July 05, 2023
Academy Fellow, Judy Douglas, and Alexis Bonnell, reflect on their government and industry insights from the front-lines of transformation.
We are in an “exponential age.” Government must adapt rapidly and constantly, while navigating tsunamis of new ideas, technology and information. This requires a proactive relationship with innovation and its potential to quickly integrate positive changes that improve mission results.
Innovation cannot be treated as an “other duties as assigned” task and be expected to flourish in an organization. A C-level title alone, like Chief Innovation Officer, isn’t enough. Great Innovation Leaders with high level titles who lack the resources or support to actually execute innovative practices, approaches, or policies, are destined to fail. Worse, in some ways they are set-up to fail. But they most often fail when Innovation Leaders think a good idea is enough. A good idea without allies, is like a tree with no roots. It might live a glorious green moment, but can quickly wither against the brutal winds of day-to-day bureaucracy.
Explicit innovation roles bring needed focus and nourishment, coaxing a fledgling seed of conviction to be something better - such as a newly realized way of working. An operational organization can find it difficult to think beyond its current state, toward its future state, without the nourishment of time, talent bandwidth and the resources to do that. It isn’t just about financial resources. It is about creating a network of allies who help Innovation Leaders navigate the current state of the organization, while trying new things. Conveying the evidence-based case for why a new way should replace a current approach is crucial. Successful Innovation Leaders enlist evidence, communications and networks to rally needed resources and shift mindsets.
Evidence. It is crucial to create an intentional approach, resourced with the assets needed, to evaluate and implement innovation. Innovation without appropriate evidence may miss the mark, or fail to scale. People will rarely adopt innovation as an alternative to common practice without evidence.
Ironically, there often isn’t robust evidence on the current state of practice against which to compare. We often rely on history and assume the way we have been doing things isn’t risky and is effective. This makes it difficult to compare the proposed evidence-based innovation with the current practice.
In a major USAID challenge around growing more food with less water, all of the funded innovations had significant evidence-based frameworks measuring the innovation’s impact. This gave insight into the cost/benefit and impact ratio of the new innovations- that’s the “numerator” in the “innovation evidence equation”. The “denominator” should have been the cost/benefit and impact ratio of the current practice. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be clearly articulated. (Learning lesson: The longer you have been doing something, the less evidence of its effectiveness you might have).
In another example, a government-funded social entrepreneur proposed a new and effective way to provide vulnerable people with their first pair of glasses. They were able to screen vision and deliver a new pair of glasses for about $4 each (the numerator). The long-standing classic program had many more moving parts, greater overhead and a cost of about $210 (the denominator) to get the same person in eyeglasses. The innovation was 52 times more effective! But, a better way hadn’t been considered previously because the current program was working, and had been for a while, so no one questioned whether it was the most effective and efficient way it could be done. It was simply the way it was done.
So, interestingly, an innovative method supported with evidence can often stimulate the need to better understand the “Impact Math” of the current practice to decide which is more effective. This anecdote reminds us to integrate ongoing evaluation and re-evaluation into all processes. Something doesn’t have to be obviously broken to benefit from improvement.
Evidence plays a critical role in risk mitigation and risk perception. It can help overcome resistance caused by the discomfort of moving away from common practice, and encourage a new path toward adoption. Operating from empirical information that creates solid “Impact Math” can help people and organizations better understand risk, gain comfort with experimentation, and guide toward change that is more likely to “stick”. From its inception, the U.S. Global Development Lab at USAID, had an evidence team dedicated to helping innovators think through how they would know if their innovation was worth scaling.
Innovation is nothing if it isn’t ultimately used. Early evidence planning is a great way to “build a bridge” over the potential “Valley of Death” innovations often face in their struggle to become mainstreamed or institutionalized in programs of record. Evidence teams can work as allies to programs of record. They can mutually determine ahead of time what the innovation would need to show to replace or amplify the current programming. This makes the operational program of record an intimate partner. It also influences the current program by ensuring its teams are aware of emergent options and gives them a role in them. Such evidence-based engagement significantly mitigates the “not invented here” cultural resistance that often inhibits innovation adoption.
Communications. Even when innovation is viewed as a good thing, it has the potential to be considered threatening or competing with other good things. So, there needs to be clear and compelling stories about the purpose and the goals to help people understand and embrace the innovation. In government, we’ve seen pioneering innovation, new practices, and both revolutionary and evolutionary improvements, fail because the team wasn't able to devote time, resources or effort to help people understand proposed change and what it would mean to them. One of the strongest predictors of the success and impact of innovative work in government seems to be whether there are communications plans, resources and sponsorship engaged from the moments of inception and design and throughout.
Also, consider that innovation teams and talent often “run hot”. They can have a greater sense of urgency and need to prove progress, so they may “burn out” quickly or wear out relationships with their operational colleagues. Communication plays a critical role in creating collaborative celebration of accomplishments. Together, the teams and organizations can reflect on what has been achieved and what it took to get there. This conscious “re-fueling” often invigorates a joint sense of purpose and identity for individuals, teams, and even entire agencies. Innovation work becomes a critical part of the “legend and lore” of an organization in reporting to The Hill, in the Press, or through internal recognition.
Network. Driving innovation and transformation in a bureaucracy can be like adding a large boulder (innovation) into the middle of a river (the organization’s bureaucracy). At first the boulder disrupts the flow. But over time, the river works the consistent power and overwhelming force of its streams against the boulder, wearing down the boulder and forcing it to meet the flows of the river. Over time, the once great boulder becomes just another rock on the riverbed. But when the boulder is placed strategically, usually via the wise counsel of guides and allies who know the river well, the boulder might fundamentally shift the river around it, forever changing the course of the organization.
