Complex Risks

With the first decade of this century behind us, federal managers face a daunting world ahead.

The dawn of the second decade of the 21st century comes in the midst of a transformative time for government. Technological innovations are sweeping society, changing the way we communicate with one another. Globalization is challenging the way government is set up to deal with its citizenry. Mounting federal debt and the rising cost of entitlement programs are squeezing domestic and national security agencies' budgets. Beneath these sweeping trends, federal agencies continue to struggle with long-standing management obstacles ranging from bureaucratic inertia to contract and project management weaknesses to personnel limitations. The big crises of the past decade-from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the financial collapse of 2008-illustrate some of the likely trials and tribulations government leaders will face in the next 10 years.

One challenge will be the need for smart information-sharing across federal agencies. In hindsight, many of the major crises of the past decade seemed foreseeable if only pieces of information from various corners of the government had been brought together. The importance of "connecting the dots" is matched by the difficulty of doing so. Agencies receive tremendous loads of data within their realms of oversight. Knowing which pieces of information need to be connected to other pieces seems to be more of an art than a science. The fact that Sept. 11 was not followed up by another terrorist attack in the United States is a sign that law enforcement and intelligence agencies improved their ability to share the right information at the right time.

Another challenge is effective oversight of federal operations and private sector activities under the purview of federal regulators, both of which are becoming increasingly complex. To get just a snapshot, look at the expenditures so far under the $787 billion economic stimulus package passed in February 2009. Projects range from a Health and Human Services Department contract to collect biospecimens for cancer research to environmental remediation projects at nuclear sites run by the Energy Department. Throughout the budget, money flows to federal contractors, their subcontractors, nonprofits, state governments, the state governments' contractors, universities and many other institutions.

The 2008 financial crisis showed how government has had trouble keeping up with private sector innovations such as the securitization of mortgage debt. A full slate of federal financial regulators did not manage to foresee and forestall the financial sector meltdown that occurred late that year. The complexity of activities like securitization and the rapid globalization of the past few decades that allows such activities to quickly spread make regulatory oversight all the more challenging.

Arcane bureaucratic processes force managers to take their eyes off the big issues they need their agencies to deal with and focus instead on unnecessary bureaucratic distractions inside their organizations. The biggest internal challenge for government is to simplify the lives of federal managers-streamlining hiring processes, reducing pointless paperwork and making it easier for them to connect to the world. That's not an argument for eliminating proper checks and balances on government actions. But it is a call to the chief information officers, chief financial officers, chief human capital officers and other top executives in government agencies to find ways to make federal managers' lives easier, not harder. They've got enough external challenges to confront between now and 2020.

Brian Friel covered management and human resources at Government Executive for six years and is now a National Journal staff correspondent.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
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:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

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

    Download
  • 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.

    Download
  • 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.

    Download
  • 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.

    Download
  • 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.

    Download
  • 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

    Download
  • 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.

    Download

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