5 priorities still worth pursuing

The original elements of the PMA will remain priorities in the future, observers say

PMA's smaller programs

Although the President’s Management Agenda is best known for its five governmentwide programs, the plan features several smaller initiatives. They include:


  • Faith-Based and Community Initiative.
  • Privatization of military housing.
  • Better research and development criteria.
  • Reform of food aid programs.
  • Coordination of Veterans Affairs and Defense department programs and systems.

Source: President’s Management Agenda

When the Bush administration first created the President’s Management Agenda in 2001, it had five key governmentwide goals. Although the agenda has grown over the years, with new objectives added and existing ones expanded, experts agree that the original five will continue to be priorities in the next president’s administration.

For the most part, the importance of the goals does not depend on which candidate wins in November. Either Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will face the same challenges, and the policies set out in Bush’s agenda will still pertain. However, either of them might reshape and rethink the approach to solving the challenges.

The agenda is a policy document that highlights the areas where agencies needed better management. Although great strides have been in made in attacking some of the problems, with lesser progress showing in other areas, none of the problems have been fully solved, observers said.

Six years have passed since the original management agenda took effect in fiscal 2002. Now the Bush administration is preparing to leave the future in other hands.

1. Strategic human capital management
The federal government faces a set of well-known problems with personnel. Young job seekers are often attracted more to the private sector than to the government as they seek higher pay and greater prestige. Meanwhile, many of the government’s most experienced hands are nearing retirement age.

“Probably the biggest thing was the creation of the chief human capital officer position, but they’re still struggling with strategic human capital planning,” said Deniece Peterson, a senior analyst at market research firm Input.

The CHCO position was created by legislation in 2002. It required 24 agencies to create that position to serve as the top policy adviser in each agency on anything related to human resources management. The CHCOs are responsible for hiring, training and managing their agencies’ workforces.

“The groundwork is there,” Peterson said. “The concept is not going anywhere. I think it’s going to be needed even more as we move forward.”

Government still competes with the private sector for talented employees, she said. Many people who want to be involved in the government’s missions can work for contractors, get paid more and still feel they are contributing to the government’s work, Peterson said.

“Both candidates want to keep a decent balance between government and contractors, but to do that, you have to have people working for the government,” she said.

However, the next administration should address less tangible factors because money is not the only motivation people have for choosing private-sector work over government, said Bob Guerra, a partner at the consulting firm Guerra and Kiviat.

“Generally, in conversations, [I hear that] people are not happy with results, and the departures from government seem to be accelerating,” he said. “If people were really happy, they wouldn’t be leaving for private-sector jobs. Yes, income is important, but if people are really happy, they don’t leave just for money.”

2. Competitive sourcing
The competitive sourcing initiative, another plank of the original agenda, has sometimes operated at odds with the human capital initiative. Competitive sourcing, governed by the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-76, makes federal employees compete against private-sector companies for their jobs.

“Human capital is one area that I think has been shortchanged, primarily due to the emphasis on competitive sourcing,” said Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. “The biggest drum the adminis tration has beaten here is competitive sourcing. That has been a constant for the entire eight-year run.”

Renee Courtland, a senior associate at government affairs and management consulting firm Dutko Worldwide and a former OMB official, predicted that the two initiatives will merge into one during the next administration.

“This will happen out of necessity, regardless of who wins the presidential election in November,” she said.

Although the brain drain crisis has been a hot topic for nearly 10 years, it’s only now that the real gaps are reaching critical mass, she said.

Historically, the Clinton and Bush administrations filled the gaps with contractors, Courtland said.
“Expect either McCain or Obama to make a highly publicized call to service in order to fill the ranks of the current civil service vacancies in addition to the new ones,” she said.

Allen said competitive sourcing has made government organizations more efficient as they had to find ways to justify keeping their jobs in agencies rather than handing them over to contractors.

However, Peterson said the threat of being outsourced was not a necessary component of that. “I’ve seen some anecdotal examples of where it’s forced government organizations to look for more efficiency,” she said. “I don’t know how many examples there are like that, but overall, I think this idea is on life support.”

3. Improved financial performance
The Bush administration made financial management and performance a part of the agenda because of numerous examples of carelessness in agencies. The original document cites $20.7 billion in erroneous benefits and assistance payments in just 13 programs, including Medicare, Food Stamps and veterans benefits.

The agenda called for agencies to tighten their financial controls and pass audits and for OMB to modify the budget process to hold agencies more accountable for their financial performance.

“Financial management is clearly going to be a big issue moving into the next administration,” Peterson said. “I think it will continue. Some of the criticisms I’ve heard are just about documentation and guidance, [about] being clear about what the reporting standards are and putting guidelines around what is to be done.”

Because both candidates have talked a great deal about wasteful spending and transparency, she expects either one to continue the emphasis on financial accountability.

It’s an argument that the government certainly shares. According to a July 2007 report from Danny Werfel, OMB’s acting controller, since 2001, every major agency has issued its audited financial statement within 45 days of the end of the fiscal year, a task that often took five months in previous years. And the number of agencies getting clean audits rose from six agencies in 1996 to 19 at the time of the report.

4. Expanded electronic government
E-government is one of the most visible ways the management agenda has affected the government’s business. With projects that include public-facing Web sites and consolidations to internal systems — including the lines-of-business efforts — and behind-the-scenes infrastructure updates, e-government has been an active part of government over the past several years.

As Internet tools have matured, sharpened and expanded into the interactive networking technologies generally known as Web 2.0, the efforts have widened and gained momentum.

Recently, the CIO Council unanimously named the Information Technology Infrastructure Line of Business as an effort that should persist beyond the Bush administration, said Eric Won, the LOB’s program manager.

Although a less visible component of e-government, th t LOB’s mission includes unifying technology initiatives such as the upgrade to IPv6 and the expansion of the General Services Administration’s Networx program into a coherent whole.

The LOB, one of the last to be created, is nascent, Won said. “We’re still figuring out our strategy and our approaches.”

Although Courtland said she believes most of the e-government efforts are likely to remain, those that provide resources for people are especially well positioned.

“In many cases, abandoning an e-gov initiative would mean creating a vacuum for end users who have become accustomed to using these systems,” she said. “Politically, it would be a dangerous move to eliminate a government-to-citizen e-gov initiative with an established constituent base, such as Grants.gov.”

5. Budget and performance integration
Tracking agency performance through the use of score cards has led to real improvements in performance, said Clay Johnson, deputy director of management at OMB.

The score cards rank agencies on various factors, using a simple red, yellow and green system that resembles traffic signals. Red means the agency is failing on the given measure, green indicates clear success, and yellow signifies mixed results and risk.

Since the score card system started, agencies have improved considerably, Johnson said. In the most recent quarterly report, measuring the quarter that ended June 30, agencies earned green scores on 80 percent of their progress measures.

That was a slight increase from the previous report, which recorded more than 75 percent green, but a staggering improvement from the first score cards in 2002, which recorded only a single green score.

Johnson said in a recent interview that OMB made it difficult to earn a green score to ensure the program has credibility.

However, Peterson said that if the performance measurement continues — whether using the same score cards or a different system — the next administration might seek to clarify the requirements.

“The criteria and the activity behind that will continue,” she said. “I think there may be more focus on what the criteria [are] for the scores. They’ve already started that.” 

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