Michael Rigas, Acting Director of Management at the Office of Management and Budget recently spoke at the ACT-IAC Shared Services Summit on the future vision of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA). Read his full remarks below.
We got a lot right in the 2018 PMA. We are going to build on that success.
I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the work that has been done under the PMA, talk about the lessons we have learned from implementation, and share our plans to build on these for the future.
Where We Are
Success During the Pandemic Due to IT Modernization
The modernization of our Federal IT Infrastructure has long been a concern for the Federal Government. Under the PMA, this administration has sought to aggressively modernize our IT Infrastructure. Over the past four years we have sought to emphasize enterprise-wide outcomes that enhance effectiveness and reduce risk. We have worked to cut red tape and expand the use of modern commercial technologies that are effective, economical, and secure, to better meet the needs of our citizens. These efforts also put us in a position so that we could respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in real time and maintain the ability to deliver on our missions.
This pandemic has changed how we work more rapidly than any of us could have expected. But today the Federal Government is open and operating at the highest sustained level of telework in history, and providing the services Americans rely on with minimal disruption, while also protecting the safety of our employees. It is no easy feat to quickly and effectively transition a large federal workforce to a digital environment. Yet we have been able to do so through the efforts of the CIO community and the four years of sustained efforts we have supported through the President’s Management Agenda.
For example, to ensure a smooth transition to telework, the Department of Education completely reimagined its Personal Identity Verification authentication process to ensure the majority of users are covered by an automated, dynamic access management solution. The department also adjusted how it issues laptops and strengthened the Virtual Private Network capacity. The Department of Education accomplished this in just 5 days.
Many agencies have adjusted by implementing virtual onboarding of new employees, including virtual badging, oath taking, providing computer credentials, and mandatory new hire trainings – all using technology. The federal acquisition community quickly moved to promoting virtual acquisition actions, such as online industry days, recorded oral proposals, and other innovative steps to ensure the business of government continued.
These are just a few of the remarkable efforts agencies have taken to adjust operations during challenging times, many of which would not have been possible without the work we have undertaken together through the PMA.
Together we have been able to equip essential workers with the technology and tools to continue their work uninterrupted during the pandemic. This has allowed agencies to continue delivering essential services to the American people. The Department of the Treasury was able to swiftly create and implement an application to inform taxpayers on the status of their Economic Impact Payment. The resulting “Get My Payment” application went live on April 15, 2020 and has had more than 368 million visits to date. The Small Business Administration (SBA) created new intake portals and expanded cloud-based support tools for borrowers and lenders alike. SBA also launched the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program and the Paycheck Protection Program within a week of one another. Both programs used online tools to ensure swift access to COVID-19 relief funds to support those in need, including small businesses across America. Through May 1, SBA has approved over $525 billion in PPP loans to support payroll costs for borrowers impacted by COVID-19.
Our Modernization success stories do not stop there. OMB has removed barriers to rapid adoption of best-in-class commercial solutions to better meet the needs of citizens through updated policies and strategic directives. We established the Technology Modernization Fund board, funding 9 projects totaling $90 million dollars to showcase the success we can have when we have the right funding mechanisms.
Finally, agencies have made substantial progress to protect the public’s data. For example, many agencies are now able to remotely wipe contents of lost or stolen mobile devices, and host inboxes on cloud email servers. We are continuing to build on the PMA’s successes, both in IT and across the board.
21st Century Workforce
In this unprecedented time, we have empowered our most valuable asset—our federal workforce—to continue to meet mission needs. I am proud to say the investments and outcomes achieved under the PMA positioned Executive Branch agencies to be steadfast and resilient in responding to this extraordinary call to action. Strengthening the federal workforce must be central to any effort to improve the performance of the Federal Government. This effort, driving better outcomes for the American people, has been a focus of my career – it’s why I joined the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and it will continue to be a central focus of mine during my time at OMB.
Federal Government personnel activities must become less cumbersome and burdensome. We owe it to the American taxpayers and the workers themselves. As part of Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal efforts, we have worked with the President to sign multiple executive orders to reform how our workforce is skilled, hired, and held accountable.
