Another View: Enduring government trends

Miriam Browning

Each New Year, the crystal ballers predict emerging trends in IT and conjure forgettable lists of what's in and what's out.

Most of us are glad that we no longer have to deal with DOS, quality circles, BASIC, minicomputers, floppies and Y2K. As the New Year starts, keep in mind the more enduring trends in government.

American stewardship. Providing for the health, welfare, and security of American citizens and institutions is the essence of federal service.

The ultimate customer is the citizen. Many folks have a contradictory expectation of how the 'gommint' should work. They seem to say, 'Get out of my life except for my Social Security check, flu shot, airport security, highways, lemon laws, guarantees of safe prescription drugs, world class military, etc.'

But the fact remains that a stable, responsive and trustworthy government is the American customer expectation.

Evolutionary outsourcing. The government's practice of buying services from the private sector dates back to the Revolutionary War, when George Washington hired merchants to perform various military supply functions.

Government outsourcing will always exist simply because there are jobs that the private sector does better. Also, the size of the federal bureaucracy is more politically important than the cost to outsource it. Typically, government outsourcing is done piecemeal and slowly because that is the unit of measure best accepted by all constituents.

Not surprisingly, various studies have shown that the overall federal government footprint (military, civilian and contractor work forces) has actually grown in terms of dollars and people over the past few decades.

Measurable, customer-centered delivery of services. Performance matters. Measures such as reductions in cycle time, resource savings, meeting program goals and customer satisfaction demonstrate credibility and performance.

A recent survey of federal agencies concluded that the Mint outpaces all others in customer satisfaction. Specifically, the Mint reports that almost every customer call is answered within one minute, most orders are shipped within 48 hours and the number of customer returns has been slashed by a third in the last 18 months. Such performance rivals that of the best companies.

Fourth-year syndrome. In the fourth year of any political administration, the executive branch shows interesting behavior. Depending on what they want to do next, political appointees simultaneously start to plump their resumes, assume low-risk behaviors, seek opportunities to dig in their heels and/or strive mightily to accomplish what they started three years ago.

Simultaneously, career government executives block or encourage appointees digging in their heels, go along for the ride and/or start writing their own resumes. For the average federal employee, the fourth year is a time to keep a low profile, temporarily ditch wild ideas and plan for progress when the new players take charge in the spring.

8Electronic government. Over the next 10 years, as home computers, wireless devices and broadband access become more ubiquitous and secure, citizens will demand more immediate and personalized government services.

I look forward to the day when I can print out my biometric passport at home, dial e-911 anywhere in the country with my cell phone, and safely and electronically vote for the candidate of my choice.

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who is currently a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va. She can be reached at browning_miriam@bah.com.

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