Lessons on International Public Sector Transformation – Part I

Can international public sector process reengineering program lessons learned be applied to U.S. federal agency transformation initiatives? Absolutely – provided that the business fundamentals and end objectives are similar.

We can start by looking at the reverse order of the participants named in this question. Via such U.S. federal agency funded programs developed and carried out by such varied entities as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of State/Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (DoS/INL), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense, numerous localized and large national-level transformation and reengineering efforts have been carried out around the world over the past few decades.

These programs have been largely funded, framed and controlled by the respective U.S. federal agency with actual performance carried out by the U.S. business units of leading global management consulting and engineering firms.

If one looks at the spectrum of such projects, the challenges addressed are truly wide ranging and include such multi-year initiatives such as: the large scale privatization of national/state-owned enterprises in East Europe/former Soviet Union; establishment of frameworks for central government financial controls and transparency in diverse countries including Russia, Afghanistan, Haiti and Ethiopia; promotion of economic competition in China; roll-out of local, national and regional health services augmentation programs in Africa; establishment of air passenger and cargo hubs and carriers to promote regional trade and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa; to commercialization of former U.S. controlled key national transportation entities as the Panama Canal.

Do some of these challenges sound familiar today as they relate to the U.S. itself? Major cities facing severe economic stress/bankruptcy? The grooming and promotion of strong education standards outside of the United States threatening domestic intellectual capital development? An inability to find common ground amongst social and economic stakeholders in order to develop clear, concise and realistic local government economic revitalization and recovery plans?
Several of the U.S. agencies cited earlier plus the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme and other international donors have dealt with similar questions and challenges on a daily basis for decades. If so, then why have some of these initiatives worked so well overseas but are largely unheard of in the United States?

There are many reasons. First of all, many U.S. consulting entities and their government clients are not familiar with the details of such programs – even when the scopes of work, project planning, deliverables and cost/pricing of such efforts are readily available. It is the old struggle of domestic vs. international program (mis)understanding. Secondly, those projects awarded by U.S. federal clients for such work follow U.S. federal acquisition regulation (FAR) contingency procedures or agency-specific supplements which allow for more flexible and international-support specific procedures which require specific situation expertise. Thirdly, in order to deliver such consulting services in international markets, the consulting services deliverers themselves have to augment U.S. professionals with international experts who normally do not work on domestic U.S. government support programs. This may include very senior global financial sector restructuring and legal experts who normally work out of financial markets in London, Paris and Tokyo to localized logisticians who have creative ways to keep supply chains running in such locations as Nairobi, Bogota or Beirut. Along with these intelligent, cross-border and multi-background professionals comes innovative business practices and an ability to source globally and deliver locally in very quick order.

Coming – PART II: “Leveraging International Experience for Domestic Public Sector Challenges”