The Biden administration’s top management leader says it’s time to retire the saying, “it’s good enough for government work.”
As the two-year anniversary of the customer experience executive order nears on Dec. 13, Jason Miller, the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, challenged agency CX leaders at a White House event Wednesday to reject that line of thinking.
Miller said agencies should not be satisfied with the current delivery of citizen services and never again say, “It’s good enough for government work.”
“We know how hard this work is, and the idea that anyone would refer to what federal government does, what our teams have to do in the face of the challenges that we know is something that we should never accept. When you hear someone say it, I want you to immediately reject that in whatever the most appropriate way is for you to reject that,” Miller said at the two-year anniversary of the President’s Management Agenda at the White House on Wednesday. “We have spent a lot of time both building the plumbing to make that [CX] work real, and executing and putting points on the board. I would encourage you to think about those two things as we march into 2024. Putting points on the board, it matters. Not just so that we can crow about our success, but success begets success. We know when we launch a new initiative, we’ve got to have early wins because early wins show that in fact, things are possible.”
Miller said in an interview after the event that federal employees recognize operating successfully in the government can be more difficult than other sectors, but at the same time, the work is more impactful in many cases too.
“Some of it is about showing people each and every day, like the IRS bringing wait times down from 28 minutes to three minutes. Or when we launched last year, the student debt relief effort that was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court, we had 8 million people sign up over the weekend with a website that works and only took a few minutes to sign up. We can do big things and we can do it incredibly well,” he said.
OMB is using these reminders, whether it’s to kill the “good enough for government work” mentality or how to institutionalize customer experience in everything agencies do through the President’s Management Council.
At every monthly meeting, Miller said the focus is on the goals of the PMA.
Miller said he hands out “challenge cards” to every deputy secretary as a reminder for what to work on over the next month and year to drive the PMA deeper into their agency.
“The PMC feels a lot of ownership over this: Not just that they’re being told what to do, but that they created it. We are the architects of the PMA, along with our teams. So that notion of making sure that we’re getting the ball rolling on specific things that we’re trying to bring to scale, or making sure that we’re taking the best practices in one place and sharing it very quickly across has been the focus of our challenge card effort inside of those PMC meetings,” he said. “There are tactical specific things that agency leaders can bring back to their teams to make sure that they’re getting done and can accelerate our progress on the PMA.”
OPM wants more pooled hiring events
One example is the goal to expand the use of pooled hiring as a way to accelerate the process to bring on new employees.
For 2024, Miller said the Office of Personnel Management is planning eight pooled hiring efforts. OPM held five governmentwide efforts and hired 400 people over the last year.
Another example is the goal for 10 agencies to ramp up their CX capacity, building out capabilities, including through the IDEA Act framework to implement an integrated digital experience.
Also new for 2024, OMB is adding four agencies to the high-impact service provider (HISP) list. Miller said the Indian Health Service, the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency and the International Trade Administration are part of a growing infrastructure that already includes 35 HISPs. Miller added that the results from these CX efforts are proven out in part by federal agency satisfaction scores increasing by 5% over the last two years.
To help propel all of these CX efforts, Miller said the Biden administration asked Congress for $500 million in 2024.
Return to office challenges
Within all this celebration of CX progress, OMB is facing the challenge of striking the right balance of asking federal employees to come back to the office more regularly.
Miller said agencies are not asking employees to “snap back” to pre-pandemic levels of working in the office, but at the same time, have an in-person presence to create the right culture and team environment.
“Some of our agencies don’t have enough of an in-person presence where you can create those high trust, high culture, high-performing teams that also are able to bring on a lot of new talent. It’s a lot harder to bring on new talent when they don’t get to learn from that in-person interaction,” he said. “It’s just about getting the balance, and that’s what we’re striving for. We’ve been pushing on agencies. Sure, you’ve seen lots of reporting on that in recent days, but getting that balance posture right, which in general is based on where agencies have been setting goals, is to make sure that for office, for headquarters, for certain kinds of functions, we’re flexible, but at least 50% of the time or more is in person.”
Miller said OMB recognizes that each agency’s mission needs are different and a one-size fits all approach wouldn’t work well.
“We do have some commonalities across our federal agencies, and it’s been important that we move as one as an enterprise. It is a very hard thing to execute if some agencies are executing and other agencies aren’t,” he said. “In general, our expectation based upon the back and forth with agencies and the goals that agencies are setting is, for a lot of these types of roles, we would expect that to achieve a balanced posture means being in person at least 50% of the time.”