The Partnership for Public Service is the nation’s leading nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to make our federal government more effective. There are 1.6 million nonprofits in the U.S. focused on all kinds of important issues, from the environment to poverty to national security. At the end of the day, however, there is only one tool for collective action to address our nation’s most critical problems that also has the weight of public support and taxpayer resources behind it: the federal government. While nonprofits and others that seek environmental, economic or social change rightly advocate for policies they want, we also need a government that’s effective at actually delivering results for the public.
Most importantly, our work has impact. Federal leaders who participate in our leadership development programs report being more effective in their jobs. Agencies and departments that have partnered with us report that their employees are more engaged and informed. Our recommendations have informed improvements in government operations such as federal recruitment and hiring, the president’s management agenda and the presidential transition. Our steady drumbeat on the transition and the political appointments process has caught the attention of the national media and created an entirely new focus on these issues.
In this moment, however, the political polarization that dominates Washington threatens to undermine these achievements. Civil servants are being attacked from all sides, demoralizing the workforce and further eroding public trust in our federal institutions.
What can any one person do to turn the tide? In our view, there has never been a more important time for individuals and institutions that care about the integrity of our government to get involved. The mission of our federal agencies is not the sole purview of any one president or political party, and much of the important work of our federal civil servants transcends the politics of the moment.
At the Partnership, we are encouraging the administration and Congress to do right when it comes to our government, and we are holding them accountable when they fall short, as we have throughout our history. Through programs such as the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, we are recognizing the very best of government, the individuals whose ingenuity and innovation are making a difference every day. We are bringing people together for the kinds of constructive conversations that are too rare in Washington these days: dialogue across and between agencies, between political appointees and their senior career executives, and between Congress and the agencies they oversee. And we are promoting the honor and integrity of a career in serving the public.
In the following report, we share our current strategies to achieve a more effective government and highlight our accomplishments around each of them over the past year. This year we are undertaking a strategic planning process to help us address the areas of greatest opportunity and investment for the Partnership in the coming three years and beyond. History shows that our government will move beyond this moment, and with a steady focus on what works, we can continue to help position our federal institutions and workforce for success.
Our achievements would not have been possible without the generous support of our donors and partners. In partnership with those who believe in the ability to change our federal institutions for the better, we look forward to a bright future for our organization and our government.
Very best regards,
For the past 16 years, we have proposed solutions to some of the most challenging questions for our federal institutions. How can the government attract the best talent and develop and support good leaders? How can the government deliver excellent customer service? And how can the public be encouraged to care not just about what government does but that it does it well? Our advice to the current administration and Congress for an effective government is grounded in a deep knowledge of the federal workforce and experience working across administrations to transform the way government works.
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Improving an institution as large as the federal government starts with strengthening the capacity of its leaders. By developing the skills and abilities of federal leaders at all levels and providing forums for them to discuss shared challenges and solutions, these leaders become agents of change within their own agencies and across government. Participants in our programs tell us they have transformed their professional lives, including positioning themselves to take on larger roles when political positions in their agencies remain vacant.
Our professional development programs build the leadership skills of federal workers and their ability to thrive during times of change. Even under normal circumstances, career civil servants perform in a difficult environment, but these are challenging times as they adjust to a new administration focused on reducing federal spending and the size of the workforce.
The onboarding we provide newly-appointed political leaders is among our most valuable offerings. While the Partnership was prepared to deliver this orientation, the slow pace of nominations meant there was not a critical mass of appointees to train. We therefore shifted our focus to providing customized training and support to senior career executives who found themselves serving in longer-than-usual acting roles. We also focused on onboarding new members of the Senior Executive Service, the government’s highest-level career public servants, who play a critical role in government change initiatives and typically have the most interaction with political leadership. We delivered courses on timely topics and convened federal leaders to provide safe spaces for off-the-record peer learning and sharing of best practices, and to help leaders build cross-agency and cross-sector networks of support. In addition, we partnered with many agencies—including the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Labor and Transportation—to provide customized leadership development programs tailored directly to the needs of their workforce. All told, we provided professional development opportunities to more than 3,500 federal employees in 2017.
We broke new ground by delivering programs to help local communities in three high-poverty areas improve collaboration with federal agencies. We held well-received working sessions in the South Carolina Low Country; Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota; and Camden, New Jersey. We also hosted the National Coalition of Promise Zone Directors during their visit to Washington, D.C., and discussed ways to strengthen collaboration between local communities and federal, state, local and nonprofit partners. More than 110 federal leaders and community stakeholders took part in these discussions.
