Officials: Shared Services Implementation Begins But Journey Will Be Long

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Three of the four initial focus areas are ready to move beyond the standards-setting phase to implementation, with GSA’s payroll program leading the way.

Nearly seven months after the Trump administration announced its plan to overhaul the government’s shared services landscape, most of the lead agencies have created standards in their designated areas and are getting ready to move into the implementation phase. But the work is far from over, several leaders agreed.

In April, the Office of Management and Budget issued a policy establishing a new shared services regime led by Quality Service Management Offices, or QSMOs, empowered to craft governmentwide standards and manage a marketplace of solutions to be offered to federal agencies.

The initial push began with four QSMOs leading four areas: The General Services Administration taking on the task of human resources transactions, primarily through the NewPay program; the Treasury Department setting standards for financial management; the Homeland Security Department taking the lead on cybersecurity; and Health and Human Services taking up grants management.

Three of those first initiatives have gone through the standards-setting process to figure out common needs and taxonomies work across government and where there will need to be customized solutions. The grants management work at HHS has taken longer than expected, officials said Thursday, as there was less existing consensus among agencies than with the other three areas.

“We’re now moving from planning to real implementation,” Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent said during a keynote Thursday at the Association of Government Accountants annual Shared Services Summit. First on the block will be GSA’s NewPay, which the administration has put forward as a test case for the entire QSMO program.

As GSA paves the way, “we have to understand customer impacts. Those discussions have only just begun,” Kent said. “What does that mean to interfaces? What does that mean for how people do their jobs? What does that mean from a timeline of all the other things that a customer agency might be doing at that time?”

As GSA deploys the NewPay program, Kent said that process should shed light on what will happen during the rollout of other services. With NewPay as the first test case, the other QSMO leads will be looking at how GSA adjusts mid-implementation, particularly with regard to people, funding and pacing, Kent said.

“I’m actually really excited to turn the page because we’ve done a lot of planning,” she said.

But that process will not be quick.

“This work around sharing quality services, these are not short-term projects. That is probably the biggest challenge,” Earl Pinto, deputy assistant administrator of GSA’s Office of Shared Solutions and Performance Improvement, said during a panel before Kent’s keynote.

“When we think about this whole goal, we’ll have successes along the way,” he added. “But, these are long-term projects. It’s going to take a few years to see the results.”

Pinto said the slow walk is intentional, as the QSMO leads try to develop a sustainable, repeatable process that can be mapped onto other areas where agencies can pool resources and standards.

“This is not something that happens fast. It’s very important that we’re clear, we’re methodical, we’re following a process but we stay the course,” Kent said. “There are a lot of things that we like to do really fast—do a pilot and see results in six months. We’re going to see results. But that long-term goal and checking off every box is a longer journey. We have to be very practical about how we look at that.”

So far, the shared services leads have worked together to establish a Shared Services Governance Board to provide high-level oversight of the effort; created the Business Standards Council to garner expert subject matter insights; and identified a Senior Accountable Point of Contact, or SAPOC, at each of the 24 CFO Act agencies to act as liaisons and advocates for the agency customers.

“What we’ve asked the QSMOs to do—and it’s an awesome responsibility—we’ve asked them to offer and manage a marketplace of solutions and services. One size doesn’t fit all—choice is important to agencies,” Pinto said. “The previous model had legacy providers providing their just one service. Now, what we’re going to do is offer multiple solutions and multiple services for government to access.”

As part of the ongoing, sustainability part of the program, the QSMOs will also be expected to continuously engage with agency customers and improve the standards and solutions being offered in their respective marketplaces.

“We’re putting a lot on the QSMOs’ plate and we’re going to be careful making these decisions going forward,” he said. “But, I think what you’ll see in the future is that we will have these QSMOs operating in a way that makes these mission support services more efficient and more effective. But not only that—that’s not the real goal. The real goal, at the end, is to make sure those agencies can get back to focusing on mission.”