Shared services = standard services

Rant alert.

Larry Neff is the Deputy CFO at DOT, which runs an FMLOB shared services center. In this FCW article he makes it clear what the mission of these government shared service centers is:

…Neff said, agencies that require customized systems should look to the private sector for help. Shared-services centers create value by being standardized and using commercial software without changing it. “I can’t make a profit on this,” he said, so there is no justifcation for customizing solutions.

That’s the crux of why government shared services are a great idea for those lines of business that require reasonably standard types of services. As soon as those types of services start to diverge and multiply, with their nuances and subtleties, the use of a more dynamic set of providers (or leaving existing systems alone) can start to make more sense.

This is a discussion that, in my opinion, hasn’t happened in the Grants Management Line of Business. Everyone has tried to force through the argument that “All grant programs are fundamentally the same.” And most things are, viewed from a high-enough vantage point. But the closer you get to the tasks being executed, the more you realize how the “we’re the same, you and me” story is a sham.

There is a place for GMLOB service centers. But three of them isn’t enough, and there will continue to be outliers regardless of how many centers are established, assuming that Congress continues to create whatever grant programs it pleases!