Under the President’s Management Agenda we are taking action directly where federal employees have noted issues for years. As early as May 2018, President Trump began to address the many inefficiencies in the federal hiring process. The result was 3 Executive Orders (EOs) regarding the federal workforce. These EOs lay out a framework around how we negotiate Collective Bargaining Agreements to establish parameters for taxpayer funded union time and provide simplicity for addressing misconduct and poor performance. In particular, the third EO streamlines dismissal procedures. Today, it can take 6 months to 1 year to remove a tenured federal employee for poor performance, plus an average of 8 more months to resolve appeals. Given these facts, it’s not surprising that the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey has consistently found that less than one-third of federal employees believe that the government deals with poor performers effectively. Unfortunately, implementation of America’s civil service laws had fallen far short of these ideals – and so President Trump has taken action.
This Administration realizes strong action is required to ensure merit is the focus of the hiring process. A recent example is the Executive Order that the President signed in June that seeks to correct the overemphasis on college degrees. Degree-based hiring is especially likely to exclude qualified candidates for jobs related to emerging technologies and those with weak connections between educational attainment and the skills or competencies required to perform them. With this order, the Federal Government will move to identify and secure talent through skills- and competency-based hiring. Serving the American people as a federal employee is a calling, and we owe it to each and every public servant to make sure the system is working the way it was meant to work.
IT and Personnel are just a couple of examples, but we have seen significant progress across a number of the priority areas from the PMA.
Category Management - First, under the PMA’s Category Management CAP Goal, the Federal Government has sought to buy common goods and services as an enterprise. Through this effort we avoided more than $33 billion in costs – and project saving over $40 billion as we close out FY20, eliminating nearly 150,000 (or 35%) of duplicative or sub-optimized contracts. Importantly, we achieved these savings while also increasing the use of small business. Currently, nearly 30% of all contract dollars when buying common goods and services go to small businesses. The President is committed to having our government support American small business to make sure they can continue to create jobs and have access to government contracts.
Buy American - Second, we have not only improved our buying process, but we have strengthened government efforts to Buy American and Hire American. The President has issued a number of EOs around this effort. Of particular note, one strengthened buy American preferences in infrastructure projects supported by federal financial assistance, and another made domestic-made products more competitive by revising the component test and how bids for American-made products are evaluated. The President’s focus is to emphasize and promote economic and national security, and to help stimulate economic growth, create good jobs, strengthen our middle class, and support the American manufacturing and defense industries.
Shared Services - Third, under the Sharing Quality Services CAP Goal, we are driving efficiency and ensuring we maximize the value of each taxpayer dollar. Shared services is driving these outcomes by:
- Improving mission support services to agencies, which allows them to focus on serving taxpayers, not wasting effort on process;
- Agreeing on government-wide business standards for common mission support services so we can better track our success and outcomes; and
- Increasing use of existing shared services to save taxpayer money
Agencies need to continue to move forward on adopting shared services. This is a key way to:
- Close the gap between industry and federal performance so we can deliver for taxpayers in the same way they receive services everywhere else;
- Provide agencies with modern, customer-centric, and secure marketplaces for both solutions and services; and
- Realize actual cost savings through reducing redundant procurements and generating economies of both scale and skill
Customer Experience – Fourth, to embed a customer-focused approach in all of the President’s Management Agenda initiatives, excellent service was established as a core component of the mission, service, stewardship model that frames the PMA. In your everyday life you have an expectation for how goods and services should be delivered seamlessly. There is no reason the expectation from your government should be any less.
Since 2018, this model has also been incorporated into the Federal Performance Framework, ensuring ‘excellent service’ as a focus in future agency strategic planning efforts and establishing standard Customer Experience measures across government. To direct our efforts on the highest impact programs, we identified 25 High Impact Service Providers across 14 agencies, which represent a significant number of the transactions the government conducts with the public. With just these 25 programs, we touch every American. They range from paying taxes to airport security lines to getting a Social Security card to visiting our public lands. Programs are collecting customer feedback in less burdensome, more actionable ways. We will share this publicly on performance.gov to drive transparency. And most importantly, we will take action to create better service to Americans. Last year, for the first time, agencies publicly shared Customer Experience Action Plans, including specific commitments aimed at improving customer pain points. The 2020 versions will be available soon. We also conducted a government-wide pilot recruiting top private sector talent to build our capacity in this area, hiring more than 15 individuals through an innovative process involving subject matter experts.
Burden Reduction - Through the PMA we have focused on using technologies like robotics process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI), in addition to process improvement methods to shift resources from outdated and redundant requirements and processes to accomplishing mission outcomes. Agencies have outlined more than 100 initiatives representing billions in savings. For example, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a Patients over Paperwork initiative to reduce unnecessary administrative burden. They actively solicited feedback from the medical community through requests for information (RFIs). This process resulted in over 1,000 ideas, and through regulatory changes alone HHS estimates a savings to the medical community of at least $5.7 billion and at least 40 million hours through 2021. Plus, the U.S. General Services Administration uses RPA to manage tasks like opening email, moving files, making calculations, and filling in forms. This has allowed the agency to shift an estimated 230,000 employee hours towards more high-value work.
