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What is the Future of Federal Workforce…?

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Charlie Tierney

My first post on GovLoop! I feel like one of those talk-radio listeners who finally calls in “first time, long time.”

Here goes -

President Obama remarked in the last State of the Union Address that the last time the federal government was restructured was in the age of black and white TV. You may be able to debate the facts behind this statement, but ‘perceptually’ this statement rings true. The government is slow to change, even despite all of the change (technology, demographics, how we work, etc.) that is happening in the world today there is one thing that has remained relatively free of change. That is how the government workforce is structured.

For the government to take advantage in the advances in technology, the type of work we do today, and how we do it needs to become more flexible. Without flexibility and adaptation even the best workforce plans may fail to anticipate new trends or challenges.

At Deloitte Consulting’s GovLab (Twitter: @govlab), we thought that to become more flexible the government needed to adopt a new organizational model for its workers, and through our research we came up with one. Our way is called Fed Cloud!

In GovLab we use the term cloud to mean a cloud of government workers who are not tied to any one agency. The cloud refers to a pool of employees that can be tapped when your objective needs require and that can work across agency boundaries in their area of expertise.

The concept of cloud labor is not all together new. Many private companies leverage cloud labor concepts to complete internal projects. Amazon.com has set up a cloud labor platform, called Mechanical Turk, which enables people to assign small segmented work tasks to users. Cloud labor concepts can also be seen in Finland in that country’s National Library project where “workers” simply play a game to help transform the country’s archives into digitized searchable text.

Even forward-thinking organizations in the US Federal government are using new types of “cloud” labor. The office of eDiplomacy at the Department of State has set up a portal for students around the world to help the Department of State complete tasks.

Fed Cloud is more than just micro tasks and outsourced labor. It is part of a three pronged structure of government that consists of government-wide shared services, thin mission-organized agencies made up of policy and subject matter experts as well as front-line service employees, and a cloud of shared labor that helps government organization’s achieve their missions.


Now you might be thinking to yourself…this will never work. Well don’t worry you are not alone in that thought, we spent plenty of time researching all of the obstacles and roadblocks that stand in the way. We even came up with a list. All of these reasons may be valid, but given how it is increasingly hard to predict the future, and with all of the changing work trends and challenges facing the federal government something must be done to be able to attract and retain a workforce that can solve tomorrow’s challenges.

We think our idea is a good place to start from…but don’t take my word for it, come read our report and see for yourself. www.deloitte.com/us/fedcloud

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22 Comments

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Like this idea a lot. In many ways, there are interagency teams and short-term assignments that allow government to function in this fashion. But I think there could be an even greater effort to form innovative teams to bring fresh energy to the toughest problems – the best people from any agency that can address a particular challenge. Share examples if you have them!

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Allison Primack

I also think this is a cool idea. Would these Fed Cloud workers have any specialization on subject matter, or would they be completely interchangeable between agencies?

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Charlie Tierney

Allison, great question. The idea would be that cloud workers could self-select by specialty or area of expertise. E.g., Deep performance management experience, but across a number of different areas (health, housing, security, etc.) vs. I am a transportation security expert and this could apply to a number of different agency missions. Check out the report for more information and future case studies.

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William D. Eggers

All,

Thanks for the comments.

Allison, cloud workers would be quite diverse. Some might be specialists in performance management or data analytics. Others might specialize in something like new learning methods and training or cybersecurity. Others might have more functional expertise that could be used across agencies. You could imagine a corps of workers with national security experience who could be pulled into civilian or defense efforts.

Bill Eggers

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Jay Johnson

Love the concept. Perfect for project based work, that most of the working world seems to be moving to. I’ve always thought that inter-disciplinary thinking is the best way to come up with innovative solutions to complex problems.

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Carol Davison

The Navy was doing something like this 8 years ago. Employees may be assigned to the Logistics, Contracting, or Finance Directorate but all work together on ad hoc assignments to a particular projector for its duration. Each directorate is reinbursed for its employee’s labor. The only quesiton is who appraises them?

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Peter Sperry

This could have a great deal of potential. I can see where it would help combat employee burnout by allowing people in the cloud to work on a wider variety of more interesting projects. It could also reduce overall headcount if cloud based workers could be scheduled in a way that reduces down time.

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John Janek

I really like this idea (I’ve been proposing something similar for a year or so now, finding better ways of matching resources with mission need). In addition to being a good idea, it’s also remarkably similar to how open source software projects operate (or, really, any volunteer group). Being a State employee, it’s interesting to see the association with the VSFS project and this idea – micro-tasking and matrix project management are really two entirely different categories of widget, although I like the way the fedcloud idea brings them together.

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Some additional thoughts (and some observations from personal experience):

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The proposal talks about changing employment structure (and I’d assume related compensation packages) to meet the future need. I’d like to see more thoughts on this. Do you approach it from a free-market perspective (e.g. every Fed becomes more or less a free-agent?)? Does a single agency become responsible for holding the leashes? Although the paper clearly identifies that the current system can’t cope with the strain something like FedCloud would exert, it doesn’t seem to clearly offer an alternative.

