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The budget and interagency collaboration

Mar. 7, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By RON SANDERS   |   Comments
Excellence in Government
Dr. Ronald Sanders, Senior Executive Advisor, Booz Allen Hamilton, during a spotlight session on Smart Cuts: Smart People Strategies, at Excellence in Government on May 7, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Colin Kelly / Staff) (Colin Kelly / Gannett Government Media Co.)

The president’s proposed FY 2015 budget is hot off the presses, and that relatively small cabal of folks that care about government management—I’m a card-carrying member—is busy parsing it to see what it has to say about the latest iteration of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA 4.0?), as well the most recent set of cross-agency priority (or CAP) goals.

I’ve been writing and speaking for some time about the need for far greater collaboration between departments and agencies (as well as levels of government and the private sector) as they tackle the big, boundary-spanning challenges that face our nation. The CAP goals represent the ‘new normal’ in that regard. However, the simple fact is that they will not be achieved without taking interagency collaboration to the next level…and it will take more than just an exhortation to do so. I’d like to focus on how that can be achieved, but with a marker down to blog about the rest of the PMA at a later date.

In my view, ‘next level’ interagency collaboration requires a management infrastructure that enables it. The Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen published a report last year about just that. Entitled Building the Enterprise (you can find it at the Partnership’s Web site), it made a number of recommendations aimed at actually achieving things like the CAP goals—something that our vertically structured government finds exceedingly difficult to do—and I’ll be scrutinizing the budget closely to see if it includes the infrastructure necessary to convert rhetoric to reality. Here’s what I’ll be looking for:

■ Nothing enables collaboration like a shared bottom line, so will the CAP goals focus on true cross-agency outcomes, or will they default to throughputs or outputs? And will OMB take a portfolio approach to grouping the programs that support them, so as to further facilitate cross-agency collaboration?

■ Assuming the CAPs are truly interagency, who will be designated to lead them? Will leadership be shared, like the highly successful VA/HUD ‘joint venture’ to attack veterans’ homelessness?

■ How will those Goal Leaders be held accountable for those shared outcomes—will we see rigorous, cabinet-level performance reviews, ‘personal performance agreements’ with POTUS, and tough, scorecards (I’ll admit I’m a fan of the ‘red-yellow-green’ kind) to drive collaboration?

■ Finally, what role will career executives and staff play? Will OMB and the various CAP Goal Leaders have full-time ‘joint’ staffs—especially seasoned career executives—so they can sustain an interagency focus on results…something that part-time, ‘collateral duty’ staff can’t do?

Let me expand on that last point. If we’re to successfully achieve the CAP goals (as well as those that are outlined in PMA 4.0), the single most important ingredient is engaged career executives, mobilized and motivated to drive those initiatives in their respective agencies. In my view, they are the critical leadership link between an administration and front-line employees, the interface between the deciding and the doing. If they are excited and energized, the troops will follow…and with all due respect, that requires more than a cabinet-level declaration.

So will the PMA include an approach for doing so? One possibility: employ platforms like Leading EDGE—an innovative program conceived by the Obama Administration’s first-term PMC that enabled hundreds of SES members to collaborate on ways to improve government performance. Originally managed by VA (full disclosure: Booz Allen led the contractor team that supported them), OPM is now the program’s executive agent, and it is ideally positioned to leverage its legacy to energize the career executive corps. Without something like it, the PMA could become just another inside-the-beltway phenomenon.

So that’s my check list. I hope the PMA will pass the test. However, let me put its ‘grade’ in perspective. We’ve come a long way since the National Performance Review and the first PMA, thanks to a long line of committed OMB Deputies for Management—Republican and Democrat alike. I have high hopes that Beth Cobert will continue their legacy, but it’s OMB’s career staff that really deserves the credit for the progress we’ve made in management reform; as good career staffs do, they’ve kept focus behind the scenes, regardless of Administration…that’s what this will take, and they get an A.

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