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Former US Secretary of Commerce Reflects on Successes

By Tanya F. Devani, Contributing Writer

Gary F. Locke, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and former U.S. ambassador to China, reflected on his political experiences and the future of U.S.-China relations at the Institute of Politics on Tuesday.

Despite being appointed to lead the Department of Commerce in the midst of a severe global recession, Locke said he thought under his leadership, the Department was successful in increasing government efficiency. In particular, he said he achieved a significant reduction in grant application processing.

“We streamlined government agencies and instead of keeping a process that takes 20 months, [we] reduce[d] it down to 18 days,” Locke said.

Karen G. Mills, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, praised Locke’s emphasis on metrics. Mills served with Locke in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Association.

“You always count days; you always set a metric,” she said to Locke. “For instance, when you were Governor, you shortened the number of days it took to get a driver’s license at the DMV. Then you shortened the time it took to get grants from the Commerce Department. And then you went to China and you shortened the time to get a visa.”

Locke said his emphasis on producing measurable results was driven by a desire to make government employees seek risky, innovative solutions to problems, and be proud of their work.

“What I always tried to do was set super-high stretch goals knowing, oftentimes, [government] agencies could not meet them,” he said. “But [we would] celebrate whatever they did, send the message that it was okay to try, even if you fail.”

In his role as ambassador to China—the first Chinese American to hold the position—Locke said he attempted to pursue the same level of efficiency as he did in his role as a member of President Obama’s cabinet. He was able to open up markets for American goods, solidifying the strong economic relationship America shares with China.

“So the reality is that China and US relations are much closer today than they were even 15 years ago, or 10 years ago,” Locke said. “Our [American and Chinese] economies are intertwined, and there’s also a lot of partnership on scientific research, fighting piracy off the coast of Africa, climate change, and clean energy.”

Max Miao ’19, an attendee at the event said, he “agreed with him when he pointed out that there is such a close relationship of trade and commerce between these two countries that other disagreements and conflicting points seem trivial when you consider the strong points of the relationship.”

Another attendee, Jiafeng Chen ’19 found Locke’s success inspiring.

“I especially respect how he is able to uphold the principles that the United States values while maintaining a cordial relationship with the Chinese,” Chen said.

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