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Thursday, February 07, 2013

Controller outlines strategy to simplify government

The chief impediments to streamlining federal functions are “parochial stakeholder interests” and a lack of urgency among managers implementing laws and programs, U.S. Controller Danny Werfel told a business group on Wednesday.
The solutions include relying more on independent commissions in deciding how to “rightsize and reshape” government as well as “changing the culture to channel the urgency” commonly felt during a crisis into everyday situations.
Speaking at a forum on transforming government for the 21st century sponsored by the Business Roundtable and Governing magazine, Werfel also stressed the importance of pending legislation to restore historical authority to the president to reorganize agencies. “Congress has our bill,” he said, “and the fact that the president felt strong enough to transmit it says he is committed to reshaping and resizing government. Every tool we can use should be at our disposal.”
In efforts to sell off unneeded federal real estate, he said, there’s been progress, but not enough. “We’re lagging behind,” Werfel said. “The federal government has offices in nearly every county, a pattern that emerged in the 1950s and 70s, but citizens are no longer served in a bricks-and-mortar way.”
Similarly, he pointed to “pockets of progress” in the government’s efforts at leveraging shared services and common infrastructure, as in cloud technology and the economies of scale in “buying once, using many times. But there’s still a significant opportunity for efficiencies, and if we don’t avail ourselves, it will slow us down,” he said.
Asked why the government hadn’t made more progress replacing legacy information technology systems, Werfel said there are resource and budget issues, but also “a track record of a lot of cultural and emotional toll among people who’ve seen many systems fail.” An environment encouraging modernization is vital, he said, but he has also asked agencies to get more out of their legacy systems, to make sure all are clear on what is to be gained by replacing them. Modernization “won’t go from zero to 100 mph overnight,” he said.

The second Obama administration, Werfel said, might involve improved leveraging of the work of the Government Accountability Office and inspectors general in identifying inefficiencies and determining which parochial interests are legitimate. Best-practice sharing among agencies “is also a second-term imperative,” he said. “In the first term, groundwork was laid for a lot of opportunity for a return on investment, smart investment in things like co-location, innovations, shared services, and a digital strategy for mobile devices,” he said. “We have to decide how expensive [it will be and] how long it will take to raise the customer service level.”
Werfel told the business executives they could play a key role advocating for modernization and working through the President’s Management Advisory Board.
-Charles S. Clark, GovExec.com

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