Center Blog

Our Next President Needs to Think About Enterprise Government

March 30, 2016

Courtney Liss, Associate, Partnership for Public Service

Photo of Jane FountainJane Fountain

Why should building an enterprise government matter to our next administration? We’re answering that question today in our Q & A with Jane Fountain, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the Partnership for Public Service and IBM Center for the Business of Government report, “Building an Enterprise Government: Creating an ecosystem for cross-agency collaboration in the next administration.” This report stems from a roundtable discussion with current and former government leaders, and stakeholders on the topic of enterprise government, one area of focus in our upcoming Management Roadmap for the next administration.

What is enterprise government?
Enterprise government is the concept that we can do better than simply working within agency or department silos, a traditional organizational form where each agency or department doesn’t communicate with other agencies. When we think about the enterprise, sometimes we refer to the entire government or government-wide functions, and sometimes we refer to specific groups of agencies or departments that might work together on the specific problem that lies inherently across boundaries. So an enterprise approach is an orientation toward networks of agencies or departments co-producing to create greater efficiency and effectiveness. Cross-agency collaboration allows the government to address challenges it would not otherwise be able to address.

What makes this transition so important for enterprise government?
This transition is important because the federal government can advance capabilities for enterprise and cross-agency approaches that have been in development for about two decades. We have the potential in the next administration to bring greater coherence and effectiveness to a whole range of enterprise and cross-agency initiatives, both on the mission support side through shared services, but also by addressing problems and challenges that really require multiple agencies to work together.

Why should transition teams be thinking about enterprise government now?
Traditionally, transition teams look at specific agencies and specific policy areas. They are obviously the bridge from the campaign into the formulation of policy and operations in the new administration. From the start, transition teams need to be thinking about what policies of a candidate really are cross-agency or enterprise in nature. No matter who is elected, for example, immigration is likely to be a priority. There may be different approaches to thinking about how to move forward on immigration policy. Almost all of them will include multiple agencies because economics, law enforcement, immigration processes, education and health all play important roles in improving immigration policy. Moreover, for most complex policy problems, multiple agencies have to be involved to craft workable solutions. From the start, the transition teams should be thinking about what groups of agencies they need to bring to bear on the key problems and challenges the next president wants to address.

What are some key actions transition teams can take to build an enterprise government?
As they start to think about the people that they want to tap for managerial and executive political appointments, they should select those  who have management experience at an enterprise level. We can’t afford to put someone into a chief cooperating officer position, which is an appointed position, who doesn’t have robust management experience because from day one they’re going to have to understand how to work on complex cross-boundary challenges. The next administration will need political appointees for management positions who have considerable enterprise and cross-boundary experience.

How can cross-agency collaboration improve our government’s function?
There are considerable cost-savings available. The iconic example is reducing more than 140 different payroll systems in the government down to four. It took many years to get there for something as simple, in a way, as a payroll system. There are a number of standard administrative systems that most every agency is involved with. In many cases, they are quite similar, or exist in a few variations. Being able to rationalize, standardize and streamline those functions can bring substantial savings and simplification to the government.

The other primary improvement is mission related: the ability to address problems we otherwise couldn’t address. I think veteran homelessness is a great example. After many years of working on that problem, researchers and government experts realized if you don’t have stable housing for a veteran with mental, physical or other types of problems, you can’t even begin to work on those problems. So the Department of Veterans Affairs could be putting enormous resources toward mental and physical health, but if they didn’t address the fact that a veteran didn’t have stable housing, the health interventions simply would not work. To help veterans, it became clear that two agencies with completely different functions—affordable housing is very different from the medical and mental health work of the VA—would have to coordinate. The two agencies found a way to work together very successfully, and the cross-agency initiative has had a huge impact on helping our veterans.

For more information about enterprise government, read the Partnership for Public Service and IBM Center for the Business of Government report here.


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