Designing a 21st Century Federal Agency to Deliver High Value to the Public

September 2010
Topics: Business Process Engineering, Systems Modernization, Organizational Development
MITRE's research initiative, Agency of the Future, aims to transform how the government does business.
MITRE assists federal government transform business practices

When our founding fathers gathered to create a "more perfect union," it's unlikely they envisioned hundreds of federal agencies, millions of federal employees, or a trillion-dollar deficit. In spite of ongoing efforts, the federal government is often still perceived as less than perfect, especially in its ability to provide services to the American public. "A number of government agencies realize that they have to start examining new models for how they're conducting business," says Rick Sciambi, chief engineer of MITRE's Center for Enterprise Modernization (CEM), our civil agency federally funded research and development center.

The federal government's ability to provide cost-effective services is currently being tested on a number of fronts. The economic recession and a growing deficit create budget challenges. Many agencies must meet new mission requirements brought about by legislative changes, such as healthcare reform. And, as new workplace technology becomes part of everyday life for many Americans, the public expects more from the government and the way it does business.

To help the government address these challenges, MITRE has launched an initiative known as "Agency of the Future." This initiative is part of the MITRE Innovation Program, which supports the company's internal research and development. Agency of the Future is focused on helping the federal government transform the way it does business.

"We're trying to provide them with the capabilities to explore new business models, and to quickly and effectively respond to change," says Karen See, an information systems engineer at CEM and the research area leader. "The Agency of the Future initiative is designed to help agency leaders deliver the highest value to the public."

A Jump Start

The issues faced by the Internal Revenue Service, the Census Bureau, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and other agencies that MITRE currently supports attest to the potential value offered by Agency of the Future. As these agencies strive on a daily basis to deliver excellent service to the public, many of them must contend with antiquated software programs, vertical work environments that don't support collaboration, and many other obstacles.

To help jump-start the government, MITRE developed the Virtual Business Experimentation Environment, which is designed to allow federal agencies to experiment with potential new business models (see "A Model Environment for Experimentation"). "Our idea is to work with our customers to explore their problems and develop many ideas to potentially improve the services they provide, to increase efficiencies, or to meet new mission requirements," says MITRE's Paul Bohne, a senior principal multi-discipline systems engineer. "Then we iteratively refine and evaluate the solution concepts and continue to narrow down the options to those that will optimize the balance between risk and benefit."

A number of federal agencies have expressed interest, and the initial focus of this experimentation environment will be the Internal Revenue Service, where it will support the IRS's decision-making process for investments. "What we're trying to do is shorten that whole cycle and make it far more agile and less expensive, so our customers can examine new ways of doing business that lead to more innovations," says Bohne.

New Ways to Engage the Public

As might be expected, technology plays a key role in innovating government business practices. Smart phones now create new opportunities for providing high-quality, low-cost service to the public. Social networking opens up the door to new ways to engage the public. And cloud computing portends entirely new business models.

As these "Web 2.0" tools become an increasingly common part of everyday life for many Americans, the interactions between the government and its customers are already shifting. For example, the public is learning how to use (and contribute to) government data for a variety of purposes—to provide comments on proposed policies, to identify high crime areas, and even to report potholes or broken parking meters.

Many of these examples still take place primarily at the state and local level, but federal agencies are starting to get the message. "The idea is to get the data out there so that it will be useful to people for creating applications," explains See. "That's part of the open government initiative led by the White House, and we want to build on these new tools."

High-Quality Service

As the federal government evolves into an increasingly sophisticated workplace, technology is expected to make it easier for the government to provide its services and for the public to interact with government agencies. "We want agencies to take advantage of cost savings and conveniences offered by new technologies," says See. "And we want to do it in a way that can be sustained over time." A number of agencies have made progress in addressing their business concerns. Others still face a wide range of deeply entrenched obstacles that won't go away without sustained focus and commitment. The good news is that senior government leaders increasingly recognize the need for change in their business processes. "Over the last year, I think we achieved a lot of traction," says Sciambi.

See is encouraged. "The solutions are out there, but the decision makers need new capabilities to help them break down the barriers that get in the way of transformation," she says. "We envision a first-class 21st century agency that delivers high-quality service at a reasonable cost."

—by Elvira Caruso

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