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OPM and Innovation Challenges – Plus the 7 Gov Stories

Avatar of Christopher Dorobek
Christopher Dorobek

On GovLoop Insights’ DorobekINSIDER:

  • Innovation. It’s the latest buzzword making waves in government. But is there more to innovation than just hype? Has the government really embraced the idea of it? Or is it merely innovation for innovation’s sake? Philadelphia is embracing more than just the term innovation; they’ve just graduated the first class from the Municipal Innovation Academy. We talk to the man in charge, Andrew Buss.

You can find all of our programs online: DorobekINSIDER.com and GovLoop Insights at http://insights.govloop.com.

But up front: The challenges of government innovation – an OPM peek

Innovation is challenging in the best of circumstances. Layer the government challenges over it, and… well, we know.

That is one of the reasons why many of us were awaiting a report from the Government Accountability Office looking at the Office of Personnel Management’s innovative Innovation Lab. The report, Office of Personnel Management: Agency Needs to Improve Outcome Measures to Demonstrate the Value of Its Innovation Lab, seems fair and is fodder for those pushing government innovation. (You can read the story from NextGov: OPM Innovation Lab Can’t Say If It’s Actually Helpful, GAO Finds.)

GAO does a good job of describing the goals of the innovation lab:

“A distinct physical space with a set of policies for engaging people and using technology in problem solving. The goals of OPM’s innovation lab are to provide federal workers with 21st century skills in design-led innovation, such as intelligent risk-taking to develop new services, products, and processes.”

First: a few caveats.

First, OPM does not have a reputation for being the most innovative organization in the federal government. Often to the contrary. There have been notable changes in recent years, particularly under former director John Berry. Yet OPM’s reputation makes the Innovation Lab even more interesting and should garner the government’s HR organization with even more credit.

Second, GAO was instructed to look at the innovation lab by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa. That was a concern because, during his tenure, Issa has, at times, seemed more focused on scoring political points than on actually reforming government.

A third caveat: The innovation center was spurred, in part, by Matt Collier, a former OPMer who has since left government. Full disclosure: Collier is a friend. That being said, he became a friend because of his focus on innovation and his passion for wanting to stop the government insanity — his efforts to stop doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Furthermore, I interviewed Abby Wilson, who today is the director of the OPM Innovation Lab, on GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER when she was at the Luma Institute to talk about design thinking and innovation.

Finally, with all of that being said, the report seems fairly fair to me. (In these days when it seems there are very few organizations one can trust, GAO continues to be an organization that is focused on getting to the heart of issues.)

The report acknowledges what we all know: Innovation is difficult… difficult to show results… difficult to implement… difficult to bring about change… difficult to show clear results. But the report also notes that innovation is critical as the world changes quickly and agencies work to accomplish their missions… and do it with fewer resources.

The big concern coming out of the report is the challenge of changing culture — of building a cadre and a culture.

GAO’s recommendations, which I understand the staff in the Innovation Lab were already working on, are as follows:

GAO recommends that the Director of OPM should direct lab staff to 1) develop a mix of performance targets and measures to help them monitor and report on progress toward lab goals, and 2) build on existing efforts to share information with other agencies that have innovation labs.

Innovation is difficult — particularly in government. I hope this report helps government learn from the important pioneering efforts that are coming out of the Office of Personnel Management.

The SEVEN stories that impact your life

  1. Washington Business Journal: Number of new government security clearances trending down - “Including both initial clearances and renewals, the number of new security clearances has decreased by 9 percent since 2011, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.”

  2. Washington Post: House passes measure to ban bonuses for VA executives - “Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a co-sponsor of the proposal and a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the measure is needed because of “systematic leadership failures,” including preventable deaths at VA health centers, a backlog of longstanding disability claims and extensive delays for many of the department’s construction projects.”

  3. Federal News Radio: Six months later, contractors still feeling aftershocks of shutdown - “Large and small vendors say a mix of lost or lower revenues, delayed contract awards and request for proposals, less hiring and the trickledown effect to programs they support are among the main aftershocks of the first government shutdown since 1995-96.”

  4. GovExec: Bill would ban misbehaving feds from getting bonuses - “The legislation, introduced on Tuesday by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would prohibit agency heads from awarding bonuses to employees who could be fired or suspended for violating agency policy, or for doing something illegal that could land them in prison for more than a year.”

  5. Federal News Radio: DoD acquisition reform providing a few glimmers of progress - “In 2008, the average major DoD weapons system blew past its original cost estimate by 30 percent and took two years longer to deliver than it was supposed to. In 2013, for the first time in a decade, there were zero Nunn-McCurdy breaches, and the Government Accountability Office said 50 out of DoD’s 80 major programs actually reduced their costs, while 64 percent of them were able to find ways to buy more capability without additional funding.

  6. Associated Press: Top 2 Pentagon intelligence officials quitting - “Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and the DIA’s civilian deputy director, David Shedd, announced in a joint statement to the agency’s workforce that they plan to retire by early fall. They made no reference to their reasons.

  7. Washington Business Journal: Longtime DOD official joins CSC cybersecurity unit - “The former principal deputy chief information officer at the Department of Defense has joined Computer SciencesCorp., the Falls Church-based contractor said Monday.”

DorobekINSIDER water-cooler fodder… yes, we’re trying to help you make your water-cooler time better, too:

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