Remaking Government

PuzzlePieceMore than 3 years ago the Administration proposed that Congress grant the President authority to reorganize government agencies. The plan intended the authority to be used for “rethinking, reforming and remaking our government so that it can meet the challenges of our time.” When the proposal was made, the plan was to begin with 6 trade-related agencies (U.S. Department of Commerce’s core business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency) and consolidate them into a single Department focused on helping American business succeed. The proposal went nowhere. The President revived the proposal in his 2016 budget plan.

The idea of restructuring the government is not partisan – it is simply good management. The federal government, like any large bureaucracy, has developed over many decades. Agencies have lost aspects of their missions and gained others. Like any good bureaucracy, agencies tend to focus a lot on self-preservation. When anyone proposes cutting their budget or diminishing their scope in any way, they respond by justifying their existence as though the world would end if they did not exist exactly the way they are now. So what we end up with is a collection of Departments and Agencies that are not quite what they were intended to be and that have evolved over time to be something that perhaps was never intended. The trade proposal was a great example of the overlap that exists in agencies today. Overlapping and conflicting missions generate more bureaucracy and more cost, but rarely result in anything that is better for the taxpayers.

If we are going to continue reducing the deficit, we have to find ways to cut costs that do not require cutting services. Even though most Americans agree we should cut federal spending, there is no agreement on what to cut. In fact, the majority of Americans polled on the subject did not want to cut any major programs other than foreign aid.  When we get down from the macro whole-of-government level to the agency level, there is still little agreement. For example, when we talk about saving money on Defense spending, it appears the majority of people do not want to close bases or cut weapons systems. That does not leave much room to find the billions of dollars that need to be saved. The same thing happens across government.

If we really want to cut spending, we need to substantially rethink how government is organized. Every Department has bureaus, agencies, administrations or components that each have their own management and support structures that generate overhead costs. The more organizations we have, the higher the cost. Giving this or the next President the authority to restructure and combine programs and agencies has the potential to generate better results of the taxpayers, lower costs, generate a wealth of new ideas and give us and a government that works better for fewer dollars. It is not a Republican idea, a Democratic idea or any other party’s idea. It just makes sense.

Memorial Day – Remembering Those Who Died

memorialday_cemeteryMemorial Day is one of those holidays that does not seem to be fully understood by some folks. For some it is the unofficial start of the the summer vacation season; for others it is the day when traffic in Washington, DC begins to lighten up for a few days. Some think of it as the day the Indianapolis 500 is run. Others think of it as a time to thank veterans for their service.

It may be all of those things, but Memorial Day has a greater and far more important purpose. At the end of the Civil War, families, friends and grateful citizens began decorating the graves of fallen soldiers. The commemoration of their sacrifice evolved into what we know today as Memorial Day. The act of decorating the graves with flowers and flags is so central to the day that in many parts of the country Memorial Day is still called “Decoration Day.” Whatever you call it, Memorial Day is intended as a time to recognize the sacrifice of military personnel who died in service to our country.

The original Memorial Day Order, signed by the Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868 says it best:

“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remains in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the nation’s gratitude—the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

While we spend time this holiday weekend with our friends and family, let us not forget what Memorial Day is all about and the supreme sacrifice made by those men and women who are no longer among us.

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
The brave and daring few.
On Fame's eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

The Bivouac of the Dead
Theodore O'Hara

FITARA – Big Deal or Big Snooze?

dreamstime_xs_6998336The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) is getting a lot of attention since OMB’s implementation guidance was released for public comment. OMB set a deadline of May 30, 2015 for comments, but strongly encouraged interested parties who believe they have substantive comments to get them in by this Friday – May 15.

So is FITARA worth all the hype? Will it make a difference? If so, why? After all, the Clinger-Cohen Act was passed in 1996 and many would argue it did not have the impact its supporters envisioned.

FITARA is different and I believe it has the potential to fundamentally change how IT is bought and used in government. It will change the role of the Chief Information Officer and the Chief Financial Officer and may improve partnering between those two and the Chief Human Capital and Chief Acquisition Officers. The Office of Management and Budget learned a lot from the government’s experience since Clinger-Cohen was passed. Let’s be honest – Clinger-Cohen was implemented in the standard bureaucratic way with no teeth. It made changes, but fell far short of what was needed. OMB clearly was determined to implement FITARA in a new and far more effective manner.

They started by listening to experts in government and industry. They sought out people who knew what happened with Clinger-Cohen and other reform efforts. They asked what worked and what did not work, and why. Then they crafted draft guidance that was anything but wishy-washy. It set clear requirements that agencies could not dance around. They defined a clear and unambiguous role for the CIO in the IT budget and program planning processes, including a requirement that the agency certify the CIO reviewed and approves the major IT investments portion of budget requests. They clearly state “The CIO defines the development processes, milestones, review gates, and the overall policies for all capital planning and project management and reporting for IT resources.” They carved out a role for the CIO in IT acquisition as well, saying “Agencies shall not approve an acquisition strategy or acquisition plan (as described in FAR Part 7)21 or interagency agreement (such as those used to support purchases through another agency) that includes IT without review and approval by the agency CIO.”

