When leaders of the Department of Labor learned last year that their private-sector provider of financial services was about to go bankrupt, upending the procurement system, the payment of grants and many other critical financial transactions, they turned to Edward Hugler, the man they call “Mr. Fix-It.”
Hugler, the deputy assistant secretary for administration and management, swung into action. He worked with five federal departments to quickly purchase data rights, software, intellectual property and hardware from the failing contractor, and secured operational support to keep the financial system running.
As a result of Hugler’s efforts, the department averted losing its capability to control and account for $60 billion in annual disbursements. The department’s financial system is now owned and operated as a federal government asset, and the department is in the process of transitioning to a federal shared service provider. Even with the turmoil, the department ultimately ended the 2014 fiscal year with an unqualified, or clean, audit opinion.
“We felt secure and confident we would avert a potential crisis because Ed was leading the effort,” said Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu. “The Labor Department doesn’t run without Ed Hugler. He is our problem-solver. We’ve given him a number of complicated problems and he fixes them. He gets things done.”
Hugler’s portfolio includes assisting the department and its 22 component agencies in areas ranging from human resources and information technology to procurement, facilities and security. According to colleagues, Hugler has helped shape nearly every major administrative or management decision, project or process at the Department of Labor for the past 15 years.
One significant ongoing initiative involves updating the department’s outmoded and inefficient IT infrastructure. Under his supervision, the department moved all staff to a new cloud email service in 14 months; upgraded circuits in 530 office locations throughout the nation to improve network speeds and capability; and integrated four legacy IT networks as part of a plan to consolidate the department’s nine networks into one system.
Hugler also led the overhaul of the department’s procurement processes after abuses were uncovered in 2011, instituting new internal controls, setting up training courses on ethics for senior officials, issuing binding guidance and seeking to instill a culture of integrity.
“Whether it involves technology, finance, procurement, personnel or the unexpected, Ed is on point, shaping every major decision and responding to every crisis,” said Michael Kerr, the assistant secretary for administration and management. “Ed takes on the tough problems. He is very good at listening, keeping options alive and solving problems in a way that the solutions stick.”
Another initiative undertaken by Hugler involved reforming the department’s media lock-up facility, the location where sensitive economic data is provided to journalists prior to its official release to the public. Spurred by allegations of tampering to facilitate stock trading, Hugler engaged a team of recognized outside experts to conduct an intensive security assessment, and oversaw a drastic overhaul of the facility’s physical security and policies.
More recently, he led a cross-departmental team of high-level staff and executives to explore alternative options for releasing this embargoed data, including a custom IT infrastructure solution that could be used by other departmental agencies for broader purposes.
“Ed makes sure that all internal systems at the Department of Labor are operational and moving forward,” said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. “What I like most about him is that he is always seeking to innovate. He is always looking for new and better ways to conduct business.”
This was clearly the motivation behind one of Hugler’s signature accomplishments, Benefits.gov, a website initially developed in 2002 by a team he put in place. The site has since expanded to include 17 agency partners and gives citizens access to information about more than 1,200 federal and state government benefits and assistance programs.
“Prior to its creation, there was no single place where a member of the public could easily determine their eligibility for government benefits,” Kerr said. “Ed believed those in need of assistance should not be expected to know where to look for help in the labyrinth of government agencies.”
He later championed the idea of using Benefits.gov technology for similar, citizen-centric solutions, including GovLoans.gov, DisasterAssistance.gov and BEST.SSA.gov, reducing duplication of effort and saving taxpayer dollars. In 2013, Hugler was responsible for upgrading the Benefits.gov website by allowing users to seamlessly view the site from any mobile device. Six months after the launch, the program witnessed a 60-percent increase in mobile traffic.
Hugler said his role is to ensure that the department operates efficiently so that policies can be carried out as effectively as possible.
“In my job, there is a lot of risk that something is going to go wrong,” Hugler said. “But the job is all about how you mitigate that risk, brush it off your shoulders and move forward.”