March 20, 2013 at 8:41 pm #177423
I am a federal employee (working for EPA at HQ) and sequestration has brought the spotlight on the term ‘mission critical.’ I am most interested in the application of this term for travel to conferences and training events because this is affecting not only me and other HQ personnel but our regional staff.
For EPA, memos have been circulated (in direct response to the Feb 27, 2013 OMB Guidance ‘Agency Responsibilities for Implementation of Potential Joint Committee Sequestration’) that travel for anyone to a training or conference must be limited to “mission critical” activities – but it is completely unclear to me how ‘mission critical’ is defined.
My questions to this community are as follows (answers/insight to any or all of these questions is much appreciated):
1. Does your Agency have an overall definition for ‘mission critical’? I found some guidance that it appears NASA has put forward to define this and I find this useful [NASA Sequestration Guidance]
2. Does your general office within your Agency have a ‘mission critical’ guidance?
3. Are you confused by what is considered ‘mission critical’?
4. How are you justifying any travel for training events to your management? Have you had any success or are you being denied travel to anything right now?
5. Do you have any other insight regarding the term ‘mission critical’?
Thank you very much!
March 20, 2013 at 9:35 pm #177439
Quick update – I have done a bit of research and on EPA’s end it appears that the definition of ‘mission critical’ is by each program office (so each program office within EPA is creating guidance on what is defined as ‘mission critical’ travel if that office feels such guidance is necessary). I would still be interested in hearing what other people think/what other Agencies are doing. Thank you!
March 21, 2013 at 4:27 pm #177437
As a budget analyst, we look at two questions to determine if an item is “mission critical”. First, how directly does the item relate to the mission? Training or conferences to support professional development is different from training directly required in order to perform functions that support the mission. Second, what breaks if the item is not funded? Training which improves an employees skill level is different than training required to maintain certifications necessary to support the mission. Example, a budget analyst wants to attend a professional seminar to maintain contacts and discuss potential impacts of sequestration. Federal agencies might fund this in normal times but it is not “mission critical”. The event is only tangentially related to the mission and nothing serious breaks if the analyst does not attend. Alternatively, a scientist wants to attend a training class required to maintain the professional certification needed to qualify as an expert witness during legal proceedings on pollution control. This is “mission critical”. The training is directly related to the mission and the scientist loses thier ability to do their job if they do not attend.
March 21, 2013 at 4:57 pm #177435
We have list of “mission critical occupations,” which are positions that must be filled in order for the agency to perform its core mission. For instance, border patrol officers, transportation security officers, secret service agents, etc. Any training or travel required to peform these missions is considered to be mission-critical. Other positions are considered “mission-support” (e.g. HR, IT, Procurement, Legal, etc.).
March 21, 2013 at 6:31 pm #177433
Identifying what is “mission critical” is probably the best question any organization can keep asking itself, again and again.
The mission which is critical to identifying that which IS mission critical, however, is thinking about time, and the total arc of the mission. I suspect it is all too easy, especially when one is cast into the sort of “lifeboat” scenario that sequestration provokes, to think of mission criticality solely in terms of what seems to matter right now.
If the mission, or family of missions, that public sector institutions are dedicated to, were things that could be initiated and wrapped up within a short time arc, that would be one thing, and what is mission critical would, in fact, be whatever seems important right now. But what if something has a time arc of 4-5 years? Could there be things that are not mission critical at the moment but will be critical 3 years from now? My wife once described me as a “fireman”. She noted that I spend an inordinate amount of time sitting around doing nothing (part of my recipe for being here so much), but when my organization needs me, they REALLY need me, and I have to be available. I’m certain I’m not the only public servant lke that.
I’m reminded of something our provincial health care system went through during the 90’s. Nurses were being let go left and right, because balancing the books was seen as Job #1. But then when the system needed nurses, there were none to be had, because they had left en masse for other parts of the continent (many from southern Ontario had left for Texas). Don’t assume that because you don’t absolutely positively need something right this instant that it will be there for you when you DO need it. And of course, if it involves a skilled profession, you can’t just instantly make those folks out of thin air; they take time to train up.
Of course, by the same token, if mission critical included everything you might possibly need down the line, there wouldn’t be much point in even asking the question, right? Because it would ALL be seen as critical…eventually.
So the question then becomes one of balancing thinking far enough off into the future to not have blinders on, yet not so overinclusively as to be unable to set priorities.
And that’s why it’s good to think about what “the mission” is. What do we DO here? What is our primary and most important and enduring purpose? What and who do we need to accomplish it?
March 22, 2013 at 3:44 pm #177431
Thank you very much, Peter! I really appeciate your insight and the examples you gave.
March 22, 2013 at 3:45 pm #177429
Thanks so much, Terry! Thinking about this in terms of position type makes a lot of sense.
March 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm #177427
Thank you so much, Mark! This is a great analyis and provides me with some great things to think through.
March 29, 2013 at 6:50 pm #177425
I was a contractor for an agency under the DoD charged with maintaining/improving the military electronic health record. Many people equated “mission critical” issues as those affecting either the cost, schedule or performance of a project. For example, not obtaining a piece of GFI/GFE on time for our developers to implement was considered “mission critical” and was maintained in our risk management system.
Not sure about travel after the sequestration, but the agenda items for the proposed travel were most important. The on-site tasks of the proposed travelers had to directly link to progression of the project.
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