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.

These Awards Make Government Look Bad


Yesterday, when I wrote about the finalists for this year’s SAVE Awards, in which the Obama administration recognizes federal employees for ideas to improve the efficiency of federal operations, an erstwhile colleague of mine weighed in on Twitter: “Frankly, these seem like things that should have been fixed years ago,” she wrote.

I wish I could say I thought she was wrong. But look at the finalists’ ideas:

  • Allow veterans to track the delivery of mailed prescription medications online using the VA’s web-based portal.
  • Require the State Department to first use email (as opposed to regular U.S. mail) to request additional information from passport applicants if necessary.
  • Mandate that comparable certifications of employees be transferable across federal agencies.
  • Set up a secure website to allow Customs and Border Protection officers and agriculture specialists to collect payments by credit card at land ports of entry.

All of these are worthy suggestions, and it would be hard to argue that they shouldn’t simply be implemented immediately. (Using email to correspond with applicants? That’s a cutting-edge notion, circa 1995.) But that just begs the question why these proposals haven’t already been put in place. It’s something of a sad commentary on the state of the federal government that it apparently takes action at the highest levels to implement common-sense measures like this.

I know that’s not entirely true, and that unsung efforts to implement ideas along these lines occur every day in government without attracting a lot of attention. Still, at this point, the SAVE Awards have two problems:

  • They’re small potatoes. In an era when the Air Force is buying $600 million worth of aircraft it doesn’t really want, and then almost immediately mothballing the planes, the idea of letting employees transfer training certifications if they happen to switch agencies seems almost quaint.
  • They have a tendency to make it seem like government is hopelessly behind the times. Early in the Obama administration (as in any administration), it made sense to highlight inefficient practices that needed fixing, to focus attention on reforms. But at this point, such stories mostly serve to send the message that government remains tethered to outdated policies and procedures. This, in turn, tends to reinforce the notion that agencies can’t do anything right.

Maybe it’s time for the administration to start declaring victory, and focus more on disseminating stories of impressive accomplishments by federal employees and organizations. That might even move the needle a little on the public’s overall view of government.

(Image via Nfoto/Shutterstock.com)

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.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

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

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


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