Making Government Faster


With sequestration ripping through the federal budgets, tools for increasing the speed at which agencies function take on greater importance, according to Norman Dong, the Office of Management and Budget official who recently assumed the duties of White House controller.

“As budgets get tighter , we realize it’s going to cause all of us to raise our game and create greater transparency about what it’s costing,” Dong said Wednesday at the rollout of a collection of how-to essays on “fast government” assembled by the IBM Center for the Business of Government. “The silver lining is the tighter budgets bring a look to greater efficiency.”

In an era of frozen federal pay, government must “do more to attract the best and brightest using more than salary,” Dong said. “You look at agencies and see some of the most complex organizations, so we need to make sure there is a good pipeline, make sure the process is more flexible” so managers can scale up and down as needed. “When we have a spotlight on agency performance, it creates a healthy incentive for productivity gains,” Dong said. Another healthy incentive is transparency and competitiveness as citizens seek more information online, he said.

“Though the public sector will never work like the private sector, there is no shortage of opportunities and tools in government—it’s a question of incentives,” Dong said, speaking to a panel discussing the report by industry and academic specialists titled “Fast Government: Accelerating Service Quality While Reducing Cost and Time.”

Dong cited the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a success story in speeding up government. He worked at FEMA in 2005, when the agency fumbled its response to Hurricane Katrina, creating “an urgency to never let that sluggish response happen again.” He pointed to the visible improvements in the agency’s handling of this week’s tornadoes in Oklahoma, and last year’s hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

“It’s especially visible in housing inspections,” Dong said, reporting that agencies in 2005 performed 7,500 inspections over 15 days but can now do more than 20,000 in the same period.

Another success story was offered by Earl Devany, the former head of the Recovery Board now retired, who described his team’s effort in 2009 to track federal emergency stimulus spending by “standing up a new agency and two precedent-breaking websites during a time of economic stress.

“We broke a record in getting it up in six months,” he said.

Using technology from the intelligence and law enforcement fields, the Recovery Board sought to protect $787 billion (later $840 billion) going out the door while minimizing fraud. “We created a paradigm shift from protecting to preventing fraud,” Devaney said.

The geospatial tracking technology allowed a team of only 10 analysts—“not the football field-size group I expected” -- to get the time it takes to produce an analysis of a problem from five days, to five hours, down to one hour, he said.

The key to fast government is exploiting technology to make reducing time a performance and accountability metric in government, according to report editor Charles Prow. “Any time you take time out of the mission value equation, it’s a good thing, and you will improve service and reduce costs,” he said. Examples of ways to reduce or eliminate “non-value-added activities in government” cited in the report include creating a citizen-facing mobile services delivery strategy; video game-based approaches; and new “security and privacy actions that enable speed in government.”

Some agency representatives in attendance expressed skepticism, noting the vastness of government’s bureaucracy, vaguely understood problems and long hiring times that discourage young employees who want to make a difference.

Philip Schaenman, now with the Urban Institute, warned that speed can create more mistakes. “You don’t win a chess game by speed,” he said, citing a study showing that U.S. firefighting teams had the fastest response times compared with other nations but worked with far less success on advance prevention of fires.

Robert Shea, an OMB official under President George W. Bush and now a principal with Grant Thornton, warned of a “human capital crisis in government, an environment in which no one’s getting a pay raise, record retirements and rhetoric of an underperforming workforce.” No matter how good the technology, Shea said, “there aren’t enough highly engaged people. On both sides of the aisle, but particularly among Republicans, we need to encourage an engaged workforce that is decently paid and treated with respect and honor while delivering at whatever speed we want them to.”

(Image via Sashkin/

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • 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 Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • 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.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


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