Posts Tagged ‘shared services’

Inventory of Blog Entries

October 22, 2008

This is my 100th blog entry!  Thanks to our many readers and contributors.  While few people post comments on our entries, we get lots of emails and phone calls.  Also, thanks to the Library of Congress for asking to preserve the site as part of its 2008 election coverage.  It’s been fun.


I looked back to see if there were any themes to all the stuff I’ve been writing and thought this would be a good point to come up with a rough index, which I’ll periodically update:


 (Last Updated: December 23, 2008)


Blogs on “The Big Picture” — Where Is Government Reform Going?

Blogs on What the Campaigns Have Been Saying About Government Reform


Blogs on the History of Transitions


Blogs on the 2008 Transition Process

 Blogs on The Bush Administration’s Transition-Out Activities

 Blogs on Management Ideas for the Next Administration

 Blogs on Advice for the New Team

Blogs on What Other Groups Are Doing


I’ll expand this list over time, so you might want to bookmark this page and return to it when you might be looking for something particular.


Also, I’m getting so much stuff, I’ll start blogging more frequently, with shorter blogs.  Would like to see how that works for you. Let me know. 


What Does a 21st Century Government Look Like?

October 14, 2008

Senator Obama says we need to move from a 20th century government to a 21st century government.  Like Senator McCain, he is calling for a program-by-program review of the existing government.  But neither of them paint a picture of what a 21st century government might look like.

They should look to what the states are doing.  A recently released IBM Center report, on what state governments are doing to transform themselves, might be a place to start seeing what a 21st century government might look like.  The report, “Four Strategies for Transforming State Governance,” by the late Dr. Keon Chi (a long-time researcher for the Council of State Governments) describes a range of very interesting ideas – already in practice in state government — that might inspire their government reform agendas.

Chi identified four transformation strategies that he felt could be acted upon in a relatively short period of time without investing a great deal of additional resources and without partisan debates.  They are based on an assumption that states can transform themselves by using best practices developed and tested by other states as starting points rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel or replicate federal or private-sector management practices.

The four strategies that he felt can transform state governance are:  (1) anticipatory governance, (2) results-focused governance, (3) collaborative governance, and (4) transparent governance.  

Anticipatory Governance:  Anticipatory governance aims to shift from short-term decision-making to long-term and strategic planning.  Individual agency plans and objectives are swapped for statewide plans with shared visions and goals.  Successful anticipatory government initiatives include:

Minnesota 2020 Caucus.  A bi-partisan legislative caucus that foresees the policy and demographic challenges the state will face in the coming decades.

Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida.  The Commission provides annual reports to the legislature and Governor on issues related to population growth, infrastructure, natural resources, and natural disasters.

Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Task Force.  The task force’s plan charts a visible and lasting course for the Islands over the next four decades.

Virginia Performs.  Governor Tim Kaine initiated this program to empower agency heads to embrace the state’s existing results-focused system and prioritize performance.

At the federal level, there is no similar effort.  GAO has long called for a government-wide strategic plan, but this is probably unlikely to happen.  However, there is a non-profit initiative that could serve as a foundation for making the federal government more “anticipatory,” The State of the USA, Inc., a non-profit that is developing a website of statistical information that will be a nonpartisan resource for citizens and policymakers to see how well the US is performing in economic, social, and environmental areas.  It’s launch is set for early 2009.

Results-Focused Governance:  Results-focused governance focuses its policy formulation, execution and adjudication on measurable performance.  By reducing the focus on rules and process-oriented management, state governments become more entrepreneurial, flexible, and innovative.  Successful results-focused governance initiatives include:

Government Management Accountability and Performance (GMAP).  This disciplined method of performance management enables Washington State’s governor and agency heads to make speedy decisions and achieve measurable results in selected service areas.

Iowa’s Charter Agencies. This approach allows volunteer state agency managers to waive administrative rules in order to be more creative and efficient, in exchange for results.

Maryland’s StateStat.  Similar to GMAP, governor O’Malley regularly convenes agency heads to focus on achieving specific results.

