Agencies rethink business as usual in face of budget, workforce challenges

Monday - 6/25/2012, 2:55pm EDT

By Esther Carey
Special to Federal News Radio

Federal employees and agency leadership are coming to the realization that business cannot simply continue as normal, as the potential for budget cuts affect their day-to-day operation. Instead, they are being called upon to find new more efficient methods for accomplishing their mission.

The challenge is that they are often experiencing decreasing resource levels in the face of increasing workloads.

Not a short-term situation

This is a long-term situation rather than a short-term problem, said John Palguta, vice president for policy at the non-profit group Partnership for Public Service, in an interview on The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

One solution is for agencies to start sharing resources more, Palguta said. This can either be in an official sense by agencies buying services such as payroll processing from others in government, or it can be informally such as an agency offering a couple of open training slots to personnel at other departments.

Palguta said agency officials he had talked to were not whining but rather laying out the facts and looking at how to accomplish their missions in the face of those challenges. As a result, these tougher circumstances can cause agencies to examine their priorities, learn when to say no and find ways of making the most of available resources.

The three areas Palguta mentioned come down to a practical level as agencies figure out how best to manage their risks.

Risk management different for agencies

Steve Lenkart, executive director and chief operating officer at the Merit Systems Protection Board, said in an interview with In Depth with Francis Rose that risk management is different for agencies than for private-sector companies.

Lenkart said rather than focusing on managing what may threaten financial profits, which is what the private sector does, agencies look at how to protect their operational practices and the products or services they provide to people depending on them.

For the government, the risk is primarily uncertainty. It can not only create fear among the staff and customers, it can distract an agency from its main mission. Lenkart said MSPB recently has focused on ways to limit its amount of uncertainty.

The agency has gone back to its authorizing law and statutory responsibilities, intentionally looking for ways to create connections internally and to realign resources to work as efficiently as possible. The board also has updated Congress and the Office of Management and Budget about how things are going.

Lenkart said his team has rewritten the board's strategic plan, with input from Congress, the media and federal employees. This has helped MSPB "reengineer its business methodology," carefully looking at where it is and how it can improve in the process of getting to where it wants to be.

Finding the right balance

There are plenty of challenges in the process, Lenkart said, but the important thing is to be proactive in a way that improves the function of the agency.

Despite all their efforts, there are some things that agencies simply won't be able to do, Palguta said. He said examples such as longer lines in government offices or fewer inspections done of food products because of staff cuts are the result of having to make tough resource decisions.

"The bottom line is that the impact of budget reductions and lack of increasing resources to keep pace with workload is not all bad but neither is it all good," Palguta said. "The challenge is finding the right balance, and also being up front with the public about what can and can't be done."

Esther Carey is an intern at Federal News Radio.

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