WORKFORCE

Future-proofing government by fostering connections

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More interagency collaboration, greater engagement with stakeholders and seamless interactions between agencies and the public are some of what's needed for the federal government to excel in the years ahead.

That's according to the Partnership for Public Service, which published a report on the future of IT, the federal workforce and data modernization efforts.

The report, written in collaboration with EY and published Feb. 5, is the product of months of interviews and workshopping with policy makers, industry experts and agency leaders. Some of the solutions addressed common complaints like siloed IT systems, inefficient competition between agencies and unsatisfactory customer experiences. It encouraged agencies to collaborate internally and with other agencies and to increase engagement with private-sector partners and the general public.

"When IT modernization first took place and we started with the Centers of Excellence, it was really about one agency taking a particular problem, solving that problem, and then sharing it," Department of Agriculture Chief Information Security Officer Venice Goodwine said in a panel discussion on the report. "There's no need to spend the money building something that's already been built. To [build an interconnected government], we need to leverage investments that other agencies have already made."

Goodwine said the ideal model would be having one Center of Excellence for each shared service that could act as the point of contact across the federal government.

Department of Veterans Affairs' Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer Barbara Morton said that as customers have become accustomed to quick, frictionless service from private companies such as Amazon, federal agencies look slow and inefficient in comparison, leading to frustration. Reorienting services to address customers' needs would be a key first step to changing the government's reputation as unreliable and inert.

"In the next five or 10 years, the way we meet demand will be by listening and orienting around customers' needs, rather than putting the bureaucracy first," Morton said at the panel. "The expectations for us are being set outside of government. ... It is our obligation to be able to catch up and meet those new needs."

Nancy Potok, the former chief statistician for the Office of Management and Budget, concurred, adding that increasing engagement with external organizations would be one solution.

"Agencies should be encouraged to partner with outside companies and entities that are really good at this," she said. "It's true that the public has been now very well trained to expect instant service."

Focusing on customer experience skills during hiring and in employees' daily work would also help foster accountability and a service-oriented culture so workers can better meet the new demands being made of their agencies. 

"When people get supervisor training, they learn the rules. They learn compliance and how to fill out a performance evaluation. That's not the skill set we need in today's world," Potok said. "We shouldn't let anyone into a supervisory position until we're sure that they have collaboration skills, that we've worked on their emotional intelligence, that they're problem solvers, that they're willing to take some risks."

Agencies like the VA have taken the extra step of not only encouraging those skills in their workers, but actually writing them into official policy.

"In the department, we have core values and characteristics codified into our regulations such as integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence," Morton explained. "We amended the regulations to include customer service principles as part of our core values. We updated our [Senior Executive Service] performance metrics as well, to include customer experience. To drive this culture change, to reorient, we need to consider customer service to also be part of our regulations and our core values."

About the Author

Lia Russell is a former staff writer and associate editor at FCW.

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