If you have a leaky garden hose, running water through it at full blast will quickly reveal the problem areas. Similarly, unrelenting pressure from COVID-19 has made governments aware of various program holes that desperately need patching.
Even in the best of times, health and human services agencies are frequently challenged by gaps in budget, talent, technology, and customer satisfaction. Now, short on manpower and money, many are reassessing their entire approach.
No one said it would be easy
Despite efforts to mitigate the pandemic’s impacts, people continue to be laid off or furloughed, and demand for benefits and services continues to rise.
Because governments are mostly brick-and-mortar operations, they may not have the capacity to keep up with this demand in a socially distanced world. To make matters worse, they’re facing budget shortfalls and a “silver tsunami” of retiring government workers, which will leave programs more shorthanded than before.
The need for a big-picture view
As we begin to move on from the “house is on fire” phase of the pandemic, states can more thoughtfully survey the situation to determine a longer-term course of action.
One key is understanding that surges in demand will continue to ripple through government programs, as the graphic below illustrates. In response, states must be ready to create new programs, establish new infrastructure, streamline processes, rethink service delivery, and maintain a vigilant focus on accountability and program integrity.
So what’s the way forward?
Governments know what they need to do — get benefits in the hands of the people who need them, get people back to work, and do it all efficiently so taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted. However, accomplishing all that — in the midst of a pandemic — is a tall order.
Recent guidance from the federal Office of Personnel Management offers one compelling solution: making greater use of contractors. With new flexibility to augment their workforces and shore up agency programs this way, states can create high-impact partnerships to increase their chances of success.
But this must be done strategically. In a rush to respond to crises, it can be tempting to cut corners. Most state governments will be better served by a well-planned solution that meets several key requirements.
Remember these five pillars
Because there’s a danger of quickly straining budgets — and public trust — in a crisis, Maximus focuses on solutions that provide the following:
Sustainability in the long term, not just a quick fix
Scalability (up or down) for rapid increases, then decreases, in demand
Capacity to deliver timely, high-quality service, as well as innovation and supportive technologies
Flexibility to quickly pivot staff to new functions and new challenges
Accountability for performance and program integrity to minimize fraud, waste, and abuse
Plus, as you continue your recovery, you’ll have a proven solution in place to put out any new fires that arise.
It’s almost like having a brand new hose.