Again, there is no parallel federal effort.  The Obama campaign has called for a “chief performance officer” reporting to the president.  Several federal agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, have created an “EPA-Stat,” but far more could be done.  Federal efforts to create “charter agencies,” which at the federal level were called “performance-based organizations,” have not had much success in being replicated.

Collaborative Governance:  Collaborative governance focuses on replacing silo-based organizational culture with inter-agency and inter-sector collaboration.  Instead of agency-specific databases, for example, states develop integrated information management systems.  Instead of fragmented structures with turf protection states consolidate structures and shared services.  Successful collaborative governance initiatives include:

Illinois Shared Services Program.  This project is transforming agency silos (agencies having their own back-office functions) into an enterprise framework (agencies sharing back-office functions).

National Center for Interstate Compacts.  The Center supports states in developing durable and adaptive tools for promoting and ensuring cooperative action among the states while avoiding federal intervention and preemption.

At the federal level, there has been a significant move over the past few years to develop cross-agency shared services.  This has been done around mission support functions, such as personnel, technology, and finance.  These are collectively called “lines of business” and have been under development for the past 4-5 years.  They offer both savings and collaboration opportunities.  There have also been a number of collaborative efforts in mission-focused areas, such as the development of common standards for electronic health records or state fusion centers for homeland security, but these efforts tend to be more episodic rather than a standard way of doing the government’s work.

Transparent Governance: Transparent governance aims to transform closed and inward administrative processes and multi-layered bureaucracy into open government with clear public access and citizen-friendly and responsive mechanisms.  Successful transparent governance initiatives include:

Georgia’s “Office of Customer Service” – Charged by the Governor with developing a uniform, statewide system for measuring results for more than executive agencies.

AmericaSpeaks – A non-profit that engages citizens through town hall meetings in addressing local, state, and national issues that range from developing municipal budgets to social security reform.

DC Government’s Data Warehouse and CapStat.  The District of Columbia has opted for radical transparency in sharing its operational data and how it acts on it with its citizens and employees.  It makes raw, real-time data feeds available, allowing non-government groups to use it in “mash ups” and other forms of data visualization.

Again, at the federal level, there have been some efforts along these lines, but certainly not a comprehensive approach.  The federal government recently increased transparency in tracking federal spending and both Senators Obama and McCain both vow more transparency if they are elected president.

What would you add?

Government Reform: Collaborative Perspective

August 21, 2008
John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of Government

John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of Government

A fourth perspective of what constitutes good public management, is what I dub the Collaborative perspective.  It is growing in practice and is increasingly reported in the academic literature as a new way of thinking about how large enterprises, or institutions, work. For an adherent to the Collaborative perspective, good public management would mean developing a clear set of common purposes and developing the institutional mechanisms to engage organizations and individuals in “peer-to-peer”-types of arrangements. It does not fit neatly in any of the three more accepted models described earlier.

As described by Professor Charles Heckscher, a “collaborative enterprise” is comprised of both a formal hierarchical network and a relatively formalized peer network. It operates both within a market and within a network of alliance relationships that are much like those that can evolve in the Civil Society perspective – extended relationships that cross hierarchical boundaries. In the public sector, this perspective has been developed in Canada as part of its “horizontal government” initiative and in the United Kingdom under its “joined up government” initiative. In the U.S., agencies like the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control are pioneering the Collaborative approach.

Part of the reason for the slow adoption rate of the Collaborative perspective in the U.S. has been the need to be responsive to diverse accountability and funding agents (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency is accountable to more than 70 congressional committees and subcommittees). Also, the career track of those who engage in collaborative efforts is still vague in comparison to the career track of employees who engage in traditional bureaucracies.

Collaborative organizations are centered on the knowledge and skills needed to address flexible tasks that are hard to define in advance. In contrast, the traditional hierarchical organization is product-oriented and addresses standardized and routine tasks that are predictable in nature.

