For government managers faced with restrained budgets, hiring freezes, and new mandates, the pressure to do more with existing resources has gained widespread traction. “Wrong” is a bit of an overstatement, but for one government leader, the notion of “doing more with less” misses a central point. Last week, Rafael Borras, Under Secretary for Management at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told a packed room at the Partnership for Public Service that he’s tossed out the widely used cliché. Instead, Borras advocated that agencies and their government managers should actually do the right thing with less.
Last week in Washington, Borras was part of a panel discussion for the launch of a new report by the Partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton called “Building the Enterprise.” The new resource outlines nine strategies for creating a more effective and integrated government. The central premise of the report is that the government needs a coordinated, multiagency, enterprise approach to facing challenges. This approach contrasts to government’s current organizational structure of holding agencies or “silos of excellence” that largely operate on their own.
Building an enterprise is based on the basic notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The authors of the report made the case for improved and increased strategies for interagency collaboration to eliminate fragmentation and overlapping responsibilities. Read more about the rationale behind establishing a stronger enterprise in government and the nine strategies in the full report.
At the report launch, Borras was on stage with Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States at the Government Accountability Office, and Beth McGrath, Deputy Chief Management Officer at the Department of Defense. One of the main topics discussed was how to influence constructive and collaborative behavior in government.
To do the right thing with less, agencies need to focus on how to execute sustainably and cut inefficiencies. In Borras’ opinion, the problem with “do more with less” is that implies that everything being done by government is in a fixed motion onward, and we simply need to conduct all existing projects cheaper. This mindset evades the tough questions that agencies must be asking, such as, what’s the value add and where are the risks? Sustainable execution requires that agencies make disciplined choices to cancel redundant or inefficient projects. Borras said, “Where you have very low value, but very high risk, dump it.”
Transparency and Trust
McGrath emphasized the need for transparency. She stated that everything should be put on the table in order to promote better decision-making. Transparency of information breeds constructive behavior. However, this is not easily achieved, as folks are often scared of potentially negative ramifications from information disclosure. Therefore, McGrath added that trust and transparency go hand-in-hand. Government leaders should build a culture of trust so that workers do not view more open reporting as more opportunities for punishment. McGrath advised that information on all projects and programs be loaded into a common tool so that all data is visible.
Interagency Cooperation within the Panel
Gene Dodaro from the GAO also had some insights regarding government operations. One of his chief projects is the annual report on Government Efficiency and Effectiveness, which identifies areas where agencies can eliminate fragmentation, duplication, and overlap, achieve costs savings and improve performance. Dodaro and Borras shared that they work together to discuss GAO findings and incorporate recommendations at DHS. Rather than react as adversaries at hearings, they conduct pre-meetings to ensure that they on the same page.
What’s your view on government operations? Is an enterprise approach the way forward?