Thursday, March 3, 2011
Over the past two decades, Congress and the Executive Branch have created a series of “chief officer” positions in agencies, supported by cross-government councils. Council leaders are now changing the way they manage them to boost government efficiency a

Agencies facing increasingly challenging fiscal environments are looking for ways to make each dollar go further. The interagency councils for “chief officers” are no exception!  In fact, they found that a move toward cost efficiencies is also leading to greater collaboration.

The interagency councils were created by Congress over the past 20 years to foster cross-agency coordination, collaboration and idea sharing. The councils formed under the aegis of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)  include:

Council leaders—the heads of the various management functions at OMB —are responding to council member budget concerns by focusing the forums squarely on achieving efficiencies through collaboration.

Specifically, the staffs of a number of these interagency councils are refocusing to help members to stretch limited resources.  Pope Ward, who is spearheading the initiative for OMB, points out that, “In this fiscal environment, the benefits of working together increasingly outweigh the costs of cross-agency collaboration. If you assemble the right staff with the right skills, a little bit of structured support can create a ton of leverage.”

The interagency council staff possess content expertise as well as skill in performance management, project management and facilitation. Furthermore, their full-time focus keeps efficiency initiatives from stalling. Agencies have a hard time dedicating the same energy to council initiatives while juggling their day jobs.

An important part of this new strategy is their being collocated in the same office. Formerly-separate council staffs are consolidating into an Office of Executive Councils, supported by the General Services Administration. David Evans, who’s running the office, points out that collocation will  enable staff to share expertise, exchange ‘code’ across initiatives and identify patterns, common terrain and collaboration opportunities across councils.” For example, the CFOC, CAOC and CIOC are now working together to form a control board to improve management of financial systems vendors. Staff members from all three councils are supporting members to keep that initiative moving forward.

The co-located staff may also help reduce concerns voiced across agencies about how different statutes have, over time, created a series of inflexible organizational stove-pipes around separate professional disciplines.  Managing these organizational stovepipes has become especially challenging in cases where close collaboration among these different support functions is needed to effectively deliver agency mission activities.

Ward and Evans see the council staff as a means to lower collaboration costs for agencies. If the staff can smooth over coordination hurdles and enable steady progress on joint initiatives, agencies will increasingly invest the time to capture the efficiencies that working together can bring.