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June 16, 2010

Closing the productivity gap between the public and private sectors

Guest contribution from Jake Saperstein

La   Last week, OMB director Peter Orszag spoke at the Center for American Progress at an event sponsored by the “Doing What Works” Project. Doing What Works aims to promote reforms that increase government efficiency during this time of scarce resources, and Orszag discussed the Administration’s emphasis on increasing public sector productivity by closing the “IT Gap.”

Th   The  Director made three key points on why the Federal Government must create systems to provide more efficient services:

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  • Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public sector worker productivity has fallen while private sector productivity has grown by around one percent a year.
  • According to a recent poll by the Pew Center, approximately two-thirds of Americans believe that the government is wasting their money.
  • Many government agencies do not have in place cutting-edge and efficient systems. For example, the US Patent Office, which deals with the nation’s most innovative ideas, must print out all electronic submissions and then scan them individually, leading to a three-year average approval time.

Orszag used these points to explain the Administration’s emphasis on creating systems that will “increase IT productivity, efficiency, and customer service.” In particular, Orszag focused on the use of goal-setting and status checks, highlighting the use of the IT Dashboard to increase transparency and accountability. He argued that this proactive approach will enable the Administration to kill unproductive projects and prevent the Government from throwing good money after bad.

It has become clear throughout the discussion of increased government efficiency that, in a time of budget tightening and in light of the President’s commitment to a non-security spending freeze, IT programs can leverage one-time funds to create long-term cost savings. By focusing on technological solutions for mission critical tasks, agencies can improve services, increase worker productivity, and capture quantitative results. While technology is not the only way to address this productivity gap, IT solutions can also improve citizen satisfaction by increasing efficiency, transparency, and participation while decreasing costs.

While many take the public-private sector productivity disparity as a given, it need not be the case. At Adobe we have seen several innovative agencies leverage technology to improve services and increase productivity. Whether through EWarrants, Digital Signatures, or the engaging use of data transparency (among others), agencies have deployed programmatic solutions to better accomplish their mission at a reduced cost.

As state and federal legislators focus on addressing long-term deficits, now may be the perfect time to utilize one-time investments to both improve service provision and mitigate long-term costs.

To hear Orszag’s talk, click here.