It is important for your agency priorities to be in sync with the priorities of the people of your jurisdiction – not just your direct customers but generally the people of your jurisdiction. Why is this especially important now? The circumstances of our constituents may have recently changed or are about to change. There are many recent social, revenue, demographic and other influences that may well affect their priorities. Besides, it is always good to communicate with your constituents.
First, remember that much in the lives of the people in our jurisdictions have little to do with the work our government agencies do. Taxes are not their only expenses. Expenses are not the only challenges they face. Our regulations are not the only difficult things they need to understand. However, to the extent our agencies affect their lives, we need to respect the importance of the issues they are facing, whether or not those issues directly affect the work we do.
Here are some examples of influences that might affect their and – thus maybe your own – priorities:
There are over 326 million people in the USA, and less than one percent of them watch cable news on a regular basis. The reality is that our constituents get their information from a wide variety of sources. About ten times as many people per day view a Wikipedia page than view all cable news shows combined. How current is the information about the work your agency does in Wikipedia?
Constituents know how to search for information when they need it. They are very capable of getting information directly from your agency any number of ways, when they need it. When you hold dialogue with your constituents, do not forget to ask them how they want to get information from your organization. Do not be surprised if the answer is something like, "Just put the information out there, we will find it when we need it."
The new tax formulas (Tax Cut and Jobs Act ) will decrease federal funding by over $1.45 trillion over the next decade. The portion of the budget paid by business entities has been substantially reduced. This leaves individual workers paying a larger portion of the budget for government services than they were previously.
The first reaction most people/entities have about the new tax act is whether they will pay more or less in taxes. The issue most agencies will have to face is, directly or indirectly, how the funding levels and/or funding sources for your agency will change. The important nuance is that portion of revenue from business profits will decrease. On the other hand, increased wages will tend to increase tax revenue.
Do not forget that the business climate is changing. For example, in many areas, retail centers are suffering as ordering goods and services online is booming. From the perspective of many agencies, this shift in the pattern of commerce changes many things. Economic development is maybe a little less about developing retail shopping centers. Transportation planning may be a little less anchored at retail centers. Public safety will be a little less about retail centers and maybe a little more about packages left at individuals’ homes.
Yes, things are changing. There is no doubt big changes in government services are going to happen. Covering a $1.45 trillion deficit will directly or indirectly affect most of the levels of government. There are some who feel the “easy fix” would be to eliminate a major program or two.
That might happen but that is not how I read the tea leaves. For most people, priorities should be set around the question of what is the most cost-effective way to get the services they need. For example, the question for most people is really not about eliminating Medicare. Rather, the question is about the best way to achieve good health outcomes for all citizens as cost-effectively as possible.
Contrary to the perception of many, national security is a real day-to-day problem for people in this country. Our personal information is regularly hacked by people outside our borders. We are routinely contacted by people from foreign governments trying to scam us. Too often, they are successful. For most people, being told by those hired to protect us, “to be careful” is not a good enough reaction.
Just because social media is used to disseminate deceptive/fraudulent material does not make it okay. There are legal consequences for fraud no matter how it is committed. Is there a perception that using social media to perpetuate fraud should have a legal consequence? What is the government doing to decrease the amount of fraud on the internet?
It is important for your agency to discuss the germane issues with your constituents. When you talk to them, it may sometimes sound like what they are talking about is not relevant to your agency. Do not dismiss what they are saying. Rather, ask more questions and listen more carefully to better understand what is relevant to your constituents. Remember it is a dialogue, you need to also tell them about the work your agency does.
Funding is changing and the needs of our constituents are changing. The key in times of change is to not avoid discussions with your constituents. Rather, embrace the dialogue. They are the reason your agency is relevant.
Finally, remember you might as well also be a constituent of the agency for which you work. Make sure your voice is also heard.
Paul Leegard is 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.