The current White House administration is entering its third year in office, so we’re likely going to see some leadership changes within federal agencies. The Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition and Boston Consulting Group offer advice from current and former officials from across government in a new report, Advice to Incoming Agency Leaders From Those Who Have Been There. The report includes guidance from more than 15 senior leaders who shared keys to success for federal leaders stepping into new roles halfway through an administration. But turnover within the federal government doesn’t just impact the federal employees at an an agency. Contractors are also impacted as changing priorities or adjustments in personnel can be a game changer (for good or bad) with a current program.
Turnover in the Federal Government
Turnover happens within the federal government at many levels. Defense contractors often have subject matter experts and government program managers switch out at least once before the end of a program’s period of performance. Add in military billets that go through constant personnel change, and many programs experience more turnover than is helpful. But times can be especially tough when it comes to the impact of either vacant or changing presidential appointments. The Senate confirmation process can also be lengthy, adding more insult to injury.
Advice for Leaders
The Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition® and the Boston Consulting Group interviewed about 15 current and former officials from across different administrations with top management experience in government. The individuals reflected on their experiences, as well as, offered advice to future leaders. Three key pieces of advice rose to the top.
1) Learn your agency and position.
It takes time to see where the agency fits in the system. Budget processes, schedules, and personnel can vary agency to agency. It takes time to learn the current state of things so you can figure out where to lead the agency.
2) Build a unified team.
The respondents to the survey acknowledged how lengthy the federal hiring process can be. It will take time to build a unified team, but you need it in place in order to move forward. Work with the billets you can fill as quickly as possible so you can move forward.
3) Leverage governance structures.
It’s easy to think that there aren’t methods or processes already in place, but if there’s one thing the government has, it’s structure. Adapt where necessary, but use what’s already built.
Advice for Teams and Contractors
It’s never easy to operate with vacancies. It’s also hard when a new appointed leader comes rolling through. As noted in the report, public trust in the federal government and its contracts is not high. They also shared that, “In the past six months, about 230 people have been confirmed by the Senate to begin work in key leadership roles.” That’s a lot of turnover to deal with in federal offices. It takes everyone working together to support the incoming leader, and sometimes, doing what it takes to bridge the gap until the newest leader is in place.