3 Tips for Effective Federal Interagency Collaboration

Coordinating policy across multiple agencies is a major challenge for many federal program managers and leaders. Responsibilities are not always neatly divided within agencies or even between agencies. The results are conflicting policies, duplication of effort, and inefficiency. At the core of the issue is each federal agency’s struggle to hold on to what it defines as its responsibility and mission space.  A 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report identified 34 areas in which Federal agencies have overlapping initiatives.  In 2013, the updated GAO report didn’t indicate much improvement. 31 areas were still identified with significant Federal “fragmentation, overlap, and duplication.” The pinch of tightening budgets leads Federal agencies to try to do more with less.  As a result, many Federal agencies are trying in earnest to reduce inefficiencies.    Federal interagency collaboration represents a means to improve policy and outcomes while potentially reducing costs. Federal interagency collaboration may seem like an obvious solution but the road to doing this successfully is paved with serious potholes.

Here are three tips for avoiding potholes on the road:

1. Find the right contact – Locating and engaging the right point of contact (POC) is invaluable.  You need to find the person in another organization that has the knowledge and internal connections to make things happen.  That person may not be the most senior participant, but she will be the person with her finger on the pulse of the agency.

2. What’s in it for them – Nobody is going to go out of their way to coordinate outside their chain of command unless there is something in it for their agency.  It can often feel like a dog-eat-dog world in the Federal government.  If interagency coordination means your dog gets eaten (e.g. you cease to be relevant) then why would you sign up?  If interagency collaboration means you can support your agency’s mission more effectively and affordably, then POCs will be clamoring to sign up.  When selling interagency collaboration, the “what’s in it for them” must be clear.

3. Revisit the effort regularly – Project drift is the number one villain in Federal interagency collaboration.  What seems like a good idea at first loses its appeal after getting bogged down in details or after circumstances change.  Managers leading effective Federal interagency collaboration efforts must frequently circle back to the POCs to clarify whether the effort is still relevant and valuable.  If collaborating member agency values change, then the value of the interagency collaboration must be rearticulated so that it is once again relevant.

What are your recommendations for successful interagency collaboration?