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Agency Leaders Tout VA Work Ahead of PMA Priorities

A new management supplement to the president’s management agenda focuses on strengthening the federal workforce, improving program delivery and advancing equity.
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A new management supplement to the president's management agenda focuses on strengthening the federal workforce, improving program delivery and advancing equity.
Photo Credit: White House/Adam Schultz

Federal agencies have focused on enhancing data-driven decision making, the federal workforce and the customer experience for years. But now with the recent President’s Management Agenda vision and other executive-level directives, management leaders are beginning to shape next steps in agency priorities, even calling attention to recent work at the Department of Veterans Affairs as a model for one key area.

The PMA was released rather early — 11 months into President Biden’s term — followed by a draft of a management-focused “learning agenda” in December.

Dustin Brown, deputy assistant director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, noted the vision’s timely release in informing agencies’ strategic planning steps.

“The ability to release a vision relatively early — as agencies are developing their agency strategic plans and priority goals and learning agendas — I think it’s been really helpful to inform and align how agencies are establishing their goals,” Brown said at a National Academy of Public Administration panel Jan. 28.

The first-ever learning agenda draft details key research questions intended to drive evidence-building around the PMA priorities.

“The idea with a PMA learning agenda was to identify some government-wide, management-focused research questions that would support those priorities that are set forth in the PMA vision,” said Michele Johnson Billips, leadership development fellow at the White House. “We want to really prioritize those key questions, spur some research, and figure out a way to get those results to inform the decision-making that is to come.”

The learning agenda is designed to be complementary to agencies’ work around the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act in 2018, which requires agencies to establish data-driven approaches to policy and governance development and produce their own multi-year learning agendas, said Johnson Billips.

“Many agencies were already building and using evidence prior to the Evidence Act,” added OMB Evidence Team Lead Diana Epstein. “But this new law, passed three years ago, has really accelerated and amplified the work. The Evidence Act is centered on the idea that evidence-based policymaking really needs systematic planning and that we also need strong data governance to use federal data assets effectively. And that we also need really coordinated support to share that data effectively while protecting privacy and confidentiality.”

The key learning areas that will inform implementation planning include strengthening the federal workforce, improving program delivery and advancing equity, all of which also underpin the priority areas of the PMA.

“I think it’s not coincidental that the workforce is the first priority of the PMA,” Brown said. “There is not a topic that I see that has more energy and in focus than the workforce in the President’s Management Council meetings. The fact that we are operating during a global pandemic has only tightened people’s focus on workforce issues and planning for the future.”

Brown added that tools like GSA’s dashboard for tracking hiring trends can help drive workforce policy improvements.

“One of the things that we’re looking at specifically is the hiring assessment process,” Brown said. “There is a hiring dashboard that we have released with additional details on the extent to which positions are being filled and what type of assessment tools agencies are using.”

Customer experience is another major focus amid the PMA and a subsequent executive order. The administration wants to improve the public’s ability to interact with the government. Brown cited the VA’s work around improving the veteran’s experience as a prime example of how the administration wants to expand improved services across other agencies.

“Look at the experience at VA and the work that they did to reorient VA around the veteran’s experience,” Brown said. “That is something we should really take note of and use that kind of case study as something to inform our broader work across lots of other areas where government is interacting with citizens.”

Like the other PMA priorities, data will drive the customer experience improvement efforts, and Brown is confident about the future of this work.

“I’m really optimistic about what we’re going to be talking about two, three years from now that comes out of that customer experience work,” he said.

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