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Washington Update: Budget provides path to continuity

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Subscribe to Washington UpdateIn his State of the Union address, President Obama made it clear that he won’t have his legacy defined by his final year in office, but by where the country goes in the years to come. That notion has carried over to his final budget proposal to Congress.

Obama reflects on the accomplishments of his presidency, but quickly pivots to the future. “This budget is not about looking back at the road we have traveled,” he says. “It is about looking forward.” He goes on to outline a number of initiatives aimed at achieving a “future of opportunity and security” for all American families.

In this Washington Update, Global Public Sector Director David Haun specifically examines the president’s management agenda within the 2017 budget and explores how it can affect our government and nation moving forward.

The management agenda
Every administration establishes a management agenda that generally includes the same essential components: HR, IT, procurement/acquisition, property management, financial management and service to the public. Across all of these areas is a call for better evaluation of performance based on the evidence — what works and what doesn’t and how do we fix it.
 
“Shortly after I joined the government in 1980, the Reagan administration was transitioning in and announced its management agenda: Reform ’88,” said Haun.  “Interestingly, it included initiatives in all these areas. And in every administration since, the management agenda, while described differently, has focused on these same functions.”
 
The Obama administration’s management agenda is no different. It is organized around the four themes of effectiveness, efficiency, economic growth, and people and culture, but includes initiatives in all of the aforementioned areas.

Preserving continuity
The management agenda outlined in the 2017 budget mirrors its predecessors because many of the initiatives included are already underway.

“This is good,” Haun said. “Change takes time and requires a long-term sustained effort from the top to help departments and agencies get resources and make change a priority. Too often, good initiatives don’t get implemented because management’s attention wanes or they get distracted or folks ‘wait out’ the current leadership and bet on a new agenda that is more to their liking.”

The looming danger for management reform is that, regardless of who is elected, a new administration tends to replace the previous administration’s agenda with a “new-and-improved” management agenda. This new agenda will likely include initiatives in all the same areas, but the process may stop many of the reform efforts underway, often unintentionally, in the name of creating a new brand.

“We need to encourage the next administration to continue the management improvement initiatives — rename or rebrand, if necessary, to stamp the approval of the new administration — but continue what is underway,” said Haun. “The new administration may have additional priorities or may want to tweak what is currently in place, but the goal should be to maintain as much continuity and momentum as possible. Management agendas are hardly partisan, rather they are simply ‘good government’ initiatives intended to make government more efficient and effective. No one opposes this goal. Real recognition comes with achieving the reform, not just announcing the initiative.”

What’s new for 2017
There are several new initiatives in the 2017 budget’s management agenda that are worth noting. The most significant new initiative is the announcement of the Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP). Responding to data breaches at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the administration undertook a government-wide assessment of IT systems and their vulnerabilities. The results have identified 3 areas that need attention — outdated technology, fragmented governance and workforce gaps. The CNAP announces new initiatives to address these findings.

  • A new $3 billion revolving fund to help agencies replace old legacy systems. A full 70% of IT spending is to maintain legacy systems, many of which are difficult if not impossible to protect from cyberattack.
  • More money for the Department of Homeland Security to expand continuous diagnostics and mitigation of IT systems across the government and to better coordinate and centralize IT networks for smaller agencies.
  • Initiatives to enhance the ability of the government to hire and retain cyberexperts — Cybercorps, Cybersecurity Curriculum, and grants for academic institutions to house National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity.

“Two other new initiatives include an initiative to better leverage government buying through category management,” said Haun. “This initiative is intended to better manage government buying of goods and service ($450 billion per year) by looking across departments and agencies’ buying by commodity or service and driving government-wide solutions and standards when competing and purchasing. This will lower costs and improve competition.”

The budget also highlights the reform of the federal background investigation process. This too grew out of the OPM data breach, but is focused on revamping the government’s background investigation systems. The OPM system needed replacement, but improved coordination across the government on background investigations is an added bonus that makes sense and saves money.

Looking forward
“The needs identified in these initiatives are real and deserve Congress’s attention,” said Haun. “In the 35 years I worked for the government it is amazing to me that we are still grappling with many of the same management issues we faced in the early ’80s. While many agencies have made real progress and are more efficient and effective today, many still have a long way to go. I suspect this will always be the case, but it shouldn’t reduce our resolve to keep management improvement a priority from both a government-wide and agency-specific perspective.”