During our 2014 Excellence in Government Fellows program, a team of five federal employees from all different agencies conceived and launched a project for the Transportation Security Administration to communicate with travelers via social media. The project, AskTSA, has improved the travel experience for passengers by allowing them to get answers to their travel questions from TSA in real time through Facebook and Twitter.
As appointees begin their new roles, we will deliver training courses at specific agencies and convene cross-agency groups of appointees to foster networking, collaboration and problem-solving. We will continue to provide professional development for new members of the Senior Executive Service and rising leaders. In addition, we will deliver programs related to specific career paths, such as human resources and information technology. We will continue our existing partnerships with agencies and seek opportunities to work with new agency partners.
The community training sessions we provided last year to federal, state, local and nonprofit sector leaders are serving as a model for new programs we will pilot this year in California, where there is a high concentration of federal workers and a significant interest in stronger collaboration across sectors. This is a promising step toward expanding our ability to serve the more than 80 percent of the federal workforce who live outside the Washington, D.C., area.
“The Excellence in Government Fellows program has been a life-changing experience. I learned so much more about myself, which has allowed me to accept who I am and what I do. Having found my purpose as a public servant, I’m motivated to take the next steps in my career with confidence.”
None of today’s critical challenges, from food safety to cybersecurity, can be solved by any single agency acting alone. Our government needs to operate as one organization, not as separate actors with overlapping jurisdiction and duplicative programs.
The Partnership has long promoted an enterprise management approach—agencies working together instead of operating as separate, disconnected entities when it comes to delivering services to the public—to help our government address complicated, interconnected problems. We worked with agency leadership and the Office of Management and Budget to encourage the adoption of shared services, enterprise risk management and other management improvements that foster constructive collaboration and are designed to be implemented across government.
We hosted several regular forums for senior federal leaders to address enterprise management topics. Our Shared Services Roundtable—a coalition of federal and private shared services providers, customers and policymakers—is helping shape a unified approach to government’s use of shared services, which can decrease redundancies, lower costs and improve how services are delivered. In 2017, the roundtable produced guidance and tools for agencies to use when considering a move to shared services, a stated priority of the current administration. We also launched a new forum with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence—the Intelligence Community Shared Services Roundtable—to develop a common strategy for advancing shared services with a specific focus on facilities and logistics.
In March 2017, the president issued an executive order calling for a comprehensive plan for reorganizing the executive branch. Over the past year, we offered our assistance and provided guidance in response to requests from OMB and several agencies. We also held several forums for federal senior executive leaders responsible for implementing the executive order to discuss organizational transformation. There is no question that a thorough review of agency activities, performance, workforce and budgets reflects good management. Through our thought leadership, agency engagements and Partnership events, we will continue to support agencies in their efforts to reshape themselves in response to new pressures and the ever-changing world around them.
The president’s management agenda defines cross-agency priorities that include reshaping the federal workforce, improving citizen services, modernizing federal IT and building a 21st century data framework to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness of government programs. The Partnership will offer agency leaders assistance and guidance as they implement reform plans for their institutions. We will continue to engage senior executive leaders responsible for implementing the reorganization as well as the broader federal community around the topic of government transformation.
“The Partnership did a great job of getting diverse but interdependent stakeholders at the table to exchange ideas and help drive the shared service change initiative forward. They always kept the compass pointed at what is best for government and best for taxpayers.”
All federal organizations serve a customer: the American people. In the digital age, citizens have benefitted from customer service improvements in many aspects of their lives, but our government has not kept pace. Indeed, the federal government lags behind almost all industries and sectors measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. To effectively administer their missions, agencies should apply a customer-centered approach toward how they design and deliver services to citizens. The Partnership stands ready to assist the administration, which is taking initial steps to require agencies to collect and use customer data and feedback more effectively, track performance and compare the customer experience across agencies.
The Partnership carried out several initiatives to improve how the government serves citizens. Through our research and cross-agency data analysis, we identified, shared and encouraged the adoption of best practices on the customer experience. Data shows that customer satisfaction scores are improving across government and, specifically, among many of the agencies collaborating with the Partnership.
