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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Chances to Innovate

Two departments received special authorities this past year that are intended to improve their abilities to manage.  It will be interesting to watch to see how they use these authorities.  If these agencies can demonstrate success, then there’s a good chance that Congress might extend these authorities to other agencies.

HUD’s  One Percent Set-Aside for Transformation. The fiscal year 2010 budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development was not approved until mid-December.  Its budget, though, had an innovative provision allowing Secretary Shaun Donovan to set aside a total of about one percent of the department’s budget (nearly $230 million) to support a new “transformation initiative.”

The monies are to be used in four areas that have been historically underfunded in HUD as well as most other agencies:

  • Research, evaluation, and program metrics
  • Program demonstrations
  • Technical assistance and capacity building
  • Information technology

VA Forward Funding Bill. About 20 years ago, the British began to fund their agencies’ administrative budgets in three-year rolling increments.  The idea was that a stable budget environment would allow better resource allocation and spending.  This idea was adopted by Vice President Gore’s reinventing government initiative but went no where.

The idea, however, has finally returned, and the first agency to benefit is the Department of Veterans Affairs.  In mid-October, Congress authorized VA to budget its medical accounts a year in advance.  As a result, VA hospitals can plan their resources for a two-year period instead of the typical one-year that most other agencies face.

I’ll provide more details about each of these two opportunities to innovate in subsequent blogs. . . .

Health Care Reform Implementation (Part 2)

A series of presentations at the annual conference  of the National Academy of Public Administration focused on the complicated management challenges all levels of government will be facing upon the passage of any health care reform legislation.  As one participant noted: “There’s too much of a view that programs are self-executing and you just need more inspectors general and audits. . . that happened with the Recovery Act.”  The consensus seemed to be that this assumption clearly won’t work for health care reform!

Federal challenges. As Congress debates the shape of the health care reform legislation, there are a number of administrative management issues where seasoned executives in federal agencies might want to begin thinking through.  The Department of Health and Human Services might be a logical home for such a task force, but other agencies, like Labor, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, and Defense might play important roles as well.  And someone would need to represent agencies that don’t exist yet, like the proposed Medical Choices Administration.

Even if specific policy provisions are not yet defined for the health care initiative, certain tasks can be undertaken right away, for example:

  • identifying a team of top career talent that have the experience of implementing big programs,
  • defining competencies and skills needed to staff potential programs,
  • creating expedited hiring and procurement authorities,
  • gaining authority to operate streamlined regulatory and advisory processes, and
  • developing the infrastructure for collaborative cross-agency networks.
  • (feel free to add to this list!)

State-local challenges. As health care coverage is expanded for low income citizens, state governments will be challenged in ramping up their existing programs.  Depending on the legislation enacted, the enrollment in state Medicaid programs could increase by about 12 million.  This will place a huge burden on state enrollment and administrative processes.  Likely concerns about potential program abuses may increase oversight costs, or at least complicate implementation efforts.

Likewise, if the proposals to create health insurance exchanges are enacted, creating new administrative structures in each state will be challenging.  The Senate bill delays implementation until 2014, but even then it would be challenging to design them, enact the regulations, educate the state providers, hire the needed staff, educate the new enrollees, and conduct the enrollment process.  Any implementation strategy would involve federal, state, local, non-profit, and for-profit stakeholders.

At the state level, fortunately, some are already thinking about implementation challenges.  For example, Alan Weil of the National Academy for State Health Policy, has developed several guides that lay out both strategic and topic-specific steps that need to be considered. One report, “Supporting State Policymakers’ Implementation of Federal Health Reform,” could serve as a useful checklist for federal implementers!

NOTE: A subsequent Gov Exec article on concerns about implementing health care reform cites a NAPA  report issued July 2009 recommending quick action on putting attention on seven specific administrative areas important to implementing any health care reform.  That report is titled “Administrative Solutions in Health Reform.”