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Mission Must Drive Agency Administrative Support Systems

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Joyce
March 30, 2018

Right now, federal agencies face challenges due to major workforce and budget disruptions, such as:

  • A projected 25 percent reduction in staff and 33 percent reduction in funding at the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Key State Department vacancies with international assistance resources cut 25 percent; and,
  • A four percent increase in staff at Defense to manage a 14 percent funding increase.

Civilian Federal agencies may be facing 20-30 percent workforce and support funding cuts in some program delivery units, while intelligence and military agencies functions absorb similar increases. While attention to the program and technical workforce is critical, the administrative skeleton in each agency – the career Senior Executives, the Policy and Budget team, Personnel, Training, Contracts, Information Management and the Office of Inspector General or internal audit – must also stand strong in support of the agency mission.

The senior career leadership and administrative bones of the organization have two problems to solve: maintain the workforce’s dedication to achieving mission results and work to enlarge and develop the workforce (public and private) that can carry out the agency’s mission.

So where to start? Senior career executives need to stop wrangling over each other’s budgets and objectives and focus on the agency’s public messages and workforce mission performance.  The senior executives must also act as a buffer to allow individual employees and groups to question, sidetrack or just ignore demands that detract from mission performance.

The Planning and Budget Team must develop a master plan using their joint, shared capabilities.  This plan will differ from a narrowly focused, legal requirements approach because it must focus on pragmatic budget decisions to maximize economic (efficient and effective) accomplishments in a fluid environment.  Reductions-in-force, massive early retirements and voluntary separation bonuses, and large reductions in contract and grant funds distort organizations and their partners at state and local levels and in the private sector. As goals are met and resources are used, the relative values of the different mission objectives change and the master plan must adapt.

Personnel runs reductions-in-force, performance management and the recruitment and selection of new hires. Personnel must operate with the utmost integrity and sympathy. Personnel must prepare outplacement plans, set up personnel information exchanges with other agencies and review internal policies on leave without pay to attend college or graduate school and policies on Intergovernmental Personnel Act assignments to State and local governments, universities, and private organizations. If the greater world can have “Linked-In,” then Federal agencies can have their own voluntary, “Shared-In” human resource information base.

Personnel also must decide if new intra-agency action teams need to be established. Flexible teams supported by adequate training and travel funds can meet requirements with innovative ideas and energy. Special teams may require new positions under a new leadership structure.

Training also has to stand up. Programs need to be launched to help supervisors talk to employees who are being separated, to help employees prepare resumes and interview for new jobs, and to provide training for employees approaching retirement. Specific technical training may have to be fast tracked for talented individuals to fit into needed, new roles most effectively at career conditional, mid-level and senior professional levels. One additional decision Training must also expand agency e-training to put needed information literally at every employee’s fingertips.

Personnel and Training always must remember their joint goal is to build the best mission workforce possible whether that the workforce status is organizationally federal, state and local, and/or private sector. We need the best people whether they are regulating Wells Fargo’s virtual reality credit accounts or cleaning up an industrial superfund site regardless of the instruments used to pay their salaries.

Contracts also has big decisions to make. Does Contracts build a parallel mission host organization outside the agency and make positions in the new organization available to current agency employees? Does Contracts adopt innovative tools to lower overall costs and improve agency contractor performance? At the same time, Contracts needs to support Personnel and Training in their broadly defined mission workforce development responsibilities.

Information Management has to protect agency information and be prepared to set up new protocols for special teams and agency-wide actions. Can Information Management setup an easy to use and secure information and communication network involving a 20-person team in 15 different public and private locations?  Can Information Management provide Personnel with an information bank to process 1,000 employee records or employment applications and select 200 persons for reassignments in 24 hours? Can it support agency e-training? If senior executives wanted to set up an advisory board to review mission and workforce changes, could Information Management support an ad-hoc communications structure for such an advisory group? Can it speed up security clearances for employees moved to new roles and responsibilities?

Finally, the Office of the Inspector General (IG) or internal audit has three roles. One, the office needs to generate a mission scorecard based on the legislative and regulatory roles and responsibilities of the agency. Two, the IG needs to review directed senior level determine if the new placements potentially add to or subtract from agency performance.  Three, and finally, the IG must also review travel and contract activities of senior staff; public funds are not to be wasted just because “someone else” is paying the bills.  The IG opinions and analyses may not be popular, but they will provide a responsible perspective on resource use.

The administrative skeleton of the agency must prepare to carry the load during periods of mission disruption. Senior career leadership and administrative systems need to support the program and technical workforce in its mission delivery job. We need to start now to reinforce the administrative skeleton to meet imminent needs with resolve and imagination.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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