Our forums convened leaders from the top customer-facing agencies across government and representatives from the administration’s new Office of American Innovation to exchange ideas and discuss best practices to improve the customer experience. We hosted a customer experience conference that convened leaders from the private sector and federal, state and local governments to discuss how government can adopt new technologies and strategies to become a world-class customer service enterprise with a citizen-focused mindset.
We also worked with members of the House and Senate to introduce the Federal Agency Customer Experience Act, which passed in the Senate and is making its way through a House committee. The legislation is based on our recommendations and would allow agencies to more easily collect voluntary customer service feedback from citizens and require agencies to publicly post customer satisfaction data.
Our research, data analysis and conversations with experts in government and the private sector indicate that improving the customer experience is an area of tremendous opportunity for our government, and it is included as a priority in the president’s management agenda. In response, the Partnership is expanding our customer experience offerings. To transform how services are delivered to citizens, our government needs to start with a clear understanding of how citizens presently experience their interactions with government, and their expectations.
After gaining a better understanding of how citizens experience services, agencies and Congress need a roadmap to improve. The Partnership will catalogue and share best practices for improving customer service in both government and the private sector, help establish government-wide indicators to measure customer satisfaction and capture citizen feedback, and advocate for reforms to improve agency services. All these measures can help create a high-functioning, effective and innovative government responsive to the people it serves.
“As OMB was working to frame the president’s management agenda, the Partnership’s customer experience conference provided a critical opportunity to hear from leaders from both the public and private sectors. The discussion directly guided our efforts to make improving services to citizens a centerpiece of the president’s management agenda.”
Top-performing organizations have highly engaged employees who are connected to their missions and customers. Senior leaders must be held accountable for improving employee satisfaction and for creating a culture of recognition that includes awards and public acknowledgement of employees who excel. The Partnership’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, based on an annual federal survey, are a valuable tool to gauge employee commitment and satisfaction on workplace issues, serve as an early warning sign of trouble and pinpoint areas in need of improvement.
We stress the importance of an engaged workforce, employee recognition and innovation in all of our leadership development programs and collaborations with federal agencies, and we regularly offer specific courses on each of these subjects. In December, we released the 2017 Best Places to Work rankings, which provide the media, agency leadership and members of Congress and committee staff with data to guide inquiry and a tool for monitoring the organizational health of federal agencies.
The 2017 Best Places to Work results represent the largest single-year increase—a 2.1-point jump—in overall federal employee engagement in the history of the rankings. Maintaining this momentum will require a strong commitment from the current administration to continue to improve the employee experience—from training and developing leaders to ensuring employees have a positive work environment and the resources they need to do their jobs.
The president’s management agenda recognizes the importance of data to measure agency performance and the need to improve employee engagement, in line with the Partnership’s longtime advocacy. In 2018 the annual survey on which the Best Places to Work rankings are based will be sent to all federal employees—not just a sample—which will yield a broader picture of the views of the federal workforce, and a more significant opportunity for reform. In the coming year, we will continue to promote the rankings to federal leaders and Congress as a powerful accountability tool and continue to highlight the link between employee engagement and agency performance. We will partner with specific agencies to help them better understand their rankings and the actions they can take to improve employee engagement. Our outreach and communications will emphasize the importance of monitoring performance not just once a year, but on an ongoing basis.
While there have been gains in federal employee engagement during the past three years, there is an urgent need for additional progress, especially when comparing the government with the private sector. According to Mercer | Sirota, a survey research organization, the 2017 employee engagement score for private sector employees is 77.8 out of 100, representing a 16.3-point gap with the federal government. Big gaps exist on resources, merit-based awards and performance management.
|I have sufficient resources (for example, people, materials, budget) to get my job done||47.1%||71%|
|Awards in my work unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs||40.7%||64%|
|My supervisor provides me with constructive suggestions to improve my job performance||61.6%||76%|
|Employees are recognized for providing high quality products and services||48.5%||67%|
Best in class private sector organizations understand that improved employee engagement leads to better performance and improved outcomes. The administration should aspire to meet the private sector standard by placing a focus on supporting the federal workforce and improving the workplace culture.
“We are nothing but unmet mission without our people. The Partnership helps us determine how we are doing as a whole, and where we should look for areas of improvement.”
Over the past 16 years, the Partnership has collected more than 6,400 nominations and celebrated the achievements of more than 500 exceptional civil servants through our annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, also known as the Sammies. In doing so, we counter anti-government rhetoric and increase awareness of the many outstanding contributions our civil servants make to our nation and beyond our borders. Government often fails to properly recognize the good work happening inside its own institutions, so we also strive to foster a culture of recognition within government.
