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.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


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