Air Force sets example for long-term planning

Successful long-term agency planning requires federal career civil servants and political appointees to trust each other and to use innovative thinking, according to a recent report from the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. In "Corporate Strategic Planning in Government: Lessons from the United States Air Force," Colin Campbell, a public policy professor at Georgetown University, suggested that federal leaders need to envision the range of roles their agencies may play in the future and plan accordingly, instead of just projecting current programs into the future. Agencies should engage in role-playing and imagine the various scenarios in which they may find themselves, Campbell said. Such innovative thinking is key to long-term corporate strategic planning in government, he said. But, so is building trust and establishing strong communication between career employees and political appointees, Campbell wrote. "If departmental secretaries in the U.S. choose to engage in corporate strategic planning, they must, by the nature of the system, enter a dialogue with permanent officials. Officials, thus, will find it hard to bring authoritative corporate change if their political appointees have not participated in the process," wrote Campbell. Campbell praised Gen. Ronald Fogleman, Air Force chief of staff from 1994 to 1997, for imagining how technology and other external events could transform the way the Air Force does business 25 years in the future, and for attempting to instill that type of 'forward-thinking' into the agency culture. Fogleman believed that by 2025, the Air Force would evolve from a fixed-wing aircraft culture into one focused on space missions. According to Campbell, this kind of innovative thinking enables agencies to develop long-range strategic plans and evaluate the kind of resources they will need to achieve those goals. Fogleman's persistence and willingness to include a broad range of Air Force and Pentagon colleagues in planning sessions about the future of the Air Force was important, said Campbell. Although the Air Force ultimately had problems implementing Fogleman's vision, the foundation for changing the way the agency viewed long-range strategic planning was laid, Campbell said. "The Air Force leadership has become more aware of the challenges presented by this gap [between its vision and its program] and has increased greatly its institutional effort to narrow it," Campbell said. Campbell acknowledged that, for some federal agencies, gazing into a crystal ball 25 years hence does not seem practical. However, agencies should structure strategic goals around their own individual timeframes. Such long-range thinking for programs such as Social Security and Medicare would be particularly beneficial, he said.
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