The implementation of shared services as a way to streamline the federal government has required a patience from its advocates that may border on piety.That patience was rewarded, at least in part, when the Office of Management and Budget's acting deputy director for management announced the formation of the Unified Shared Services Management Office.
The office will be a new management board under the General Services Administration, and with its proposed formation, shared services would move closer to becoming part and parcel of agency management.
"Somebody told me a long time ago that a vision without a plan is a nightmare. This sets forth the vision of what we are trying to achieve in shared services," said OMB's Dave Mader, who made the announcement at the Partnership for Public Service on Oct. 22.
The board will set forth shared services practices for agencies throughout the federal government and look for ways to put new management ideas into feasible strategies. It would be made up of stakeholders from OMB, the Office of Personnel Management and the Treasury Department, alongside the CHCO, CFO and CIO councils and others.
"The USSM, we would really see as the executing arm for the oversight and management of this effort," said Denise Turner Roth, GSA administrator. "They would work closely with the Shared Services Governance Board to ensure that the perspective, the vision and the mission that they are developing and driving is really playing out as we go to execute and really put legs on this."
The announcement of the USSM and vision plan moving forward comes on the heels of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Oct. 20 statement that it would be the first cabinet-level agency to shift acquisition and procurement to Department of Treasury's Administrative Resource Center.
"We hit a huge milestone on Oct. 1 in actually moving the first cabinet-level department to a shared service," Mader said. "Now I think that's a big deal, especially since when I got here 16 or 17 months ago, when I was told, 'That will never happen, Dave. It will fail, it's a pipe dream, what are you smoking?' But we were successful."
Shared services has long been a discussed as a way for the government to streamline services by directing operations into a limited number of designated offices, rather than each agency developing its own office.
With select offices responsible for say procurement and acquisition, agencies can theoretically free up more of their budgets for operations. With budgets continuing to shrink, federal managers are looking for ways to stretch their funding dollars, making shared services and attractive option.
"The path we are currently on without shared services is simply unsustainable," said Ellen Herbst, chief financial officer for the Department of Commerce, who worked with Mader on shared service.
"It's irresponsible for us as leaders not to do anything about that. We see this as a much more sustainable path forward."
Roth said USSM will fit under GSA's Office of Government-wide Policy, serving as the go-to for both shared service policy applications and innovative solutions.
"What we really see as the opportunity at GSA is a collaboration with the other activity that is happening," she said, "whether it is using the platforms that are available through our acquisitions arm, if it's consulting with our other staff that has worked with government-wide policy in ensuring we have the functioning and infrastructure in place to really support this effort, that's what we are focused on."
The Shared Services Leadership Coalition, a group advocating for the broader adoption of shared services in government, applauded Mader's statement.
"What Dave Mader announced today is a milestone for shared services, and it's directly in line with the future vision that's captured the imagination of the industry and good government communities," said SSLC CEO John Marshall, in a statement. "He's putting in place fundamental building blocks of a solid foundation for long term modernization. Major challenges remain, however, that are beyond the powers of the executive branch."
Mader conceded that the future of shared services will depend both on saving results it garners and the opportunities it presents for the next administration.
"What we are doing is good government," he said. "This doesn't have an R or a D on it. It's about good government."