The key word for successful cross-agency projects: governance

WILLIAMSBURG, VA—Tim Young wants agencies to put him out of a job. The associate administrator for IT and e-government for the Office of Management and Budget wants agencies to work out their problems without his office’s help, take away the burdensome process of developing memorandums of understandings and make it so funding is done without a second thought for cross-agency initiatives.

Then again, this is not a new desire for OMB—it has been trying to institutionalize the governance process for the 25 Quicksilver projects and nine lines of business consolidation initiatives for parts of the last four years. And the effort is far from finished.

And as Jonathan Breul, a senior fellow with the IBM Center for the Business of Government, found out, it took more than a decade for one private-sector company, British Petroleum, to start to get on track. The federal government, which is larger and more complex, could take just as long, Breul said.

But Young said agencies have to figure out the governance structure so the cross-agency initiatives can move forward at a quicker pace.

“Agencies need to focus on their core mission,” he said. “Agencies need to get out of the back office and administrative arena. E-government is a tool to assist them.”

The key to getting agencies to construct a solid governance structure, Young and others said during a panel discussion at the Interagency Resources Management Conference here yesterday, is a combination of personality, patience and fortitude.

“Governance is the No. 1 issue for cross-agency initiatives,” Young said. “I can’t underscore the value of having closely defined cross-governmental governance board established at the onset of the initiative.”

Breul added that many cross-agency initiatives fail because of a lack of a governance mechanism.

“There must be a means to focus on the benefits and a way to deal with the risk,” he said. “You also have to deal with the service and quality of the service, and be able to measure performance.”

Breul said a governance board provides those things.

Young said a successful governance structure must handle its own dispute resolution issues, and have a sustainable business model, which means either fee-for-service or full agency funding.

Young added that, maybe most important, agencies must have a framework to get consensus from all members.

“Everyone must be able to give their two cents and live with the outcome,” he said. “They may not like it every time, but at the end of the day, the service that is being delivered is cost-effective and efficient.”

Breul said managing decision rights and the ability to define what is valuable to the project are critical components to successful governance.

Norm Enger, director of e-government programs for the Office of Personnel Management, added that governance structure must be flexible and have a clear reporting arrangement.

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