Federal employees have had to endure a lot in the past couple of years: a pay freeze, looming benefits cuts, and steep budget and workforce reductions that could kick in starting at the beginning of 2013. As if that weren’t enough, public servants got another black eye in April with the revelations of excessive partying and questionable contracting practices in connection with a 2010 conference held by the Western regional offices of the General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service.
Before that scandal unfolded, few Americans were aware of what GSA does, much less PBS. Now they have an image burned into their minds: feds gone wild, partying in Las Vegas at catered affairs while being entertained by clowns and mind readers. And all of this, members of Congress haughtily pointed out, took place inside an agency whose job it is to help keep federal spending under control by negotiating low prices for everything from major information technology systems to pencils. But here’s the thing: GSA employees across the agency were doing exactly that, and continued to do it while some of their colleagues justifiably took it on the chin for exercising poor judgment.
It is the former group of public servants we had in mind when we developed the Excellence in Government conference, the first session of which for 2012 takes place at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington on May 7. Excellence in Government is fundamentally the antithesis of the infamous GSA conference: a gathering designed for federal leaders of today and tomorrow to share ideas and practices for making government work better and cost less.
The theme of our spring conference (we’ll hold another daylong event in September) is Innovation: More Mission for the Money. That’s certainly the imperative in government these days, as the Office of Management and Budget’s Shelley Metzenbaum told Excellence in Government attendees last fall.
Our scheduled keynoters promise to bring a wealth of ideas and creative thinking. They include Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman, featured on last month’s Government Executive cover; Danny Werfel, who holds the management portfolio at OMB; Beth McGrath, deputy chief management officer at the Defense Department; and Stephen Shapiro, author of Best Practices Are Stupid (Portfolio, 2011). Throughout the day, attendees will have the opportunity to attend sessions in three tracks: Technology, Human Capital and Management, and Performance and Mission Efficiency.
I’m excited about one discussion I’ll be privileged to lead, involving a set of emerging leaders in federal agencies:
- Brandon Friedman, director of online communications at the Veterans Affairs Department, who is featured in this issue’s Thinking Ahead.
- Erica Navarro, director of strategic planning and performance management at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
- Bridget Roddy, Virtual Student Foreign Service Program manager at the State Department.
- Jaqi Ross, associate director of the Recruitment Office at the IRS.
- Dave Uejio, lead for talent acquisition at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
They’ll describe their reasons for joining government and maintaining their commitment to public service, and share their thoughts on what agencies need to do better to attract, retain and develop the next generation of leaders. With the specter of a sequester of agency funds, we think it’s more important than ever that federal officials hear from key leaders, and learn from one another, about how to wring the most out of every taxpayer dollar.