When USAID created its Innovation Lab, the team included wise allies in the form of an embedded innovation-focused lawyer and innovation-focused procurement lead. This changed the dynamic flow dramatically between the innovation goals of the agency and the larger bureaucracy. Dedicated teams and expertise in these areas facilitated early, open and transparent conversations that accelerated progress. The lawyers and procurement folks cleared away many obstacles and became innovation advocates with the larger organization, showing exactly how and when to place the boulder.
This integrated network approach helped to keep a laser focus on agency mission and to develop constructive strategies to define, communicate, and prove-out innovation. This collaboration increased the likelihood that Lab initiatives had the desired impact and scalability, and could be institutionalized. Having a Chief Innovation Officer certainly provided needed focus and an accelerant. Equally important was the focus on winning over the resources, support and engagement of the organization to produce faster, better targeted results.
Mission impact is strengthened by these lessons from the evolution of innovative ideas into transformative implementation. Strong allied networks, early and robustly designed communication, and intentional Impact Math deepens an organization’s capacity to touch and transform more lives at the pace demanded in this “exponential age”.
November 28, 2022
What is the secret sauce for this fight? Recently, government leaders from DHS, FBI, IRS, and Secret Service compared notes at the recent ACT-IAC Homeland Security and Law Enforcement forum. Each Cyber Crime panelist said it a little differently, but the secret sauce they agreed upon is innovation in leadership and sustained collaboration across agencies and partners. Panelists were Tracy Cormier, DHS, Assistant Director, Cyber & Operational Technology; Shawn Devroude, FBI, Deputy Assistant Director, Cyber Division; Jarod Koopman, IRS, Acting Executive Director, Cyber & Forensic Services; and Dave Smith, U.S. Secret Service, Assistant Director, Office of Investigations.
Moderator Gregg Garrett, Peraton, VP, Cybersecurity, set the stage with data from the SONICWALL - Mid-Year 2022 Global Cyber Threat Report.
Are we nervous yet? How can we not be?
The panelists and their organizations clearly valued their collaborations and partnerships. Collaborations mentioned came in many flavors, including:
-Pursue “borderless” law enforcement and other initiatives. Cyberattacks are increasingly borderless and so too must be the responses. Panelists agreed on the need to expand global and US law enforcement and other collaboration, for example, to “follow the money” (including digital assets).
-Work with the private sector to increase reports and resolutions. Actions and innovations the IRS is implementing in partnership with DHS, FBI, and CISA help small businesses to enhance their cybersecurity education, training, and cyber defense to increase cyber resilience.
-Harmonize responsibilities. This coordination is facilitated by joint cyber operations and multi-partner Task Forces that include those working in DoD and the Intelligence community, or those outside of the law enforcement community.
-Deploy cyber innovations, training and awareness. For example, DHS is deploying cyber technology innovations including cyber auto incident response automation with AI/ML, continuous diagnostics and monitoring (CDM), and advanced data analytics to improve cyber incident response time.
-Share and publish best practices. One example cited was using behavior-based analytics as a low-cost, high-yield approach that could be collaboratively pursued.
-Improve de-confliction. Coordinate across government agencies regarding “cyberattack targets” as well as tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).
It was said in many ways that the most important innovation is in collaboration so that cooperation is less reliant on the strength of will and leadership, and increasingly formalized and institutionalized.
Judy Douglas, Peraton, Client Industry Executive; NAPA Fellow; IAC Executive Committee Member, ACT-IAC Collaboration Council Co-Chair, and ACT-IAC Innovators’ Circle Member and past Chair
Gregory A. Garrett, Peraton, Vice President, Cybersecurity; Cyber Crime Panel Moderator, Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Forum
April 11, 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine federalism in action. With the goal of better understanding the strengths and vulnerabilities of the U.S. intergovernmental responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Academy of Public Administration convened the COVID-19 Working Group on the Intergovernmental Dimensions of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Spring of 2021. The Working Group assessed those intergovernmental responses to identify key issues and develop actionable recommendations in four areas that may facilitate the nation’s response to this pandemic and future pandemics: testing for COVID-19; non-pharmaceutical interventions for infection risk reduction, vaccine distribution, and cross-cutting and over-arching issues. Overall, the Working Group’s report offers independent perspectives on how well the intergovernmental public health and human service systems and our decentralized and distributed governance structure protected and provided for the general welfare of the populace. From this examination, the members of the Working Group provide 37 recommendations that provide a starting point for evaluating the response to a major public health crisis and for improving responses to future pandemics.
November 24, 2020
By The MITRE Corporation
State and local leaders are faced with challenging decisions on how best to mitigate
the spread of COVID-19 and protect their communities while minimizing economic
consequences, often without having complete information available to inform their decisions. To take some of the guesswork out of their actions, public health officials and government decision-makers often turn to data and predictive analytics, including modeling and simulation. At MITRE, we deliver these capabilities through multiple specialized platforms that boost decision makers’ ability to understand and respond to pandemics. The MITRE Pandemic Analysis & Response Platform gives leaders access to data, models, and decision tools that help evaluate their options and understand the most effective and efficient levers at their disposal.
We have developed, and are continuing to evolve, analytic tools, observational research, and predictive models to 1) Answer fundamental questions related to COVID-19 transmission and clinical illness and 2) Conduct localized and focus analyses on what factors and behaviors contribute to disease transmission and how to preserve economic productivity.
June 26, 2020
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the chaotic primary-election experiences of Georgia, Wisconsin, and other states are troubling signs for the November general election. Without immediate action, an accessible and fair national election is at risk.
American democracy, particularly in a time of crisis, is strongest when its citizens actively participate in and have confidence in the integrity of the election process. Our national goal should be to maximize the participation of eligible voters while ensuring an election system that prevents fraud. Every vote must be counted accurately and as quickly as possible, with the results perceived as fair and legitimate.
In a new white paper, fellows of the National Academy of Public Administration are urging state, local, and federal governments to act promptly to improve electoral processes to allow every eligible citizen to vote in the 2020 elections while protecting the integrity of the election process and the health of all participants.
These academy fellows recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to adapting longstanding election procedures to this new COVID-19 reality, but numerous components of the election administration system will need to be revised. Requirements that may have previously made sense will need to be changed or temporarily waived. Current election laws, regulations, and practices should be adjusted as needed to maximize voter participation and social equity, along with financial and administrative practicality.
June 18, 2020
Michael Poliakoff talks with Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, President Emeritus of the George Washington University, about the urgent financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on colleges and universities, their prospects for reopening, challenges of declining enrollment, and the hard operational decisions that institutions will have to make in coming years.
May 26, 2020
Governments at all levels in the United States are suddenly facing the need to do much of their work from a distance. While the coronavirus pandemic is the immediate driver of the sudden shift to working from home, the foundation for the transition to distance work actually began more than a decade ago. Here’s the backstory.
The federal government had been seen as the leader in the use of distance work arrangements largely because of a 2010 law that codifies a federal commitment to the adoption of telework. The law requires all federal agencies to allow telework, designate a telework managing officer, and provide training to both employees and managers. It also requires agencies to incorporate telework into their continuity of operations plans. At the time, the rationale for adoption was to improve employee work-life balance.
May 21, 2020
Fee-funded programs provide federal, state, and local governments with a cost-effective method of financing a range of government services, from access to national parks to securing patents and trademarks. But when user fees drop precipitously due to an unexpected event, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, agency leaders must have effective strategies in place to maintain the organization’s financial equilibrium.
While fee-funded government programs may resemble private-sector operations, they are typically established for the purpose of cost recovery, not profit generation, and can provide a critical source of funding beyond taxpayer dollars appropriated by Congress. User fees are a good alternative to taxes because they are paid solely by those who request and receive those specific services or benefits. They also promote efficient cost allocations or cost assignments, whereby consumers pay an appropriate share of the costs of services received, which helps governments fully fund their general operations.
Fees can also be politically contentious, placing the onus on governments for greater cost transparency, rate stability, and solvency. The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting this dynamic and bringing unforeseen challenges to the established cost structures.
May 11, 2020
Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve who died in December 2019 at age 92, was fond of quoting Thomas Edison, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
Before his death, the nonprofit Volcker Alliance and a group of opinion leaders came together to reflect upon his life passion: building a public service dedicated to and capable of achieving excellence. “Public Service and Good Governance for the Twenty-first Century,” which compiles the group’s analysis, shares compelling insights about the state of American institutions, public service, and what the future holds.
The book’s two overarching messages are identifiable in our struggle to conquer COVID-19. The first is that America’s capacity to govern itself is severely damaged.
May 11, 2020
Government leaders need to think more deeply about effective management both in the current historical moment and for the longer-term. Understanding how well agencies are managed now would be a useful baseline for incoming leaders and for setting priorities for a new administration. Developing benchmarks to measure effective management would be useful to assess how agencies perform over time, how they compare with other agencies, and what best practices exist for potential adoption.
A new report by University of Illinois-Chicago academics James Thompson and Alejandra Medina provides a roadmap for how to develop measures for assessing well-managed agencies, something that has always seemed intangible. The report’s recommendations provide a foundation on which agency leaders can build agendas to improve their management quality.
More broadly, for government reformers, the report’s proposed framework may help implement piecemeal legislative fixes that were passed with good reason and intention but have accumulated to contribute to systemic constraints on innovation and responsiveness. These fixes include creating new management leadership positions like chief management officers, new administrative routines such as quarterly reporting of progress on agency priority goals, or addressing constraints such as limitations on conference spending.
May 11, 2020
The coronavirus has greatly amplified local governments' pre-pandemic financial concerns, leaving them to tackle significant new fiscal challenges while simultaneously facing increased demand for social services. Securing federal and state support is important, but in itself will not provide the financial stability that cities and counties need to operate efficiently and effectively.
While higher taxes and fees will be part of the solution in many jurisdictions, cost reductions will likely be on everyone's agenda for the foreseeable future. But the current situation, coupled with new technology tools, provides governments with a once-in-a-century opportunity to change many of their outdated procedures permanently — to build strategic fiscal management into their operations and cultures.
May 04, 2020
Amid the finger-pointing and blame-throwing about the mess that is the Paycheck Protection Program, the U.S. Treasury and Small Business Administration seem to have forgotten why Congress enacted it: so businesses would keep people on payroll instead of laying them off.
The PPP idea is simple: rather than have businesses lay off tens of millions of people until the COVID shutdowns are over and customers come back, the federal government will pay businesses to keep them on the payroll for a couple of months whether they work or not. The alternative is worse: joblessness, hopelessness — and governments paying hundreds of billions of dollars in unemployment benefits anyway.
Unfortunately, Congress chose to run what should be a grant program as a “loan.” If PPP money is used for payroll (with some for rent and utilities), the “loan” is forgiven and the money never comes back to Uncle Sam. But the loan design means PPP is slower and more complicated, that it goes through banks instead of IRS computers, and that Congress had to set a limit on how much could be used. And it means that businesses aren’t actually required to use the money for payroll at all.
