Finding value in analyzing federal work

October 17, 2012

Some things are DBI: dull but important.

For me, analytics fits that category.

Discussions about analyzing and collecting data on how organizations, in this case federal agencies, operate aren’t as interesting as dissecting the last presidential debate. But determining what agencies do well and what they don’t — and why — can result in more productive employees and more satisfied customers and taxpayers.

That’s the point of a new report by the Partnership for Public Service. “From Data to Decision II” follows a similarly titled report last year. (The nonprofit Partnership has a content-sharing relationship with The Washington Post.)

The first thing I wanted to know: How is analytics defined?

The Food and Drug Administration, which uses an analytical approach to improve its review process for medical devices, provided this definition: “The evaluation of all inputs and outputs of a system to determine which combination of inputs and outputs affect the overall system.”

Perhaps the FDA should analyze how it communicates.

Dan Liddell has a definition that makes more sense to me:

“As a former Marine Officer, I simply feel that the definition of ‘analytics’ is ‘intelligence.’ Actionable intelligence is processed information that supports mission accomplishment. And I grew up in the axiom that ‘intelligence drives all operations.’ ”

Liddell was on a Partnership panel discussion Wednesday and also shared his approach to analytics with the Federal Diary via e-mail. He is a Transportation Security Administration federal security director for seven Upstate New York airports, though he still talks like a Marine.

He analyzed jobs at those facilities, breaking the work of transportation security officers into 18 categories. The tasks related to those job functions were identified, as were the skills, knowledge and values needed to complete the tasks.

Liddell said this approach resulted in more than half the TSOs earning a perfect score in their annual certification last year. “Our employees also exceed expectations on most performance measures,” he said by e-mail. “The unintended consequences are individual and team pride in accomplishment and a professional ethos that develops from maintaining high standards.”

One thing he said in the panel discussion really stands out: “If you get the people right, everything else will follow.”

The people piece is key. Getting buy-in from staff is critical. It’s the first point on the report’s list of Steps to Get Started: “Prepare the troops by explaining the importance of data and communicating a vision for how that data will be used in decision making. Share, share, share. Provide clear and meaningful information to employees and important stakeholders that communicate what the team is doing and learning, as well as the next steps. Everyone directly impacted by the work of the team needs to be kept in the loop.”

Green jobs

Is your job green?

Compared with the local, state and private sectors, the federal government has the highest percentage of green jobs.

That’s the word from the Economic Policy Institute, which analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics data. EPI says 5.3 percent of federal jobs are considered green, compared with 4.9 percent of state jobs, 3.4 percent of local government jobs and 2.1 percent of private-sector gigs.

But what is a green job?

The EPI paper says green jobs “produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.” But finding out if your job is green isn’t easy. Ethan Pollack, the report’s author, said BLS data indicate that public administration accounts for 82 percent of federal green jobs, leisure and hospitality about 9 percent and utilities about 6 percent.

Unfortunately, the report doesn’t give specific examples of green federal jobs.

“Public administration jobs can be office jobs, but not exclusively,” Pollack said by e-mail. “Remember, public administration is an industry rather than an occupation, so it doesn’t define what workers do on a day-to-day basis so much as it defines the types of organizations they work for.”

Federal utility jobs include positions involved in hydroelectric power, for example. Parks and Forest Service employees are in the leisure and hospitality category.

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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