White House, Agencies Still Sorting Out Who Will Pay for Cross-agency Service Delivery Work

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OMB’s customer experience lead said Tuesday that more specifics for life experience projects will be made public in coming weeks.

The White House and partner agencies are solving for a critical piece of efforts to deliver government services according to “life experiences,” not agency boundaries – who will fund the improvements. 

In April, the White House announced plans to help Americans obtain services across agency boundaries to help cope with five specific "live experiences," such as transitioning from military to civilian life, disaster recovery, financial shock, retirement and having a child in a low-income family. 

Over 10 agencies are working in groups to help eliminate cross-agency friction in delivering services. But behind the scenes questions remain about funding.

“How do you pay for it?... and if it’s going to be funded by multiple groups, how do we break that down?” said Barbara Morton, deputy chief veterans experience officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, during a Tuesday ACT-IAC panel. The VA is involved in the life experience focus on veterans transitioning from military to civilian life, along with six other agencies.

“For this particular initiative [on transitioning to civilian life], I don't think we have the answer yet, but I think those are the juicy problems we have the opportunities to solve because this is the proof of concept, really,” she continued. “That sort of opportunity to cross-fund or horizontally fund, I mean, what a great opportunity for us to prove the concept through a tangible, concrete, very visible life experience.”

The Office of Management and Budget is looking back to past precedents, which exist but are rare, for ideas around funding mechanisms, said Amira Boland, federal customer experience lead at OMB.

“We had this conversation yesterday at the highest levels of government,” Boland said. 

So far, discovery sprints and user research finished in September. Journey maps, one pagers and printed applications for food assistance programs line the walls of a hallway coming up from the West Wing into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in a bid to show employees the work, said Boland. 

Now, Boland said that cross-agency teams are identifying and scoping out priority projects to be announced in the coming weeks.

“Our government was developed over two centuries into the bureaucratic silos that we have today,” said Boland of the projects. “That is not in alignment with how people actually experience government.”

As to challenges the groups have encountered in their efforts so far, the cross-agency groups were able to compensate individuals for participating in focus groups and interviews, something that there can be “so much noise and hesitation” to do, said Michael Windle, who’s on detail from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be the lead for the disaster life experience team.

Other common challenges include procurement and data silos. There are also challenges around agencies complying with privacy and information collection requirements that some point to as perceived roadblocks to user research.

“The Privacy Act and the [Paperwork Reduction Act] are not barriers. They are processes,” said Boland. “We are trying our very hardest to have white glove service for all of our high impact service providers for these projects.”

She also said that OMB is sharing materials and examples from this work for other agencies to learn from.

In a Tuesday keynote, Dustin Brown, deputy assistant director for management at OMB, said that OMB and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs have been working to fast track PRA clearances related to customer experience work. Agencies are required to get clearances for many information collection activities, although there are certain exceptions.

“We now have a dedicated individual who is responsible for that and can work closely with agencies to get that kind of approval in days, not weeks,” he said.