An Audacious Endeavor

In mid-May, hundreds of federal managers and executives gathered in Washington for our annual Excellence in Government event. This year, with across-the-board budget cuts in place, further reductions looming, and agencies still facing the prospect of widespread furloughs, it was an audacious time to even be thinking about the concept of creating a high-performing government.

In recognition of the current realities, we made this year’s Excellence in Government a free event. Still, some people might question whether the idea of excellence is even worth talking about under circumstances in which many agencies are just trying to figure out some way to meet their missions under severe constraints.

But we take exactly the opposite view—that in such a situation, striving for excellence and learning from one another about how to achieve it is more important than ever. Leaders in government can hunker down and ride out the storm alone. Or they can come together to find ways to work better and more efficiently.

That’s where Excellence in Government comes in. It provides a unique platform for genuine sharing of tools, techniques and practices that drive high-performance government. That’s been the goal of the event since Excellence in Government launched in 1996.

This year, we expanded the training session to two days, hosting presentations and discussions across five themes critical to the success of federal operations:

Leadership

Data

Cost-Cutting

Program Management

Technology

Our keynote speakers, including former Vice President Al Gore, Marine Corps Deputy Commandant Lt. Gen. John Wissler and Dan Tangherlini, acting administrator of the General Services Administration, took attendees back through 20 years of reform efforts and challenged them with new ideas for shaping the government of tomorrow—everything from leveraging data for better decision-making to building mission-motivated teams.

But that’s not where the conversation ends. Over the past several months, Mark Micheli of our staff has built an online destination for Excellence in
Government that continues the discussion. His team of contributors weigh in every day on subjects ranging from telework to performance management to strategic planning. You can find Excellence in Government online at govexec.com/
excellence and sign up for its weekly enewsletter at govexec.com/newsletters.

One of the things we aim to do under the Excellence in Government umbrella is to provide examples of success under challenging circumstances. That’s also what Kellie Lunney undertakes in this month’s cover story. Tight budgets are forcing agencies to make tough decisions, she notes. But in some cases, the penny-pinching is driving innovation. NASA, for example, has reacted to reductions in travel by shifting to virtual meetings. Sen. Tom Carper, a close observer of agencies’ management efforts from his perch as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, hopes budget constraints will compel procurement officials to better leverage government’s purchasing power through efforts such as strategic sourcing.

Sequestration, personnel reductions, pay freezes and an uncertainty about the long-term future of government operations are destined to take a toll on employee engagement and program effectiveness. But if the effort to squeeze every possible dollar out of agency budgets also drives innovation and encourages the sharing of best practices, then at least some good will have come from it.

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