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The future of success in federal government
by Steve Foley

In previous blogs we have outlined reasons why Americans’ trust in their government is free-falling and have explained some of the ideas highlighted by The American Council for Technology – Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) for turning it around. Here we will look at the specific ways their report suggests doing this, as well as how it recommends changing how success is measured.

The report argues that the first step is to build outcome focus into all aspects of management at all levels. This means that employees all across individual agencies should be measured by their outcomes and recognised and rewarded accordingly. Making outcomes measurable means that figures that prove success become more widely available, increasing public trust and understanding.

A focus on results is never a bad thing, but agencies need to make sure that they are not becoming too quantitative in their definitions. For example, every year the Department of Defence provides income to more than 1.4 million active duty personnel, 861,000 civilians and more than 3 million retirees and beneficiaries[1]. If this agency was suddenly to measure success solely by ‘number of cases completed’ then more complex scenarios that take longer may fall farther down the priority list.

While government agencies can learn lessons in efficiency and management from the private sector (read more on this here), any change in strategy needs to remember that they are not bound completely by that corporate mindset. Resources need to be used effectively, but they do not have competition to out-price and out-manoeuvre for a reason. It’s a delicate balance to get, but if agencies can use data at a level where they are stripping out inefficiencies while meeting better outcomes for everyone they serve, then it will be on the right path. 

To begin with, the report argues each agency should appoint outcome leaders, given resource and risk authority that report into the Agency Deputy Secretary, with delegated decision authority to work within and across agencies to align resources and lead development of plans.

Outcome leaders will be tasked with achieving end-to-end service effectively by reducing duplication across agencies, shattering silo working and creating customer-centric services. It’s worth noting that outcome leaders would be temporary in nature, designed to disband once goals have been met. The roles will be a constant flux of change and innovation.

This new group must be a product of a wider government acceleration and change strategy, which should be a product of the President’s Management Council and work to align and integrate different roles, organizations, transformation services, innovation services and more.

Federal government is one of the biggest producers of data in the US[2] and could be a powerhouse if it was utilized and shared effectively.

Next, an Enterprise Risk Officer should be established at the Office of Management and Budget. The report argues that this officer would address the growing risk to the government and private sector’s operations and intellectual property, looking at physical and cyber risks to government and critical infrastructure industries.

Finally, a new workforce and leadership must be established in line with the digital age. This includes creating cross-government rotational opportunities, particularly for the Senior Executive Service, providing public-private sector talent exchange opportunities to attract and retain talent. By encouraging its workforce to embrace more dynamic careers and constant learning, they will further contextualize their work rather than just working to meet that day’s assignments.

The outputs that citizens expect from government is changing. Broadly speaking, the public is expecting more from their government at a time when they are heavily divided by ideologies. The threats from foreign adversaries are prompting demand for a more agile government. At the same time, any change must be gradual, as disruption – especially in the current climate – is seen as negative.

Particularly in the early days of this strategy, the government will need to shout heavily about its successes in improving customer service and reducing waste. The people that need it most need to feel the changes on a daily basis. Embracing automation to do the majority of the legwork is key in this strategy. To create a more unified and trusting society, federal government needs to lead by example and by uniting its agencies under a banner of fair and ethical data sharing and encouraging more openness and demonstrating a willingness to listen, US federal government can rebuild stronger, more dynamic and more efficient than ever before.

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[1] https://www.thebalance.com/department-of-defense-what-it-does-and-its-impact-3305982

[2] https://digital.gov/2018/03/14/data-briefing-value-federal-government-data/

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