Building federal capacity within – and through – financial mechanisms, evidence and data, talent and hiring, and culture will equip the U.S. government to solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation.
Federal capacity is the ability of the government to effectively implement policies and provide public goods. Often called “state capacity”, it refers to the process of building and strengthening skills, abilities, and mechanisms within federal institutions to effectively meet their missions while fulfilling the diverse needs of the American people.
The U.S. government’s ability to meet the multitude of needs of the public while solving emergent, wicked challenges of the 21st century is often hamstrung by its institutional complexity. A bevy of pitfalls permeate throughout public institutions that impede the government’s ability to deliver on its mission:
- Technical talent gaps limit its ability to execute: agencies struggle to identify, recruit and onboard technical talent, leading to gaps in much needed expertise and technical skills to meet and address the needs of a rapidly changing world.
- Risk-aversion and misaligned incentives stifle innovation and problem solving : Government oversight and accountability seek to steward and enforce policy outcomes but foster a fear of failure among civil servants, resulting in risk-averse culture. Work is driven by compliance rather than solutions, while the performance management systems incentivize and reward the status quo.
- Misinterpretation of allowability and unclear authorities prevent agencies from leveraging tools: myths permeate agencies about what they can and cannot do, impacting agencies’ abilities to leverage their full suite of tools to build functioning systems and processes to drive progress on their missions.
By building capacity within financial mechanisms; evidence and data; talent and hiring; and culture, the federal government will be better equipped to innovate and solve emerging problems of our future.
What we’re doing
Since the start of the Biden Administration, FAS has partnered with a number of federal agencies and leaders across government to unlock barriers and bolster its capacity through various activities.
Accelerating Clean Energy Deployment at the Department of Energy
FAS provided research and technical guidance to support the diffusion of flexible financial mechanisms and other transactions with the Department of Energy. FAS compiled a set of policy recommendations for how the DOE can leverage its Other Transaction Authority to accelerate commercialization and scale high impact clean energy technologies. In September 2023, FAS support helped inform and prompt DOE to issue guidance on how program offices agency leaders can use other transactions to catalyze demand for clean energy.
Improving Innovation at USAID
FAS is conducting an analysis to identify the barriers preventing USAID from advancing innovations within the agency. FAS will map the barriers and outline a set of policy recommendations to lift up existing authorities that USAID leaders can leverage across acquisitions, assistance and talent to streamline its innovation pipeline.
FAS is leading an initiative to address federal permitting capacity challenges in talent and evidence. FAS is hosting convenings with key stakeholders to identify policy needs, facilitating a sprint to identify talent bottlenecks, and launching an ideas challenge with subject matter experts to identify talent solutions and promising approaches.
Federal Talent Innovation
FAS identified and built new talent pathways with federal offices and provided hiring technical assistance to many others. To date, FAS has selected 72 Impact Fellows to do tours of service in 21 different federal agencies, with 41 Impact Fellows currently on assignment, and finalizing recruitment efforts for 9 Impact Fellowship opportunities.
Unlocking Department of Energy’s Talent and Procurement
FAS partners with the Department of Energy to lead activities focused on deploying high-impact fellows and leveraging its full suite of hiring authorities to onboard technical talent; identifying opportunities to unlock procurement tools to stimulate market demand and accelerate the deployment of clean energy technology; and providing technical support to implement overlooked legislation elements (e.g., Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation).
Procurement as a Tool for Climate Change
FAS supported CEQ and the Federal Chief Sustainability Officer in uncovering opportunities for procurement to address climate challenges. FAS hosted a roundtable with procurement and climate experts to discuss the underutilized role of the federal government as a strategic buyer to overcome market failures in scaling innovative solutions to climate change. Through the discussion, barriers for implementation and opportunities to employ demand-pull mechanisms were identified.
Replicating Operation Warp Speed
FAS facilitated a workshop with 20+ organizations in partnership with science and health policy organizations and contributors from federal agencies to scope and identify opportunities for applying demand-pull procurement mechanisms to target additional diseases, and rapidly develop next generation vaccines and therapies.