Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen was superb at handling big, complex challenges that reach across agency boundaries. He led the evacuation of lower Manhattan during 9/11. He took over the Katrina rescue operations after they floundered. He led the U.S. response to the Haiti earthquake, and the Gulf Coast BP Oil Spill.
Before Allen retired, I asked him “Where does the government find the next one hundred Thad Allens?” He didn’t have a good answer. But answering that question becomes more critical as the government finds itself increasingly facing cross-agency challenges.
Government and non-profits have already been pioneering the use of collaborative networks over the past two decades to solve complex societal challenges such as clean waterways, reducing child abuse, serving the mentally ill in the community, and reducing smoking. Much of this pioneering work has been done without a roadmap of what works and when using networks is more effective than relying on traditional hierarchies or the marketplace to achieve public goals.
But there was a ray of hope embedded in GAO’s report. The opening section assesses agencies’ progress in working together across organizational boundaries, noting “Many of the meaningful results that the federal government seeks to achieve . . .
Congress granted the executive branch the authority to establish and implement cross-agency initiatives, via the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Modernization Act of 2010. That law, among other things, requires the Office of Management and Budget to designate “Cross-Agency Priority Goals” for a small handful of mission-support and mission-related areas, covering a four-year period, along with the designation of a goal leader and the requirement for quarterly progress reports.
New Zealand has been a beacon for government reforms for almost three decades. While the New Public Management Reforms of the late 1980s made agencies more efficient and responsive, they also created a new problem; agencies struggled to organize effectively around problems that crossed agency boundaries. New Zealand undertook a new round of reform in 2012 to address ten important and persistent crosscutting problems.
This report is intended to spark a discussion of how to create a cadre of experienced career senior executives who can lead major, cross-agency initiatives on national priorities. The Senior Executive Service (SES) corps today is chiefly composed of highly skilled professionals in specific mission functions, with relatively few having cross-agency expertise.
Recent trends in government have created a new demand for cross-agency capabilities. This report attempts to offer a practical, targeted approach for meeting this demand. It is divided into two parts: