Managing the Business of Our Country

In the U.S. government, executive endorsement comes directly from the White House, and one of the greatest instruments of project prioritization is the annual State of the Union Address. For generations, presidents have used the State of the Union to set their domestic and international agendas, set government priorities, and lead the nation in new initiatives.

Along with millions of other Americans this past January 25th, I watched as President Obama delivered the 2011 State of the Union Address. A number of the themes he spoke about struck me as extremely relevant and quite critical regarding the future of our country, including his following call to action:

“So now is the time to act. Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress – Democrats and Republicans – to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done. If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

“Let me take this one step further. We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable. We should give them a government that’s more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past.

“We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV. There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy.” 

Investment management. Efficiency. Reorganization. Integration. None of these are new problems; nor are they new solutions. However you choose to view them, the approach taken in dealing with them is what can make the difference between the impact the President is seeking to obtain, and the failure that could result if managed ineffectively.
Unfortunately, although not completely unfounded, public perception of the quality and efficiency of government projects and services is rather poor. The popular belief is that the government is populated with people who couldn’t hack the private sector, so they live in the shelter of civil service where they’re not held accountable to performance standards. The truth is the government isn’t made up of incompetent administrators. A few bad apples may tarnish the reputation of the whole system. But the larger problem stems from numerous inefficiencies caused by non-converged oversight, insufficient (or nonexistent) management, deficient accountability structures, and spending programs that are misaligned from intended outcomes. These inefficiencies aren’t a reflection of the government, but rather the complexity of managing numerous complex Programs within large organizations.

Taking the Right Approach

Clearly defining the mission and vision of a public sector department/agency, effectively creating and communicating a roadmap to achieve the desired outcomes, and then validating the actual results is a simple enough concept. Yet many government agencies display only limited success in creating an environment in which the development of strategic goals is reinforced by processes that organize and align their activities in support of achieving goals. It’s even more rare that the government agency effectively manages its mission and technology together and with predefined metrics to achieve mission goals.

Today, the U.S. federal government has a long list of technology-based projects that are either languishing in development, stalled by bureaucratic malaise, or simply underperforming and far from meeting their stated goals. To put it another way: It’s the management—not the technology—that makes a true difference.

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