Enterprise Government: How the Next Administration Can Better Serve Citizens


In 2017, the next administration will set to work implementing the goals and priorities of the new President. Many of those priorities won’t line up neatly with the agency structure of the federal government, and achieving them will require that agencies work together as an “enterprise government” — collaborating and integrating programs and activities to achieve common goals and objectives.

Why Should the Next President Focus on Enterprise Government?

Most government agencies accomplish their mission through programs that are run within their bureaus and components; this program-centric view is reinforced by legal, budget and policy constraints.  Yet much of how the public interacts with one agency brings them into contact with other agencies – examples include health care, energy, food safety, financial reporting. Similarly, much of what government does has common elements that can be shared for cost efficiency and organizational effectiveness – examples include shared financial and IT services, or grants delivery.  For the many government activities that cross agency boundaries, taking an enterprise approach by strengthening cross-agency governance, improving collaboration, and using enterprise frameworks to build capacity to achieve cross-agency goals can improve outcomes, streamline operations, and lower costs.

Enterprise government takes two primary forms:

  • Collaborative government – efforts to work side-by-side toward a common goal (e.g. HUD / VA joint efforts to address veterans homelessness)
  • Integrated government –connecting agency organizations and processes to drive enterprise behavior (e.g. shared services)

Enterprise models can help the next Administration deliver on key priorities of the President, which typically involve multiple agencies and stakeholders.  Yet the leaders who arrive on Day One are surrounded by incentives to prioritize visibility and accountability within their agencies and programs. Generally, interagency approaches only receive attention as a second priority, after months or even years; for example, it was only in the second term of the current Administration that cross-agency priority goals drove real progress, in areas ranging from reducing homelessness among veterans to making Native American lands safer from crime.

A new Administration will benefit significantly by establishing early and active cross-agency structures that allow collaboration and integration, and recognizing the good work of leaders who embrace an enterprise approach to accomplishing key mission goals.  Moreover, an enterprise approach to governing can serve citizens with far more impact, and far less cost and burden, than when agencies act as independent agents. The next Administration can create fast success on priority mission goals by focusing – during transition planning and in the early days of the new term – on making enterprise government the norm rather than an exception.

Enterprise Government Roundtable

Developing policy and process that supports enterprise government takes a concerted effort, given the structural factors that naturally lead to program-specific actions. At our recent Roundtable, which was hosted by the Partnership for Public Service, career and political leaders from multiple Administrations joined other experts to discuss actions that could be taken in four areas to spur a government-wide approach to solving problems. Ranging across the discussion was a focus on how to make actions in these four areas successful:

  1. Developing Administration Strategic Objectives
  2. Evolving Role of Cross-agency Institutions
  3. Collaborating to Drive Mission Outcomes
  4. Integrating Mission Support


The Roundtable identified a number of challenges for the next Administration to address in order to implement these enablers effectively, including:

  •  Agencies must see a benefit from participating in enterprise initiatives. Agencies typically focus on their silos and self-contained operations because the direct benefit of an enterprise approach is unclear.  This demonstrates a need for senior leadership to overcome such embedded agency-specific pressure; any strategy should include an effort to communicate to departments how the enterprise approach would specifically benefit them.
  • Senior leadership buy-in is essential when advocating for the enterprise. Without the cabinet officials’ involvement, collaboration will fall by the wayside.  With cabinet officials focused collectively on key Administration priorities, agencies gain political cover to commit the resources and people that are required to collaborate — especially when these commitments could be viewed as diverting resources away from agency primary missions.
  • Enterprise activity is occurring within agencies, but growth beyond intra-agency integration is a challenge.  This scenario has evolved for several reasons, including:
    • Agencies are hesitant to share some services that they would rather keep in house and control.
    • Certain CIOs do not trust another agency to deliver needed services well.
    • Bifurcated funding streams do not create incentives to merge operations.
    •  Agencies are at different levels of maturity in integrating mission support:  some are quickly moving to shared services and integration, others lack capacity to move beyond their silos even when political will exists to support such a move.   
  • In a mission area where multiple agencies are involved in setting management priorities, stakeholders must devote considerable additional effort to develop a common solution. For example, to properly bring electronic health records into public health care delivery, HHS, VA and other relevant agencies must agree on how to protect information, transmit it to doctors, and enable easy access for customers.  Similar considerations come into play for other areas with overlapping jurisdiction, including help for the homeless and education.
  • Congress plays a key role in driving agency stovepipe behavior, which often mirrors authorization and appropriation divisions.  Without gaining support for enterprise activities from congressional committees and staff, Administration attempts to bring programs together that cross jurisdictions will often run up against an oversight structure that favors agency-specific approaches over cross-agency solutions.
  • Enterprise government requires a framework in place to improve collaboration early in an Administration, when a new cohort of appointees is nominated and confirmed.  Incoming political leaders often do not know about the tools and structures available to support collaboration, and it takes them too long to discover effective methods to work across organizations. New leaders need early clarity on how to use the cross-agency institutions around them to deliver on mission objectives.

Next week, we will discuss the key findings and recommendations in each of the four action areas.

Authors from the IBM Center for The Business of Government are part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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