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In the battle against COVID-19, state governments have been thrust into the national spotlight like never before. We’ve seen passionate leadership and measured, coordinated responses in the face of unprecedented uncertainty and resource shortages.

Perhaps that’s no surprise. State governments are always performing high-wire acts, even if it doesn’t make the news. In the operation of their health and social programs, government agencies are continually trying to bridge ever-widening gaps. These gaps – in budgets, technology, staffing and customer experience – decrease efficiency and impact the well-being of those who need help the most.

A lonely struggle

Due to some outdated assumptions, government agencies have had to face many of these challenges alone. But no longer. Recent federal guidance now gives states the flexibility to make greater use of contractors to close gaps.

This change can make it easier to supplement staff, modernize operations, centralize services and maximize budgets. In short, it has the potential to be a complete game-changer for governments. So how did we get to this pivotal moment?

First, a little history

As part of its efforts to ensure a high-caliber civil service free of conflicts of interest, Congress created a “merit system” based on “merit principles.” Defined by the Intergovernmental Personnel Act of 1970 (IPA), as amended, 42 USC § 4701, the law requires merit-based hiring, fair compensation and other sound principles.

While never actually stated in the legislation, the assumption was that only government workers – i.e., “merit employees” – were permitted to perform certain functions in federally funded health and human services programs. And so it was for decades.

Why are things changing now?

Due to congressional mandates, private employers have been in line with the IPA’s merit principles for quite some time. As a result, the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has given the green light for contractors to do a broader range of government work, as long as they meet the merit principles. That could make a crucial difference for state governments and the people they serve.

Greater flexibility to improve government

If you oversee a state agency, the OPM guidance adds a whole new set of tools to your toolbox. You’ll have to decide when and how to use them – based on what’s best for your state’s needs – but you now have resources you never did before.

With this change, you can use contractors like Maximus to administer all aspects of federally funded entitlement programs – for example, to make eligibility determinations or serve program applicants in more expansive ways. Let’s take a closer look at how this could benefit you.

Integration for greater efficiency

Government programs are most efficient and effective when they’re built around those they’re serving. In many states, however, the norm is siloed programs where the same activities and functions are duplicated from one program to the next. That’s extra work for beneficiaries who rely on multiple programs and extra cost for the state.

But what if you could integrate eligibility and enrollment functions – as well as contact centers – eliminating redundancies? Under the new OPM guidance, you can take full advantage of Maximus's technological know-how, process engineering expertise and customer service proficiency to do just that.

For example, a state that uses our contact centers for Medicaid might choose to have us assist with other benefits as well. “No wrong door” service models can now be much more robust, with beneficiaries able to get answers about CHIP, Medicaid, unemployment benefits and SNAP from a single website or call. The result? More efficient operations and a better consumer experience.

A 21st century workforce

OPM guidance could also prove invaluable for closing staffing gaps, particularly with a silver tsunami of retiring workers on the horizon. By supplementing your own employees with contract staff, you have the flexibility to reduce backlogs and reconfigure staff, particularly during peaks and valleys of demand. And you can avoid the costs of benefits and pensions, which make hiring new employees more difficult.

At Maximus, we provide top-quality talent who are rewarded for hitting target service levels, elevating customer service performance. In addition, we can free up your employees to focus on preferred tasks or complex cases – rather than paperwork – increasing satisfaction and productivity.

Finding the right contractor

While OPM guidance gives you more flexibility to use contractors, you’re unlikely to close many gaps with a partner that’s not the right fit.

At Maximus, helping government serve people better is our single-minded mission. As a leader in the field, we have the best practices, scalable solutions, infrastructure and leadership to help transform your operations. Think of us as a close advisor, here to help you design programs that best serve your people.

As the largest independent administrative services provider, we also have no conflicts of interest, so you (and your citizens) can have complete confidence in the programs we operate and recommendations we provide. Plus, we’re accountable. With our performance-based contracts, our compensation is tied to your results. In other words, we have skin in the game, as a true partner should.

There when you need us most

Perhaps most important, you can count on us to support you in times of crisis, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the OPM guidance gives us an even greater ability to do so.

We know the government programs we support – including Unemployment, SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare and CDC – provide a critical lifeline to individuals and families. We’re ensuring they get the help they need, from meeting surges in demand for unemployment and other benefits, to augmenting program capacity, to scaling contact centers for rapid response.

The COVID-19 crisis underscores the value of having a close relationship with a contractor you trust. With the new OPM guidance, we see a new era of governments and contractors working collaboratively to close gaps, improve outcomes and solve the most challenging problems of our day.