A new paper from ACT-IAC – “Accelerating Agility in Government” – proposes that the Federal government adopt an “Agile First” policy so that it becomes more proactive and responsive to changes affecting the country. The new paper expands on ACT-IAC’s Agenda 2021 document released in July and entitled “Delivery Outcomes, Building Trust.”

The paper discusses the quickening pace of global changes in technology, society, healthcare and the environment, and argues that Federal government programs “must adapt to changing circumstances and be highly efficient and focused on outcomes, not processes.”

“To overcome these constraints and foster agility, we recommend that the Federal government move to an ‘Agile First’ policy,” the paper says. “Like the ‘Cloud First’ and ‘Cloud Smart’ policies of the previous administrations, Agile First can turn around the default way of operating and galvanize a more effective and adaptive government, delivering better outcomes.”

While the paper covers a range of high-level issues that could benefit from an Agile First policy, it points to IT concerns as ripe for improvement through that policy lens.

“For example, IT systems that were built for a previous generation are hard to change given the organizational and decision-making structures,” it says. “Those existing structures incentivize and promote a culture of preserving the status quo rather than facilitating responsiveness.”

“The government’s ability to deliver outcomes for the public is core to its mission and purpose,” the paper says. “If government fails to meet expectations – if it doesn’t ‘work’ for the public – faith and trust will continue to decline.”

“The public expects and deserves a government that delivers accessible services which meet personalized needs; provides for efficient resilient infrastructure which protects information and systems and institutions from adverse events; and is agile and adaptable to meet emerging needs, which enables and embraces change,” the paper says.

It argues that an Agile First policy should rest on “three key drivers”:

  • The agility to adapt to a changing external environment;
  • The agility to deliver services in the face of changing expectations and demands; and
  • The agility to drive change internally on foundational capabilities that enable service delivery and align with changing external environments.

“These drivers are co-dependent: the rapid pace of digital change creates new demands and expectations for services, as well as new opportunities, but agencies must be able to rapidly harness and adopt these advances in technology by modernizing their capabilities and more rapidly transitioning off old technology,” the paper says.

The paper’s recommendations include:

  • The Office of Management and Budget should add agility across “a range of existing policies and issue overarching guidance to reinterpret existing guidance that can be implemented in an Agile fashion”;
  • Federal agencies should catalog their programs and services “that meet public needs in a transparent and consistent fashion, with a view towards proactive evaluation of policies and processes that can be streamlined, expedited, or removed as barriers to providing effective services”;
  • The government should “develop an initiative to change culture among Federal managers and enhance managerial accountability for progress in agency agility,” including through Office of Personnel Management (OPM) guidance;
  • Government should “reduce bureaucracy and smash silos,” focus on reducing waste, and organize “multi-disciplinary teams that pledge allegiance to delivering value to the customer instead of the adding/maintaining bureaucracy and building unnecessary kingdoms”;
  • Government should commit to agility at the organizational level, but “start small and embrace failure and learning”;
  • Government should adopt commercial approaches to modernizing IT and digital transformation; and
  • OMB and the CIO Council should ensure that Cloud Smart and related infrastructure modernization efforts continue, and agency CIOs should align infrastructure to program delivery and policy initiatives by focusing on applications and a “platform as a strategy” mindset.

“Families, communities, and businesses across the country are depending more than ever on the timely delivery of government services,” said Casey Coleman of Salesforce, a member of the team that developed the paper. “Agencies need to act with agility to respond accordingly.”

“Organizations are faced with a frenetic pace of change and an imperative to increase agility, be more adaptable and successfully address cultural change”, commented Dave Wennergren, CEO at ACT-IAC. “We are excited by the group of thought leaders who have developed this important paper to guide the actions of government in the years ahead.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.