Coordinating policy across multiple agencies is a major challenge for many federal program managers and leaders. Responsibilities are not always neatly divided within agencies or even between agencies. The results are conflicting policies, duplication of effort and inefficiency. At the core of the issue is each federal agency’s struggle to hold on to what it defines as its responsibility and mission space. A 2011 Government Accountability Office report identified 34 areas in which agencies have overlapping initiatives. In 2013, the updated GAO report didn’t indicate much improvement. Thirty-one areas were still identified with significant “fragmentation, overlap, and duplication.”
The pinch of tightening budgets leads agencies to try to do more with less. As a result, many agencies are trying in earnest to reduce inefficiencies. Interagency collaboration is a means to improve policy and outcomes while potentially reducing costs. It may seem like an obvious solution, but the road to doing it successfully has serious potholes.
Here are three tips for avoiding the potholes:
1. Find the right contact. Locating and engaging the right point of contact is invaluable. You need to find the person in another organization that has the knowledge and internal connections to make things happen. That person may not be the most senior participant, but she will be the person with her finger on the pulse of the agency.
2. Define what’s in it for them. Nobody is going to go out of their way to coordinate outside their chain of command unless there is something in it for their agency. It can often feel like a dog-eat-dog world in the federal government. If interagency coordination means your dog gets eaten (e.g., you cease to be relevant), then why would you sign up? If interagency collaboration means you can support your agency’s mission more effectively and affordably, then points of contact will be clamoring to sign up. When selling interagency collaboration, the “what’s in it for them” must be clear.
3. Revisit the effort regularly. Project drift is the No. 1 villain in interagency collaboration. What seems like a good idea at first loses its appeal after getting bogged down in details or after circumstances change. Managers leading effective interagency efforts must frequently circle back to the points of contact to clarify whether the effort is still relevant and valuable. If your agency values change, then the value of interagency collaboration must be rearticulated so it is once again relevant.
What are your recommendations for interagency collaboration?