May 04, 2020
The unemployment numbers in this first month of the COVID-19 pandemic have been staggering. What can we do to help those who are finding themselves newly unemployed, desperately waiting for their benefits to start, and not sure where to turn? In this episode of EJB Talks, our host Stuart Shapiro, Associate Dean of Faculty and Professor of Policy at the Bloustein School, talks to Carl Van Horn, Distinguished Professor at the Bloustein School and Director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, on the dangers of long-term unemployment, who is most vulnerable, and the services the Heldrich Center can provide, along with the State of New Jersey, to help people traverse through the economic crisis brought upon us by COVID-19.
April 28, 2020
Whether we like it or not, preparedness is time and again relegated to the back shelf, where it is “out of sight, out of mind.” The tragic costs of that mindset are vividly clear. While it is not time to point fingers in our current crisis, it is time to start taking notes and to look for opportunities for future improvement.
Policy officials and program managers at all levels of government, as well those in the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be looking to make changes in their operations. However, we all need to make sure that any adjustments go beyond just treating our symptoms, are well reasoned, and address the root causes of our problems.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen many reports in the media where healthcare providers comment that their hospitals and organizations never saw such a pandemic coming and were not prepared.
April 28, 2020
Cities and counties across the country have been on high alert since the first community spread of COVID-19 was documented at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington in late February. The city government there faced an immediate emergency response challenge when nearly 30 firefighters and police officers had to self-quarantine following contact with the nursing home’s patients.
Just a few days later in Norwood, Massachusetts, the town manager, school superintendent, and several other top staff also had to self-quarantine after being exposed to the virus at a neighborhood event. Since then, local governments across the country have grappled with everything from how to handle public meeting requirements in a socially distancing world to the desperate search for the personal protective gear needed by those on the front lines.
The resulting stresses on public health, the workforce, and state and local government budgets have been excruciating. For the foreseeable future, we will be immersed in an intense public health response period. And yet, we also have to think about how to best confront and mitigate the long-term economic hardships ahead. Local and state government leaders have been speaking up, gathering data, and raising alarm bells.
April 28, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to alter our way of life, more than ever we need valid and reliable data to support decision-making at every level of society. When used responsibly, data analysis helps our country’s leaders determine what policies to implement and can even guide our individual actions.
Donald Rumsfeld eloquently said there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. The pandemic highlights all three categories. Unfortunately, what we don’t know today about how the coronavirus is impacting the American people – the known unknowns -- is vast.
We all have questions about the virus, its implications, and its effects on our neighbors, our friends, and our families. While there are some questions that can’t be definitively answered today, believe it or not, there is much that we should be able to answer with good research if we start now.
April 27, 2020
As they were in the 2008 collapse, largely financial agencies — Housing and Urban Development and Small Business Administration — have become first responders. First economic responders, thanks to the series of money-printing bills Congress is passing. For some insight on how they might cope, former HUD chief financial officer, now managing director for the public sector at Grant Thornton, Doug Criscitello joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
April 24, 2020
In a rare and impressive show of bipartisan cooperation, Congress has repeatedly passed legislation to help the people and businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. The latest bipartisan bill passed the House yesterday.
The responses of the executive branch, in contrast, have varied widely. Most parts of the executive clearly were unprepared for the pandemic and the economic consequences of the public health measures needed to fight it. With the notable exceptions of the National Institutes of Health and (in most respects) the Federal Reserve, all the agencies responded, however belatedly, by scrambling, stumbling and getting caught up in their own red tape.
In each case, the agencies faced a myriad of decisions about how much they should set aside business as usual to provide help quickly. Those decisions have consequences, both intended and unintended, and some will be mistakes.
April 24, 2020
The coronavirus crisis has upended American life, with the federal government and state governments responding with various levels of efficacy. Programs to ameliorate the pandemic’s effects are running out of money, stalling, and have been criticized for inefficiency. With the immediate need ahead of us, perhaps it is time to pilot new approaches to the management of federally funded and state-administered programs.
Stan Soloway wrote a column for GovExec.com recently arguing for the removal of barriers to innovation and he joined GovExec Daily to explain how government can move forward more efficiently.
April 22, 2020
I vividly remember Earl’s call. It was early in 2009. The U.S. faced a growing economic crisis as a global recession continued to unfold. President Obama’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) had just been signed into law and I was at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which was tasked with distributing the nearly $800 billion Congress green-lighted. Earl Devaney, chair of the ARRA oversight body (lovingly known as the “RAT” board) called to tell me he was standing in a newly rented empty office on Pennsylvania Avenue, chosen for its direct line of sight to the White House. His message was not subtle: The overseers were going to watch every move we made as we distributed the funds.
Earl and I became close colleagues. In addition to helping us prevent fraud and ensure critical funds made it into the economy, his oversight board built the Recovery Operations Center (ROC), which proved to be a paradigm shift in how big data and forensic analytics are used to track government program spending. Now that our nation is facing another unprecedented crisis, we need another shift in how government leverages digital, AI, and analytics to monitor spending.
As the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is implemented, oversight committees should draw upon the lessons learned from ARRA and launch the next-generation ROC.
April 21, 2020
I am the HR director of a large city government. I serve on our COVID-19 response team and lead a smaller team looking at our “workplace of tomorrow.” We in Human Resources are trying to respond to a lot of employee questions and help the city manager and department heads communicate with employees. Many of our employees are working remotely, as well at city facilities and in the field.
My city government is a fairly rule-bound organization. Our rules and procedures are well-suited for a stable environment. Yet now we are overwhelmed with new challenges, such as keeping everyone safe and healthy, and of course dealing with projected budget shortfalls. Senior management and all employees feel a lot of anxiety and distress.
I am very committed to the organization and to our employees. I especially worry about lower-income employees in our city government and service workers in the community, who are all very vulnerable as we enter this deep recession.
