Federal Leaders: Government Needs to Do a Better Job of Self-Promotion

Providing assistance to farmers whose lands were destroyed by floods or tornadoes is “what government service is all about,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. Providing assistance to farmers whose lands were destroyed by floods or tornadoes is “what government service is all about,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. Kristoffer Tripplaar

One of federal government’s biggest flaws is a failure to market what it does well, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.

Government’s inability to promote itself and the work it does takes away from its ability to accomplish its mission, Vilsack said at Government Executive’s Excellence in Government conference in Washington, D.C. When the story gets altered, a new narrative is written that paints government as inefficient and federal employees as bad at their jobs, he said.

Providing assistance to farmers whose lands were destroyed by floods or tornadoes is “what government service is all about,” Vilsack said.

“That’s the story,” he told the federal managers in attendance. He added if the managers failed to do their jobs -- to put their staffers in a position to succeed -- “they can’t tell that story, either because they don’t have the tools to do the work, or because another story is being written.”

Beth Cobert, the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management, who also addressed the conference, similarly spoke of the need to engage the public to improve government service. Cobert communicated the cornerstones of President Obama’s recently unveiled management agenda, emphasizing the need to build a “world-class customer service experience” for those who interact with federal employees.

The career private-sector manager said federal agencies will soon turn over more and more of their data and research to the public so non-government entities can create new tools with the information.  The Smithsonian Institution, for example, will release its entire digital art collection so developers can make educational tools, while the Food and Drug Administration will make public its drug safety reports in the hopes dangerous drugs can get pulled off the shelves more quickly.

The ability of government to continue to achieve its mission depends on its people, Cobert said. Success in the future will require an “engaged, well-prepared and well-trained workforce.”

“Despite the challenges of the last few years and the critiques one reads in the press, federal employees continue to persevere and serve the American people with passion, professionalism and skill,” Cobert said.

Vilsack also credited his employees for accomplishing more than ever during a time of crunched budgets, saying the efficiency of his workforce allowed the agency to avoid reductions in force and furloughs during sequestration. The secretary also mentioned negative press, saying he was “a little tired of the constant criticism heaped on government.”

“When there’s a disaster… when there’s a problem who is it we turn to?” Vilsack asked the audience. “The federal government.”

He added, however, success is not “just about getting the job done.”

“It isn’t about avoiding that bad headline,” he said. “It’s about clearing the field so the real story of government service can be told, because it has been far too long since it has been told.”  

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