Obama Management Team Pushes Shared Services as Funding Remains in Limbo

GSA official says agencies want to integrate administrative functions.

The Obama administration’s team working to pool agency administrative functions through shared services has operated for the past 10 months with no funding, its director said on Monday.

The body that launched last October with what officials agree is the awkward name “Unified Shared Services Management” has plowed ahead anyway. That’s “thanks to the generosity” of officials using existing agency funding through the Chief Financial Officers Council and the Line of Business Initiative, said the board’s executive director, Beth Angerman. (President Obama in February asked for $5 million for the USSM, but no appropriations have been enacted.)

The former Treasury Department financial innovation official spoke to dozens of contractors at the General Services Administration’s Industry Day at its headquarters, promising that that she and her team would be “change agents” to help agencies embrace shared services with “the skills and drive to be innovative.”

This May, the Office of Management and Budget put out a memo lauding the momentum of the decades-old movement from both the private and public sectors to curb duplicative functions in payroll, human resources and procurement, often by better exploiting information technology.

That guidance established a process to review agency investments in administrative functions such as financial management and grants administration “valued at over $3 billion in 2017 alone,” it said. 

“Reviewing these investments will ensure they align with the governmentwide shared service approach and can be harnessed by multiple agencies wherever possible,” added the memo signed by budget director Shaun Donovan. The guidance on providing services would also foster greater collaboration with leaders in the bulk buying initiative known as category management.

 “If agencies can’t do these things well, they will have challenges meeting missions - building the nation’s infrastructure, protecting public health and ensuring our security,” Angerman said on Monday in an auditorium filled with dozens of contractors. “It is the right time for the federal government to begin acting as one enterprise and provide agencies with solutions that allow them to better use resources for mission. Harnessing the capabilities of industry will be critical in this transformation.”

GSA Deputy Administrator Adam Neufeld said, “The state of shared services is strong but needs to be a bit stronger.” Every dollar spent on administrative services, every minute of an official’s time, he said, “takes talent or energy away from the mission. We can’t afford it.”

He listed as shared services successes the long-standing multi-agency electronic payroll consolidation, other e-gov initiatives (which date to the George W. Bush administration) and the fact that shared services in 2014 became one of the current administration’s Cross-Agency Priority goals. USSM has provided “a great government framework,” Neufeld said, “but customer satisfaction is way too variable, migration still too tricky.”

The audience heard a panel on the effort USSM announced earlier this month to update legacy information systems used for internal agency administrative functions called the Modernization and Migration Management Framework.

Angerman on Monday unveiled partial results of agency data surveys as part of its new ProviderStat compilation, which establishes an annual review of data, performance and possible corrective actions to providers of shared services from one agency to another. “Ten agencies are offering shared services [20 more are in discussion], but many people didn’t know which ones,” she said. “Now we have a list.”

The 10 agencies that have responded to the ProviderStat data call have helped the team identify 260 basic functions across five key areas, Angerman said, adding that only two functions are not currently being offered. They’ve collected 400 metrics for success, she added, with most agencies valuing timeliness and compliance over quality and cost considerations. “I feel like we’ve been asking the same questions for years, but this administration is asking new ones,” she said.

Too many functions such as payroll, human resources, grants and IT procurement are done “in stovepipes,” she said. “But we want to take a step back before we tell industry what we want. Agencies want an integrated solution. And we want to make sure industry is held to same accountability standards as agencies, so we treat it as one marketplace. “

Asked to identify reasons for agency resistance, Angerman said, “Change is really hard.” But she tells managers, “You’re not going to be getting the same budget and list of resources you’re used to. So you have to think about recrafting your agency.”

The push for shared services “should survive the presidential transition” because the outcome is better services from government, Angerman said. “We will continue to work with OMB on the funding.”