If there was ever a time to adapt, now is the time. However, I feel much trepidation about this leadership challenge. Can you provide some suggestions on how senior managers can help everyone adopt?
April 18, 2020
We've all heard the harrowing, heart-wrenching accounts of brave doctors and nurses short on critical supplies treating COVID-19 patients at overcrowded hospitals. To many, it is inconceivable how a country with the resources of the United States has found itself scrambling to obtain and manufacture masks, ventilators and other life-saving personal protective equipment and supplies in real-time.
Much attention has been focused on the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), which has received more press coverage in the last two weeks than since its creation in 1999. Ideally, this scrutiny will lead to more robust funding and support for this national asset. Unfortunately, it also may undermine this highly capable organization, potentially compromising its mission.
Though relatively unknown to the general public before March, the question of why the SNS was allegedly ill-equipped to do its job is now burning in the minds of many. But even the framing of this question reflects a blatant misunderstanding of the Strategic National Stockpile.
April 17, 2020
As researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, we appreciate your April 12 editorial about the importance of the “rainy day fund” (RDF) for Nebraska’s state budget. While Nebraska has a good reputation for fiscal prudence, maintaining an average RDF balance of 15.2% from 2007 to 2017, the fund fell to 8% in 2018 and 7% in 2019. In ongoing meetings with the Nebraska Legislature’s Planning Committee, a committee developed with the intent to explore the long-term trends that impact Nebraska, the lawmakers have expressed considerable concern about this decline. The alarm they sounded was heeded by the full Legislature, which acted over the past two years to increase the fund balance to healthier levels.
In general, long-term planning is not overly exciting, but its importance is no more obvious than in times like these.
April 16, 2020
The COVID-19 global pandemic has left a record-number 22 million people – including over 700,000 within New Jersey – without jobs, wondering what the new normal will be when it comes to the economy and job-seeking in the future.
Carl Van Horn, Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and the founding director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and a senior advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy talks about the current labor market and offers advice to those recently unemployed or facing layoffs.
April 16, 2020
Technology and investments will play a central role in the rebuilding and recovery from COVID-19. What tech and investments show the greatest promise? What policy actions would help us rebuild more intelligently – locally, nationally, and globally? What is the role of transparency, both in the public and private sector, in supporting good governance with the rebuilding and recovery efforts? In addition, what is the role of privacy – and can we make sure we also persevere privacy in the COVID-19 response and recovery too? Please join the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center on Thursday, April 16 at 12pm EDT for a discussion with internationally recognized author and scientist Dr. David Brin, noted public policy professor and expert Dr. Kathryn Newcomer, and Dr. David Bray on the technologies, investments, and policy actions that could help us rebuild from COVID-19 on a global scale.
April 15, 2020
Long-time blog readers may remember my frequently expressed enthusiasm for contests (“challenges” in government jargon) as an innovative procurement technique for the government.
The basic idea behind a procurement challenge is that the government announces a problem it seeks to have solved. Anyone may then submit their solution, and the government chooses a winner or winner. When it announces a challenge, the government also specifies a monetary prize (hence the moniker “contest”) and further steps the government might take to support the winner(s).
During the Obama administration, the General Services Administration announced the website Challenge.gov to organize and promote contests. I have blogged about contests since 2009and earlier called them the single-most-important innovation in government contracting in the last decade.
April 15, 2020
Across the spectrum of relief and stimulus initiatives, many of them federally funded and state-administered, antiquated technology and processes are inhibiting effective and efficient execution. As a result, we face the very real possibility that desperately needed assistance will simply not flow to those who need it nearly fast enough.
As many have suggested, it is critically important that Congress include funding for technology modernization in the next COVID response legislation. And that funding should not be limited to federal agencies; there should also be substantial, direct grant funding to the states. While some might argue that this is principally a state responsibility, these programs, while state-administered, are federally funded and have average payment error rates of over 10%, meaning billions of our tax dollars are already wasted every year. Thus, it is clearly in our collective best interest to support initiatives that drive improved performance and reduced cost.
April 15, 2020
Over the years many cities and county CIOs have struggled to be part of the enterprise-wide strategic planning process as opposed to being relegated to what was viewed as the chief infrastructure officer – maintaining basic operations and “keeping the lights on.”
During the current COVID-19 crisis, today’s CIO has moved to the forefront and has become essential and appreciated. For the most part, no Disaster Recovery (DR) Plan envisioned a prolonged physical government shut down for more than a few days or a week or two at best. Today, it’s different.
April 14, 2020
Two friends in different states told me similar stories recently about how social distancing was being enforced at parks with relatively isolated hiking trails. Because getting to the trails caused too many people to use the same narrow steps or park their cars too close together, access was blocked for everyone.
Clearly, the government needs to take action in these kinds of situations, which it did, in this case, the way it knows best: by throwing a switch — you are open or you are closed. But when the coronavirus nightmare begins to subside, state and local officials will face difficult decisions about when and how to begin reviving local economies by allowing residents to return to work and visit shops and restaurants. It will be a time for officials to embrace rheostat government, replacing the binary on/off switch with a dimmer. Instead of closing the park, perhaps meter the number of people climbing the steps or parking cars, or even the hours the park is open, to spread out usage.
Nuanced, calibrated use of regulatory powers can help local governments in metering normal life back on.
April 13, 2020
Kaula Carr’s job in Arizona disappeared in March when the restaurant where she worked laid off staff members in response to the coronavirus crisis.
She and her young daughter are eligible for public assistance, ranging from food stamps to Medicaid, to help soften the blow. But after Ms. Carr spent hours filling out forms and uploading dozens of documents, the online system crashed. “I want to cry,” she texted her aunt. “They make it impossible to actually get assistance.”
