The time is “ripe” for agencies to deliver dramatic change in how they satisfy customers through the efficiency vehicle of shared services, Matt Lira, special assistant to the president for innovation policy and initiatives, said on Tuesday.
“I truly believe shared services will be a cure for the public’s lack of trust” in government institutions no matter who occupies the White House years from now, he told a Washington conference on shared services put on by the Association of Government Accountants.
From his White House post at the Office of American Innovation headed by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, Lira said people from Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to lawmakers from both parties to officials at agencies such as the Veterans Affairs Department are “are stepping up” with passion to make a reality out of shared services, which was also a theme under the Obama administration.
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Corporations and contract vendors have long embraced an effort to expand the government’s common agreements on business processes and capabilities to standardize technology, limit costly customization and achieve economies of scale across agencies.
“The practical nature of service delivery is that it is naturally evolving,” so that functions such as payroll and information technology modernization will look different in 10 or 30 years, said Lira, who has worked for several key House Republican leaders. “Though the mindset is short-term delivery, we need to build in the structure and incentives for the long-term—structure dictates behavior,” he added.
Right now, agencies “don’t have a lot of incentive” to look beyond the short term when it comes to efficiencies and budgeting. “But the ultimate metric is what is the citizen experiences” in caring for veterans, disaster response, support for small businesses and the social safety net, he said. “It’s the daily reality of different interactions, not what [agencies] are trying to do but what they are actually doing.”
The Office of American Innovation, set up by presidential memo in March, is a “consultancy,” a coordinating body for long-term progress that does not duplicate operational functions, Lira said. Though “we may disagree on policy A or policy B,” the bipartisan movement toward shared services is a “relay race” in which progress should be arrived at through “an enduring generational consensus,” not something that turns over every four years, he said.
As an example of bipartisanship, he cited the ongoing work on agency IT modernization shared services by Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Gerry Connolly, D-Va. Budget director “Mulvaney works closely with us, and has a passion for these issues,” Lira said. “I don’t think there’s daylight between us.”
Both shared services and the related procurement strategy called category management are incorporated in the agency reorganization plans just submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, Karen Pica, a management analyst in the OMB Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said earlier in the daylong program.
Responding to Lira’s upbeat talk, John Marshall, president and CEO of the Shared Services Leadership Coalition, told the audience, “He clearly gets what we’re up to in shared services, that it’s the epitome of a long-term project.”
Tom Muir, executive director of support services for the VA, said “the time is now” to move to more shared services. “I don’t think many of you consider government to be a great performer, as a deliverer of customer service,” he said.