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Opportunities for change in the new budget reality

One of the things I think this new budget reality has created for public sector organizations is an extraordinary need to make better decisions. In previous years budget situations have been tight and there’s been a fight for resources but I think that this past year and next year the situation has and will become much worse. I think it has become so dire that it has really begun to affect performance and to significantly impact the capability of some programs to deliver. Every agency has begun to find itself in the position of needing to understand better than it ever has before the things that it:

  • asks itself to accomplish
  • the places where dollars are slipping through the cracks
  • opportunities for savings based on consolidation
  • reducing vendor spend
  • less complicated technology environments

I think this may also be one of the huge drivers for cloud based services. In previous years there’s been hesitancy to be an early adopter or the first one out of the door on these new initiatives but this new budget reality is going to force people to look at some of these opportunities. In order to continue to deliver, they’re going to need to overcome some of the hesitancy to move their application over to an environment that they don’t completely control. You have two things at work in a lot of agencies.

  1. There should be a serious look at what capabilities the agency needs to deliver on the mission and how to help support those activities.
  2. There needs to be a real focus on how do we, if possible, innovate our way out of this.

I think you’re going to see two camps divided on this. You’ll have one camp of folks that falls into the “hunker down, cut costs, operate and maintain” only camp. In the other camp you’re going to see people that say we’re going to find a way to plan better and innovate our way out of the mess that we’re in. I think that we may have reached a limit of what the first camp can deliver. The last few years we’ve seen smaller budgets. From my personal experience I’ve seen public sector in many of these cases try to recompete contracts around cost and do other things to help cut enough cost to keep going. I don’t think that as we look at the kind of year over year trend that we’ve been seeing that that is going to be something that is sustainable for a long period of time. I think that agencies are going to have learn another way and I think that starts with doing better planning and ends with finding better ways of doing things. I’m curious what other folks think.

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Carol Kruse

I like the enterprise approach, discussed in Are You Speaking My Language? How to Become Bureaucratically Multi-cultural and BAH’s and the Partnership for Public Trust’s booklet, Building the Enterprise. When I first became involved with federal land management issues 20-some years ago, I was struck by the redundancy of job descriptions among the various agencies. While the ensuing 20+ years have pointed up some of the reasons for the redundancy, I don’t believe it’s insurmountable to have agencies share many positions. The current (and future) state of IT certainly facilitates the collaboration needed to share positions, so hopefully this is an idea whose time has come!!

Joshua Millsapps

Thanks for that and the link. The up side to this resource crunch is that if we can figure out how to deliver with less we will be better suited to deliver more in better times.

Samuel F Doucette

I’ve long thought that the budget crisis we’re in is the classic burning platform which will force much-needed process improvement. That’s the only silver lining I can see. If/when we emerge from this, we’ll hopefully be leaner (no pun intended with the process improvement school of thought called Lean or Lean Six Sigma) and more importantly asking the fundamental questions: Is X part of our core competencies and If not, should we even be doing X in the first place? God forbid, we might actually have to start saying No for a change.