OMB guidance: Robotic process automation key in encouraging ‘high-value activities’

The President's Management Agenda urges agencies to increase efficiency. Process robotics is a way to do that, Mick Mulvaney says in new guidance.
(jbraine / Flickr)

The White House Office of Management and Budget is promoting robotic process automation (RPA) as a technology that can help agencies minimize the time employees spend doing low-value, repetitive work.

In a memorandum on “shifting from low-value to high-value work” released Monday, Director Mick Mulvaney delivers three directives to executive agencies.

“Each year, Federal employees devote tens of thousands of hours to low-value compliance activities from rules and requirements that have built up over decades,” the memo reads. “The President’s Management Agenda (PMA) prioritizes reducing the burden of these low-value activities and redirecting resources to accomplishing mission outcomes that matter most to citizens.” In fact, shifting from low-value to high-value work is Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goal number six.

Per the recent memorandum, to operationalize this goal, agencies must designate a point of contact to coordinate “burden-reduction initiatives” and provide semi-annual updates on progress. Agencies must also “develop and implement strategies for shifting resources to high-value activities,” and this is where RPA comes in.


“Agencies should develop and implement reforms to eliminate unnecessary or obsolete compliance requirements and reduce the cost of mission-support operations,” the memo reads. This, it goes on to say, may include RPA, using shared services, eliminating unnecessary requirements and more.

While RPA is still fairly new in the federal space, there are a number of examples of agencies using the technology to streamline rote and repetitive tasks. For example, the NASA Shared Services Center at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi spun up George Washington a few years ago, a bot the center believes was the first in the federal government. And the Department of Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service recently ran an RPA pilot that went well enough that it’s headed to the production phase.

There’s concern, often, around how robotics will change (or completely do away with) human jobs. Proponents, however, argue that RPA will simply take away the tasks that humans are ill-suited for and find boring, and leave these employees open for, as the OMB memo puts it, more “high-value” work.

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