Fixing the gaps and overlaps between federal agencies

(Robert Miller/THE WASHINGTON POST)

(Robert Miller/THE WASHINGTON POST)

As federal leaders know all too well, collaboration among agencies on common missions is a rarity. The government is set up on a program-centric and agency-centric model, and having separate federal entities and programs work together to achieve a shared goal can be extremely difficult.

The exception to disconnected government comes during times of crisis when public attention is focused on a major problem and there is unity of action. This has been the case with the fight against terrorism since 9/11, and for natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

In a new report titled “Building the Enterprise: Nine Strategies for a More Integrated, Effective Government, the Partnership for Public Service (my organization) and Booz Allen Hamilton argue that cross-agency collaboration must become the norm rather than the exception.

The report calls for our government to act as a single, integrated enterprise — not a set of separate agencies and programs — in achieving important goals and to better husband its resources so it can begin to eliminate program duplication and overlap.

While the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act established cross-agency priority goals requiring collaboration, we found that the effort must be better integrated, expanded and given higher-level attention and commitment.

We need more focused leadership from the White House and the Cabinet, and a set of system-level changes that include designating leaders with increased responsibility to coordinate programs among multiple agencies, and developing a corps of career senior executives with interagency experience and a government-wide focus.

Creating wide-scale collaboration among agencies takes time, and there are certainly real limits and constraints on what individual agency leaders and managers can do. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking for opportunities to coordinate with colleagues within and outside your own agency, and to engage with interagency working groups.

If you’re leading a program with some overlap, reach out to leaders with responsibility for other programs. Perhaps there will be ways to work together, and, at the very least, you can build stronger one-on-one relationships that may develop into something positive over time.

It also would be worth looking at an instructive Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued last year. “Managing for Results: Key Considerations for Implementing Interagency Collaborative Mechanisms” describes how agencies can develop joint strategies, leverage resources, and define roles and responsibilities.

These type of reports offer food for thought regarding a more government-wide, enterprise approach to solving some of our country’s major challenges. I would be interested in hearing about your experiences regarding interagency projects including what’s worked, what’s failed, what types of obstacles have impeded progress and situations where there is clear evidence that this approach is needed. Please share your stories in the comments section. You can also send me an e-mail at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.

Read also:

An interview with the head of NASA

Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Also on On Leadership

Why slackers still get bonuses