White House: Agencies moving beyond management basics

Score card updates on Results.gov

Two years after introduction of the President's Management Agenda, agencies are moving beyond planning and into action on the five top management challenges facing government, according to the Bush administration.

In the latest score card, issued last week, administration officials noted that agencies have made significant progress, improving scores in three of the agenda's five areas. And the agencies have the tools they need to make progress in the other two areas, Office of Management and Budget officials said at the release of the midyear update.

"Much has been demonstrated, much has been planned, much has been strategized, and now agencies are beginning to move forward," said Clay Johnson III, the recently confirmed deputy director for management at OMB.

Agencies have made significant progress in the latest score card, improving scores in:

n Strategic workforce management.

n Increased competitive bidding of government services.

n Improved financial performance.

Agencies made almost universal progress toward their quarterly goals in expanding the use of e-government, one of the other two agenda areas, but they did not see movement in overall status.

Norm Lorentz, chief technology officer at OMB, said this is largely because "they're just now getting the toolsets that they need to do that up-front analysis."

Those toolsets, the business, service component and technical reference models for the federal enterprise architecture, enable agencies to survey all of government to find programs and systems for consolidation, a key e-government goal. Agencies will be able to progress more quickly in the next year by doing more up-front planning using the tools, Lorentz said.

Agencies did show broad progress, administration officials said. In the three areas in which agencies showed improvement, nine of 130 scores improved across the 26 agencies measured. Johnson said that although the numbers may not seem to be a significant improvement, it illustrates that agencies are getting useful plans in place and acting on them.

For example, three of the improved scores are in competitive sourcing, an agenda item that started out with across-the-board red scores.

The new yellow scores went to the Defense and Education departments and the Office of Personnel Management. They were the first agencies to implement a complete program and infrastructure for planning and evaluating public/private competition, said Angela Styles, administrator of OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Other agencies are working to implement such programs. Styles expects even more improvements to yellow on the next score card.

"I think we're at a historic point in the competitive sourcing initiative," she said.

By next year, Johnson expects most status scores in every agenda area to be yellow, and "the average agency will be performing better than the best agency two years ago," he said.

The number of upgrades since the last scores released in February is a sign "both of a tremendous amount of activity, but also significant progress," said Don Kettl, professor of public affairs and political science at the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"OMB is taking [the management reforms] seriously enough that agencies have to take it seriously," Kettl said. "That's a major accomplishment because agencies have strong incentives to make this all go away."

One of the biggest incentives is that although the White House is fully behind the individual management agenda initiatives, Congress has not expressed the same level of support, Kettl said.

In fact, members of Congress have taken firm stands against some areas of the administration's plans. Competitive sourcing has drawn the most controversy, and plans in Congress to prohibit such competitions in fiscal 2004 appropriations bills have already caused the White House to issue veto threats and a July 10 letter expressing serious concern to House appropriators.

But the bigger problem may be the more subtle resistance of simply not using the increasing amount of performance information that agencies are developing and integrating into their budget requests, officials acknowledged.

The integration of budget and performance information — that is, basing funding and mission decisions on past performance and future goals — is one of the two agenda areas that saw no overall improvement, mostly because "it's just a very difficult thing to do," said Marcus Peacock, the initiative leader for this area. "People like looking at dollars but not a performance."

A major initiative for OMB in the next year is improving education about budget and performance integration, particularly the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), Peacock said. He and Johnson are working on a plan to educate lawmakers who are on the authorizing and appropriations committees.

"You can't expect anyone to use [the performance tool] on a consistent basis until they understand it," Peacock said.

Realistic expectations of PART's ability to assist budget and program decisions are key because agencies and Congress are new to using performance information to determine funding, said Paul Posner, managing director of federal budget and intergovernmental relations at the General Accounting Office.

But although the tool can help determine a program's performance based on goals set by Congress or the agency, "in most programs, performance is one of many factors that matter," Posner said.

Officials often want a direct link between a PART score that measures performance and the amount of money a program receives. But that cannot or should not be done without putting the program's performance into context, including evaluating the adequacy of an agency's funding to meet performance goals in the first place, Posner said.

Agencies are beginning to include performance data in their budget documents, and fiscal 2005 planning already incorporates even more of the information, Johnson said. A portion of the discussions with Congress will be to prepare appropriators for this change so that agencies are not caught in the middle, he said.

Until members of Congress start to see how performance information can help them meet their goals, "it's going to be very difficult, a very long battle to engage Congress that way," Kettl said.

OMB is also obligated to explain the rest of the management agenda to Congress. It must, for example, explain how studying the federal workforce through the human capital management initiative can allay their concerns about the competitive sourcing initiative, Johnson said.

One issue Congress raised about the competitions is the inability to determine if agency employees have the skills to compete with industry to perform certain functions. Appropriations that include adequate training programs, which are often shortchanged in times of tighter budgets, could directly impact the competitions.

Agencies should not, however, expect extra money for many of their management agenda efforts, Johnson warned. The improved status scores on this latest score card are both good and bad because they show that agencies can improve without new money, he said. n

2014 Rising Star Awards

Help us find the next generation of leaders in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above