Labor-Management Forums and Performance

Some things can move fast in bureaucracies!  President Obama signed Executive Order 13522, “Creating Labor-Management Forums to Improve Delivery of Government Services,” in early December to resurrect the labor-management partnerships from the Clinton era. OMB guidance on developing agency implementation plans came out a few weeks later.  To date, a national council has been created – and held substantive meetings – and 50 agencies have submitted plans to the Council on how they are going to implement the Order.  The Council reviewed the plans last month and sent half of them back for revisions, which are due later this week.

The E.O. is framed around an appealing premise: “Federal employees and their union representatives are an essential source of front-line ideas and information about the realities of delivering Government services to the American people.”   The forums are to be “nonadversarial” and comprised of managers, employees, and employees’ union representatives.

OMB guidance also clarifies that the effort is intended to focus the role of these forums on achieving measurable results that align with agencies’ missions and strategic goals.

What is in the E.O.? The E.O. says agencies will work with unions to:

  • Establish, or adapt, existing department- or agency-level labor-management forums (LMFs) “at appropriate levels in their organizations.
  • Allow employees and their union representatives to have pre-decisional involvement in workplace matters “to the fullest extent practicable.”
  • Evaluate and document changes in employee satisfaction, manager satisfaction, and organizational performance resulting from LMFs
  • Develop written implementation plans, which were due March 9th..

These plans are expected to describe:

  • the process the Agency will undertake to design and implement LMFs at appropriate levels within the Agency;
  • the process the LMF will undertake to develop a limited number of mission-linked or process-improving performance goals;  and
  • a plan for developing Agency and/or bargaining unit-specific metrics to monitor progress toward these goals and performance trends in key areas such as labor-management satisfaction, productivity gains, cost savings, and other measures as identified by the relevant LMF participants.

What Are Some of the Best Practices Related to Performance?

The Council has identified some best practices related to improving agency performance, to date. For example:

  • In the area of mission-linked or process-improving performance goals, the Department of Education says it will adopt metrics from the 2008 federal human capital survey and identify mission and process goals after receiving input from lower level forums and joint work groups.
  • Veterans Affairs says it will use annual employee survey and labor-management collaboration to develop metrics.
  • the National Credit Union Administration is the first national partnership agreement under the new EO .  In it, all parties have  agreed to bargain over “(b)(1)” issues (which define the scope of bargaining), regarding the methods and means of performing work.

Probably one of the best plans so far is the one developed by the Department of Homeland Security.  Its plan establishes a good overall framework for engagement and commits to conducting a baseline assessment of the Department’s labor-management relations by September 2010.

What’s Next?

Agencies will need to submit a report on their progress by the end of the year.  The E.O. sunsets in December 2011, so there is pressure on all sides to demonstrate its value in contributing to measurable progress toward improving government services!

Have you heard anything in your agency about the forums?

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Virtual USA and Web 2.0

I’ve seen a number of intersting mapping applications being developed “on the ground” that engage citizens in a collaborative efforts to provide details about their communities.  The most common of these is OpenStreetMap.org, which advertises itself as an editable map of the world.

But did you know the federal government is doing something simlar on a grand scale?  It’s a participatory effort between federal, state, and local governments called “Virtual USA.”  This effort, according to a Federal News Radio interview of David Boyd in the Department of Homeland Security, is an effort to integrate federal, state, local, and other information into one place to help first responders in emergencies to act more quickly. 

According to a DHS fact sheet, the goal is to integrate existing data, engaging everyone, to produce a common operating picture in the event of an emergency.

Several states have successfully pioneered such a system.  The most well-known is Virtual Alabama.  In Alabama, officials are able to visualize on a map real-time emergency information. This information includes 3D information, building plans for public buildings such as schools, the location of video surveillence cameras, fire plugs, power lines, water mains, and the topography of watersheds to determine areas that might flood or the potential flow of an oil spill.

