How well are federal agencies managed?
It’s a question many citizens pose under normal circumstances and one that gains greater importance in public emergencies.
There is a lack of consensus and understanding about what management systems and practices produce the most success within federal agencies, and which hinder an agency’s enterprise, according to researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs.
Their new report presents a plan for designing and implementing a government-wide initiative to measure the management quality of federal agencies.
“Our nation needs federal managers who are equipped with the training, tools and guidance to be successful in their missions to support the American people,” said James Thompson, UIC associate professor of public administration and co-author of the report.
Thompson and Alejandra Medina, a Ph.D. student in public administration at UIC, produced the report as part of the Project on Assessing Management Quality, a collaborative led by the Senior Executives Association, a professional association representing Senior Executive Service members and other career federal leaders, in partnership with UIC and the IBM Center for the Business of Government.
“We think there is a link between our research and the COVID-19 pandemic to the extent that the crisis has highlighted the management shortcomings of federal and state agencies,” Thompson said. “A system such as we are recommending would draw attention to management needs and shortcomings at times other than those of crisis and would help agencies be prepared going forward.”
Based on the research and feedback received during interviews with current and former government managers and executives as well as with individuals from the private sector and from other countries, the UIC researchers present six building blocks for developing measures to assess well-managed agencies:
- Have the design of a measurement protocol serve as a learning opportunity
- Balance “Bottom-Up” with “Top-Down” in the design of a measurement initiative
- Engage the federal management community
- Use the measurement initiative to rethink management
- Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of assigning agencies grades
- Determine the degree of reliance to be placed on metrics
The Senior Executives Association is sponsoring a task force of public and private sector professionals to tackle some of the issues identified by the UIC researchers.
“It is our hope that this task force can bring together the minds of our nation’s most thoughtful government leaders to shed light onto this blind spot within government research. With the tools to determine what does and does not work within agencies, we can begin replicating best practices to improve the functioning of government and save taxpayer funds,” Thompson said.