Developing leaders at home

U.S. Office of Personnel and Management

When it comes to technology, federal officials' goal is to improve operations, enhance the efficiency of employees and provide better public services. But leading that effort is not easy.

For the past four years, the nonpartisan Council for Excellence in Government has offered a nine-month e-government program to develop leaders who could help transform and improve government performance. It's an offshoot of the Excellence in Government Fellows program that began 15 years ago and has more than 1,800 alumni, or senior fellows.

The e-government program, which has 160 alumni, was created because council officials recognized that technology presents unique issues, said Judy Douglas, the council's vice president for leadership and performance.

Dealing with strategic issues such as technology investments or measuring their value can be challenging, Douglas said. "Are some of the technologies creating new challenges that confront citizen privacy?" she asked. "There are, of course, security issues associated with the implementation of technology."

Both programs are open to senior federal managers at the GS-14 and GS-15 levels, although exceptional individuals at the GS-13 grade are sometimes accepted. Participants meet for 21 days during a nine-month period, and tuition is $9,400.

Col. Jill Phillips of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, who graduated from the e-government program last year, said technology has spurred cross-collaboration among agencies. It's also an opportunity to learn from others within the public sector.

"That was part of the reason that I joined [the program] — because you could take some of your skills and potentially add skills because of the cross-section of fellows who were available to learn from and apply it," said Phillips, program director for HealtheForces, which deals with electronic health records primarily for the Army and Air Force.

Participants form small groups and choose a challenging hands-on project. Phillips' group, which included colleagues from six other federal agencies, helped the Child and Family Services Agency in Washington, D.C., improve adoption services for foster children by using the Web, geographic information systems, databases and other technologies.

Rand Ruggieri, who was working at the Agriculture Department when he graduated from the e-government program last year, said it forced him to be more introspective, rethink what he had already learned, put things into perspective, "recharge batteries and refocus on service and leadership."

During the program, Ruggieri's group helped Minneapolis officials reduce the time it took city officials to respond after children were tested for lead exposure.

"I think that's part of leadership," he said. "If you can't demonstrate that you care about it, do you really think they're going to follow you?"

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