Fiscal Year 2025: Are We Happy Yet?

This post first appeared on IBM Business of Government. Read the original article.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Budgets typically are about making promises concerning the future.

But President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2025 proposed budget also contains a section regarding progress made over the past year in improving how government works for Americans. And next steps.

Several chapters nestled in a volume that traditionally accompanies budget requests for the coming year, called Analytical Perspectives, annually assess progress on a range of statutory and administrative initiatives that are largely under the radar screen. These management-related initiatives serve as the foundation for the successful implementation of high-visibility policy undertakings, such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which funds more than 200 different programs across the government.

In summary, the assessment concludes: “the Federal Government has developed a set of management routines that drive a results-oriented culture and help organizations deliver prioritized, transparent outcomes.” These administrative routines underpin how agencies operate (not what they do). For example, these include strategies to improve how Americans experience their interactions with government programs on a day-to-day basis such as when they have children, lose their jobs, or retire. The government lingo for this is “customer experience.”

Over the past decade, improving the public’s “customer experience” has been a bipartisan priority and there’s been significant progress. However, one of the lessons learned about improving customer experience has been the importance of paying attention to the role of federal employees in delivering these programs. Studies at the Veterans Health Administration and the Transportation Security Administration found that increases in customer satisfaction with services they received were strongly correlated to how engaged federal employees were with their work. This is no surprise. The link between customer satisfaction and engaged employees was validated decades ago in the private sector.

After all, Leo Tolstoy once wrote: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This seems to be true of the effective operations of federal agencies, as well.

As noted in the budget’s progress report, the Biden Administration’s commitment to improving employee engagement – and more broadly, organizational health and performance – has been a prominent internal initiative over the past year, starting with his directive to agencies in April 2023 to develop action plans for how each agency would measure, monitor, and assess their organizational health and performance.

The Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management joined up to help agencies by conducting preliminary “organizational health scans” based on data already collected. These scans provided each agency’s leadership team with an understanding of how their organizational health and performance stacked up on certain dimensions with other agencies.  This helped jumpstart each agency’s development of their own, customized action plans of what they felt was important to measure and monitor. For example, OMB suggested that agencies use their annual employee survey data to compare the top 10 and bottom 10 organizational units to identify differences and promising practices.

The resulting agency assessments and action plans became a topic of discussion between top agency leadership, OMB, and OPM in the summer of 2023 as a part of their routine annual one-on-one strategic performance reviews. Some common themes emerged from these reviews.

One common theme was the need to be able to develop integrated business systems to aggregate data at the department level to undertake analytics across performance indicators. The Department of Defense created a dashboard – called Pulse – that helps its executives integrate workforce data and other performance information to support decision-making. Other agencies developed similar capabilities, including the Department of Energy, the US Agency for International Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Another common theme was the importance of developing agencies’ analytical capacities to use integrated business systems to make data-driven management decisions. To this end, OMB and the General Services Administration are hosting workshops and a cross-agency community of practice to share innovative practices and approaches as agencies develop their implementation plans. In addition, OPM is developing an Organizational Health and Performance Toolkit to help agencies monitor organizational effectiveness and use data to improve mission success.

Interestingly, veteran workforce consultant Howard Risher wrote in a recent article that the future success of agency organizational health and performance needs to be more people-centric and proactively engage middle managers. He calls them the “forgotten role in job satisfaction” and says that they play a vital role. Maybe this will become a new theme in the coming year.



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