Ms. Carr is one of the millions of Americans discovering the gap between the promise of public programs and the reality of their design, which makes it hard to get help. The short-term result will be unmet needs, a stymied economic recovery, and profound frustration. The long-term result should be a reconfiguration of how we administer the safety net in the United States.
April 09, 2020
In this episode of the Follow the Data podcast series highlighting Bloomberg Philanthropies’ COVID-19 response, Jessica Leighton, who works on our Public Health program spoke to Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the vice dean for public health practice at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
They discuss how COVID-19 is different from other recent outbreaks, the four phases of crisis response for public health disasters, and how the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is tackling the coronavirus from every angle.
April 08, 2020
National Academy of Public Administration President, CEO, and fellow Terry Gerton joins the Federal News Network podcast to discuss managing agencies during a crisis.
Many can manage. Fewer can steer an agency or a department through a crisis such as the nation is now facing. The National Academy of Public Administration has a long history of research into how to manage difficult periods. Longtime federal manager and now NAPA President and CEO Terry Gerton joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin for some perspective.
April 08, 2020
National Academy of Public Administration President, CEO, and fellow Terry Gerton joins the GovExec Daily podcast to explain how federal managers can handle the challenges brought to the fore by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the government, the novel coronavirus pandemic is nothing if not a series of management conundra to solve. Agencies need to juggle the morale, safety, and productivity of their employees, while also serving the public within the context of managing the pandemic and all that comes with it.
April 07, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, a few months ago was transmitted to the Western Hemisphere primarily via the affluent: travelers who were fortunate enough to be able to afford vacations in faraway destinations reached by airplanes and cruise ships. News coverage of the outbreak in the hard-hit Lombardy region in Italy emphasized the area’s relative wealth, and early reports of the coronavirus status of NBA stars gave the impression the disease was a condition of the rich and famous.
But not for long. By now we’re already seeing evidence that African Americans and persons with low income are overrepresented among reported coronavirus infections and deaths. Indeed, stopping the next wave of the pandemic will depend in large part on what happens to the socially and medically vulnerable. People in vulnerable groups are not only at increased risk of contracting Covid-19, but they are also at risk for contributing to its spread, straining medical resources, and increasing the risk for everyone.
What this means is that if we want to slow and eventually halt the spread of the coronavirus, we’ll need to do a lot more than wear face masks and use Zoom to work from home. We’ll need to deploy a range of other policies targeted at those most at risk for serious illness and those most at risk for passing the virus on to others.
April 07, 2020
The coronavirus is a public health crisis that we need to continue to take seriously. While we still have a long way to go before we prevail over this pandemic, it is fitting to review some lessons that we can learn based on recent events. The coronavirus reaffirms the fact that the world has now become much more interconnected. As a result, addressing a range of medical, financial, security, migration, environmental, and other issues will require increased coordination, cooperation, and execution across both international and domestic boundaries in the future.
Believe it or not, the United States was rated number one in the world in preparedness for a pandemic. Yet demand for ventilators and protective equipment illustrates the lack of adequate national planning. The federal government shockingly still does not have a comprehensive strategy that is risk-based, future-focused, and resource-constrained. The absence of such national planning results in crisis management approaches being employed “all too frequently” by our leaders here at home.
The coronavirus highlights a need to examine our current stockpiles and “just in time” inventory practices.
April 06, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across America, governors, mayors, and county executives are facing — or soon will face — the biggest challenge of their public service careers. They ran for office to make their communities better places to live and work. Now they're full-time into saving lives.
But whether the emergency is a deadly disease outbreak or a terror attack, a hurricane, a tornado or any other large-scale crisis, the principles of management and leadership for dealing decisively and effectively with it are the same. And so, too, are the questions every leader must be able to answer, both for the governments they lead and for the people they are trusted to protect: What has happened? What do you know about it? What are you doing about it? And what should we — my family, my staff, my organization, my department — be doing about it?
April 06, 2020
As Congress and the Administration begin trading proposals on the contours of what a fourth COVID-19 relief package might look like, I agree with your assertion that a robust infrastructure component should be a central part of any future plan.
With the likelihood of long-lasting economic dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we should consider infrastructure investment both as a way to create jobs and as a bridge to the future, literally and figuratively. To accomplish both purposes effectively we need streamlined regulatory processes as well as creative financing, including approval of a broader array of critical infrastructure projects. Simply appropriating funds for a massive infrastructure package without addressing regulatory reforms would likely slow the economic recovery from the pandemic.
While there is no doubt that significant direct federal investments will be needed by our cities to respond to the economic fallout from this pandemic, I believe that whatever degree of federal infrastructure funding is made available should include its own expedited process that minimizes bureaucratic approvals such that obtaining necessary permits is fast-tracked. Velocity counts.
April 02, 2020
Never has it been more clear that effective intergovernmental arrangements are essential to the health and economic well-being of the American people. The lack of coordinated, nationwide government response to the pandemic is starkly evident.
The overarching objectives of an effective emergency management system are prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. A well-oiled intergovernmental system of emergency management requires everyone involved to understand the part they play in the whole. Governments can and do conduct disaster response well by working separately and together, and with a variety of other non-governmental partners.
Currently, the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control has issued interim guidance for individuals, schools, workplaces, and businesses, but these are advisory, not federal directives. State governors have leapfrogged over federal action to prevent the spread of the virus by limiting gatherings of people and shutting down businesses and community events.
April 02, 2020
What does it take to be a successful public leader during a crisis like a coronavirus pandemic? It takes fortitude, empathy, and creativity. But for many leaders, particularly those administering social services, it also takes something more specific: the ability to address inevitable program-service backlogs.
