Fedblog FedblogFedblog
Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

The Highest-Performing Operation in Government

ARCHIVES

Some years ago, I wrote a rather churlish column for Government Executive on my experiences with the State Department's passport processing operation. In it, I warned that customer service was about to become a critical issue for State's Bureau of Consular Affairs (which handles passport applications), because of an impending requirement that U.S. citizens use passports for travel to Canada and Mexico.

Apparently, the bureau has done a pretty good job -- at least in one of its largest passport processing offices, in New York City. In a piece in Slate called "The Most Efficient Office in the World," Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan characterize the operation as being in the "vanguard of workplace effectiveness." Reviewers on Yelp, they note, give the New York Passport Agency 4.5 out of 5 stars for service. Its offices are well-organized, managers and employees are well-trained, and the focus is squarely on moving people as quickly as possible through the application and approval process. 

Fisman and Sullivan compare the New York passport operation to other government offices, such as the Postal Service and local motor vehicle departments. But it's worth stacking all of these government operations up against private companies. Indeed, next time you're stuck in a long line at a big-box store, endlessly on hold at your cable company's customer service line, or wondering why your luggage didn't arrive on the plane you flew on, ask yourself: Where are you most likely to experience poor customer service these days?

That's not to suggest, of course that all government operations are paragons of efficiency. So why in particular has the New York passport office managed to do so well? It comes down to a single word: management. As Fisman and Sullivan note:

There’s an emerging body of research that chalks up these productivity gaps to the all-too-human ways that different companies (and divisions within a single organization) are managed. The fact that management matters—a lot—shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has ever worked under a good manager and also a bad one: Good managers coach, listen, support, and make their employees feel like they’re making progress. Bad ones don’t—often in uniquely horrible ways. And if this is true at for-profit companies, why wouldn’t it be true for branches of the government?

In the case of the New York Passport Agency, the effective management starts with its director, Michael Hoffman. He clearly makes the most of every bit of discretion and autonomy he has to motivate employees and keep the focus on efficiency. He's both a 30-year dedicated public servant and a passionate advocate for superior service. 

Politicians take note: The two are not mutually exclusive. 

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    View
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    View
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    View
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    View
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    View
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    View
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    View

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.