Partnership for Public Service suggests review of federal tech laws, pay system overhaul

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The Partnership for Public Service recommended ways for Congress and the Biden administration to improve innovation and technology modernization in government while bolstering the federal workforce, in a roadmap released Wednesday.

Reviewing all federal tech laws, creating a “future state” strategy, and overhauling the pay and job classification system are among the nonpartisan nonprofit’s bolder recommendations.

The Roadmap for Renewing Our Federal Government document builds on President Biden‘s early executive orders promoting data-driven decision making across agencies and a diverse federal workforce with a focus on keeping pace with tech innovations.

“Federal agencies offer few incentives for employees to try new ideas, are saddled with outdated technology and lag behind the private sector in hiring qualified technologists in sufficient numbers for critical leadership and staff positions,” it reads. “This antiquated system is an impediment to the government’s ability to meet the needs of today’s interconnected, technology-driven world and prepare for the challenges of the future.”

PPS recommends Congress end crisis budgeting — because short-term spending resolutions and government shutdowns hurt agencies’ ability to invest in replacing or modernizing legacy IT systems — in favor of biennial budget resolutions, multi-year appropriations and the timely passage of appropriations bills. 

Congress should also conduct a comprehensive review of all federal technology management laws to identify where the framework for how government buys and manages technology needs an updater, according to the roadmap.

Finally passing the Federal Agency Customer Experience (FACE) Act and other legislation would make it easier for agencies to collect and publish customer experience (CX) data, per the document.

As for the administration, PPS recommends it set a “moonshot” goal for improving customer services that will boost confidence in government, as well as create a governmentwide strategy for a federal tech future state.

“Outlining the steps, resources and roles essential to upgrade technology, while providing flexibility for agencies based on the technology needs of their employees and customers, will help government adapt to rapidly changing demands,” reads the roadmap. “Political and career leaders should also have a basic familiarity with technology and cybersecurity issues in order to focus on key priorities and make informed choices across all policy areas.”

The administration would also be wise to expand CX guidance to apply to more high-impact services because the Office of Management and Budget‘s 2018 guidance only applies to 25 such service, per the document.

Agencies should use Challenge.gov resources to launch internal idea competitions that fund employee proposals and have procurement innovation coaches support the acquisition workforce on specific projects — like the Procurement Innovation Lab at the Department of Homeland Security or Digital IT Acquisition Professional Program, according to PPS.

The roadmap also recommends agencies prioritize the executive order on improving racial equity and support for underserved communities.

On the workforce front, PPS wants to see Congress replace the current federal pay and job classification system “designed for clerical workers” with an occupation-based, market-sensitive one better positioned to fill critical skill gaps in cybersecurity and IT positions.

The administration should create a federal internship and fellowship database, streamline the application process and make hiring platforms more easily accessible and mobile-friendly to attract top, young talent, according to the roadmap.

Meanwhile agencies can boost employee retention with robust mentorship and professional development opportunities.

“Outlining the steps, resources and roles essential to upgrade technology, while providing flexibility for agencies based on the technology needs of their employees and customers, will help government adapt to rapidly changing demands,” reads the document. “Political and career leaders should also have a basic familiarity with technology and cybersecurity issues in order to focus on key priorities and make informed choices across all policy areas.”

Clear performance metrics on employee development and data on departures are also needed, according to PPS.

Among its collaboration recommendations, PPS suggests the administration enhance Performance.gov, the website for monitoring goals and results, to support interagency councils. Agencies are advices to add evaluation experts to projects and initiatives to ensure data-based decision-making.

“The Biden administration and Congress have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build on recent innovations and set the government on a sustained path to renewal,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of PPS, in a statement.

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Biden administration, Challenge.gov, Congress, customer experience (CX), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), information technology, IT Modernization, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Partnership for Public Service, performance.gov, Procurement Innovation Lab, workforce
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