Editor’s note: The following story first appeared on the Government Executive website. The Robertson Foundation is a proud partner of the Volcker Alliance’s Government-to-University Initiative.

In a research project last year, Carnegie Mellon University students used prescription drug data provided by the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Department of Human Services to create a model that could, with 78 percent accuracy, predict who was at a high risk of opioid abuse outside of pain clinics. Early detection allows clinicians to intervene before an addiction develops.

Other Carnegie Mellon students undertook a separate project, also using predictive data analysis, to help the Allegheny County fire department determine which buildings were at high risk of fires. Using data supplied by the fire department and other sources, students identified the top 56 buildings—out of 28,000 buildings in their data set—for priority inspections.

These projects are examples of how governments and universities can partner to solve real world problems, according to Associate Dean Jackie Speedy, at the Carnegie Mellon School of Public Policy and Management.

Similar partnerships can smooth the pathway into public service careers, added Scott Sellers, a leader in the Texas City Managers Association, which has assigned two seasoned “Managers in Residence” to 14 Texas universities to raise the profile of the profession and compete for the next generation of top talent. The effort has boosted collegiate membership in the association significantly.

Speedy and Sellers spoke at an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the New York-based non-profit Volcker Alliance, which announced last week that it is launching two pioneering regional-level partnerships between government practitioners and universities. It says that these partnerships will respond to “high need areas for government: access to top talent, workforce preparedness, and support for applied research, predictive analytics, and program evaluation.” The two locations will be Austin, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri.

The Volcker Alliance’s Government-to-University initiative is an idea along the same lines as a proposal announced by the White House Office of Management and Budget last summer. OMB proposed creating a Government Effectiveness Research (GEAR) Center that would be national in scope. It reiterated its commitment in the administration’s recently-released budget proposal for 2020, with the target of launching a national network by this fall.

The Alliance project, dubbed “G2U” for short, completed an exploratory phase in fall 2018. It convened a series of four exploratory design sessions to determine if there was a practical interest in government-to-university partnerships. It held sessions in Pittsburgh; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Kansas City; and Austin, Texas, attracting more than 200 participants ranging from university professors, career services leaders, deans, and students to government officials from federal, state, counties, cities, and towns.

Dustin Brown, a federal executive from OMB on sabbatical with the Alliance to participate in developing this approach, said that design session participants “found it exceedingly valuable to be together in the same room.” The Alliance found that participants in every site “emphatically endorsed the value of routine, structured regional collaboration between local, state, and federal government practitioners with universities’ leadership, faculties, and students. Public sector workforce recruitment and the alignment of research priorities rose to the top as the most productive topics for a regional group to tackle.”

In the coming months, the Alliance will partner with government and university leaders in Austin and Kansas City to establish two inaugural “G2U Regional Councils.” The Alliance will provide technical assistance support to each site, helping stakeholders develop a regional governance structure, identify priority projects, and enlist support from potential funders to foster local ownership and chart a course for sustainability over time. The Alliance hopes to expand to additional sites later this year.

At the launch event, Angela Evans, dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, observed that “this is a chance to do it,” that is, to create sustained relationships between universities and government. She compared the potential of the research network to something akin to the micro-task website Task Rabbit—bringing together talent with need.

Likewise, David Warm, executive director of the Kansas City-based Mid-America Regional Council, sees the role of G2U in Kansas City as both a hub and an intermediary. He sees G2U as an opportunity to broaden the pipeline of research and apply academic and private sector lessons to government in areas such as talent development and the use of data in decision-making.

Marking the one-year anniversary of the President’s Management Agenda to modernize and streamline the federal government, leaders from the executive office are steadfast in working toward several initiatives in workforce recruitment and acquisition processes, with further updates still to come.

“IT modernization is something that everyone knows is important. The technology is awful,” remarked Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at OMB and acting director of OPM.

Technology is one of three drivers for bringing change in the federal government, as outlined in the PMA that was launched last year in Kansas City, Missouri. The other drivers are data and workforce.

One initiative is looking into the technology modernization fund to match IT funding with actual IT needs.

Those needs led the OPM to also look at the centers of excellence, “looking at how do we connect the dots around funding and the way technology projects actually work, which don’t fit neatly into one-year appropriation cycles and actually need more flexibility,” Weichert said at a National Academy of Public Administration panel in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.

Another initiative is to retool the workforce. Citing efforts to digitize paper-based processes across the departments of Labor, State and Homeland Security, Federal CIO Suzette Kent noted some challenges in doing so resided not just in the technology itself, but also in making sure personnel were adequately prepared to maintain and grow those tools.

“We needed the skill sets inside the agency to sustain those new technologies as we roll them out to make best use of what we can do with the cloud,” said Kent, in reference to email modernization efforts across the Defense Department.

In cybersecurity specifically, it takes getting more creative to recruit that expertise, said Kent. But it’s not easy. Currently, there are no job codes for those workers, Kent said, especially as the fast-pace movement of the technology industry is very often where those types of emerging roles will arise.

Procurement contracts will also come into focus, said Weichert, adding that procurement professionals should be empowered to use technology through data to save more money. Weichert said her team is working on a modernization program for acquisition, updates for which will be discussed over the next year.

In the next couple months, there will also be announcements regarding a competition to bring academia and the private sector to apply lessons learned to government. Called the Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center, such a partnership would allow government agencies to find new ways to test and learn technologies at a faster pace.

The General Services Administration is looking into various technologies such as robotics processing automation to get 24 multiple award schedules consolidated into one, in an effort to modernization federal acquisition, noted the agency’s Administrator Emily Murphy.

“The broad scale use of automated technology should be something that is standard and common in all agencies, not an experiment,” added Kent.

In the next several months, further information about the executive office’s proposal to integrate OPM’s functions into GSA and other agencies is also expected. Under the proposal, some provisions of which would still need Congressional approval, administrative services like human resources and IT would be done through GSA acting as a shared-service provider, Weichert said.