The principal characteristics of a collaborative approach include:

  • * People who are interdependent with one another and are intolerant of those who do not pull their own weight.
  • * People who see “performance” as the most important attribute of contribution where the important question is not position or status but “what can you contribute to the mission?”
  • * Trust being based on the belief that everyone is working toward a collective goal.
  • * The central organizing principle is seen as the mission or collective purpose, not the agency or hierarchy.
  • * Flexible boundaries between levels of government, as well as between government private, and non-profit organizations, are good.

Central values in a collaborative approach to governance include:

  • * A focus on the capability for contribution, not an individual’s formal position in an organization.
  • * Dialogue and openness.
  • * Helpfulness towards others, often demonstrated by the transparent, or free, sharing of information
  • * Openness to the outside
  • * Embracing diversity of capabilities.

There are three sets of practices that help create a collaborative social infrastructure:

  • * Creating shared purpose, building and maintaining a unifying sense of purpose by fostering one-way and two-way dialogue – similar to the Civil Society perspective – and creating shared vision and value statements.
  • * Organizing and formalizing peer or associated relationships by creating linking roles between organizations; providing information transparency; using explicit, not implicit, processes and common platforms; developing negotiation skills and systems within agencies; and replacing informal personal relationships with systematic process management skills focused on performance and capability.
  • * Connecting these systems to the outside world by increasing planning and sensing efforts, developing planning and priority-setting approaches, and combining sensing and planning efforts.

Heckscher says that the collaborative approach challenges the values of both the hierarchical and market-based approaches:

“. . . . those who hold the value of democracy as primary will be dissatisfied with the collaborative model: it does not imply equal rights to power or processes of majority rule. . .. .it does involve a radical challenge to hierarchy.”

The use of power must be justified on the basis of common purpose, not position. The collaborative model is also not the same as meritocracy, because that implies that those with the most merit rise to power. Collaboration minimizes the concept of “position” and doesn’t have much use for the concept of general merit – it focuses instead on contribution.

Options the Next President Might Consider for Achieving
“Good Public Management” From a Collaborative Perspective

A president who subscribes to a Collaborative perspective might support initiatives such as:

  • * Continuing the development of the Lines of Business, shared services, and enterprise architecture initiatives to ensure a common administrative and technical backbone to support cross-organizational collaboration.
  • * Using the Key National Indicators Initiative as an impetus for identifying, creating consensus around, and organizing Administration priorities around outcomes.
  • * Extending the use of Presidential National Strategies as a way to articulate a government-wide focus on key priorities. National strategies are currently being used by the current Administration as a tool for pursuing outcomes that reach across federal agencies, as well as states, localities, and non-governmental organizations. A president in a future Administration would use them as the organizing building blocks for acting collaboratively on these strategies. For example, he or she might create a new White House Council – such as a National Performance Council – to guide nationwide outcome achievements in key national areas such as housing, healthcare, or environment. Its operations might be based on an adaptation of Baltimore’s Citi-stat or the Washington State “Government Management Accountability and Performance” system.
  • * Encouraging the use of Web 2.0 tools as a way of creating communities of practice and grass-roots action networks inside government, across agency boundaries, much like the Intelligence Community is doing today.

Government Reform: Market-Based Perspective

August 14, 2008
John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of Government

John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of Government

An advocate of the Market-Based perspective of government reform would see good public management as best done via a series of approaches that rely on competition, choice, incentives, and contracts, with an emphasis on performance measurement as an accountability tool. Adherents value the importance of achieving program outcomes over compliance with standardized administrative procedures.

According to academics, this perspective assumes that individuals are largely motivated by maximizing individual or organizational preferences, not necessarily serving the public good. They cite Madisons Federalist Paper 51, which describes the rationale behind the checks-and-balances provisions in the Constitution as supporting their view that individuals tend put their self-interests first.

Proponents also believe that the Executive Branch is, for practical purposes, not a unified system but more of a confederation of agencies, responsible jointly to both the President and the Congress. Governing a confederation, they believe, is best done through market-based approaches. Market-based adherents also believe that the act of governance is no longer solely the purview of government, that our worlds challenges have become so complex that they regularly reach across societal boundaries to other sectors for collaborative solutions.

