The COVID-19 pandemic changed how state and local governments work with outside partners to support government benefits programs.
The pandemic brought new challenges and increased demand for services. State and local government leaders had to re-evaluate the role private companies could play. These leaders were able to understand which partners were best suited to help and how these partners could support future work.
As we close out the public health emergency, it’s time to consider the need for ongoing support. Were they an important stopgap during a time of overwhelming need or are they now essential partners?
The answer is both.
In 2023, state and local governments are experiencing different challenges in retaining and attracting employees, now driven by a wave of retirements and a competitive job market. This March, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families identified in a new report that 16 states of the 26 with available data had staff vacancy factors for eligibility support greater than 10 percent—highlighting the importance of enlisting private sector partners to fill the gap.
Ultimately, each government agency must determine if private sector partners have the program and policy tools to help them adapt to a future with consistently increased public demand for services.
The one constant for government policy and program rules is complexity. Knowing that the risk of failure is high, agencies have traditionally maintained control over operations.
The right approach is predicated on discovering how governments can retain control and ensure quality while leveraging the capacity, flexibility and scalability of partners.
Government leaders of unemployment insurance programs, for example, were initially skeptical that an outside partner could support complex tasks like claims adjudication. Instead, the talent and resources of companies, such as the one I work for, were proven to be efficient and effective.
My 18-year state government and 18-year private sector careers provided me with a unique window into elements of success and what to look for in a trusted partner. When evaluating a partner, government leaders should look for these five key attributes that can help your budget, talent, technology, and consumer experience.
Speed to impact Partners should understand what success looks like and how to replicate it across government programs quickly. An ideal partner should come with best practices and a path to creating repeatable processes with a high degree of success. An experienced partner knows how to implement what they say, when they say, and for how much they say.
Scalability Need 40 people this week, 400 next week and only 50 two months from now? Need to reassign your resources to more pressing tasks? It all comes down to how quickly a contractor can scale and adapt to your needs, without compromising performance, productivity, or quality. After all, putting more people on a problem doesn’t necessarily help if they can’t perform at, or better than, a state’s standard for performance. And scaling down is just as important as scaling up when a need ends.
Problem solving Contractors come in all shapes and sizes—many have narrow areas of expertise while relatively few have all three competencies (operational, technical, and managerial) needed to run a government program. Government needs experienced professionals who can help solve complex delivery problems to produce outcomes that matter to governments and citizens alike.
Government focus Many companies want to apply solutions designed for commercial markets to government programs. However, you can’t expect just any corporate contractor to do work that government has traditionally handled.
There’s a whole new level of complexity today—new government programs, new rules, new populations seeking benefits, new volume levels. It’s important to have a partner that adds real value, whether that’s providing a higher-quality citizen experience, adjusting workflow to reduce process bottlenecks and augment existing government staff, maintaining compliance with federal requirements, or executing next-step activities such as verifications, redeterminations and appeals.
Flexibility In today’s increasingly virtual world, governments need a partner with a workforce that brings highly transferrable skills, so you can quickly transfer people from program to program and task to task as demands change.
Build long-term partnerships
The importance of seeking these attributes is about finding a partner for the long haul. Of course, not every government project is indefinite—there are many programs that are temporary and don’t require a long-term solution.
However, a short-term project can create a long-term partner. Finding a strategic partner for the long-term can help state governments better prepare for the future by allowing for greater flexibility, emphasizing agility to adapt, and increasing opportunities for innovation…all to provide a better experience for those who use government programs and to be effective on behalf of taxpayers who fund those programs.
A state or local government can’t prepare for every potential scenario, but they can enlist the help of trusted partners to make sure no scenario is too great a challenge.
This article first appeared on americancityandcounty.com.