Congressional "Fixes" Often Mean More Process, Unclear Results

Session after session Members of Congress introduce bills to legislate management processes for the Executive Branch. These might take the form of hiring, firing or other accountability measures (a la the Veterans Accountability Act) or they seek to ensure performance measures, new ways of making agencies implement processes (see GPRA-MA or FITARA). Often the basis for this legislation comes from a good place - trying to make government work better. Sometimes it is done in response to scandal and/or a real or perceived management failure. Either way, the outcome tends to be more process, more compliance, and unclear results.

 

Session after session Members of Congress introduce bills to legislate management processes for the Executive Branch. These might take the form of hiring, firing or other accountability measures (a la the Veterans Accountability Act) or they seek to ensure performance measures, new ways of making agencies implement processes (see GPRA-MA or FITARA). Often the basis for this legislation comes from a good place - trying to make government work better. Sometimes it is done in response to scandal and/or a real or perceived management failure. Either way, the outcome tends to be more process, more compliance, and unclear results.

Most recently, legislation has been introduced to create new customer service standards that agencies would be required to put into place. (More info on the bill is here: http://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/2018/04/bill-would-create-federal-customer-service-standards/147197/).  Good in theory, unclear in outcome. Customer service/experience is driven by a number of factors and each agency has a different set of customers and “market” needs. Focusing on customer experience is necessary, but it also requires a certain culture and set of processes put in place that doesn’t necessarily require legislation to achieve. Value-added oversight by Congressional committees to ensure implementation of existing laws would likely yield better results.

Legislating management processes runs the risk of creating yet another check-the-box compliance exercise - not an organizational value that cascades from mission to implementation. That’s why SEA supported recent efforts by OMB on burden reduction to lessen compliance and outdated requirements (M-17-26). What does create lasting change are the leaders, the employees and the space to put in place good practices, take risks, innovate, and tell the story.

As anyone in government knows, every day employees help their agencies achieve mission success. But there is work to be done to strengthen mission outcomes. The President’s Management Agenda and the Cross-Agency Priority Goals highlight areas where progress can be made through collaboration, leadership buy-in and a focus on strategy and outcomes. As John Kamensky of the IBM Center for the Business of Government pointed out in a recent GovExec blog post, external pressure from Congress can help spark movement by providing agencies with the necessary pressure to drive change or implement complex policies. But legislation alone doesn’t achieve results. It takes leadership, data, and a robust communications strategy, among other factors - http://www.govexec.com/excellence/promising-practices/2017/07/10-factors-successfully-implementing-large-initiatives/139211/. The recent playbook from the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) highlights similar strategies around goal setting, governance structures and storytelling to drive progress toward a goal - https://pic.gov/goalplaybook.

Legislation is often driven as much by optics and a clear lack of understanding of what agencies are doing and how they are doing it. Agencies that put in place strong processes and routines, data driven decision-making, and strategic internal/external communications can make a stronger case against the need for legislation mandating management processes.

Most of all, the culture of strong management, customer focus, and results is driven by agency leadership - political and career. This is the story SEA seeks to tell on the Hill, but SEA cannot do this alone. Proactively share your successes, your management practices, the outcomes your agency achieves - with SEA, with employees across the agency, and with external stakeholders.

Tags: capitol hill, Jason Briefel

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