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Report: Agency reorganization can improve services

Feb. 27, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
At NASA, a shared services center handles many of the agency's IT needs, in the interest of efficiency.
At NASA, a shared services center handles many of the agency's IT needs, in the interest of efficiency. (Gannett Government Media Corp)

At NASA, efficiency concerns spur development of a shared services center that handles everything from payroll processing to drug testing for the agency’s 10 research, space and flight centers.

At the Energy Department, a “consolidated business center” furnishes agency-wide expertise for cleaning up and closing sites contaminated by nuclear weapons production.

The Department of Homeland Security, frequently criticized for stovepiping and waste, is getting promising results from an integrated strategy for managing high-risk investments across its almost two dozen components.

Those steps are examples of how reorganization and consolidation can pay off in stretching and better targeting scarce dollars, according to a report released Thursday by the Partnership for Public Service. “Early efforts are heartening, but the potential for collaboration is far greater than what exists,” the report says, adding that the possibilities go beyond the “familiar model” of sharing support services for a single business line such as payroll.

Instead, those possibilities extend to “agencies sharing multiple support and mission-critical functions within an entire department and, ideally, across departments,” the authors conclude.

The Office of Management and Budget, which is already pressing agencies to share services in areas like financial management, sees “great opportunities” in expanding those efforts, Beth Cobert, OMB’s deputy director for management, told attendees at an Association of Government Accountants conference earlier this month.

The Energy Department, for instance, formed the consolidated business center in 2004 in part to avoid duplicating staff at contaminated sites. But the center, part of the department’s environmental management bureau, has also helped standardize cleanup and closing procedures. Since its creation, five sites have been shut down —compared to none, previously — although work was already under way.

Getting buy-in from employees and Congress can be a challenge, however, and the benefits may not come as quickly as anticipated.

In creating the shared services center in 2006, NASA officials predicted that some 200 career employees could be reassigned to “critical mission-related activities,” the agency’s inspector general said in a follow-up audit released in 2011. But they didn’t provide a roadmap for handling those reassignments; as a result, workers often stayed in the same “functional areas” as before, according to the audit.

And while NASA had claimed that the savings would add up to $121 million over 10 years, the underlying cost data were neither reliable nor verifiable, the IG found; as a result, the projected savings figure was “not accurate.”

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