Mocking Public Service

National Public Service Award

Just in time for the national Public Service Recognition Week, Saturday Night Live aired a biting satire:  “The 2010 Public Employee of the Year Award.” In the skit, several finalists for the award strut their stuff.  For example, a fictitious Markeesha Odom says she helped lead her DMV team to ensure no one received a drivers license over the course of a full day!  And the fictitious ceremony was held in a filled hall in Harrah’s in Las Vegas (which Sen. Harry Reid would approve!).

An ongoing dialogue on GovLoop swings between bemusement and outrage over the skit, but the skit reached a national audience.  Meanwhile, two weeks ago, the National Public Service Award was presented to five distinguished public servants.  The presentation was made in San Jose at a small luncheon during the conference of the American Society for Public Administration.  However, distinguished participants in the ceremony included both former Comptroller General David Walker and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.  Recipients include:

  • the current head of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry;
  • veteran city manager Ted Gaebler;
  • GAO veteran Sallyanne Harper;
  • a scientist at NIH, Kenneth Kraemer; and
  • Bernard Melekian, a former police chief and current head of the Justice Department’s community policing program.

The award has been given since 1983 as a way of recognizing the heroes in public service.  But it hasn’t received much media attention.

Nevertheless, the effort to recognize public service, however, is making progress.  President Obama talks about “making public service cool again.”  The Partnership for Public Service annually presents its Service to America Medals at a grand celebration each Fall in Washington to recognize accomplishments.  And more recently, Senator Ted Kaufman has been recognizing “Great Feds” weekly in the Congressional Record, and the Washington Post has been weekly recognizing federal employees in its “Federal Players” column.

In addition, the IBM Center’s weekly radio show has showcased a different federal executive every week, for the past decade.  So I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.  But the timing of the SNL skit may have been a bit much for me!

Advertisements

Scorecarding Agency Open Gov Plans

The Obama Administration announced today a scorecard of the quality of the plans submitted earlier this month by 29 major agencies.  Using a checklist of 30 criteria, the scorecards show all agencies rating either a “yellow” or a “green” on their scorecards. These plans are being referred to as “version 1.0.”

The three agencies with the best ratings were the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Transportation, and NASA.

In addition, the White House has created a “leading practices” webpage where agencies can showcase their best efforts in four areas:

  • Leadership, Governance, and Culture Change
  • Transparency
  • Participation and Collaboration
  • Flagship Initiative

The Open Government Working Group, comprised of executives from each of the major agencies, continues to meet regularly to share leading practices.

It’ll be interesting to see what the separate scoring of agency plans looks like when the advocacy groups announce their results in coming days!

Implementing Health Care Reform

Implementing the Recovery Act has been a major challenge.  But it pales in comparison to the complexity facing those implementing the health care reform bill.  Office of Personnel Management director John Berry says implementing this new law will be equivalent to being “the moon shot of our generation.”  Last week, Senator Mark Warner reinforced Berry’s observation, calling it “the mother of all implementation challenges.”

The Obama Administration is gearing up to meet the many deadlines in the bill.  In fact, it’s created a separate website to provide information on this: HealthReform.Gov.

However, there is also a major public management challenge involved as well.  As a result, the IBM Center is sponsoring a separate, new blog (with an optimistic title) – Implementing Health Care Reform — to provide insights into the implementation of this effort.  It is being co-authored by Professor Don Kettl, one of the preeminent academics in the field of public administration, and dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy; and Jack Meyer, who holds a joint appointment in both the School of Public Policy and the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland.

Be sure to visit the site, and book mark it!

Passionate About Collaboration

Collaboration is one of the key elements of President Obama’s signature Open Government Initiative.  However, federal agencies’ Open Government Plans don’t seem to address it very well.   But collaboration expert Russ Linden says “collaboration is vital, difficult, and learnable.”  And he’s written a book that makes all three of these points.

If you, like many other in government, think collaboration is becoming a critical part of your being successful, his “how to” book is worth reading.  In “Leading Across Boundaries,” Linden draws on two decades of insights, noting:

“Most people in Western countries have two fundamental needs that must be met if they are to be effective in the workplace.  These needs are (1) to be competent (and respected as such) and (2) to belong, to connect to something larger than themselves.

 

“These two needs are expressed in four questions that most team members ask (not necessarily out loud):

 

  1. Do I have something to contribute that is needed, recognized, and used by the team?
  2. Are we working on a project that is important to me and my own organization?
  3. Are we making progress: do we have a reasonable chance for success?
  4. How will this project support or threaten any of my core needs or interests (and those of my home organization)?”

