It's easier being red

President's Management Agenda scorecards

No matter how far federal agencies have come since the introduction of the President's Management Agenda, attaining a green score on all the agenda items could take years.

Some scores have been stuck on red during the past two years, said Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget. For those areas, fundamental problems that will not be solved soon usually exist.

"They have to have very significant things done that are going to take years to do," he said.

Since June 2002, when OMB officials started issuing red, yellow and green quarterly scores based on their status for the five areas the agenda covers, agencies have cut in half the number of red, or failing, scores. Those areas are: budget and performance integration, e-government, strategic use of workforce, improved financial management and competitive sourcing.

In the past few quarters, more agencies have met OMB's standards for full success in several areas. For example, some recently earned green, or passing, scores for competitive sourcing. Yet more than half of the scores, which measure progress set by governmentwide goals, are still red, Johnson said.

Improving from red to yellow is not easy and requires an agency to show the first signs of progress on each standard under a particular management area. Improving from yellow to green is even more difficult, requiring full success on every standard. An agency's score can remain low if all but one item is complete.

Some requirements have consistently been more difficult to meet than others, and that is more obvious now because most of the easy tasks have been accomplished, said Dave McClure, vice president for e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government.

In e-government, for example, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Personnel Management are still the only agencies with green scores. Two others moved up to yellow on the latest score card — the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development — so fewer than half of the 26 agencies evaluated on the score card now have red scores.

The issues holding agencies back are basic, but can be very difficult to achieve, said Karen Evans, administrator for e-government and information technology at OMB. Performing security certifications and accreditations on at least 90 percent of systems is sometimes time-consuming, but the more difficult challenge is one that could be more critical to good management: staying within 10 percent of cost, schedule and performance goals on every IT investment.

"Those two criteria, when we meet them, will answer a lot of the questions" about how effective e-government really is, Evans said. "But we have to master those hurdles, and that will be tough," she said.

When it comes to better workforce management, linking individual performance evaluations to the performance of the agency's mission is something agency officials do not know how to do, said Richard Keevey, director of the Center for Improving Government Performance at the National Academy of Public Administration.

"That will be a continuing problem," he said. "Most [officials at] federal agencies haven't thought that way. Just doing a performance evaluation in the first place is difficult for them."

The quarterly progress scores are important because they show that agency officials are making improvements within the harder requirement categories. However, "there are different ways of saying, 'Congratulations. We noticed,' " Johnson said. "But if they haven't met all the requirements, they aren't getting a better score."

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