Novelist William Gibson once said, “The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.”
This has been the state of shared services in the federal government during the past 15 years. Is that about to change? Given recent events, it certainly appears more possible than ever.
At an event hosted by the Partnership for Public Service in October, Dave Mader, the acting deputy director of management at the Office Management and Budget, and Denise Turner Roth, head of the General Services Administration, announced the creation of the Unified Shared Services Management Office to oversee shared services for the federal enterprise.
The new office will be headed by Beth Angerman, most recently the director of the Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation at the Treasury Department. Angerman will be responsible for developing and implementing an enterprisewide shared services strategy, and helping meet the administration’s cross-agency priority goal to “strategically expand high-quality, high-value shared services to improve performance and efficiency throughout the government.”
Cities, states, the private sector and other countries have embraced shared services as a way to improve the quality of services to customers while driving down costs. The federal government, however, has had mixed success in deploying shared services due in part to the distinct lack of an enterprisewide governance structure.
The Shared Services Office should fill this need, grow what is working well in government and make it easier for leaders to learn from global best practices. In coordination with OMB and key stakeholders, the new office will be positioned to provide accountability, cooperation and strategic direction to promote an innovative, competitive and scalable shared services marketplace.
The marketplace should allow agencies to shop for administrative services that provide the best value for their customers, achieve economies of scale, leverage proven solutions and reduce duplicative investments. These services could fulfill needs ranging from financial management and human resources to information technology and acquisition, and be shared among agencies within a department or across departments. Eventually, the marketplace could be expanded to include sharing mission functions that span multiple agencies.
That said, the most difficult tasks lie ahead, with significant obstacles to creating a viable marketplace still unresolved on both the supply and the demand side of the equation.
On the supply side, there is an open question of whether there are enough providers, both from the private and government sectors, capable of reaching a scale necessary to meet the needs of large agency support service operations. A set of common standards and measures to ensure quality control and hold providers accountable for performance also are lacking.
On the demand side, many agencies are reluctant to seek shared services agreements due to the risks associated with reliance on outside providers and potential costs involved in switching to a new way of doing business. In addition, there are workforce implications, such as potential reductions in staff or additional retraining costs that must be addressed in a transparent and open manner.
These challenges are not insurmountable, but they are significant and require an enterprisewide, strategic approach and a strong governance structure to ensure successful implementation.
Organizations such as the Partnership for Public Service’s Shared Service Roundtable, ACT-IAC, the National Academy of Public Administration, and the Association of Government Accountants can help by continuing to provide recommendations and support. But the establishment of the Shared Services Office will increase the odds of success and result in more widely distributed shared services that will make government more effective and better serve the needs of the American people.
Mark Doboga is director of Government Transformation and Agency Partnerships at the Partnership for Public Service. He also leads teams that assist federal agencies in developing and implementing strategies to improve workforce management.