Biden's Management Agenda is the Answer to One CEO’s Plea for Better Government

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A CEO’s letter to shareholders isn’t often a ripe source for insights into government’s management or performance. But JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s latest is full of exhortations about how government can serve Americans better. I hope he’s watching the President’s Management Agenda and the developments on Performance.gov and Evaluation.gov. Ambitious initiatives are afoot.   

Dimon notes the unprecedented confluence of risks facing the country – emerging from the pandemic, rising inflation, and the war in Ukraine – and the “extraordinary need for strong American leadership.” It’s worth noting that in addition to the nation’s strong role in marshalling international support for Ukraine, pandemic response and economic recovery are two of the Biden administration’s and Congress’ top priorities. But what about the government’s capacity to provide this leadership in a competent way? 

“In prior letters,” Dimon writes, “I have detailed our poor management of basic policy in America and what the consequences have been from that dysfunction. I find it disheartening how readily we accept the failure, often with a chuckle, of our bureaucracy and policies.” Like the ones that preceded it, this PMA is designed to remedy this dysfunction.

Priority one of the PMA is to “Strengthen and Empower the Federal Workforce.” Recruitment and retention of a high performing workforce has always been a challenge for the federal government. The PMA seeks to speed hiring and improve employee engagement across all agencies. 

Priority two of the PMA is “Delivering Excellent, Equitable, and Secure Federal Service and Experience.” Transforming Americans’ experience with their government would restore trust and address the chuckling about the “bureaucracy” and “dysfunction” about which Dimon complains. 

Priority three of the PMA is a broad category: “Managing the Business of Government to Build Back Better.” Improving the process by which the government gets much of its work done – grants and contracts – would pay enormous dividends to every facet of American society. 

One of Dimon’s criticisms stood out: “Our [government’s] policies are often incomprehensible and uncoordinated, and our policy decisions frequently have no forethought and no identification of desired outcomes.” It’s true that the federal government has been on a long journey to articulate its desired outcomes and how it plans to achieve them. 

However, the latest step in that journey can be found at Performance.gov, with links to agency strategic plans that “lay out the strategic priorities and objectives each agency aims to achieve, the actions the agency will take, and how the agency will deal with challenges and risks.” 

In describing JPMorgan Chase’s Policy Center and Institute, Dimon wrote, “We continue to need better data to understand what is happening in the real economy so we can help shape policies that make a significant and positive impact on those who need help the most. Good data that is granular and timely and, when possible, leverages big data sources must be at the heart of all policy processes to ensure measurable and equitable outcomes.” 

In fact, the government’s Evidence Agenda is transforming government’s culture into one that is driven to a greater degree by evidence. Evaluation.gov offers links to every agency’s Learning Agenda, the “systematic plans for identifying and addressing priority questions relevant to the programs, policies, and regulations of an agency.” There are also Evaluation Plans, inventories of “the significant evaluations an agency plans to conduct.” These are the roadmaps to evidence-based policymaking or data-driven decision-making every agency will take over the next several years. And the Administration has declared this the Year of Evidence for Action!

While Dimon decries a lack of forethought in government policies, I would argue that he could see some solid examples of data-based decision making buried deep within the President’s recent FY 2023 budget proposal, which notes, “The Budget emphasizes not just building evidence, but using it.” Some of what the President proposes is backed by evidence of effectiveness, so there is greater confidence that investing in these programs would most likely produce measurable results. For example, the budget includes:

·         $330 million for Department of Housing and Urban Development grants to mitigate lead-based paint hazards in HUD-assisted and other low-income homes, reflecting clear evidence that ensuring children grow up in healthy, lead-safe homes provides a lifetime of benefits for both the children and society; and 

·         $303 million to expand Department of Labor investments in Registered Apprenticeship programs that have been shown to improve employment outcomes and $6 million to provide greater oppor­tunities for women to enter Registered Apprenticeship and nontraditional occupations.

It is good to see Jamie Dimon use his considerable platform to highlight the importance of competent government, but the reality is significant efforts are underway to transform the way government serves Americans and leverages data and evidence to improve policymaking. If Dimon believes “it’s imperative that policymaking include private and public sector partnership,” I hope he will join in driving the improvements promised in the President’s Management Agenda. 

Robert Shea, former associate director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, is the National Managing Principal for Public Policy at Grant Thornton.