Friday, January 9, 2015
A discussion at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Public Administration, moderated by Francis Rose, Federal News Radio.

The Academy’s annual meeting in mid-November heard from a wide range of discussants. Following are highlights from the opening panel: Panelists: The Honorable Beth Cobert, Deputy Director for Management (DDM), Office of Management and Budget; and The Honorable Dan Tangherlini, Administrator, General Services Administration Highlights: Opening Remarks. In her opening remarks, Beth Cobert noted that the Obama Administration’s management agenda “focuses on what can we do now, that will have an impact on citizens.” The agenda is based on what agencies have learned over the past several years. At this point, they are prioritizing which initiatives they should try to institutionalize, in terms of processes and practices. As an example, the DDM described the Digital Services Playbook, which is sponsored by the Chief Information Officers Council. The playbook describes 13 strategies and practices that agency CIOs should adopt to ensure effective, customer-centered services. She noted that data are available on what works, and the government needs to empower employees to do benchmarking and improve operations. In his opening remarks, Dan Tangherlini indicated that the Administration is working across the various cross-agency councils of mission support chiefs (e.g., chief financial officers, chief information officers) around a common set of interests, with a focus on how to make mission support functions (e.g.. financial management, personnel, acquisition, technology, building management) more efficient. He said that a key to this objective is to get change to flow up from the front lines in an organization with support from leaders, rather than flowing down from top leadership as a series of directives. If change flows up, then there is a greater likelihood that these initiatives can be sustained over time. He further discussed the use of benchmarking to foster demand, for comparative data on effectiveness. Changing Culture. Agencies are facing large-scale culture changes. For example, Beth Cobert cited the implementation of shared services (where agencies turn to another agency or a private company to provide a standard administrative service, such as payroll) as an initiative that would, if well-implemented, enable policy-oriented leaders in agencies to focus more on mission and less on administrative operations. In addition, the DDM noted that good governance structures, the voice of the customer, greater transparency, and data on performance are all elements for a transition in culture. If agencies want to institutionalize these elements, however, the managers have to see value in them. If they do, then they’ll stick with it through a presidential transition in years to come. She envisioned this to be the case of the IT PortfolioStat reviews (note: these reviews were embedded in statute in mid-December). In terms of the Administration’s customer service (where Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration, is the lead), Beth Cobert also said that “we need to create a demand for data, not push it.” The Administration is currently driving this initiative through the use of Communities of Practice around customer service and the statutory GPRA Framework, where customer service is designated as a cross-agency priority. Dan Tangherlini offered another example of changing administrative culture: creating a bureaucratic “myth-busing” guide, using wiki technology that provides real-world examples of the flexibilities allowed under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) which is typically viewed as a constraint, not a tool for action. End Goals. Moderator Francis Rose asked each leader: “What is a goal you would like to have achieved by the end of the Obama Administration?” Mr. Tangherlini said: The use of more evidence and evaluation to help decisionmakers make better decisions. Ms. Cobert said: To reach a point where the American public would say: “This interaction [with a government agency] works better than before, and I can see an improvement and a difference.” Visit the landing page of this initiative where you can learn of future blog post topics and follow previous conversations.

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