5 steps to transforming executive branch management

Alan Balutis

President Barack Obama came to office famously promising to change how Washington works. He has since acknowledged that he has failed to make that happen. But when it comes to the workings of the executive branch, the president has started down a path to success.

In July, at a White House event attended by most of his Cabinet, Obama announced an aggressive management agenda for his second term that delivers a smarter, more innovative and more accountable government. Insiders say a new deputy director for management will soon be nominated and will team with Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell to drive this agenda.

What needs to be done to make the agenda a success? In a February column, I offered five suggestions from FCW readers to reshape the government and public services. They are worth revisiting — for the sake of the new OMB team and for everyone else who cares about better government.

1. Create a different culture by taking advantage of the need for new hires.

The next few years will bring a sharp increase in retirements, which will offer a unique opportunity for gov­ernment to recruit for new skills and outlooks. Beyond its traditional orientation programs, the government must also provide behavior training and a cultural orientation. For example, two-week sessions could explore what it means to be a "resilient and flexible employee" and discuss the skills needed to collaborate and be more responsive and agile.

2. Give all employees new collaborative technologies.

We know that millennials will make up the majority of new agency hires and that these young people have grown up using computers and collaborative technologies. The challenge will be learning how to leverage those tools to make agencies more connected and less hierarchical.

Information is now available to all — government employees and the general public alike. That access will change the way agencies operate, and new security and privacy issues will have to be addressed with re-engineered processes.

3. Develop new relationships between the government and its contract workforce.

A major challenge will be to forge a true partnership between agencies and industry. To do so, federal leaders will have to transform a relationship that currently is far more adversarial than collegial. The number of federal employees might change in the coming years, but the "blended workforce" will almost certainly remain.

A proactive approach is needed to help government employees and contractors better understand their respective roles and find ways to work together effectively. We need to build and train our contract officers and program managers, and discuss anew what con­stitutes "inherently governmental."

4. Enhance collaboration between the federal government and state and local governments.

People interact more often with their local and state governments than they do with the federal government, which argues for a local-state-federal approach rather than the other way around. The Obama administration must develop new ways to improve intergovernmental collaboration.

Most successful initiatives in the past decade have occurred because of the ef­forts of a dedicated team or a unique leader. The administration should learn from those efforts and ensure that such working relationships become the norm rather than the exception.

5. Become more citizen-centric.

Citizens want government to work effectively, seamlessly and openly. They do not care what happens in the back office; what matters is how quickly their applications are processed, their claims adjudicated and their questions answered. A transformed government should focus on seamless and transparent interactions. And it must concen­trate at least as much on responsible execution and operational excellence as on the initiation of new policies or programs.

About the Author

Alan P. Balutis is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems.


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