According to Boyd, the Department is now entering the second phase of its project, by piloting the system in eight states (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia and Tennessee).

This is an interesting experiment in Open Government, where government agencies share with each other!  Virginia’s version of the project reduced response times to accidents involving hazardous materials by 70 percent, so this is more than just another Web 2.0 “toy!”

The IBM Center will be coming out with a new report shortly on evolving uses of Geographic Information Systems.  So more on this later. . . .

Using Czars to Govern

Czar Nicholas IIThe media, and some members of Congress, continue to focus on President Obama’s use of “czars.”  An article today by the Wall Street Journal’s Neil King examines how this dust-up highlights the ongoing challenge of how government is increasingly facing problems that reach across traditional agency and program boundaries.  These problems include food safety, climate change, and the Recovery Act.  There is no accepted institutional mechanism to manage these problems and President Obama is using a pragmatic approach – appointing someone to be in charge on his behalf.

The media is focused on this particular management tool – the use of “czars” – and not the management challenge of how do you act on problems that cut across boundaries.  Professor Don Kettl predicted this growing conundrum in his book, “The Next Government of the United States,” where he notes that: “The importance of boundary spanning . . .  suggests a new approach for government – an approach that democratizes the process by spreading participation, privatizes government by relying more on nongovernmental partners, governmentalizes the private sector by drawing its organizations more into strong public roles, and ultimately challenges the framework of American democratic institutions.”

This is a real governance challenge.  But it is one that past presidents and other countries have faced as well.  As a result, there are several different models, other than “czars,” for addressing cross-cutting challenges:

Reorganize.  The traditional model is to reorganize government agencies and programs around a common mission or outcome.  This approach is cumbersome and does not readily reflect a continually changing world.  Examples of this approach in recent years:  the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

National strategies.  About a decade ago, the White House began to use “national strategies,” mainly in national and homeland security policy areas.  Under this approach, the President issues a “strategy” that provides an overarching strategic approach to addressing a particular cross-cutting issue.  Examples include:  the National Homeland Security Strategy, the Pandemic Flu Strategy, the National CyberSecurity Strategy. Sometimes someone was in charge (a “czar?”) and sometimes it was just a framework.

Performance-Stat.  Also about a decade ago, state and local governments adopted an approach initially piloted in the New York City Police Department called “CompStat.”   CompStat is a management approach that regularly brings together top leaders and managers to work regularly together to use fact-based information to address operational issues reaching across agency boundaries.  This approach, under various names, has been adopted in places such as: Baltimore (Citi-Stat), Maryland State Government (State-Stat), and Washington State (Government Management Accountability and Performance).  It could be adapted to the federal level, as well.

Delivery Unit.  Developed in 2001 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, this approach is a variation of Performance-State, but focuses on strategic issues.  Blair identified 20 key outcomes that he wanted to achieve in his term in office, set measurable targets around each outcome, and charged his staff with ensuring strategies were in place and progress was tracked.  This approach has been recently adopted in the State of Maryland to supplement its StateStat efforts.

President Obama could use a mix of these approaches, including the use of czars.  He has already designated a “chief performance officer” who would be the logical focal point for coordinating these various cross-cutting initiatives.  However, this does not address one of the concerns raised by Congress:  how does Congress ensure accountability?

A Congressional Performance Resolution?  Congressional jurisdiction is organized around the traditional agency and program paradigm.  As Kettl notes, this paradigm is increasingly ineffective in addressing non-routine governmental functions.   So how can Congress be an effective player?  One recommendation offered by the Government Accountability Office is for Congress to adopt a “performance resolution,” similar to the existing budget resolution.  A performance resolution would be organized around major national outcomes.  It might parallel presidential “national strategies.” But it would, like the national strategies, define who is responsible for action on different elements of a broader agenda.  It also means that Congress would not have to reorganize its committee structure in order to become an effective player in cross-governmental challenges.