Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reorganizing Government? Start Online!

Hope you didn’t miss this. In his State of the Union speech, President Obama talked about reorganizing government to consolidate programs/services.
“There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy. Then there's my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater. I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked…In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.”
Woot! He’s absolutely right. The overlap and duplication is daunting. Consolidating is a huge challenge – and absolutely the right thing to do. But how? 

Start online!

This is low-hanging fruit. This is not that hard to do – with a top level mandate and ongoing support.
  • Put the Federal Web Managers Council, working with GSA and the USA.gov staff, in charge of convening topic-based groups. Make sure every agency that has a program or stake in a topic is included. Involve program experts.
  • Charge agencies to work together around topics. Give these task groups reasonable deadlines and adequate support.
  • Consolidate content among agencies. Eliminate duplication. Show the audience where to start, where to go next, and what else they should consider.  Make it easy to find and use top (most requested) tasks.
  • Bring in plain language specialists. Bring in usability specialists. Bring in customer service experts. Bring in citizens (great opportunity for open government).
  • Designate a lead agency to interface with citizens for each topic so customers don’t have to bounce around (and Mr. President – make them play by the rules).
  • Post it on USA.gov (like they do in the United Kingdom with their DirectGov website).
Bingo – citizens see a more efficient government!

Citizens never need to see those agency silos. They don’t need to know you sit in different buildings, all over the country. They don’t even need to know you’re still working with Congress to consolidate programs. Aggregate the advice and options. Post it on one website and – viola! – the government looks like it’s got its act together.

The Pew Internet and American Life folks tell us Americans access their government through the internet more than any other way. So if you want to reorganize and make government more efficient, why not start online?

Related Posts
Can’t We Have One Federal Government – At Least Online?
Time for a Re-Think of USA.gov

4 comments:

Gwynne said...

Candi, I must part ways with you on this one my friend.

In my experience, websites always reflect the organization. A dysfunctional, fractured, silo'd organization will have a dysfunctional, fractured, silo'd web presence.

Yes, you can cover up some parts of the dysfunction, but not all. And yes, you can create a mandate that, in the short run provides on a good face. But in a few months the underlying mess reasserts itself.

The "voila" is like any magic trick when "the government looks like it’s got its act together," it really doesn't and the gains are like wisps of pixie dust.

Thew web won't be the solution, but will the delivery for the solution, IMHO.

Mark Alan Smith said...

Candi--Here in Indiana we are enduring the Kernan-Shephard Commission's report which encourages abolishing township trustees. While I see their goal, I urge caution about throwing the baby out with the bath water. Inefficiency should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, instead of carte blanche. The trustee is the smallest unit of government, and should be left alone. People need someone trustworthy and visible in the township itself to deal with.

Sarah said...

Hi Candi -
Thanks for another insightful post. At USA.gov we are always eager to work with our colleagues in other agencies.
We don't operate under any formalized processes for sharing content, but are thrilled when web managers in other agencies partner with us to help spread awareness of their initiatives and information.
I believe that cross-agency, topic-centered web coordination could be the first step toward substantial coordination in other aspects of government operations as well. It would certainly be one of the most beneficial for the citizens -- and to delay efforts because the underlying mess is not completely cleaned up would be a mistake. As a wise person once said "Don't wait. The timing will never be just right."

Anonymous said...

Candi,
I agree with the intent of your idea. And in addition to your creative solution, I would add that our representational bodies at the federal level would work more effeciently if they also embraced more e-type interaction and less Washington-based politics. I own a small business, and I know that my overhead would become intolerable if I conducted business without online meetings and mobile technology support. I see our senators still basically using a function model designed over a hundred years ago. Go online, and save millions in government costs (i.e. travel, housing, and expenses alone).