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Breaking the Stranglehold of Calcified Federal Acquisition Policies

Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, thinks government ought to be able to take advantage of the robust world of online marketplaces (think Amazon or EBay). Thus, he has included in the House version of the 2018 defense authorization bill a provision authorizing just that. Since there is no similar language in the Senate bill, the provision will be decided in conference committee, although significant opposition jeopardizes its survival.

In truth, it shouldn't be a question at all. There is no reason the government cannot or should not be a part of this global shift. The only question should be how to make it work.

First, we have to answer the core question of the extent to which the government is willing to let go of longstanding acquisition policies and requirements. This is not a new question. In each stage of the decades-old movement to achieve real acquisition reform, some of the most important changes have been sub optimized by immovable orthodoxies. Think about the advent of the commercial buying authorities first created more than twenty years ago. Over the years, DoD in particular sought to water down or pull back those reforms. But Congress finally...

Your Boss’s Political Views Could Make Or Break Your Promotion

Gender equality at work may have a lot to do with a manger’s political ideology, a study of US law firms shows.

“In general, women are much less likely to be promoted, and much more likely to leave their firms. We found that this gender gap gets smaller when male bosses are more liberal, but it gets larger when male bosses are more conservative,” says Seth Carnahan, an assistant professor of strategy at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Carnahan says previous research suggests that more diverse organizations may perform better, and he wondered why some organizations had higher rates of gender diversity.

He and coauthor Brad Greenwood of Temple University analyzed data on political donations and large American law firms and found that underlying political beliefs impacted who partners select as subordinates.

Their findings also suggest that liberal male law partners are more likely than moderate partners to serve on diversity committees and to select female associates for their client teams, while conservatives are less likely to do so.

Conservatives tend to believe society is better served when there is a traditional division of labor in the household where men are money earners and women...

When Working From Home Doesn’t Work

In 1979, IBM was putting its stamp on the American landscape. For 20 years, it had been hiring the greats of modernism to erect buildings where scientists and salespeople could work shoulder-to-shoulder commanding the burgeoning computer industry. But that year, one of its new facilities—the Santa Teresa Laboratory, in Silicon Valley—tried an experiment. To ease a logjam at the office mainframe, it installed boxy, green-screened terminals in the homes of five employees, allowing them to work from home.

The idea of telecommuting was still a novelty. But this little solution seemed effective. By 1983, about 2,000 IBMers were working remotely. The corporation eventually realized that it could save millions by selling its signature buildings and institutionalizing distance work; the number of remote workers ballooned. In 2009, an IBM report boasted that “40 percent of IBM’s some 386,000 employees in 173 countries have no office at all.” More than 58 million square feet of office space had been unloaded, at a gain of nearly $2 billion. IBM, moreover, wanted to help other corporations reap the same officeless efficiencies through its consulting services. Leading by example was good marketing.

Then, in March of this year, came a...

What Are You Most Proud of This Year?

There’s a question echoing through federal government offices in this end-of-year reporting season: “What are you most proud of this year?” Many of us are asking our employees this question as we wrap up their annual performance reviews. And many of our supervisors are asking us this question as they wrap up ours.

How meaningful are the answers?

“IT downtime was reduced by 25 percent.”

“Permit requests were processed 20 percent faster.”

“Vendor satisfaction increased by 15 percent.”

Legitimate accomplishments, but what if, instead of focusing on metrics like these, we strove to be more inspirational?

How about sharing a photo? Because a picture really can be worth a thousand words. One image can sometimes communicate your accomplishments more clearly. It might also inspire others.

“What am I most proud of this year?”

“Well, boss, let me show you.”

You see these two women playing in the snow at Mount Rainier National Park? I first saw this image when their supervisor shared it with me after an intern camping trip. Its power did not sink in until I saw it on Instagram a few weeks later, with a caption noting it was Chanara’s first time seeing snow in...

Reform Should Focus on Workforce Alignment, Not On Staffing Cuts

Federal employees are the primary drivers for how government work gets done, decisions get made, and values are upheld. Maintaining a high performing workforce with the right skills and of the right size to execute the mission is critical. Proponents of smaller government shouldn’t assume reductions will solve government’s problems. What is necessary is workforce realignment.

Last April, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney directed agency leaders to take a hard look at the government workforce with a focus on “preparing a long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal workforce.” While reduction may end up being a natural outcome of reform, it is not the way to focus on this issue.

First Things First

Starting the reform initiative with a narrow focus on reducing the workforce is absolutely the wrong way to achieve efficiency and effectiveness. Prior to making any workforce plans or changes, decisions must first be made on programmatic changes based on approved reform plans and other initiatives. This should be the foundation for workforce changes (or other resource changes) over time. The key is to align the workforce with new priorities, not simply reduce the workforce.

The size and skills of...