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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Why Some Counties Are Powerhouses For Innovation

By the time the application window closed, Amazon had received 238 proposals from cities and regions throughout North America looking to become the second headquarters of the behemoth tech company.

Amazon invited proposals especially from places that looked a lot like its native Seattle: metro areas with more than a million people; a stable and business-friendly environment; communities that could “think big and creatively” about real estate options; and a location that would attract and retain technical talent.

In the race to attract high-tech companies, what can cities and regions do to become centers of innovation? At the moment, some places are clearly in the lead.

By my analysis of data from the U.S. Patent Office, Santa Clara County, California, is sprinting ahead of the country. Between 2000 and 2015, more than 140,000 patents were granted in Santa Clara County. That’s triple the number for second-ranked San Diego County.

Four other counties in California – Los Angeles, San Mateo, Alameda and Orange – make the top 10. Washington’s King County, Massachusetts’s Middlesex County, Michigan’s Oakland County and Arizona’s Maricopa County round out the list.

These counties are in large metropolitan areas that are known as...

The President’s Management Agenda Turns One

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Trump Administration’s president’s management agenda. While this milestone may not be celebrated with cake and balloons, it is nonetheless important to recognize the progress that has been made over the past 12 months.

The eagerly-awaited Trump PMA was met with both surprise and admiration by good-government mavens. Many gave credit for sustaining protocols that had been established in previous administrations, suggesting that this would enable good management practices to continue and improve without major disruption. Others praised the PMA’s tight focus on people, data and IT modernization. The assignment of specific names and organizations to each cross-agency performance goal and quarterly online progress updates were welcome efforts at transparency and accountability. Most welcome, however, was the emphasis on the end goal – improved government service to citizens.

Since the PMA’s release, prominent federal leaders have spoken frequently about efforts to turn the agenda into reality. It is certainly important to understand how current leaders are approaching the implementation of the PMA. But it is equally important to understand from those who have seen PMAs come and go what lessons might be applied to avoid pitfalls, shorten implementation cycles, and increase...

The High Cost of Undervaluing Older Talent

With the focus on the problems recruiting and retaining talented young people, especially in high demand fields, it sometimes seems as if government has forgotten its older workers.  

But that would be a serious and costly mistake. Across the federal government, 44 percent – almost a million workers -- are age 50 or older. The U.S. Postal Service workforce has a similar age distribution.  Their years of experience translate into higher salaries and benefit costs. They dominate the higher levels of the civil service and account for 55 percent of government’s managers and supervisors.

Whatever their jobs, older workers are leaders in defining the work environment across federal operations.  Their level of commitment, their job and institutional knowledge, and their working relationships make them far more influential than their younger co-workers.

An added issue that differentiates government from private employers is that federal careers are far less attractive than when older employees started their careers. As a guess, more than a few feel locked in by the value of the benefits they would lose by resigning early. That undermines their sense of commitment.

This column was prompted by a Harvard Business Review article, “Engage Your Long-Term Employees to Improve Performance...

Agencies Need to Move Beyond “People” Analytics to “Relational” Analytics

Federal agencies increasingly are using “people analytics” to improve performance.

Like most private sector organizations, agencies focus their analyses on data based on individuals, such as the data collected through the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, and from the Office of Personnel Management’s FedScope database. One of the cross-agency priority goals focuses on fostering greater employee engagement as reflected in data from the employee viewpoint survey. Such an emphasis is relatively new for most federal agencies, given that these data have been collected on a large scale for only about a decade.

To strengthen organizational health and performance, the National Academy of Public Administration has recommended that agencies expand their use of people analytics as a management improvement technique, with an emphasis on increasing individual employee engagement.

But a recent article in Harvard Business Review by Paul Leonardi and Noshir Contractor suggests that private sector companies now are starting to go beyond just conducting people analytics based on data about individual employees. They describe how cutting-edge organizations see the real value of analytics extends to understanding the interplay among employees in the organization. This expanded approach—called “relational analytics”—focuses on the communication between two people in different departments. The...

Why the $22 Trillion National Debt Does Not Matter – Here Is What You Should Worry About Instead

The U.S. federal government’s debt load hit another milestone last month: It’s now a record US$22 trillion in nominal terms.

That’s $67,000 for every man, woman and child living in the U.S., and it’s up $2 trillion since President Donald Trump took office in 2017. For comparison, U.S. debt is more than the total size of the United States’ $20 trillion economy and equivalent to the gross domestic products of China, Japan and Germany combined.

This hefty sum is a reflection of the large annual budget deficits that the federal government has run, pretty much continuously, since 1931. Prior to that, surpluses were much more common, apart from the years following the Civil War.

With another round of anxiety-causing debt-ceiling debates likely to return in the coming months, like other economists, I believe it is worth asking whether we should even care about the size of government debt.

Default isn’t imminent

First of all, it’s important to note current U.S. debt levels do not indicate any risk of imminent default.

As long as the U.S. federal government remains an “ongoing concern” – fiscal institutions are strong and effective...