The age of federal automation has arrived. From the first federal government robot, National Aeronautics and Space Administration's George Washington, in 2017, more and more robots are coming online as federal agencies enter a bots race to showcase pilot success stories and robot collections. They also participate in industry consortiums promoting thought leadership, best practices, and technology sharing.
Despite all the buzz, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stated that robotic process automation (RPA) adoption in government has not kept up with private Industry, citing resistance from the workforce and the threat of automation to job security as factors that impede broader adoption. (1)
One trend is clear. The administration will continue to advocate and invest in RPA and other emerging technologies to reduce errors, improve compliance, and focus the workforce on higher-value work. (2) Similar to the private sector, the interaction of humans and robots in the federal workforce is inevitable.
In the United States Army, RPA took root in the comptroller office. Constantly handling increasing transaction workloads, senior civilian and military leadership envisioned the power of technology in automating various repetitive, time-consuming, and manual functions for the financial management (FM) workforce. RPA aligns with the Department of Defense's (DoD) National Defense Strategy line of effort: "Reform the Department for Greater Performance and Affordability." In a message to the Department, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stated, "Reform is the means by which we free up time, money, and manpower to reinvest into our top priorities. Look for smarter, more effective ways to do business, and empower your teams to innovate and take prudent risk where necessary." (3)
At the beginning of 2018, the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Information Management) (ODASA-FIM) launched RPA pilots to prove the concept to the FM community. By July 2018, a formal RPA governance board was instituted to oversee the influx of ideas for automation projects. The Army RPA program has deployed 16 automations for cornerstone projects aimed at solving the Army's longstanding FM challenges, such as unliquidated obligations and unmatched transactions. Army RPA's pipeline of projects continues to grow.
The growth of automation projects (or robots) certainly provides a measure of an agency's RPA adoption. Industry surveys and studies on RPA have uncovered implementation challenges--missed deadlines, delayed return on investment, and failed projects. (3) There are many reasons an RPA project can fail, including disengaged process owners, lack of leadership...