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Cost-Cutting Moves Could Spare Relocation Programs

As scrutiny of federal travel intensifies, agencies are getting road weary.

In November 2011, President Obama issued an executive order requiring agencies to review their travel budgets and reduce costs by 20 percent. Then came the fallout from costs associated with the General Services Administration’s ill-famed Las Vegas conference. Now Congress is considering three pieces of government travel legislation that would beef up oversight and cost containment even more.

Amid the all uproar, one travel program should be reviewed separately on its own merits -- the Federal Employee Relocation Management Program. The program was authorized by legislation in 1983 to facilitate permanent transfers to new assignments. The nation was in a recession at the time. The idea was that professional relocation services could improve mobility in support of missions, save agencies money through efficient and cost-effective moves, and reduce out-of-pocket costs for employees. The legislation authorized contracts for relocation services as an employee benefit to replace or supplement self-managed moves.

The latest recession is far deeper than that of the early 1980s, and its impact on government operations and productivity is well-documented.

Law enforcement agencies have had to issue waivers and create alternative programs for employees who cannot comply with ...

Even in a Second Term, Expect New Appointees

Had Mitt Romney won the presidency, there’s no question January would have been a time of upheaval for federal managers. Still, as President Obama settles into a second term, managers should not expect the status quo. The end of a first term is a natural point of departure for political appointees planning to return to the private sector or to step down otherwise. While the transition surely will be on a smaller scale, managers still have to prepare for new leadership and shifting priorities.

In a post-election survey by the Government Business Council, the research arm of Government Executive, 38 percent of managers reported feeling transition-related anxiety. Another 34 percent said they were very concerned about how the transition would affect morale.

As with any other transition, career executives have some responsibility to help get new appointees up to speed quickly. Clay Johnson, who was Office of Management and Budget deputy director for management during the George W. Bush administration, advised federal managers at Government Executive’s September Excellence in Government conference to structure discussions with new leaders in terms of the agency’s risks and opportunities and to be as candid as possible. “When you talk about your ...

Budgeting for Mobile Computing

Federal agencies are facing substantial outlays to manage mobile computing devices as they shift from a culture of PCs and laptops to smartphones and tablets. But there is a silver lining. Agencies are likely to save money if they don’t have to maintain their own systems to secure and support employee mobile devices. And vendors offer discounts for volume purchases of their software and services.                    

Providers of mobile device management tools—including Atlanta-based AirWatch, MobileIron of Mountain View, Calif., and Zenprise of Redwood City, Calif.—charge between $3 and $4 per month for client software installed on an employee’s mobile phone or tablet. AirWatch is a supplier on the Veterans Affairs Department’s initial $4.4 million mobile contract awarded in October.

That monthly fee may seem like small change until it’s applied somewhere like the Defense Department, where planners are looking to move every active-duty and reserve organization to mobile computing. Defense’s workforce includes 1.4 million active-duty troops, 1.3 million National Guard and reserve personnel, and 800,000 civilian employees—that’s 3.5 million people.

If everyone in the department needed a mobile device—the Defense Information Systems Agency envisions widespread use ...

Crafting Office Culture

Office culture affects everything from employee retention to productivity, and managers have an incredible opportunity to shape that culture. In most organizations, culture is based solely on what is sold, delivered or provided. But David Vik, former culture coach at online shoe retailer Zappos and author of The Culture Secret: How to Empower People and Companies No Matter What You Sell, which is set for release by Greenleaf Book Group in February 2013, argues that culture should be deliberately structured to align with the wants, needs and demands of both employees and customers.

Vik believes that crafting a unique culture should be priority No. 1 for organizations that want to attract and retain loyal employees and customers. While federal managers may not be as concerned with “customers” in the traditional sense as private sector managers, agency leaders nonetheless have parties they are tasked with serving.

One of the first challenges of managing organizational structure, Vik says, is the fact that the concept itself is “squooshy.” Several organizations could take identical steps toward creating a certain culture, but not all will realize the same effects. This is true in part because every organization already has an existing culture, which may be ...

Luddites Can Still Be Good Managers

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has a confession to make: She doesn’t use email. In fact, she says she doesn’t have any personal online accounts. “Some would call me a Luddite, [but it’s] my own personal choice,” Napolitano explains.

No doubt there are times when many of us also would like to go off the grid. And yet Napolitano’s revelation, which she made during an interview with me at a Government Executive cybersecurity conference in September, sparked some bewildered reactions among journalists and technology experts. That’s because Napolitano is the top government official in charge of protecting civilian agencies’ cyber networks from hackers and spies. You’d think someone with that job would be plugged in to the infrastructure she’s trying to defend. Nope.  

But we shouldn’t be too surprised -- or even worried. When it comes to running a Cabinet department, expertise is overrated. The qualities that matter most are more ephemeral, hard to learn and harder still to master: leadership, management acumen, the ability to govern. These are the predictors of management success; technical fluency is not. 

Consider some recent examples. Leon Panetta knew little about covert intelligence when he became CIA ...