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9 Strategies for Increasing Collaboration and Reducing Waste in Government

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President Obama recently instructed his Cabinet to develop “an aggressive management agenda” for his second term that delivers “smarter, more innovative and more accountable government,” and tapped his new Office of Management and Budget director to lead the effort. By all accounts, the team is in for a hard slog.

Our presidents have attempted various reform efforts during the past two decades with mixed results. The federal government is a massive organization and change can be slow and difficult to sustain, particularly without the persistent attention of top leadership.

The Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton spent the last year interviewing management reform veterans in order to produce its latest report, Building the Enterprise: Nine Strategies for a More Integrated, Effective Government. The experts included executives in the midst of change efforts, veterans of prior reforms, academics and change agents in both the public and private sector.

Consensus emerged on two topics. First, there was agreement that the fiscal constraints currently facing government provide both an incentive and opportunity to find smarter ways of doing the people’s business. Second, there was agreement that the challenges government is confronting today can rarely be resolved by any one single agency. They require the collective action of several agencies, as well as intergovernmental and international partners.

The problem is that government is not set up to easily facilitate that kind of cross-agency collaboration. It is something government does in times of crisis, but in order for government to be as effective and efficient as it can be, collective action by multiple agencies needs to become the standard operating approach.

This collective, enterprise-wide approach to tackling some government missions and administrative functions will require significant change – most significantly it requires a fundamental mind shift from the agency perspective to a broader, whole-of-government perspective. It also requires a supportive infrastructure that doesn’t currently exist.

Outlined below are nine strategies that will drive or support an enterprise approach to government and that will reduce overlap and duplication, articulate what government needs to accomplish collaboratively, and delineate roles and responsibilities of each agency to achieve the common mission or goal.

  1. The Cabinet and the President’s Management Council should develop an enterprise performance plan to establish cross-agency goals and clearly articulate what government needs to accomplish on an enterprise or government-wide level.
  2. Build portfolios of multiple programs aligned against the enterprise plan’s goals and clarify each agency’s role and responsibilities.
  3. Designate and empower goal leaders to drive achievement of the cross-agency goals and coordinate the portfolio of programs.
  4. Develop career executives capable of managing cross-agency initiatives and to provide sustained focus on achieving these goals.
  5. Establish an office of evaluation to help goal leaders assess the effectiveness of the programs included in the multi-agency efforts.
  6. Manage information technology as a true enterprise resource.
  7. Expand use of shared services across the government.
  8. Adopt an enterprise approach to acquisition of goods and services to leverage federal buying power.
  9. Build the civil service system to better handle cross-agency program and policy challenges.  

Throughout the course of our research, we learned that there are many good management initiatives underway by the current administration, particularly in the areas of strategic sourcing, shared services and IT consolidation. However, administration officials need to focus on getting greater buy-in from agencies and from career leadership to sustain progress long after their tenure is gone.

The president took an important first step in engaging his Cabinet on these issues and making it clear to them that part of their jobs is to make their organizations more effective and efficient. I hope he will embrace the enterprise strategies in this report and enlist the career Senior Executive Service in carrying this important work forward. If he doesn’t, the president runs the risk that the management reform reset button will be hit again in 2016, and he will miss a tremendous opportunity to improve government operations and achieve better results for the American people.

Lara Shane is Vice President of Research and Communications at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. For a copy of the Building the Enterprise: Nine Strategies for a More Integrated, Effective Government report, go to ourpublicservice.org.

Lara Shane is former vice president for research and communications at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

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