They did not stop there. The draft guidance includes a substantial role for Departmental CIOs in the selection of bureau/component CIOs, saying “The CIO shall be involved in the recruitment and shall approve the selection of any new bureau CIO.” Once bureau CIOs are on board, the guidance requires that “The CHCO and CIO shall jointly establish an agency-wide critical element (or elements) included in all bureau CIOs’ performance evaluations” and “The [agency] CIO must identify “key bureau CIOs” and provide input to the rating official for this critical element(s) for at least all “key bureau CIOs” at the time of the initial summary rating and for any required progress reviews. The rating official will consider the input from the [agency] CIO when determining the initial summary rating and discusses it with the bureau CIO during progress reviews.”

Recognizing the critical role of talent management in any organization and the challenges the government faces in maintaining a skilled IT workforce, OMB included a section on the IT workforce. They say “The CIO and CHCO will develop a set of competency requirements for IT staff, including IT leadership positions, and develop and maintain a current workforce planning process to ensure the department/agency can (a) anticipate and respond to changing mission requirements. (b) maintain workforce skills in a rapidly developing IT environment, and (c) recruit and retain the IT talent needed to accomplish the mission.” They go on to require that “the CIO shall have direct access to the agency head (i.e., the Secretary, or Deputy Secretary serving on the Secretary’s behalf) regarding programs that include information technology.”

OMB’s initial draft of FITARA guidance survived the interagency review process remarkably intact. The version that is out for comments now is in many respects a model for how policy guidance should be developed. OMB Deputy Director for Management Beth Cobert, CIO Tony Scott, and E-Government chief Lisa Schlosser should be commended for producing a public policy document that will make a difference rather than just answering the mail.

How big a difference will it make? Given the authority it gives to CIOs, the difference may be surprising to a lot of people. It clearly defines the role of the CIO and assures s/he will have the authority to do the job. Whether you think biblically (“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required”) or like Spiderman (“With great power comes great responsibility”), the authority granted to CIOs by FITARA and OMB could be a game-changer for many CIOs.

CIOs who are highly capable, but may have been struggling with the bureaucracy and its unwillingness to change, may find they have new weapons and tools to get their jobs done. They can drive budgets (the mother’s milk of Washington, DC), force changes in under-performing programs, hire the right leaders for bureau/component CIO roles, and if necessary, kill programs. CIOs who are less capable may find themselves exposed. Rather than being able to blame others for their shortcomings, they may find themselves with no excuse for their performance. They will have the tools, but if they do not know how to use them, they may fail quickly.

That is not a bad thing. FITARA may very well generate some turnover in CIO roles and allow Departments to get the right talent in the jobs. OMB’s guidance, wisely developed with the intent of making a real and lasting difference, is a great start that should have a lasting impact. This is definitely no snooze – it is a big deal.

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Thank a Government Employee This Week

Thank-you-pinned-noteThis is Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) – a week set aside to recognize the work done by government employees at local, state and Federal levels. Government employees do not get the thanks they deserve for the great work they do at every level of government. Instead, we see constant bad-mouthing of government workers and politicians using them to make political points. Let’s try something different this week. Think about how government workers have supported you in your day-to-day life and where you can, say Thank You to them for what they do every day.

I will start with some “Thank You” PSRW greetings for government workers who I appreciate and I encourage everyone who reads this post to do the same.

Thank you to the United States Postal Service. People seem to like to criticize the Post Office, but I do not know why. I’ve never had a letter or package I sent via USPS lost or damaged. They can deliver a letter anywhere in the country for pennies and do it quickly. Last year, they delivered over 155 billion packages and pieces of mail to almost 154 million delivery points. They have competitive prices, great service, and do not refuse to deliver mail to locations just because those locations are not profitable. Thank You Postal workers.

Thank you to the Food and Drug Administration. We are seeing more and more drugs introduced every year. The FDA makes certain they are properly tested before they hit the market. Almost everyone I know needs a drug of some sort, whether it is chemotherapy for cancer patients, drugs to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s, medications to treat allergies, or countless other medical issues. They regulate medical equipment and other medical products as well. Thank You FDA employees.

Thank you to the Federal Aviation Administration. Like many Americans, I traveled via air to get to a client meeting a couple of weeks ago. The FAA provided the  Air Traffic Control that kept my flight and the other 7,000 flights that are in the air at any given time safe. They oversee airport safety and the approximately 7,300 airlines and air operators who fly in the US. Thank You FAA employees.

Thank you to the employees of the City of Fairfax, Virginia. I have been living in Fairfax for 17 years. In that time every interaction I’ve had with the city government has been excellent. They provide great service to city residents, have lower taxes than most jurisdictions in the area, and do a superb job. Thank You Fairfax, VA employees.

Thank you to the professional staff of the House of Representatives and the Senate and the employees of the Judiciary. When we think about the Federal government, we typically think of the Executive Branch. There are two other equal branches of government that are necessary for our system to work. In addition to the Judges, Representatives and Senators, the Judiciary and the Legislative branches have professional staff members who keep the institutions running. Without them, neither branch could get its job done. Thank You Legislative and Judicial branch employees.

