White House

Memo to Obama: How to build a bold management agenda

Julie Anderson

In an era of divided government, one thing everyone can agree on is that the government should operate more effectively and efficiently. President Barack Obama has an opportunity to build on his first-term successes and continue improving the management of government resources, of which IT is a significant portion.

In his first four years as president, Obama made progress in streamlining government operations and improving

performance through the multipronged Accountable Government Initiative, which benefits taxpayers and government employees. In particular, the Obama administration made great strides in moving IT applications to cloud-based technologies, consolidating duplicative programs, and reviewing federal contracts to identify fraud, waste and overpayments. Although those activities have saved money, the practices might not continue beyond the next four years without further action.

As administration officials continue honing their management of government and IT investment agendas for the next four years, they would benefit from refining various initiatives and activities to delineate a coordinated, strategic approach to institutionalize lasting change.

 More specifically, administration leaders should consider the following three principles to guide their decisions about management priorities, policies and resource allocation.

1. Prepare the government to transition to a new operating model. An integrated model that reflects the interdependent management functions of strategy, budget, finance, IT, acquisition and human capital will enable higher performance of the mission-oriented work of a department. The strategic management process should consist of five repeatable steps: develop a strategy, formulate a budget, plan and execute activities, measure results, and apply data to making decisions about future activities.

2. Define the government’s fundamental decision rules and risk profiles before introducing the latest technology. For example, how does the risk profile for data use at the Interior Department differ from that of the Education Department? An agency should turn to implementing tactical changes, such as connecting employees’ mobile devices to agency networks, only after it determines what is and is not acceptable to its core mission.

The benefits of investing in enhanced operations for government organizations far outweigh the time and effort required of all stakeholders.

3. Improve performance management by measuring outcomes and reducing reporting requirements. It is common for organizations to fall into the trap of measuring the amount of effort put into specific activities, which means they are measuring outputs rather than true outcomes. The Office of Management and Budget and other agencies have made some progress in reorienting performance management to be outcome-oriented. But more work remains to be done.

In addition, reducing the overall number of measures collected and reported will help focus limited resources on the activities of highest value. In other words, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. OMB’s High Priority Performance Goals have helped agencies identify a top tier of measurements to focus on, but ongoing efforts should also include removing unused or unnecessary measures.

Measuring and reporting the highest-priority, most meaningful outcomes will produce data that can be used to inform decision-making at senior levels of government, which will ultimately improve performance.

Building on those three principles will require leadership, innovative ideas, significant energy and the willingness to take calculated risks in a relatively risk-averse political system. But the benefits of investing in enhanced operations for government organizations far outweigh the time and effort required of all stakeholders. Only when strategic frameworks and repeatable processes are implemented and institutionalized will management improvements be sustained far beyond the 44th president’s tenure.

About the Author

Julie M. Anderson is an expert in the management of government and organizational transformation. Before joining the Civitas team she served as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in the Obama Administration. Prior to her appointment, she worked for IBM Public Sector Global Business Services as an associate partner focusing on strategy for health care, homeland security, and cyber security markets.

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