Education's re-engineering earns raves

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The Education Department has created a competitive sourcing plan aimed at examining and improving how the agency manages its business operations that could serve as a model for other agencies, according to Bush administration officials.

Education was one of three agencies to score yellow on the latest President's Management Agenda score card that evaluates public/private competition. The grade indicates that the agency met some of the criteria. Still, the department made enough progress to be hailed as a model for other agencies.

"I think they looked at the President's Management Agenda as a better way of managing the department," said Angela Styles, administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy. "They took a private-sector approach to business process re-engineering. Some agencies haven't taken such a thorough approach."

In creating employee teams to examine the department's business processes, the department developed One-ED, a plan designed to identify the type of work that could be completed and how to improve in-house processes. One-ED provides the foundation to ensure the right people are doing the right work, officials said.

"This process is not new. It's a critically important part of the increase of productivity that we've been seeing in our economy in general," said William Leidinger, Education's assistant secretary for management and chief information officer. "It's all about improving your performance and getting better results. Business process re-engineering is regularly used in the private sector."

Education officials initially began to develop a workforce plan, a competitive sourcing plan and a restructuring plan but soon realized the three were interrelated, Leidinger said. Instead, they decided to focus more on the work and less on the department's structure.

"Who cares how we're structured?" Leidinger said. "Form follows function, so the structure will be what the structure will be."

The department embarked on a close examination of nine work areas, such as audits, policy matters, payment processing, and training and hiring. With the help of the National Academy of Public Administration and the Private Sector Counsel, employee teams mapped current workflows and identified performance metrics to see what could be improved. The groups looked to other agencies, universities and private firms for ideas.

When they saw a successful process, "they stole that idea. They brought it back and re-engineered that process," Leidinger said.

With each process, the teams wrote a business case, developed recommendations and presented them to the executive management team. The team then decided whether to begin implementing the recommended solution or put the work out for bid.

Of the nine teams, the department chose four areas to open to private-sector competition. The four were divided into two separate solicitations: human relations, including training and employee relations, and payment processing. The other five went directly into the implementation phase, Leidinger said.

By involving employees, department officials ensured they were prepared to compete and able to do work more effectively. "We want our employees to be as competitive as possible. It's not who wins or loses but rather what wins," Leidinger said. "They know the work the best. They're the ones [who] will be responsible for implementing the re-engineered solutions."

Paul Brubaker, a partner in the consulting firm ICG Government, said the process focuses on the fundamental workflow questions outlined in the Clinger-Cohen Act. However, few agencies understand these questions and miss the mark when it comes to business process re-engineering.

"It causes you to do an examination of things that are politically difficult to do," Brubaker said. "People like to debate things in the context of the status quo. It causes you to fundamentally look at innovation. It's really hard for the government to do that."

Although he commended the department's approach, Brubaker said it might restrict them from looking at future innovations.

"It tends to put the debate for change in the context of what you're doing today, rather than what you should be doing," he said. "You've got to be aware of what's going on externally — outside of government. People don't really look outside of what it is they do. Every single one of those processes has an analogous process in the real world."

A spokeswoman from the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents Education employees, said that although it sounded like a good plan, "the devil is in the details." Without complete details about the department's plan, the spokeswoman said the union was unable to comment further.

Styles said OMB revised the rules for competitive sourcing with Education in mind. She said the department was a model for other agencies because its officials spent time planning the process and had strong leaders in charge.

Leidinger said he recommends the approach to other agencies, as long as they mold it to their business processes. "You just don't take it and apply it," he said. "It requires a lot of thought."

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Work in progress

The Education Department's One-ED program is designed to re-engineer work processes and improve the approach to competitive sourcing.

It focuses on six goals:

1 Create a culture of organizational achievement.

2 Improve employee performance and accountability.

3 Develop a safe work environment with strong values.

4 Transform the department to be more citizen-centered and results-oriented.

5 Enhance the quality of performance through best practices and competition.

6 Establish leadership excellence.

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