Modernizing Government: Forum Results

The White House sponsored a forum back in January to gain insights from corporate CEOs and labor leaders to identify best practices in the use of technology to streamline federal operations, improve customer service, and maximize returns on technology investments.  It has released a report summarizing the results and commits to following through on a number of recommendations.

 First Principles.  The report describes a set of principles for modernizing government that corporate CEOs thought were important:

On leading organizational change:

  • Establish clear goals and a vision.  Bold goals can shift thinking; modest goals encourage incremental thinking.
  • Create a “solution-oriented” environment.  Use small, cross-functional teams to tackle problems.  Focus on solutions, not constraints.
  • Scope projects with reasonable timeframes and regular milestones.  Projects over 18 months do not make sense in the commercial world.  If tangible customer benefits cannot be achieved in 12 months, the project should be terminated.

On maximizing technology return-on-investment:

  • Re-engineer operational processes first.  Technology should follow, not precede this step.
  • Continuously engage business unit managers in technology efforts.  Assign the best people to run tech transformation efforts, and fully dedicate them to the project. Integrate business units into the effort, as well. 
  • Procure technology in a manner that meets organizational needs. Dragging out the procurement process increases the risk of IT obsolescence.
  • Minimize customization and use shared services.  Standardizing common processes reduces risk and costs.

On transforming customer service:

  • Create a culture of customer service.  Managers must regularly interact with  customers so they understand their needs, and front-line workers must be empowered to actually solve problems.
  • Clearly communicate service standards and expectations.  This motivates employees and helps manage customer expectations.
  • Understand customer needs and provide consistent service across channels. Consistency of service across channels – phone, in person, on line – is important.

Next Steps

As a starting place, OMB says it will focus on applying private sector best practices in  two areas:  IT program management and customer service:

Action 1:  Increase accountability by governing IT projects in a transparent manner.  OMB has started by developing the Federal IT Dashboard to track IT projects, and by using “TechStat” sessions with agencies to review specific at-risk projects.

Action 2:  Evaluate comprehensive IT project review practices.  OMB is soliciting IT project review processes and related tools from the private sector, in order to systematically review progress of major projects.

Action 3:  Develop customer satisfaction surveys that measure the customer experience.  Focus not only on satisfaction with a specific transaction, but the overall customer experience.

Action 4:  Clearly state customer service standards.  OMB is already working with agencies “to encourage them to clearly articulate their customer service standards and post them publicly.”

Action 5:  Create a community of customer service excellence.  OMB is in the process of forming just such a community to connect federal managers across agency boundaries to share their best practices.

Action 6:  Facilitate ad hoc interactions and informal networking.  CEOs who participated in the forum were interested in continuing the conversations begun that day.  OMB is encouraging continued informal interactions and will attempt to “match” CEOs with specific federal management challenges.

Action 7:  Cross-agency efforts.  Existing cross-agency councils — such as the Chief Financial Officers Council and the Chief Information Officers Council – could be a mechanism for sharing best practices across government. 

Action 8:  Agency-specific efforts.  OMB could “match interested CEOs and other private leaders with deputy secretaries and their teams for informal, individual counsel.”

In addition, notes OMB, the forum demonstrated the potential impact of establishing more formal, standing bodies of private sector leaders to advise the federal government on management performance issues, possibly modeled on the Defense Business Board, where senior corporate executives provide independent advice to defense leaders on future directions.


One thought on “Modernizing Government: Forum Results

  1. These recommendations all make sense. They also made sense when (most of them) were suggested in the 1990s. Seems like we should have learned some things about implementing major change in the past 15 years … or perhaps what we’ve learned is the importance of doing the things that we already know we should do.

    I hope the administration will act aggressively on these recommendations.

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