When a crisis hits, programs meant to serve a certain number of people are suddenly flooded and expected to serve exponentially more people. We are already seeing that with the historic increase of individuals filing for unemployment. Those people and their families not only expect timely help but, in many cases, urgently need it. When it doesn’t arrive, you’ve got a backlog of angry and frustrated people waiting for assistance.
I experienced that exact situation firsthand as a member of the leadership team at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development during the Great Recession.
April 02, 2020
Congress has just passed the largest economic rescue package in history. Now comes the hard part: a multitude of federal agencies, private businesses, nonprofits, and state and local governments must help implement a complex piece of emergency legislation in record time. It’s a huge challenge, but we’ve been here before. What lessons can be drawn from the last substantial stimulus package—the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—that can help speed the effective implementation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act?
The parallels between the two pieces of legislation are not perfect. The CARES Act is in some ways akin to a combination of the two big stimulus programs of the Great Recession: the Recovery Act and the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP, that focused on loans and bailouts to banks and large companies. And the Recovery Act, in contrast with the CARES Act, sought to combine immediate fiscal stimulus with initiatives designed to build a lasting legacy of infrastructure improvements and green energy initiatives. But there are enough parallels to make insights drawn from the Recovery Act experience a worthwhile venture.
April 01, 2020
In 2019, according to the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, only about 19% of local governments had any kind of telework arrangements in place and fewer than half the states did. Even in states that had some telework capacity, only a handful provided that option for more than a modest portion of employees.
Over the last few weeks, however, as the world has turned upside-down in the wake of a monster pandemic, governments from coast to coast are setting up hastily erected teleworking systems to keep operations running while protecting workers’ health.
On March 16, at a special conference call that focused on telework and leaves for members of the National Association of State Personnel Executives, some 30 states participated. “Basically, everyone is doing telework now,” says Leslie Scott, executive director of NASPE. “My sense is that it changed from ‘telework if you want to ‘you will telework.’
April 01, 2020
Academy Fellow and former Director of the Division of Strategic National Stockpile Greg Burel discusses the current status and utilization of medical equipment from the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile.
March 31, 2020
Some 15 years ago, the Professional Services Council and the Army Materiel Command teamed up on a joint “lessons learned” exercise focused on contracting issues that arose during the first phases of the Iraq war. As we prepared to brief the report to senior Pentagon officials, the commander of AMC suggested to me that we change the title. “Instead of Lessons Learned,” he said, “We should call it Lessons Observed. After all, we haven’t learned a damn thing.”
With the passage of the CARES Act, we are again on the precipice of a massive federal initiative, the largest of its kind ever. Of the $2 trillion called for under the law, agencies will spend billions of dollars on new federal contracts for both ongoing and surge activities. And looking back, many past lessons remain highly relevant. While imperfect analogies, the early days of the Iraq conflict, along with the days following Hurricane Katrina, the 2009 recovery and stimulus, and more, share a number of common traits and do offer some lessons worth keeping front of mind.
First, to paraphrase a military adage, we need to fight as we plan and plan as we fight. As agencies come to grips with their specific roles in the execution of the CARES Act mission, the centrality of industry partnerships is eminently clear. Engaging industry partners from the beginning, sharing objectives, and tapping their creativity and expertise is not just smart management; it’s also essential to finding the best, most efficacious solutions.
March 30, 2020
As the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, and with much of the country on lockdown, it may seem like we are living in unprecedented times. There are many open questions about the current public health situation, the outlook on the U.S. economy, and the capacity of the Federal Government to address these challenges. But there is some historical precedent for the magnitude of the national crisis we are experiencing today. Our nation has experienced previous shocks to the system, which have been followed by a strong and sustained Federal response to these major events. It is important to understand how the Federal Government has responded to previous crises and the implications for government real estate.
As we try to make sense of our current situation, and as we consider the longer-term Federal impact, the events of September 11, 2001, come to mind. After the attacks, there was a significant expansion of Federal activity and spending to prevent future terrorist attacks at home and abroad.
March 30, 2020
Sunday afternoon I was looking at the homepage of The New York Times and I saw the headline, "The U.S. Tried to Build a New Fleet of Ventilators. The Mission Collapsed." The subhead was, "As the coronavirus ravages America’s health care system, a canceled federal contract helps explain the acute shortage of medical equipment." (The article also was on the front page of Monday’s Times.) Oh wow, I thought, another government contracting horror story.
And that indeed was how the story was pitched. The efforts "highlight the perils of outsourcing projects with critical public-health implications to private companies," the article states; "their focus on maximizing profits is not always consistent with the government’s goal of preparing for a future crisis."
But if you look at the story more carefully, the messages are actually very different ones.
March 30, 2020
The speed and spread of the coronavirus have been stunning. Roughly three months ago this virus was unheard of, yet it has resulted in more than 720,000 known cases and more than 34,000 deaths around the world. In my home of King County, Wash., which includes Seattle and was the initial hot spot for the U.S. outbreak, as of Sunday there were an estimated 2,159 confirmed cases and 141 deaths.
The spread of the coronavirus and its associated disease, COVID-19, will highlight and likely exacerbate social inequities in our cities and counties, disproportionately impacting low-income communities of color as well as indigenous, immigrant, and refugee populations. These inequities are the result of historic and systemic racism, and it is imperative that we prioritize equity in our response.
March 28, 2020
For weeks, officials in both parties have urged the Trump administration to fight the coronavirus pandemic by invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to encourage and enable manufacturers to produce critical medical equipment — and quickly. The administration’s response has been bizarre. The president authorized using the law, then said it wasn’t needed because the industry is doing enough voluntarily (a claim that clearly isn’t true). Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter T. Gaynor announced Tuesday that the DPA would help get test kits to New York, but later that day reversed course.
