Sequestration and Budget Cuts Don't Have to Stymie Innovation

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Survey shows that one in five feds believe their agencies need to operate differently.

The majority of federal managers are dealing personally with tighter budgets, and most are not optimistic that their budget situation will be any better by 2015. But that doesn’t mean some aren’t already looking for innovative solutions, such as alternative funding approaches or new service methods, according to a new report.

The report, “Innovators Anonymous,” released Monday by MeriTalk, found that 62 percent of federal managers report personal experience with tighter budgets. The survey of more than 200 federal managers also found that 70 percent believe their budget will be even lower in 2015, with 19 percent stating their budget will be much lower.

In addition, several managers said they already have taken steps to respond to federal budget tightening. The most popular measures were: stop hiring (55 percent), cut or reduce services (51 percent), reduce federal employees (51 percent), cut or eliminate capital investment (29 percent), and increase transaction processing times (25 percent).

At the same time, however, the survey identified that one in five federal managers has a bias toward innovation. Of these innovative feds, all (100 percent) believe their agencies need to do a lot of things differently from today. These innovators also said they spend roughly one-third (32 percent) of their time driving their agency to do things differently. Thirty-nine percent of innovators look outside of government to find the best new ideas for their agency, while 7 percent look for those ideas from their peers, the survey found. 

In addition, innovative feds defined by the survey also said they believe as much as one-quarter of their agency’s budget could be addressed by new funding and service methods. And while the majority of federal managers overall (63 percent) see Congress as a roadblock, 73 percent of innovators see agency leadership as the primary obstacle to considering alternative funding and service delivery.

As agencies move forward with budget tightening measures, it may be wise to look at some innovative strategies for dealing with cuts. The report recommends that mangers look beyond the budget cuts for answers, then begin investigating innovative funding models and collaborate on innovative ways to fund programs and deliver services.

“If necessity is the mother of invention, federal agencies are about to see a baby boom,” the report states. “The dip in federal discretionary funding isn’t just a problem on graph paper; it has real-life ramifications inside of federal agencies.”

Tell us about the innovators at your agency. Nextgov is now accepting nominations for the Bold Awards, a program that recognizes federal employees who have implemented technologies that improve the way government works or serves citizens.