Increase in Interagency Cooperation, Decrease in Accountability
Property managers from federal agencies deal with budget cuts and organizational realignment on what feels like an everyday basis. Yet the demands placed on federal property management organizations never change: they must, and will, continue to provide increased service to the public.
So how do property managers meet the increasing demands for public safety while constantly juggling a shift in bureaucracy? The answer is simple: change with the times.
The property management and emergency management / first responder industries are trending towards a culture of interagency cooperation and collaboration. This is a reactionary movement, a shift in the paradigm as a result of stringent budget cuts – but it is also the natural progression for federally funded property management organizations. Cooperation has resulted in increased productivity, a repealing of inflexible and inefficient bureaucratic stalling, and most importantly, an economical use of shared resources.
Despite everything, property management organizations are actually maximizing the value of their assets.
Evidence of increased interagency cooperation is everywhere; the existence of this blog, and the organization that sponsors it are indicative of how global the approach to property management and emergency response has become. Organizations like the National Property Management Agency have set the precedent for rethinking this approach, but as everyone in the industry is well aware, change is the only constant.
The era of interagency collaboration has produced some new challenges:
- Physical assets aren’t the only things agencies are sharing these days. The shift and transfer of employees from office to office often requires them to cross jurisdictional boundaries making them “guests” in other agencies. This means those employees are subject to their host agency’s property management standards including security, accountability, and liability.
- Similarly, when agencies collaborate they must deal both with their internal structural issues as well as reconciling with an entirely new staff. Combining positions, establishing administrative authority, and sharing offices and equipment are all part of these logistical complications.
- Going off that point, sharing job responsibilities across agencies can easily create confusion. To ensure important functions aren’t lost, agencies must foster trust, often by blurring the lines between their organizations. However this increased flexibility must not come at the cost of asset accountability.
- That sort of “loss of accountability” may be absorbed fully by one agency while eliminating the liability for loss by the other. This is especially true for agencies that employ volunteers. All cooperating agencies need to share risk and absorb loss.
- All of these points speak to cultural differences between agencies, offices, bureaus. These differences are very real because what works for one office won’t necessarily work across all agencies.
It is becoming readily apparent that the trend within the trend is an increasing lack of accountability. While property management organizations have increased their cooperation, collaborating on everything from customer service to administrative tasks, the accountability of property has become difficult to maintain.
How can this issue be remedied? To begin with, collaborating agencies need to establish universal policies that supersede the existing internal standards of individual agencies. These policies are based on fundamental communication strategies such as:
- Property managers, executives, administrators, and point-personnel must contact and communicate with their counterpart in the cooperating agency. If property is in the custody of a staff member from one agency, the other property manager needs to be notified immediately and provided with documents assigning custody.
- Establish and enforce strict employee clearance procedures which involve every office at every location.
- Assign an on-site, agency Custodial Property Officer to oversee the management of agency property at each location. This individual should be given the task of maintaining signature accountability and inventorying the property frequently.
- Identify all property that comes in with agency property tags immediately. Use decals as necessary to maintain accountability for property that doesn’t get assigned a property number.
- Provide supervisory training on property accountability issues.
- Remind agency employees that this is not a trust issue, it is an accountability issue.