The IBM Center for The Business of Government hosted a forum in November 2009 to examine the Obama Administration's themes for a high-performing government and to frame a public management research agenda.
Participants included nearly 50 of the nation's top public management researchers, scholars, and distinguished practitioners. The forum was an effort to help bridge the gap between research and practice, and to collectively develop a research agenda that would help government executives move things forward.
Professors Cassell and Hoffmann observe that the public debate to date over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has focused primarily on the policy issues involved, with significantly less attention paid to operational issues. Their report focuses on the challenges the federal government now faces in implementing a series of financial relief programs. To gain insight into how the federal government might act upon these operational challenges, they took an historical look at how the federal government responded to previous financial crises.
Recent years have seen an increase in cross-agency research and development projects. These initiatives are large and significant in national policy. They include: information technology, nanotechnology, climate change, global change, and bioterrorism. For example, global change has grown to involve eighteen federal agencies and departments, including entities within the executive office of the president. The aim of these and other interagency programs is to draw on the special skills of each organization and weave them into a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.
The O'Leary and Bingham report expands on previous Center reports by adding an important practical tool for managers in networks: how to manage and negotiate the conflicts that may occur among a network's members. The approach they describe-interest-based negotiation-has worked in other settings, such as bargaining with unions. Such negotiation techniques are becoming crucial in sustaining the effectiveness of networks, where successful performance is defined by how well people collaborate and not by hierarchical commands.
The IBM Center and George Mason University co-sponsored a series of breakfast seminars over the course of 2008 with a series of acquisition experts who constituted the Acquisition Reform Working Group. They believed that whoever won the election, contracting issues would be on the front burner. With the passage of the Stimulus Bill, having an effective federal contracting function will be critical to the success of the Bill.
The federal government now spends about 40 percent of its discretionary budget to buy everything from office supplies to weapon systems. When the government buys simple products, like paper clips, they can turn to well-established acquisition strategies and practices and apply them to richly competitive markets. When government agencies buy complex products, like weapon systems, conventional acquisition approaches are often insufficient and markets are more challenging.
There has been a longstanding recognition that the federal government does not have enough employees with the requisite skills to meet every agency need. Agencies obtain real advantages in employing contractors that can offer specialized skills to handle short-term requirements. Moreover, using a competitive selection process helps to bring both efficiency and innovation to address government needs.
Over the last 15 years federal government managers have relied on a much broader and more diverse set of personnel for carrying out agency missions, with private sector contractors assuming a much greater role than in the past. A key question is what are the implications of this shift to a multisector workforce for how federal agencies accomplish their missions. A more robust human capital planning process is needed to address multisector workforce issues.