Thank you to the civilian employees of the Department of Defense. DoD civilians include the logisticians at the Defense Logistics Agency, the men and women of the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Centers who repair and rebuild aircraft and engines, the non-appropriated fund employees who run base recreational facilities, mission support professionals in HR, finance, IT, procurement and facilities, and thousands more. Thank you to the 700,000+ DoD civilians.

Thank you to the scientists, engineers, doctors and other researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the military laboratories, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and every other scientific organization in government. Your quest for knowledge and the benefits you provide help everyone on the planet. Thank you to the researchers.

Thank you to the clerks and assistants in every agency at every level of government. You do not often get the recognition you deserve for the support you provide to your agencies and their customers. Your contributions may not be as visible, but agencies would not be able to get their jobs done without you. Thank you to the clerks and assistants.

Thank you to the men and women of our armed forces. Your sacrifice provides the security we need to maintain our way of life. Risking your life, spending months at a time away from your families, working long hours in tough and sometimes life-threatening situations, you are truly the guardians of freedom. Thank you to our American Armed Forces.

Thank you to the Diplomats. Whether appointees, career Foreign Service, or the people who support them, you represent America abroad, support economic development and are the face of America to other nations. You risk your life to do a vital job. Thank You to the Diplomats.

Thank you to the Law Enforcement Officers. You have some of the toughest jobs in government. You work long hours and risk your life to protect everyone else. You have tough jobs, but you continue to do them day after day, year after year. Our society depends on men and women like you. Thank You to the Law Enforcement Officers.

Thank you to everyone else in government. Public service is more than just a job. For many public servants it is a calling – a way to contribute to our society every day. You may not be in one of the highly visible jobs, but we depend on you and your work. You make a difference every day, and most Americans appreciate what you do. Thank you to Public Servants everywhere.


Rethinking Leave Benefits

maternity-leavePresident Obama’s memorandum directing the Office of Personnel Management and Federal agencies to implement leave practices that support parental leave was a good start. It requires agencies to advance sick and annual leave to Federal workers for birth or adoption of a child. The memo points out that the United States is the only developed nation in the world without paid parental leave.

That statement actually understates the degree to which US labor policies are out of step with the rest of the world. In a 2014 report, the United Nations International Labor Organization studied parental leave policies of 165 member nations. Only 2 – Papua New Guinea and the United States of America – fail to guarantee paid maternity leave. The President’s new policy will improve the lot of Federal workers, but much more could be done with a comprehensive parental leave bill that provides a requirement for paid maternity leave and a separate grant of maternity leave in addition to regular sick and annual leave.

The problem with simply using the sick and annual leave provisions of the existing law is that they are not enough for many people. Recovering 240 hours sick leave that was advanced will take more than 2 years. That means a new mother has no sick leave on the books and will not for more than 2 years. Here is an example: A woman who has been working for the government for less that 3 years earns 4 hours of sick leave and 4 hours of annual leave per pay period. If she has been working 2 years and taken average amounts of leave, she most likely would have 2 weeks of sick leave and a few days of annual leave on the books. Under the new policy, she could be advanced all of the annual leave she would earn in the remainder of the leave year and up to 240 hours of sick leave. Combining her accrued leave and the advanced sick and annual leave, she could get about 11 weeks of paid leave prior to and following the birth of a child. Sounds good so far. But what happens when the child gets sick? Or needs a regular check-up? Or the family wants to take a few days vacation or visit family? Or the mother gets sick? Even worse – what happens if she gets pregnant again? There will be no way she can get paid leave for an adequate amount of time.

If we want to keep saying how important children are and how critical it is for a child to have time to bond with his/her mother before being shipped off to day care, we need to rethink parental leave. I recognize there are very different arguments for paternity leave versus maternity leave, so my focus today is on maternity leave. I have said before and continue to believe the US government should be a model employer. That means we need to offer paid maternity leave for every employee. Yes, there is a cost to doing that, but the cost is most likely offset by the benefits to our society that come from children being given a good start in life.

Children are not the only beneficiaries – there is also a benefit to women who are having children. Having no leave available after giving birth adds stress and financial burden, and it can incentivize a woman to leave the government and work for an employer that provides paid maternity leave. She may also find that having little of no leave on the books may lead to her being labeled as a leave abuser. You may be thinking that is crazy, but I have seen cases where employees were labeled as leave abusers for taking sick leave for chemotherapy.

There are other changes to leave benefits that we should consider. For example, current law (5 USC 6302(d)) allows agencies to credit employees with all of their annual leave at the beginning of the year rather than earning it pay period-by-pay period. Doing so would allow employees to have more flexibility to schedule their personal time and it would be a tremendous benefit to new employees. It might also serve as a recruiting incentive. There is no cost to the government and no change in the law needed.

Sick and annual leave are among the best benefits offered to Federal workers. If we enhance those programs, we can make the government a better employer, serve as a role model for other employers, and perhaps help with some of the current morale issues in government.


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