What it takes to bring down federal silos

If stovepipes are to come down, the first step is for agencies to give up control.

By Jane Norris

I predict there will be a greater reduction in silos, or walls, in the Federal Government in 2010.

“Silos” create information gaps that can sometimes lead to waste and charges of Government incompetence. So what can be done to bring down the Federal Silo?

The problems that stem from information gaps were brought into sharp focus on Christmas Day. A thwarted terrorist attack that led to a report prepared for President Obama. The report tries to explain why the U.S. Intelligence Community never pieced together information about the bombing suspect.

Gaps like this occur in many agencies, not just those dealing with Security and Intelligence. So what else are we missing? How much don’t we know? Can agencies help the country by readjusting their level of cooperation and information sharing?

The lack of communication and coordination between Federal agencies happens in Government all too frequently. But technological developments could be the key to join together multiple federal agencies working toward a single outcome and a more efficient Government.

We look at a case history from one agency that may hold the answer for many others. We talked to Dr. Wade Horn, Director for Deloitte Consulting about his former agency the Administration for Children and Families at HHS. As Assistant Secretary for ACF his budget topped $47 Billion. Horn outlined the problem of the Government Stovepipe.

He said a study in 2005 showed that there were 342 Government programs to solve the problem of economic development and 130 programs to help at-risk youth. There are hundreds of other duplicative programs that attempt to solve equally difficult problems but the duplication of effort has not necessarily lead to workable solutions.

Getting agencies, members of Congress and stakeholders to agree on a solution is not easy. Horn says that States may have the answer in Integrated Eligibility technology. It helps States serve their clients with one-stop web portals that can be used to apply for a variety of available social services. The portal not only saves States money, but according to Horn it has the potential to save the Federal government money as well.

He says if Government would relax the rules for Service delivery cost allocation for these portals, then States would not have to go through expensive studies to determine which program should be charged for the technology. The costs ultimately get charged back to the Federal Government so determining which agency gets the bill should not matter.

According to Horn, though technology holds great promise, the challenge is in getting agencies to work together, share information and cooperate.

If stovepipes are to come down, according to Horn the first step is for agencies to give up their control over their individual programs, and begin to think about outcomes.

The process is already underway, but progress is slow. In the end it may be current events that drive information sharing and less silo creation in the Federal Government. But the hard part will be getting everyone to cooperate.

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