Security Clearance Reform -Finally, in my role at OPM I have been actively engaged in helping to reduce the background investigation backlog. Past efforts had chipped away at the problem, but we didn’t need to chip away at a miles-long backlog—we needed to take a big step toward eliminating it. The current process was undermining our ability to attract top talent and onboard them in a timely manner, and was still introducing too much risk into the workforce. We took a comprehensive look at the process and assessed where we could we found efficiencies and improved processing time, while maintaining the fidelity of the investigation process. Now, for the first time since August 2014, the background investigation case inventory has returned to a stable state of approximately 200,000 cases. At its peak, NBIB’s inventory has reached 725,000 cases. The average time to complete a Top Secret investigation is also currently down from a high of 411 days to 79 days, and timeliness for Secret investigations decreased from 173 days to 56 days.
We are proud of these accomplishments and of the thousands of employees across the Federal Government who have joined together under the President’s Management Agenda to deliver these results. But we are not going to stop. There is much more to be done, and we know the American taxpayer is demanding we continue our work. We are now looking forward to building on the lessons learned through these accomplishments to set an even bolder and more impactful President’s Management Agenda in 2021. We got a lot right in the 2018 PMA, and we will build off that success in our next PMA.
Aligning agencies around a coordinated set of management improvement priorities was designed to help achieve the government’s mission, service, and stewardship objectives. Nearly all of the PMA’s initiatives drew a direct connection to customers, specifically focused on the members of the public an agency serves. This customer focus helped pull together many disparate initiatives and leaders and focused them on one collective goal – how the work they did would deliver results directly for the American people.
The PMA also did not get overly prescriptive in terms of centralized, one-size fits all mandates for agencies. Government agencies must maintain enough flexibility to address current needs and to evolve as those needs change – and they need goals to hit, not strict mandates that tie their hands. Instead of mandates, the PMA worked to empower agencies to use data to improve decision-making. Nearly every CAP Goal includes a focus on increasing the use of data. For example, the 25 programs which provide the most direct services to citizens – the High Impact Service Providers – are now required to collect customer feedback data and use it to manage their services, and will be posting the data publicly through Performance.gov.
In the Next PMA
I’d like to lay out a few big, simple ideas around which we can rally action and create fundamental change. Let me discuss five.
- First, more competition leads to more options at a lower price and better quality. Federal contracting is an important part of how we meet our missions. Through our Frictionless Acquisition CAP Goal, we are improving how we develop our requirements and are using less burdensome, commercially-friendly innovative practices. These steps are helping us reduce barriers to entry so more small businesses and new entrants can compete for work. More competition means better products and lower costs for the taxpayer.
- Second, decisions should be based on data and evidence. When looking at our engagement with the private sector, you see two types of business, those that engage very little with the government, and those where a majority of their business is conducted with the government. It shows our barriers to entry are too high, and that too many of the best firms don’t view doing business with the government as worth the cost. We need to better leverage data like this to improve our engagement with the private sector. More broadly, the use of data should inform all of our actions.
- Third, we must be better about managing risk. We must be better about acknowledging that while every action has risk, our job is to mitigate risk without jeopardizing the mission. But this requires discipline in assessing and managing risk, and engaging senior leadership in making those decisions.
- Fourth, we should continue to expand the use of technologies like RPA and AI to lower the burden of outdated and low-value processes, and focus both our budgetary and human capital resources on delivering mission and providing excellent service. With the emergence of RPA and AI, we will see a shift in how agencies plan for human capital to address their mission requirements. We see reskilling and upskilling playing a major role in the human capital lifecycle, and this is the reason we think that the work under the PMA is so important to our success.
- Fifth, and interrelated to our efforts to expand the use of emerging technologies, is overall burden reduction in government. The President has instructed government to “cut the red tape” and ensure that agencies can focus on their mission delivery.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, we should continue to put the customer, the American people, as the centerpiece of all of our work. Federal employees find motivation in serving citizens and each other, not complying with burdensome mandates. We’ve made great progress on this front, but the next PMA must get outside the beltway and expand this focus to the citizens we serve.
While this provides some insight into my thinking, we will need everyone’s engagement in this work to ensure the success of the next President’s Management Agenda.