In 2017, we recognized eight outstanding award winners from among 26 finalists and nearly 450 nominees. Their accomplishments ranged from designing innovative wheelchairs to help disabled veterans and other Americans, to helping build and expand the U.S.-led program that provides medicine and assistance to 11 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, to helping secure a $17.4 billion settlement for car owners following Volkswagen’s scheme to evade emission standards.
The 2017 Sammies generated 343 million media impressions—including an article about the winners in TIME magazine—highlighting the accomplishments of the exceptional award finalists and recipients. We broadcast the award ceremony live on Facebook, and the hashtag #Sammies2017 was the number one trending topic on Twitter throughout the night in the Washington, D.C., area.
We are increasing awareness of the Sammies among the administration’s new leaders, within federal agencies and the larger Washington community, and throughout the country. In 2018, we are excited to highlight public-private partnerships and work undertaken across sectors to drive innovation and improve government effectiveness. We will present a new Sammies award to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose companies work with government to advance the fields of space exploration, sustainable energy and more. This fits with our goal to foster a stronger culture of recognition in the federal workforce as we work with government and private sector leaders to honor high-performing federal employees and celebrate government’s successes.
When the team of Dr. Paul McGann, Jean Moody-Williams and Dennis Wagner from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services won the 2016 Federal Employee of the Year, the top Sammies award, they wanted to share the love. They used their cash prize to bestow recognition—in the form of nearly 400 award plaques, special events, and other honors—to the countless individuals in many organizations that were integral to achieving the life-saving national improvements in hospital patient safety for which the team was recognized. The team recognized fellow federal leaders and employees, state and national hospital associations, patient and family advocacy groups, national provider associations, regional quality-improvement organizations and many others. Many of the organizations showcased their awards in their print or digital communications. Dennis Wagner said, “Paul, Jean and I didn’t do this work alone. Many others contributed to the accomplishment. Please know that the Sammies have a profound impact that goes far beyond those of us who are directly recognized with this prestigious honor, serving to inspire and motivate many others.”
“Rarely is the work [federal employees] do acknowledged, much less praised. But for the past 16 years, the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, or Sammies, have sought to change that by honoring federal employees who have an outsize impact on the country and the world.”
The Partnership is working with its third presidential administration. As we continue to mature as an organization, we find that the prospects for lasting improvement in government management are best when an administration works with Congress toward shared goals. Much of the Partnership’s work and impact over the past year has been as “connective tissue” between the branches to promote better information, communication and relationships.
The Partnership seeks to build a bridge of understanding and cooperation between Congress and the federal agencies they oversee. In 2017, we conferred with members of Congress, their staff, and congressional committees about the importance of the federal workforce and government management to the effective functioning of our government and to the provision of services to citizens, and we recommended legislative fixes to broken systems such as the federal civil service. We partnered with The Volcker Alliance, a nonprofit organization, to identify and recommend critically needed changes to federal recruiting and hiring, and we assembled a top flight bipartisan advisory panel to help guide this effort.
The Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition has become the go-to source of information and recommendations about the presidential transition and political appointments. With the inauguration of a new president, we focused on informing and supporting the political appointments process. Every incoming president needs to make 4,000 political appointments, including about 1,100 individuals requiring Senate confirmation. We assisted Senate committees and members of the administration by creating a comprehensive set of position descriptions for the top 450 Senate-confirmed jobs, as well as other materials to help inform the confirmation process, providing objective standards for assessing nominees’ qualifications.
In the coming year, we will prioritize our work with Congress and continue to advocate for policies that are grounded in good management principles and that will lead to a more efficient and effective government. We will support Congress in its oversight role by continuing to meet with congressional offices and committee staff, confer with them about complex federal management issues and encourage their constructive inquiry into these issues and the federal agencies they oversee. We will also strive to ensure that such inquiries are informed by accurate and relevant data.
The Partnership has recommended improvements to the appointments process, from trimming the number of political appointments, to reducing the number of jobs that require confirmation, to simplifying the vetting process for noncontroversial nominees. Bringing about these changes may be difficult in the current partisan climate, but the system is broken and must be fixed. We will look for opportunities to work with the administration and Congress on reforming this process while continuing to hold them accountable.
