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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Lessons on Finding Fair Pay For Feds

Toward the end of his richly anecdotal book, Who Gets What, compensation expert Kenneth R. Feinberg observes that when considering the fairness of pay, “everybody counts other people’s money.” Money, of course, is a key signal of success in our market economy. And federal workers today are increasingly subjected to pay and job security comparisons by private sector workers who are worried about their own pay—or lack thereof.

Feinberg has been the mediator and paymaster in high-profile cases where demand has arisen for “fair compensation after tragedy and financial upheaval,” as his book’s subtitle notes. Who Gets What (PublicAffairs, 2012) recounts the author’s experiences stretching from the post-Vietnam Agent Orange case in the 1970s to the ongoing case of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. His experience bears testimony to people’s sensitivity about parity in compensation, and, perhaps, offers lessons for resolving the debate about appropriate pay for federal employees. 

Public compensation programs are very much in the news. In California, voters in two large cities recently approved cuts in public pensions. Republicans in Congress have made many attempts to enact extended pay freezes or reductions for federal workers. In a document released in September...

Tips on Talking to Your Employees

Being the boss is a double-edged sword. Immense pressure can come from knowing that you are responsible for harnessing your staff’s talents to produce results that will make your higher-ups happy. Conversely, you are armed with the knowledge that those below you want very much to make you happy. Your employees’ desire to meet your expectations is a powerful motivator and has the potential to keep your office running efficiently.

Before you can reap the rewards of a highly motivated group of employees, however, you have to communicate clearly what will make you happy. Employees have no hope of meeting your expectations if you don’t lay them out. And failing to do so will not only keep your team from performing, but likely will cause deep anxiety and frustration among employees.

While effectively communicating expectations is a fundamental skill for managers, many supervisors have not yet mastered it. In his book Communicating for Managerial Effectiveness: Problems, Strategies, Solutions, Phillip G. Clampitt reports that as many as 40 percent of employees are not satisfied with the communications from their supervisor.

He outlines managers’ tendencies to focus on how they deliver information. This “arrow approach” leads supervisors to speak clearly...

Taking Advantage of Twitter

Twitter is quite possibly the most intimidating and risky form of social media for federal managers. The idea of sharing work-related comments with a broad audience in an off-the-cuff manner seems incompatible with the training that senior feds rely on to be successful in their jobs. But Twitter, when used properly, can provide an invaluable opportunity to share mission goals with stakeholders and to collaborate across agencies. 

There are many different strategies for being effective on Twitter, but a few basic guidelines can help keep you on track and out of trouble. First, there are two possible roles managers can play in their Twitter life. Many maintain purely personal Twitter accounts, often with disclaimers in their profiles such as “the opinions expressed here are mine alone.” 

The more productive option might to be a representative for your office and agency in the digital space. This usually requires sign-off from a superior or the public affairs office. In maintaining a professional Twitter account, there is a clear line delineating appropriate tone and content. Managers should speak to their followers the way they would address an audience at a conference or town hall meeting of stakeholders or fellow managers in and outside...

Before Slashing Budgets, Find the Savings

It was a bold move for a government entity. In 2005, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania hired a private company to overhaul the archaic way it buys goods and services. It seemed simple enough, but what was innovative -- and daring -- was a key condition: 30 percent of the contractor’s compensation would come from the savings achieved. No savings, no payment.

Putting such a risk on the contractor paid off handsomely. Among other things, officials combined the buying clout and pricing data of all 89 executive branch agencies and departments to strike better deals. Without cutting a single program or service, Pennsylvania saved more than $140 million, or 21 percent, from its annual $700 million tab for everything from office and cleaning supplies to information technology services and tires. The savings far exceeded projections.

Pennsylvania is not alone. Similar value-based contracts enabled the New York City Board of Education to shave $86 million from its $720 million procurement budget, and state and local agencies are experiencing similar savings.

At a time when the federal government is looking to slash trillions of dollars from its budget to curb the national debt, it’s time for Washington to consider the same approach on...

Data Center Power

Government data centers work like any other factory. They produce something: in this case, the computer systems that power websites, manage payrolls and store vital information. They also have to eat up raw materials to do it: the electricity that runs those banks of computer servers and the air conditioning that keeps them from overheating and fizzling out.

Technology officials have set a bold plan to close or consolidate about 40 percent of the government’s roughly 3,100 data centers by 2015. That ultimately will produce $5 billion in savings, they say. The initiative so far, though, has focused more on reducing the number of data centers than on ensuring the centers that remain run as efficiently as possible.

As a result, the initiative may miss out on some easy savings and a chance to model good environmental practices. Energy is typically the most expensive component of data centers’ cost. They can consume up to 100 times as much power as a typical office building, according to the Federal Energy Management Program, a division of the Energy Department.

A May 2012 audit by the department’s inspector general found that 43 of its 77 data centers weren’t employing...