Much like the traditionalists perspective, the Market-based perspective embraces a continuum that spans the ideological spectrum. At one end, privatization proponents support more external, private sector involvement by using approaches such as contracting out, competitive sourcing, and more top-down control over employee performance. At the other end, the reinvention proponents support the use of internal markets inside government, such as franchise funds, encourage employee empowerment to better serve customers, and support bottom-up entrepreneurial behaviors by employees to increase innovation.

The Privatization Perspective. In recent years, the privatization advocates in the U.S. have seen their end of the spectrum in the headlines. Proponents of the privatization perspective operate under the premise that government should not be the provider of any services that could be delivered commercially.

 “Privatization” for some is not defined as solely private sector ownership of a particular function but also private sector provision of services.  So this would include “outsourcing” of work to the private sector that could be, or has been, conducted by government workers. In this case, the decision to perform the work in the private sector has already been made and the only decision is:  which firm in the private sector can deliver the best services at the best price?

Privatization for some would also include “competitive sourcing” where functions that are commercial in nature that are currently being performed by civil servants would be competed between the public and private sectors. The work would then be awarded to whoever can perform the function at the least cost and best service.

The Reinvention Perspective. Advocates of the reinvention perspective promote adapting business practices to the public sector. In doing so, they make the following assumptions:

  • *Government works better if it is organized around baskets of “services and results” not the hierarchies of agencies and programs.
  • *Government services should be organized and sensitive to their customers.
  • *A results-orientation results in better management than the stewardship orientation reflected in traditional public administration.
  • *Accountability is largely driven via transparency and choice instead of hierarchy and inspection
  • *It attempts to break down operational stove-pipes in order to better focus on outcomes.

Likewise, the principal characteristics of a reinvention-oriented approach to good public management are:

  • * Set clear, central goals, policies, and oversight — then decentralize implementation.
  • * Pursue a customize response vs. one-size-fits-all; to do this requires pushing as much authority as practicable to the front line delivery agent, or reducing the distance between the center and the edge as much as possible.
  • * Use incentives in place of disincentives where possible (trust but verify)
  • * Place a greater reliance on risk management than on risk avoidance.
  • * Emphasize being performance-based rather than process-compliance focused in accountability and oversight.
  • * Separate policy and regulatory development from program implementation functions in order to increase the programmatic executive-level emphasis on implementation.

The tools or approaches used to manage in this perspective include:

  • * The use of principal-agent approaches, such as contracts between providers and service recipients, or between departments and agencies, or departmental secretaries and agency heads.
  • * The use of performance-based pay for employees, performance-based contracting for contractors, and performance-based budgets for resource allocation.
  • * The use of competition and choice in the delivery of services, especially services which can be delivered by more than one agency or by the private or non-profit sectors.
  • * The use of transparency as a way of encouraging the use of fact-based decisions and creating bottom-up rather than top-down accountability for performance. This would include the use of activity-based costing, performance budgeting, and performance reporting.

These approaches combine a mix of: disaggregating large bureaucracies into smaller, operational components; the use of competition both inside government and between public and private sectors to define efficiency; and the use of incentives to leverage action. For example, performance-based pay, performance-based contracting, and performance budgeting all attempt to leverage results-oriented actions through incentives, not compliance-based rules.

When applied within the government for its internal management, this set of approaches would be reflected in initiatives similar to those prevalent in the Clinton Administrations reinventing government initiative such as an emphasis on customer service, reducing bureaucratic layers and processes, the creation of franchise funds, and empowering employees to focus on performance and results. In the George W. Bush administration, initiatives included the expanded use of shared administrative services and performance-based pay for the Senior Executive Service.