 

He goes on to observe that when team members can answer these positively, that there’s a greater chance for collaborative behavior in the team, and that collaboration is a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

It’s Vital. Linden illustrates how a collaborative mindset is vital with the story of Hurricane Katrina, where FEMA director Michael Brown thought his job was to manage FEMA and couldn’t control other agencies outside his span of control.  In contrast, his successor, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, saw his role as coordinating a huge network of agencies.  He did this by emphasizing transparency of information a ongoing communications.

It’s Difficult.  Linden covers all the tough parts of doing collaboration:  how do you create and sustain trust among the group’s members?  How do you share information?  How do you navigate the different organizational cultures that may be involved in a collaboration (for example, how do you. blend law enforcement and social workers on the same team)?  And how do you deal with difficult people?  He notes that “collaboration inevitably requires negotiation, give and take, and compromise.  Each is easier in the context of a trusting relationship.”  But you often face “huge egos, empire builders, information hoarders, and cultures that reinforce them.”  He offers examples, and techniques to help overcome these difficulties.

It’s Learnable.  The most encouraging part of Linden’s book is that collaborative mindsets are learnable.  He offers key collaborative factors (such as ensuring the appropriate people are at the table).  He defines the tasks and roles of champions and sponsors.  He offers tools and techniques.  He describes strategies for establishing commitment to a project.  And most importantly, he does all of this by using real-life case examples and not theory.  These examples are federal, state, local, non-profit and international in scope.  These include examples of co-locating operations, such as state fusion centers, and the use of data-driven approaches, such as Washington State’s GMAP initiative.

And why is Russ Linden passionate about collaboration?   He concludes his book with: “I am convinced that a collaborative mindset is the leadership characteristic most critical for dealing with the networked world of the twenty-first century.”  I agree!

Congress and Citizen Engagement

Earlier this week, the Pew Center’s survey on citizen trust in government shows trust in government has plummeted to record lows.  As if to support these findings, there were “gun rallies” in support of Second Amendment rights a few days ago.  And last week, there was a Tea Party rally demanding a smaller government. Last summer, there were angry town hall meetings across the country with members of Congress on health care reform. 

In parallel to this rise in grassroots citizen discontent with government is an active effort by President Obama to increase citizen engagement in their government.  His Open Government Initiative is beginning to take hold as agencies develop new initiatives and prepare detailed plans.  This Open Government trend is also being reflected at state and local levels.

And yesterday, it looks like Congress is taking notice.  The Congressional Management Foundation — a non-profit, non-partisan support group that helps individual members of Congress improve the management of their official offices – launched a new initiative to help Congress “listen to citizens and govern with their voices in mind.” 

It has created a Partnership for a More Perfect Union to “improve understanding through education, re-establishing trust, and providing innovative yet pragmatic tools to facilitate purposeful two-way communication.”  It will work not only with Congress but also with citizens and grassroots advocacy groups to “create meaningful civic engagement.”

This will include activities such as:

  • Serving as a repository for New Media research, training, and resources that will help both Congress and citizens communicate better on public policy issues.
  • Research and training on creating a “21st Century Town Hall” format that includes in-person, on-telephone, and on-line engagement.
  • Creating a mechanism, such as a code of conduct, that allows “participating grassroots practitioners to distinguish themselves as respected partners in the democratic dialogue.”
  • Continuing its sponsorship of the “Gold Mouse Award” Project to recognize congressional websites that provide a high degree of transparency and information.

Why is the Congressional Management Foundation doing this? In part, because of the nature of the political climate, but also because grassroots advocacy has grown so much in recent years because of the availability of technology. 

The Foundation found that “many congressional offices are suspicious of advocacy campaigns of identical form messages,” but the grassroots community argues “that the vast majority of communications are from constituents who perform a direction action.”  There is mistrust between the two that leads congressional staff to discount constituent messages, and this creates a gulf. 

This is then compounded in in-person town hall meetings where “there has been an alarming increase in incivility and dissatisfaction on the part of both Members and citizens,” with “meetings targeted by busloads of non-constituents with a goal of disrupting the meeting.”

The Partnership is pursuing a five-year agenda, beginning this year with a foundation of strong organizational development and several projects.  It will also recruit both staff and fellows, and partner with other organizations such as AmericaSpeaks and Fleishman-Hillard.  Next year, it will sponsor the first annual Conference on Effective Civic Dialogue.  My guess is that there will be lots of “lessons learned” from the upcoming congressional election campaigns!

