In November 1962 John F Kennedy signed a Presidential Memo setting in place the Federal Executive Boards with the purpose of improving effectiveness and cost efficiencies across federal agencies outside Washington DC. Today there are 28 such Boards in geographic areas of substantial federal activity. They are composed of the highest-ranking official of every federal agency (civilian, military and postal service) in that particular area. Coordination can improve effectiveness by sharing resources and expertise, or literally save budget dollars sharing administrative functions such as recruitment and personnel.
I have often written about coordination across agencies as a central feature of 21st century governance. Most recently, I proposed that the Federal Executive Boards play a more central and authorized coordinating role in any plan to transform government along the lines of reinvention.
LeAnn Jenkins is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Federal Executive Board. She said I could use her real name, which is quite fortunate since she is quite quotable. We had many hours of conversation over two days and several meals.
LeAnn had been on the job about a year when the Oklahoma City Federal Building was bombed by a homegrown American terrorist. The explosion killed 168 people, including many children in a day care center, injured almost 700 people and destroyed over 300 buildings in the surrounding area. There was great confusion on that day, April 19, 1995 and the media asked for help identifying the missing and the offices where they worked.
The next morning, LeAnn realized the single best listing of every federal office, executive, staff and their building location, room numbers and contact information was in the binder put together in the past few months by the Oklahoma Federal Executive Board. She happened to have an extra copy in her desk at home: she called it in got a police escort to the emergency operations center.
When you ask LeAnn about the priorities of any Federal Executive Board, she immediately talks about the importance of coordinating across agencies during emergencies. Today, this includes terrorism, pandemics, domestic catastrophes, and weather emergencies including tornadoes, floods, snow storms, significant freezing events and anything else humans and mother nature can throw our way. As Oklahoma City learned, coordination across agencies includes consistent policies about time off for survivors or witnesses at trials.
Coordination is important in many ways other than emergencies. Sharing administrative services such as recruitment efforts or even contracts for copy centers. In another example, a discussion at a Board meeting led to a National Park Service giving 5 male buffalo they could no longer support to a native-American tribe that wanted to increase the variety of buffalo in their mostly female herd: Happy buffalo, happy agencies, happy tribe.
According to LeAnn, “For any issue, I like to think of it this way – we all put our pieces to the jigsaw puzzle on the table at the same time. That’s the only way to solve the puzzle.” She adds: “Even if the public does not understand what government does, because so much of it is invisible, we have to do the best possible job. And coordinating across agencies is part of how we do our best.”