understand that audience, Chrousos’ 230-person team of developers, designers and tech innova- tors sifted through data, deployed surveys and conducted more than 200 interviews to shape customer journey maps. After the team collected the data, it put the information into the hands of decision-makers. When it comes to improving the customer experience, Chrousos said she’s found that one of the biggest challenges is often a lack of information, not a resistant agency culture. “Everyone was really excited about the customer,” she said. “They were in the government because they were altru- istic. They were in the government to do great things, but they just didn’t have anything beyond anecdotal evidence to get the job done.” When Tangherlini recruited Chrousos, he was in the midst of trying to reform the agency after a 2012 scandal involv- ing lavish conference spending. He told FCW that Chrousos was “the right person at the right time” to help rejuvenate the agency and bring a fresh perspective. “The cool thing about taking on someone like Phaedra into this work, she was going to ask substantial questions and existential questions,” Tangherlini said. “She was going to bring some of this current thinking to government.” Chrousos honed that thinking by building digital businesses in the private sector. She co-founded and served as chief operating officer of Daily Secret — a digital media company that focuses on city-specific email newsletters — and she oversaw the launch of 37 editions in 21 countries. Before that, she had co-founded HealthLeap, an online service to help physicians with appointment booking, and earlier still, she worked for the Boston Consulting Group. She studied economics and sociology at Georgetown Uni- versity and holds graduate degrees from the London School of Economics and Columbia University. She said she was drawn to government work because it fueled her sense of mission. But it has also proven to be rewarding in other ways. “I’ve actually found it to be really fun as well,” she said. “It’s hard and difficult and important, but it’s also a lot of fun. My colleagues are very smart. They’re all here to do great things and to make a difference, and it’s a wonderful environment to be in.” ‘Naiveté about the government helps’ Chrousos is leading 18F at a time of tremendous growth. The digital innovation hub was launched in March 2014 with five people and has now grown to about 110. By 2017, Chrousos said, the staff is projected to grow to 300. “We feel like the appetite for our work is tremendous,” said Chrousos, adding that 18F’s intake pipeline is 100 proj- ects deep. To keep pace, 18F has developed a blanket purchase agree- ment for agile development services that aims to connect agencies with vendors that can provide iterative software development, user-centered design and DevOps. “That was our way to scale,” Chrousos said. “We realized we couldn’t grow fast enough, so the only thing we could do was partner up with the private sector to work together on the new project.” 18F’s rapid growth is coupled with a new demographic of Profile: Phaedra Chrousos 28 September 15, 2015 FCW.COM 0915fcw_026-029.indd 28 8/26/15 9:39 AM
August 30, 2015
September 30, 2015