The Courage to Change When Challenged: The U.S. Government Needs Highly Trained and Talented Top-Level Executives to Promote Innovation and Growth through IT Use

By Hughes, Tom | The Public Manager, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

The Courage to Change When Challenged: The U.S. Government Needs Highly Trained and Talented Top-Level Executives to Promote Innovation and Growth through IT Use


Hughes, Tom, The Public Manager


The nation faces an enormous challenge but has the opportunity to institute change through collaboration among top-level government and private-sector executives. Americans want an effective, efficient, and results-driven government as we move through the twenty-first century. We have great opportunities to leverage information technology (IT) in areas such as economic development, education, health care, homeland security, public safety, and worker productivity. Does the nation's government have the highly trained and talented top-level executives critical in promoting innovative ideas and growth through the use of IT? The answer is "No."

The government's process for hiring the top-level executives needed to implement this change-when-challenged approach appears to be broken. Government does not attract the best talent; instead, young people shy away from public service because they fear the bureaucracy moves too slowly for their career development paths. This top talent is crucial in leading government organizations to success using current IT capabilities and those yet to be discovered.

Our nation's top executives need to understand how to

* reinvigorate government by transforming today's organizations,

* use current and future technologies to institute change in government, and

* establish national goals beyond the current President's Management Agenda (PMA).

Reinvigorating Government

Reinvigorating the federal government requires changing the negative image many have of being a federal employee. Changing this image will help the government recruit the best top-level executives, who can serve as change agents as they address our current and future IT challenges. Unfortunately, many of those who seek change are criticized for their desire to modify processes that others see as "not broken." Thus, many current government change leaders face punishment rather than reward for the impact they have on process and policy.

Federal government efforts to attract talent and maintain institutional knowledge (in the face of downsizing, hiring freezes, attrition, and budget cutbacks) must be strategic. One approach is to hire younger leaders into the Senior Executive Service ranks or to hire effective senior private-sector managers to become part of the leadership hierarchy. The latter would challenge savvy business leaders with the opportunity to break down the twentieth-century stereotype of government bureaucracy, molding it into an environment willing to accept change. The current presidential candidates have yet to address this issue.

Leveraging Technology

In a globally competitive environment, the United States must address the expanded use of IT to stay competitive. Many worry that China is taking our jobs, but its gross domestic product (GDP) is $1.6 trillion, while we have a $16 trillion economy with less than one-quarter of China's population. The real threat to our competitive status is that the top Chinese leaders, many of whom have advanced degrees in engineering, see technology as a means to achieve national goals. To stay competitive, the United States must develop a more dynamic educational system, one that can enable future political and agency leaders to grasp the power of IT and understand how it can be used to help America maintain its strong position in the global economy.

Many top federal government executives today don't understand how to use a BlackBerry, let alone leverage a simple idea like using Web technologies to communicate with the public or adroitly integrate two agencies with complicated policies and technologies for a common solution (health care, for example). One solution to this problem would be to ask major businesses to "loan" their top executives to agencies for a time to instill the changes needed to improve government. …

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