In one of the grandest of American traditions, the presidential election is headed to court. At this writing, the counting continues and the lawsuits are just getting underway. We can guess the ultimate outcome, perhaps with some certainty, but the election isn’t settled.
The Office of Special Counsel, though, says that because the candidacies are over for purposes of the Hatch Act, federal employees can go ahead and indulge in the urge to wear a MAGA hat to the next Teams meeting. Sip visibly from your Biden mug.
One thing the election will not have produced: a landslide. No “wave” one way or the other. Change, maybe, but no fundamental shift in the electorate, and just tactical possibilities in Congress.
I remember settling in with a few friends for what we expected to be a long evening in 1980. Big 23″ Zenith console. Lots of drinks and munchies. That was supposed to be, as a beaming President-elect Ronald Reagan put it in his acceptance speech, a cliffhanger. But the landslide was evident so early, we broke up before the popcorn bowls were empty. Carter was classy in his concession speech. Different time, different issues. Only wide-of-the-mark polling persists.
Before the 2024 campaign starts, though, there is some business to be done.
From the purely parochial view of the operation of the federal government itself, here’s my list of pressing matters that need resolution, one way or the other, in the coming year.
First, on the workforce front
- Contract negotiations at the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. This has been festering for years, and it’s time for the sides to finish up. This includes the dispute between Association of Administrative Law Judges and SSA. The sides are locked in arbitration over an agency-imposed partial contract. The Federal Labor Relations Authority stayed the orders of the Federal Service Impasses Panel — and the union has a lawsuit against the panel.
- Schedule F. The idea from the Trump administration would change the hiring, evaluation and firing basis of however many career employees do or advocate policy. In some ways, it’s a proxy for the much bigger questions concerning the federal system for civil service. Everyone agrees on the need for end-to-end civil service reform, yet that thoroughly battered can has been kicked down the road for at least a decade — or maybe since the last typing pool was shut down, the last lawn mowing job turned over to a contractor.
- Merit Systems Protection Board. Good gosh, it has no members thanks to a Senate confirmation stalemate. The backlog of cases number in the thousands, each one representing a real person.
From the federal management standpoint:
- Fix the money-losing Postal Service. The election work is mostly over, and everyone did their kabuki dance over ballot delivery. Now USPS settles back into the long trajectory of a hollowed out balance sheet and an infrastructure that doesn’t match its work. C’mon already.
- Do budgets on time. Congress only bothers to deal with about a third of federal expenditures in the first place. And 90% of that is on auto pilot. How about trying — really, really trying — to do it on time.
- Pick, say, three or maybe five items on the Government Accountability Office’s high risk list and fix those. A new list is coming out soon. Too late for the 2020 Decennial Census. My picks would be — golly, it’s hard to choose — Defense Department Financial Management, DoD weapons systems acquisition, ensuring cybersecurity of the nation, Medicare programs and improper payments, and improving federal oversight of food safety. Everybody’s gotta eat.
- Electronic health records for the Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department. Shots of hope that these difficult projects might eventually work have popped up. Like the latest IRS systems modernizing effort, this go-around has real promise.
For the president’s management agenda:
- Accelerate the move from a capital investment mode of data centers and networks to the consumption model of services, what is sometimes called pay-by-the-drink. This goes along with establishment of shared services to cut managerial and technical cost out of agency business. GSA explored a cloud consumption model nearly a year ago. What’s going on?
- Rethink federal real estate. Phases 1(a), 2(c) and 3(d)(i)(III) of the return to the office seem to have evaporated. When will people return — and should they? Just as the teleworking forced upgrades of network access and security, maybe if can force the consolidation of the federal “footprint” every administration says it want to pursue.
- Continue some of the big pursuits. Operation Warp Speed for a COVID vaccine, for instance, even if there is a change in presidents. Keep up the pressure on customer experience. This is a little of a new bottle for old wine. But what constitutes good services and good experiences is vastly different from the Bush 41 “service to the citizen” days.
It’s a great time to tune out the politics and focus on the real work.
Nearly Useless Factoid
By Alazar Moges
The Postal Service has the nation’s largest retail network — bigger than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Walmart combined, domestically.