White House Management Advisory Board

On Monday, President Obama signed an executive order creating a new White House advisory board to be populated by corporate executives who will provide cutting-edge best management practices to their government counterparts.

As noted by Government Executive’s Robert Brodsky, “The President’s Management Advisory Board will provide the White House and the President’s Management Council with strategic advice on matters related to federal productivity, technology and customer service.”  This advice will be largely directed to the existing President’s Management Council, comprised primarily of the deputy secretaries of the major federal departments.

The executive order says that the 18 members of the board, which will be chaired by Jeff Zients, the government’s Chief Performance Office, will be:

“ . . . appointed by the President from among distinguished citizens from outside the Federal Government who are qualified on the basis of a proven record of sound judgment in leading or governing large, complex, or innovative private sector corporations or entities and a wealth of top-level business experience in the areas of executive management, audit and finance, human resources and compensation, customer service, streamlining operations, and technology.”

This Board is one of a series of recommendations stemming from a January summit of corporate CEOs the White House sponsored.

The General Services Administration will host the Board, and there will be a full-time career executive director appointed.  The Board was granted a two-year lifespan.

As noted in an earlier blog posting, it might be an interesting idea to turn to employees for ideas, as well.  The Administration has created an initiative to support innovation awards and contests.  But it might also consider something like the Australians, who are creating a cadre of their top 200 career senior executives who would serve as resources to their version of the President’s Management Council to lead government-wide management reform initiatives.  Linking this cadre with the members of the advisory board could create an interesting dynamic, and the board’s executive director could then have a really fun job!

Using GIS to Increase Citizen Engagement

Federal agencies recently released their Open Government Plans on how they will actively engage citizens in agency decision-making efforts.  None, that I’ve seen in what I’ve read so far, are taking advantage of a growing trend to use geographic information systems (GIS) to increase citizen engagement.

This trend is growing mainly in local governments, according to a recent IBM Center report by Dr. Sukumar Ganapati, “Using Geographic Information Systems to Increase Citizen Engagement.”  There are some lessons the feds could learn!

Evolution of GIS.  Professor Ganapati traces the evolution of the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in government, with a focus on the use of GIS by local government. The current “third wave” of GIS, called “Geospatial Web 2.0 platforms,” has seen a dramatic increase in the use of GIS by citizens, such as obtaining transit and crime information. Professor Ganapati presents several case examples of how GIS is now being used by local governments across the nation.

At the local level, GIS is being used for a variety of functions that are beginning to change the citizen-government relationship:

Citizen-oriented transit information.  As cities and transit agencies post their real-time data sets on the web, it becomes possible to create web applications that reach across jurisdictions and different agencies.  Google Transit Trip Planner, for example, helps communities like Hampton Roads, Virginia, better plan their trips on public transportation, as well as Bing Maps, which provides current traffic and incident reports in cities like Miami, Florida.  These tools help empower citizens to decide how they get where they want to go!

Citizen relationship management.  Agencies have long used 311 systems to provide centralized non-emergency services, such as reporting potholes or accumulated trash.  But some cities, like Charlotte, NC, are integrating these onto maps on the web so they can be visualized.  Non-governmental services, such as See-Click-Fix are providing similar services, allowing citizens to report and rate the significance of problems found.

Citizen-volunteered GIS.  Web 2.0 services are allowing citizens to become directly engaged in co-producing services.  For example, OpenStreetMap is a free map of the world that can be edited by anybody to collaboratively map details in communities for crimes, environmental monitoring, parking, or even the use of stimulus monies!

Citizen Engagement via GIS.  Of special interest to Professor Ganapati is the potential use of GIS in reaching out to citizens to increase their participation in planning and decisionmaking. He concludes that, while progress has been slow in this area, there is great potential for government and other groups to use GIS to increase citizen participation.  For example, Portland, OR, used Google Maps to elicit public participation in the planning of the region’s High Capacity Transit System, allowing citizen to comment on, and make trade-offs between, different rail line scenarios.

At the federal level, the Census Bureau is using GIS mapping of mail-in 2010 census forms to rate each community’s participation rate.  In addition, GIS applications are being developed by non-governmental software developers in response to the “data transparency” initiative, Data.Gov.  For example, federally-provided data from the FAA and the National Weather Service are combined to provide travelers real-time information on flights, via FlyOnTime.com

Do you know of other examples worth highlighting?