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Related to compensation structures – now that everyone is lumped into some essentially free-market service micro-economy, how do you provide for an efficient, effective way of identifying and assigning talent? If I need the BEST project manager available, how do I find this person? How much does s/he cost (or is there even a difference)? And most importantly – how do I provide effective and critical feedback so that her/his performance on this project will have substantive value to her/his career (and thus make them a major stakeholder). Without defined supervisory channels, this last point seems to be a keystone for any matrix or fluid workforce model.

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Finally – how do you achieve buy-in? The federal service (collectively) has spent decades now building a long list of knowns – who your agency is. Who your clients are. Who your supervisor is. Trying to impact that infrastructure carries with it the heavy burden that probably nothing short of presidential or secretarial directive can actually achieve. Is this sort of thing even on OMB’s radar?

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Great idea, though, I’ll be interested in learning how it continues to evolve.

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Carol Davison

In response to my quesiton of who appraises them: employees bill x directorate for the hours of work performed. Each directorate gives input on the employee’s appraise in accordance with the percentage of time they worked for them.

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Steve Sanders

Now let’s throw in the issue of security clearances!! If the project is classified there are a whole different set of issues that get added to the mix; where do you work?; who certifies the environment, the computers, etc?; who pays for all of that overhead? who has security oversight (does my agency really trust your agency)? So many issues that could prevent this great idea from coming to fruition – unless the directive comes from high enough in the government. Sorry, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Julie Chase

@Steve…a DoD, DoN employee, you’ve got that right. Cloud computing is wonderful, but is it “secure”? Does the Fed want “free agents” floating around on a whim with no thought of security? My work computer now, is very limited….no downloading, no thumb drives, if want an external hard drive you have climb a mountain of paper, your organization has to have the budget for it, it has to have some anti hack software added to it, bleh, not worth the bother. It takes over 6 months to order additional hardware…….ordering software is a nightmare due to all the “security gauntlets” that have to be run through. I’m with you Steve, I’m not holding my breath.

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Charlie Tierney

Carol, great question on appraisals! Some of our initial research explored the possibility of leveraging practices seen in the commercial side of the house with a greater emphasis on 360 appraisals and peer ratings for performance measures. We also explored the idea that ratings would come from the thin agency cloud liaisons or the cloud team managers on a project by project basis vice a year-end/annual basis.

John, to attain buy-in I think one of the first things to do would be to pilot some of the ideas within a single agency (take the first steps). 1. build collaboration spaces where people from different areas can come together, 2. rotate people more freely between departments and directorates (different from applying to VA), start a volunteer cloud (let workers work on different tasks outside of their AOR), pilot a cloud between departments (with a task system or work list that need to be accomplished).

Steve and Julie, you are absolutely right about the clearance challenges, but that is not to say that the clearances themselves can’t be fuel for the fire rather than a deterrent. The project for national security reform is calling for greater rotation between law enforcement and the various intel agencies, especially that share clearance requirements. We have also included a sample case study in the report’s appendix that paints a picture of how people from different agencies but with the same level of clearance and need to know can work together.

Either way, we know there are many challenges to overcome for something like this to become a reality but that does not mean that the ideas aren’t ones to try and build upon, nor are the trends something that will be easily reversed or ignored. I love the back and forth and I hope more great ideas can come to the forefront so that we can continue exploring what could be possible.

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Michael Lawyer

The Fedcloud of employees would probably be hosted by whichever agency moved first to establish it, who would be ultimately responsible for hiring, qualifying, clearing and other paperwork. They would then bill out to other agencies as folks were used. If it could be accessed through the contracting portion of other agencies budget it could actually be self funding.

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Nateria Dickey

Very interesting concept! This is the first I have heard of this idea. I like the flexibility and diverse opportunities it could offer the workforce while at the same time leaning down waste by eliminating redundancies. Thanks for posting.

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Charlie Tierney

Michael, that is a great point thanks for sharing. Some of the push back we received when coming up with the ideas in the paper had to deal specifically with how government agencies already provide services to others and that true government-wide shared services would not be able to flourish. Every agency believes their employee population is unique and that it must support them through their own in-house service/cost centers. That said, as increased budgetary pressures force agencies to make tough decisions you may see a new look an redundant cost centers across government and how they can be declined (similar to the views on what to do with all of the post offices around the country that have little traffic, can they be turned into ‘one stop shops’ for government services). If an agency could get out in front it could turn their own cost centers into profit centers and need to worry less about how it is funded.

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Caryn Wesner-Early

Sounds perfect for librarians! Most of us have broad knowledge about how to find information, rather than deep knowledge about how to use it. Many information-gathering jobs which are probably replicated several times across the government could be centralized, allowing the information to be gathered once, and analyzed and applied many times, depending on need. I’ll keep an eye on this idea.

Caryn Wesner-Early

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Noha Gaber

Very cool concept! I’m working on something very similar at EPA. But I was wondering if you have done an analysis of the IT infrastructure requirements for a Fed Cloud? It appears that we would we all have to be on the same system “GovConnect” to find the cloud workers to form a team. Once a team is formed, how will the team members be able to work together? What types of collaboration tools would they need? Where will the results of the team’s work be housed so it is accessible by others in the Fed Cloud?

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