March 25, 2020
If the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic are similar to other global crises historically, there will be long-lasting effects on the businesses, communities, and households for years to come. Understanding just how much the crisis affects our country’s population should be imperative for policymakers. To do so, our country’s research community needs the tools – and the data – to monitor and evaluate the success of our policy interventions to protect public health.
Unfortunately, today the country is ill-equipped for such a task. While ongoing work to implement new federal data laws and practices has put the government on the precipice, the crisis indicates we need much more rapid improvement. The American people will need high-quality and reliable information to understand the current crisis and better prepare for the next one. We cannot wait a decade for that to happen.
March 25, 2020
I feel guilty writing about the state’s finances. There are more pressing events to worry about. But best to be prepared.
First, let me observe what a great job our governor is doing to address the coronavirus situation. Always available; always explaining the problems and his proposed solutions in a clear manner. Does he have all the answers? Of course not — but he is addressing the problems forthrightly and explaining his actions without blame and with confidence and reassurance. A striking contrast to the actions of the president.
While health concerns dominate the news, it’s also important to review the major finance issues the state will soon be facing, including revenue collections, future tax policy, spending, pensions, cash flow and unemployment insurance. Our financial situation could be dire or just troublesome. I hope for the latter, but I fear the former.
March 25, 2020
On Wednesday, Senate negotiators announced that they had reached a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package in an effort to bolster the economy that has been devastated by measures meant to attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Our new “big government” consensus, though, is as shortsighted as it is striking.
Writers and politicians across the spectrum have begun to call for the government at all levels to take a major, if not massive, role in combating the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing global recession. All of this is necessary.
Yet big government can’t just mean sending money, the tactic the current stimulus measure is centered upon. The government we forge for this crisis has to have some permanence, has to provide jobs and not just income, and has to have a human face.
March 25, 2020
The year 2000 challenge, fondly known as Y2K, was easy to describe but not as simple to solve. To save space, which was very valuable in the early days of computer programming in the '50s and '60s, programmers adopted the strategy of using two digits to identify the year. For example, "1966" became "66".
Little did these early programmers know that financial companies, industrial firms, governmental agencies like Social Security, and the FAA would simply use the old systems as the base for the structures that they would build over the years.
March 24, 2020
As Congress readies the largest economic stimulus bill in American history to help stem the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, fraudsters are waiting in the wings. Fraud flourishes when oversight is lacking or nonexistent. And when the federal government’s goal is to get as much money as possible into the hands of people who need it, as quickly as possible, oversight is usually an afterthought. The final bill is still being worked out, but the size of the stimulus—close to or exceeding $2 trillion—and the speed with which the money will be made available, should make oversight paramount.
The risk here is real. With fast-moving economic stimulus, there are requests for accelerated payments, obligations, and contract awards, which is a recipe for decreased oversight. Scammers preying on individuals with fake offers of stimulus grants will be prolific, which will require public service campaigns and other strategic communications efforts. Nearly every dollar spent will come with the potential for fraud or abuse.
March 23, 2020
Under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, “[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
That profound statement raises many questions. What powers does the Constitution delegate to the federal government? What does the Constitution forbid the States to do? If the federal government does not have a certain power, does it devolve to State governments—or to individuals and communities?
These questions are challenging, so it is unsurprising that the relationship between states and their subsidiary local governments has been the subject of ongoing discussions over the entire history of the republic.
March 18, 2020
The Pacific Northwest has experienced COVID-19 ahead of other areas of the country and had to respond quickly. Its local governments and states have been working to address the impacts from the virus and to meet the needs of residents. Even so, it is not clear how well everyone is doing in terms of dealing with the social equity impacts. That requires a perspective that sees and meets the particular kinds of needs and problems experienced by persons of color, women, the elderly, those with disabilities, lower-income residents, and the homeless. Consider the following 10 questions that have grown out of our experience to date. These are important not only for the local governments on the front lines but also for states or federal agencies that want to work with them.
March 17, 2020
Recent Office of Management and Budget guidance instructing agencies to offer “maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees” is a start, but far more is going to have to be done to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.
The guidance addresses “telework eligible” employees. We know that the majority of federal workers are not already teleworking eligible. In fact, the number of telework eligible employees dropped as a result of the Trump administration moves to cut back on telework. Those policies, attributed to mission requirements, put agencies in a position where it is more difficult for them to operate during emergencies.
March 17, 2020
In our all-coronavirus/all-the-time world, there’s an enormous premium on leadership. What can we do to slow the virus down so we can eventually wrestle it to the ground? There’s a paradox here: the plan of action matters much less than we think.
As Robert C. Tucker pointed out in 1981 in his short and lively book, The Politics of Leadership, an answer is worthless unless a leader can rally everyone around a shared understanding of the problem. Consider Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stirring words during his first inaugural, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
It was a remarkable opening of the very first speech he gave as president. He didn’t define the problem in the technical terms of an economic collapse. He didn’t lead with a laundry list of stimulus ideas. He defined it as fear, and he told the nation he would transform that fear into victory. That was a gutsy call at a very difficult time. And it worked.
March 16, 2020
Last week the Ash Center at the Harvard Kennedy School hosted an online meeting that brought together more than 20 senior officials from America's largest cities and Professor Marc Lipsitch, director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, to help frame out facts and options in dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic, a situation that none of the participants has experienced before.
The exchange raised complex new questions and at the same time highlighted the extraordinary importance of mayors, as well as those who hold corresponding elected positions in county government, who must make painful decisions while accomplishing the seemingly inconsistent goals of communicating bad news in a way that inspires confidence.