President Trump included several civil service reform proposals in his fiscal 2019 budget, which provides an opportunity for the Partnership to advocate for much-needed improvements. We will continue to pursue legislative reforms to overhaul the federal recruiting and hiring system, and new means for agencies to recruit and hire entry-level talent, including bringing in talent from outside government for short-term rotations. As a model for this kind of new approach, we will conduct a pilot program this year in collaboration with a group of private sector companies, federal agencies and universities to recruit top cybersecurity graduates to serve two-year fellowships in the government and continue on either in government or in positions with our partner companies.
At no time in the Partnership’s history has there been a focus on our government, how it is run, and the need to support and strengthen the institution like we are seeing now. This is a unique opportunity for the Partnership and our federal institutions. We are seizing the moment to help turn the tide and make real and lasting impact by shining a spotlight on our government and what it takes to improve it.
In collaboration with The Washington Post, we developed an appointments tracker that charts the status of more than 600 Senate-confirmed positions. The tracker confirmed that this administration, like many before it, has lagged behind the recommended pace for nominating new leaders. The Senate also bears some responsibility for confirmation delays. The Partnership’s steady drumbeat about the political appointments process caught the attention of the media, for the first time, and created a national conversation about the slow pace of appointments and how vacancies can impede government effectiveness. We garnered more than 5.4 billion media impressions and our work has been featured in major news outlets from The Atlantic to The Wall Street Journal. Award-winning journalist Michael Lewis, author of "Moneyball," has taken a keen interest in understanding the presidential transition and government. His two pieces in "Vanity Fair" explored the many risks that come with politicizing or underinvesting in our federal institutions and made a compelling case for why people should care about the state of our government.
In a decidedly tongue-in-cheek interview, Stephen Colbert talked with Partnership President and CEO Max Stier about the political appointments process. While the conversation was entertaining, the effect that these leadership vacancies have on federal agencies is no laughing matter, and the piece did much to inform the public about a critical issue.Watch
We will continue to be a reliable and trustworthy resource for the media and the public around the political appointments process and the management of the federal government. We will continue our outreach and advocacy in the media, in our reports and other thought leadership, and in our partnerships with other good government organizations.
“The Partnership for Public Service, over the past decade, has become perhaps the world’s expert on U.S. presidential transitions.”
This was an important year for the Partnership, when the nation paid greater attention to the government, and our work to improve it has never mattered more. Our federal institutions and their workforce continue to be under assault at a time when greater capacity is needed. As a result, we risk undermining the most powerful means to address our nation’s most critical problems.
What can any one person do to turn the tide? In our view, this is a crucial time for individuals and outside institutions that care about the integrity of our government to get involved. We invite you to join with us as we work for a more effective, efficient federal government, serving the American people.
We gratefully acknowledge the following corporations, foundations and individuals who make our work to transform government possible. None of the work of the Partnership would have been possible without the generous support of our funders and the expertise of our many partners.
Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of contributions received from January 1 through December 31, 2017. Kindly inform the development office at (202) 464-5387 of any oversights or inaccuracies.
(As of May 30, 2018)
Tom A. Bernstein
Chairman, Partnership for Public Service
President, Chelsea Piers Management, Inc.
Douglas R. Conant
Founder and CEO, ConantLeadership
Former CEO and President, Campbell Soup Company
The Honorable Tom Davis
Former U.S. Representative (Virginia)
Director of Federal Government Affairs, Deloitte
Joel L. Fleishman
Professor of Law and Director, Heyman Center for Ethics, Public Policy, and the Professions, Duke University
Partner, McKinsey & Company
W. Scott Gould
Managing Director, AVA Partners
Senior Advisor, The Boston Consulting Group
CEO, The Heyman Enterprise
Lloyd W. Howell, Jr.
Chief Financial Officer, Booz Allen Hamilton
David J. Kappos
Partner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP
Robert A. McDonald
Former Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Retired Chairman, President and CEO, The Procter & Gamble Company
Vice Chairman, Morgan Stanley
University Professor and Howard G. and S. Louise Phanstiel Chair in Strategic Management and Leadership, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University
The Honorable Steven C. Preston
Former Secretary, Department of Housing and Urban Development
Former Administrator, Small Business Administration
Political Commentator, ABC News
President and CEO, Partnership for Public Service
Chief Financial Officer, Emerson Collective
George W. Wellde, Jr.
Former Vice Chairman, Securities Division, Goldman Sachs & Company
Neal S. Wolin
CEO, Brunswick Group