Options the Next President Might Consider for Achieving Good Public Management from a Market-Based Perspective

A president who subscribes to a Market-Based perspective might adopt the following kinds of approaches to improve his or her institutional management capacity:

  • * Continue efforts to move toward a performance-based pay system for the civil service, based on lessons learned from recent pilots and the implementation of a similar system among Senior Executives.
  • * Expand efforts to move toward a performance-based contracting environment.
  • * Increase the use of performance-based budgeting, linking more tightly decisions on program funding to how well the programs perform, especially in relation to other programs providing similar services. This might include the increased use of the OMB Program Assessment Rating Tool when making budgeting decisions.
  • * Resurrect the use of Performance-Based Organizations as a way of focusing improved performance in specific governmental functions that are customer-service based and are not highly interdependent across other agencies for success.
  • * Institute government-wide business case assessments of all key functions, along the lines of the British governments value for money initiative in order to determine which functions provide value to their customers.
  • * Continue competitive sourcing efforts, or adapt the British governments competitive tendering initiative.

The Back Office

November 20, 2007


I attended a recent meeting of federal agency budget analysts and came away elated (okay, it doesn’t take much).  The budget community is now actively engaged in collaborating across agencies!  Now this is significant.  The financial, audit, and personnel communities have been actively collaborating for years, but this is a big step for the budget community.

Why is this important for any President?

An important lesson from the 1990s was that the back office functions (sometimes called the business support operations) have to be able to collaborate across agency boundaries if policy makers want mission functions to effectively collaborate.  So if the President wants cross-agency attention on big national challenges, he or she has to ensure someone is tending to cross-agency efforts behind the scenes.

The classic example was the effort to have Defense and Veterans health care systems to co-locate and jointly deliver services to active military and retired veterans in the same location.  A pilot hospital out West was trumpeted as a success story, but when visited, there was a taped line across the hallway – one side delivered health care to the military, the other side delivered health care to veterans.  When asked why, it became clear that the back office functions were not integrated and that co-mingling services might actually endanger the health of the patients.  Why?  Well, the pharmaceutical codes, physician certifications, and medical protocols were different.  They could not jointly deliver medical services until they first integrated the back office functions.  The lesson: you need to align back office functions if you want mission-oriented functions aligned.  The Defense Department recognizes this and has invested heavily in attempts to integrate its 5,000 different business functions via its Business Transformation Agency.

About six years ago, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) launched several efforts to begin to align selected back office functions across all federal agencies.  The driving motivation seemed to have been to reduce costs (initial estimates were $10 billion in savings), not necessarily increase collaboration.  A quick analysis had shown that multiple agencies were investing in the same systems for finance, personnel, etc.  The OMB mantra was “buy once, use many times.”  

Federal Enterprise Architecture.  The first effort was targeted at aligning technology and transaction processes. This effort is called the Federal Enterprise Architecture.  Its ambitious goal is to create a framework for government services that shows their interrelationships in ways that drive common standards, inform investments in systems, and leverage electronic delivery of services. 

Lines of Business.  The second major effort to align back office functions is the Lines of Business initiative.  This effort is attempting to: (a) develop common standards and processes in nine specific functional areas such as human capital, financial management, budget, and (b) offer shared services around those functional areas where cross-agency service delivery makes sense.  There is an obvious interrelationship with the Federal Enterprise Architecture effort.

Each of the Lines of Business initiatives has developed its own governance structure comprised of staff from across the government and each has its own executive “portfolio manager” and an agency-level “managing partner.”  So for example, the portfolio manager for the Budget Formulation and Execution Line of Business is in OMB and the program manager is in the Department of Education’s budget office.  The Budget Line of Effort has created a collaborative community across the government where members share best practices, work together on data calls from OMB, and are beginning to define and develop common processes via an invitation-only wiki that has more than 5,000 members.

These various collaborative communities are making amazing progress in knitting together back office functions across the government. This not only can save money by reducing duplication, but it has an important role in increasing mission-related collaboration.   However, collaborative networks like these tend to be fragile – they are often based on interpersonal relationships and goodwill.  These are put at risk in any change of Administration.  So a challenge for the next President is to make sure these efforts do not inadvertently stall out.