Alumni in Action

Public Service Spotlight

Peter Grace

MPA-PNP - 2006

Vice President for Strategic Planning and IT Mortgage Bankers Association

Tell us about your current public service work. Can you briefly describe your employment organization and position responsibilities, as well as any relevant volunteer or entrepreneurial activities?

After spending three years in the Obama Administration under HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, I recently left to serve as the Vice President for Strategic Planning and IT at the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), a national organization representing the real estate finance industry.

Headquartered in Washington, DC, the MBA supports investment in communities across the nation by ensuring the continued strength of the nation's residential and commercial real estate markets; including the expansion of homeownership and access to affordable housing for all Americans, as well as support for consumer financial literacy.

The MBA promotes fair and ethical lending practices and foster professional excellence among real estate finance employees through a wide range of educational programs and a variety of publications. We have over 2,400 member companies, including all elements of real estate finance: mortgage companies, commercial banks, thrifts, life insurance companies, real estate investment trusts and others in the mortgage lending field.

In my role, I have leadership responsibility for the implementation of strategic initiatives aimed at increasing member engagement and driving organizational change. I report to the President and CEO David Stevens, the Obama Administration's former Federal Housing Administration Commissioner.

In my personal time, I also serve on the Board of the Interfaith Families Project (IFFP) of Greater Washington DC, an independent community of interfaith families and others committed to sharing, learning about, and celebrating Jewish and Christian traditions.

Please summarize your professional and academic background. What has been a highlight?

Prior to joining the Mortgage Bankers Association, I served as the Chief of Staff for Acting Deputy Secretary Estelle Richman at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In this position, I played a Deputy Chief Operating Officer role, providing overall management and leadership for the Offices of the Secretary and Deputy Secretary on HUD’s Transformation Initiative, a multi-year, multifaceted organizational change program.

Prior to that, I served as the Director of HUD’s Office of Strategic Planning and Management, where I was responsible for the development and execution of HUD’s strategic plan, including the design and implementation of HUDStat, the agency’s program performance measurement and management approach. I also oversaw the implementation of HUD’s $13.61 billion in economic stimulus funding allocated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Before joining HUD, I was the Associate Commissioner of the Office of Strategic Planning, Technology and Research at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. In this role, I had responsibility for facilitating the identification of the agency’s strategic priorities and aligning and executing all program improvement, information technology and research activities with those priorities.

Prior to my transition to the public sector, I worked at Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, where I supported clients in the telecommunications industry in the planning and implementation of strategic change.

I received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 1993.

What led you to pursue a master's degree in Public Administration? Why did you decide to study at Wagner?

After spending nearly 11 years in management consulting working for private sector clients, I knew I wanted a change. I enjoyed the work that I did and knew I had developed a set of skills that were highly valuable, but I wanted to put all of it to use in an organization with a social mission. To facilitate this transition to the public sector, I decided to pursue a master's degree in Public Administration.

There was never much of a decision with regards to my decision to attend NYU Wagner. The strength of its curriculum and faculty, the co-location of its urban planning program with the MPA program and most importantly for me the connection it has with the City of New York, made it my primary choice for graduate school. It didn't disappoint!

In your current position, how do you use the knowledge and skills that you gained at Wagner? Which skills do you use most frequently?

Without question, the knowledge and skills I use the most relate to performance management (of programs and operations) and team building. For the former, all of the roles I've held since graduating from Wagner have involved the measurement and evaluation of performance. Whether it's an affordable housing program, the hiring process in human resources or the satisfaction of my current association's members, I've been constantly engaged in the process of measurement, goal-setting and performance monitoring as a management best practice. The most notable example of this was in the work I did to create and manage HUDStat, the performance management process that I instituted with the Secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As for team building, this is without question the most valuable skill that I've put into practice since graduating from Wagner. All of the roles I've played since then have involved working in groups, leading teams or influencing others to achieve a common purpose. This has proven to be a particularly important skill in government, where resistance to change is often high.

Reflecting on your academic experience, what Wagner courses, professors, and / or projects had the greatest influence on your professional development? How?

Ingrid Gould Ellen had a significant impact on my interest and development in the area of housing and community development. The Urban Economics course that she taught gave me a way to apply economic theory to urban policy in a way that I had not yet experienced or fully understood up to that point. I also had the good fortune to work for her during my second year at Wagner, and in the process learn more about her research in area of affordable housing and community development. That experience solidified my decision to re-start my career at the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Carolyn Berry's Program Evaluation course was the most useful to me from a practical applications standpoint. As I mentioned above, all of the roles I've played since finishing at Wagner have involved some form of program evaluation. Though not all of it has been research-based, the 'logic model' principles I learned in the Program Evaluation course have proven to be foundational in the work I've done to manage program and organizational performance.

Reflecting on your time outside of the classroom (social events, orientations, trainings, etc.), can you describe one or two key moments at Wagner that impacted your passion for public service?

If there was a moment that set me on my career in public service, it happened at the end of my first year as I was considering options for summer employment. I was at an event with Dean Schall, getting her opinion on the subject. She told me rather emphatically that I should work for Shaun Donovan at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). She actually saw him later that evening and three days later he called me for an interview. To make a long story short, I worked for him over the next seven years, including three extremely exciting years in the Obama Administration!

Are there any programs, opportunities or other aspects of the Wagner experience that you wish you had leveraged during your time as a student?

When I started at Wagner, my son Jeremy was six months old. Between classes and schoolwork, I spent most of my time with him, and therefore wasn't able to take advantage of the many opportunities that Wagner had to offer aside from the academics. That said, to be able to spend so much time with my son during his toddler years was an opportunity that I would not have had if I had been working full time. So I wouldn't have given that up for anything!

How are you involved with the Wagner community as an alumnus (i.e. attending events, mentoring students, maintaining connections with other alumni, recruiting at Wagner, etc.)?

I've tried to stay involved as much as possible, which has grown more complicated since I've moved to Washington DC. That said, I try to attend alumni events in DC, I keep in touch with a number of my really close friends and professors from Wagner, and have had the honor of participating on selection panels for the Rice Urban Studies and David Bohnett Public Service Fellowships.