Running the Government: Mason Partners with Consultants to Guide Public Administration

Posted: January 5, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

detail of U.S. Capitol building
In the interest of better public policy, the relationship between federal government employees and contractors is getting scrutiny by Mason academics and consultants.
Photo by Jake McGuire

By James Greif

When Barack Obama takes over the job of president later this month, he will oversee a federal workforce of nearly two million. And these federal workers will in turn manage an even larger contractor workforce of more than 7.6 million.

This poses a clear challenge to those tasked with running federal agencies. How do you work across boundaries with organizations that have different missions and values? How do you work with contract employees who have different managers and management structures?

These are just a few of the issues that Mason’s Department of Public and International Affairs is tackling as it partners with consulting companies to educate government employees and federal contractors about the pressing issues that face modern government management.

Paul Posner
Paul Posner
Creative Services photo

Paul Posner, director of Mason’s Master of Public Administration program in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, knows firsthand the role that academia has in public policy development and implementation. As managing director for federal budget and intergovernmental issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, he led the agency’s work on long-term federal budget prospects and future challenges for public sector finances at federal, state and local government levels.

Because of his reputation in academic and government communities, Posner was elected to the leadership of the American Society for Public Administration and will serve as its president this year.

Posner believes that the world of practice in public administration has always been ahead of academia, and he wants Mason to provide academic and intellectual leadership on the issues facing modern government professionals.

“Government is increasingly not doing direct work these days – and contracting out a lot. In today’s public sector, there is a huge silent workforce that is off of the government payrolls,” Posner says.

“We’ve changed the MPA curriculum to focus on managing these types of relationships. Mason has one of the first classes on federal contracting as well as a required class on third-party governance, and we’re working these issues into introduction courses as well.”

Initiative for Collaborative Government

CGI Group Inc., a business process services and information technology management company, has commissioned Mason to conduct research briefings on key public administration issues. The joint public policy project is dubbed the Initiative for Collaborative Government, and Posner serves as co-director with Andrew McLauchlin, an executive consultant from CGI.

“They [CGI] get access to our top faculty and their high-quality research and we get access to the contracting community through CGI’s connections,” Posner explains. “CGI has done a excellent job of making academic work useful for practitioners and letting them know about the activities Mason is undertaking.”

Faculty members involved in the initiative’s research projects conduct interviews with chief administrative officials at major federal government agencies, as well as other government officials and private sector employees, to collect relevant information for their reports.

The partnership has already produced timely research papers, including

  • “Creating Jobs in America: Case Studies in Local Economic Development” by Darrene Hackler, associate professor, Public and International Affairs

  • “Building Effective Partnerships in Professional Services” by Paige Wolf, assistant professor of management, School of Management

  • “Applying Collaborative Government Strategies to Maximize Mission Impact” by Julianne Mahler, associate professor, Public and International Affairs

These papers, as well as more information about the initiative, can be found at

After a report is issued, GCI convenes seminars in Washington, D.C. A typical audience includes 50 to 60 professionals from the contracting and government arenas, such as chief information officers, chief financial officers and upper-level management from organizations that provide services to federal agencies.

Sessions have even included representatives from the presidential campaigns, including those of Obama.

Representatives from CGI have also discussed the program’s papers and research results in meetings with members of Congress and the executive branch.

“CGI views the partnership as very successful and has commissioned additional research projects.” Posner says. “We don’t want these things to collect dust on a shelf. Since each of these reports was created as the result of real-world problems, government employees and contractors are reading the reports and using them in a variety of settings.”

IBM Center for the Business of Government

In addition to the CGI partnership, Mason’s public administration program and the IBM Center for the Business of Government have convened a series of discussions with 20 to 30 senior officials representing industry, government and nonprofit organizations over the last year on federal contracting issues for public managers.

The sessions looked at federal contracting issues such as the role of chief acquisition officers; incorporating performance measures into contracts; the human capital issues posed by mixed public-private workforces; and the state of the federal acquisition workforce.

Mason adjunct professor and former Office of Management and Budget policy official Allan Burman led the briefings and provided a short analysis of each issue. Burman will also write a report, to be released later this month, that summarizes the results of these meetings. The report will outline transition issues for the new presidential administration to consider. More information about these briefings can be found at

“The value of these partnerships is that we gain insight into the issues that are of concern to federal employees and contractors,” says Posner. “We are building a bed of experience to draw from when teaching our students while gaining visibility with people already working in government.”

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