Strategic alignment is a critical element of ownership, for if a department's objectives and policies are not congruent with those of the government, real damage may be done to the capacity for collective action. At present, misalignment often is due to the failure of departments to allocate resources in accord with the government's priorities. Misalignment typically arises out of drift and inaction - the momentum of past decisions - rather than purposeful disregard of the government policy intentions. Misalignment occurs when the government fails to formulate and communicate its aspirations for the future in ways that can shape departmental actions. The government knows where it is headed, but it has not expressed these aspirations clearly or in actionable form.
Aligning the plans and budgets of departments to the vision and objectives of government requires, at the very least, that the government articulate its goals before departments go forward with their plans. In the early years of reform, strategic alignment was impossible because the new arrangement relied on annual routines revolving for the most part around the financial year for which the estimates were compiled and appropriation voted. Over time, these annual exercises have been reinforced by other requirements tied to the financial year, in particular annual purchase and performance agreements, annual (though now optional) corporate plans and annual reports.
In the years the new arrangements have been in place, the government has taken three major initiatives to lengthen the time horizon for public policy to provide a more strategic perspective. It has developed a planning capacity at the centre of government; it has executed and implemented the Fiscal Responsibility Act 1994; and it has introduced a strategic policy stage as the start of the annual budget preparation cycle. These moves have provided an ongoing means of linking the plans and budgets of departments to the policies and objectives of government.