Brian A Jackson/

Government Should Operate More as a Single Enterprise, Report Says

Panelists favor cross-agency approach, not just during crises.

Rather than function like a “holding company” for a hundred entities, the federal government should reform its management structure to operate routinely as a single enterprise, according to a report released Thursday by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm.

Four top officials from the Pentagon, the Homeland Security Department and the Government Accountability Office agreed at a panel discussion that the key to building such an enterprise is the White House imprimatur, measurable outcomes and the sort of data transparency that unthreateningly encourages employees to better coordinate.

“Building the Enterprise: Nine Strategies for a More Integrated, Effective Government” is the consensus product of a year of interviews with 40 specialists in government reform. It calls on President Obama to take his “aggressive management reform” agenda a step further than the current cross-agency goals required under the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.

It recommends building on existing cross-agency efforts such as strategic sourcing and the interagency approach to combatting food-borne illnesses and taking them “to scale” through a new enterprise “portfolio” approach run by the President’s Management Council. The new entity would be equipped with a five-year presidential appointee and a full-time staff rather than part-time White House aides and would be assisted by an office of evaluation and a new resource board to allocate talent under what advocates hope would one day be a revised civil service system that promotes more agency cross-fertilization.

“It’s not a centralized, one-size fits all approach,” said Ron Sanders, a vice president at Booz Allen. “It’s not just changing boxes on the organization chart, but a horizontal management structure that cuts across agencies. The President’s Management Council has to own it.”

So do the president and his Cabinet, added Partnership communications chief Lara Shane. “Government now is a set of holding companies, except during a time of crisis, so we need a more whole-of-government approach that is standard to the way we do business,” she said.

The report asserts that: “Obama and his management team can accomplish this by making enterprise government the focal point of management reform. This will take sustained attention, enthusiastic evangelism, powerful leadership and unity of purpose. Though much of what we recommend is within the power of the executive branch to attain, truly achieving enterprise government will take coordination and consultation with those members of Congress who value and support improved government performance and some legislative changes.”

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who moderated the panel, used his experience handling the multi-agency crises of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to reflect on the role of “carrots and sticks” in improving government effectiveness. “Transparency of information breeds self-correcting behavior,” he said, explaining his team’s decision to make public an ongoing underwater video of the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico and a computerized map of the spill’s breadth on the surface. “But we shouldn’t have to do it with a gun at our head,” he said. “We can’t always do it in day-to-day operations, but we can build the infrastructure.”

Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said the need for cross-agency coordination is driven by two forces. One is that GAO’s high-risk list of problematic government programs has been dominated since 2000 by issues that traverse agency missions, such as the sharing of information on terrorism, financial regulation modernization and climate change. The second driver, he said, is fiscal pressure. “By the year 2023,” Dodaro said, “discretionary spending as percentage of gross domestic product will be at its lowest in 50 years.”

Elizabeth McGrath, the Defense Department’s deputy chief management officer, stressed the need for “clarity of strategy” that emphasizes outcomes. With 3 million employees, Defense “does have silos and many components with their own mission, but at the end of the day, it does act as an enterprise,” she said. “We look both horizontally and vertically, as when finance touches logistics and also touches human resources. But sometimes we focus too much on the organizational dialogue.” There is a challenge, she added, to build trust and rise above a culture in which “information is power and each thinks ‘the information is mine, not yours.’ ”

Rafael Borras, undersecretary for management at Homeland Security, said some evaluations of his department focus too much on the headquarters. “If you look at the field offices, we’re a much more integrated organization than we’re given credit for,” he said. “We work extremely well locally. Where we don’t work together is in Washington.”

(Image via Brian A Jackson/