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Agency Collaboration Could Make or Break Next Presidential Administration

Report urges transition teams to get the government to operate as a single entity.

Sustained progress toward government efficiency will hinge on “increasing capacity to work effectively across agency boundaries to gain traction on pressing, inherently cross-boundary challenges,” said a report released Monday.

Agency efforts at both mission-focused and mission-support tasks are “impeded by agency-centric mindsets and incentives, congressional barriers to interagency authorities and resource sharing, unclear signals from key executives and overseers, and lack of sustained resources and leadership,” said the paper from the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and the IBM Center for The Business of Government.

Released as part of a series encouraging preparation for the coming presidential transition, the summary of a panel discussion and recommendations were written by Jane E. Fountain, a professor of political science and computer science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“Leaders will accelerate achievement of the president’s priorities if they understand and use multi-agency initiatives and integrated management as key levers to accomplish policy goals and prevent operational failures,” she wrote. “Given the hyper-connectedness of contemporary government, enterprise management—getting the government to operate as a single entity instead of as a set of separate, disconnected agencies and programs—should be a key issue for transition teams and the next administration.”

The paper recommended that the coming transition teams for both political parties create a group to focus on enterprise-wide policy management and implementation, based on cross-agency goals similar to those already set by the Obama administration. The transition teams should be set up to include a group that is organized around cross-agency goals and the integration of personnel, policy and management objectives, the paper said.

The coming administration should create a White House chief operating officer to support enterprise mission-focused initiatives, to “ensure a clear implementation strategy for each mission-focused cross-agency administration priority and identify the management capacity needed to achieve each goal,” the report stated.  In addition, the administration should create a cross-functional support team within the White House to guide implementation of the president’s enterprise mission initiatives, the report said.

The next leadership team should also use the existing “ecosystem” of cross-agency bodies such as the President’s Management Council and the General Services Administration to “strengthen the coherence, communication and transparency” of those organizations in pursuit of an enterprise approach to both key mission efforts and mission support efforts.

“The next administration should accelerate implementation of mission-focused cross-agency administration priorities,” the report recommended. “The new administration may find that it succeeds or fails based largely on its ability to tackle horizontal, cross-cutting policy problems that lie across vertical agency silos,” what it calls “wicked problems.”

Finally, in another area of continuity with the Obama approach, the report noted that “the next president will have the opportunity to fundamentally reshape and improve the operations of the federal government using shared services in areas including information technology, financial management, acquisitions and human capital.” The Office of Management and Budget, it added, should lead other support agencies to “establish clear pathways to support agency migration to enterprise mission-support platforms.”

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