OMB's performance push
- By Diane Frank
- May 07, 2001
One of the president's top budget officials reasserted last week that accountability for agency performance will be a fact of life throughout the Bush administration.
"That is the No. 1 objective this time around on the management agenda, and certainly within [information technology]," said Sean O'Keefe, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a May 1 interview. Those agencies not meeting performance standards set out by OMB will feel it in the bottom line, he warned.
As outlined in the fiscal 2002 budget, government managers are going to be held accountable for the performance of their agencies. And the fiscal 2003 budget will further identify "performance metrics" for specific functions, agencies and departments, O'Keefe said.
Promoting e-government and using technology to bring citizens and agencies closer are key parts of the administration plan. But initiatives like FirstGov, the Web portal for federal government information created by the Clinton administration last fall, are no panacea and will be carefully evaluated, O'Keefe said.
"An awful lot of expectation went into that, and it clearly is in operation and it's moving along, but everyone has developed their own assessment of how useful it is, relatively speaking," he said.
FirstGov does demonstrate a key concern, according to O'Keefe — the need to foster, and even force, interoperability among the many IT systems throughout government.
Citing his Pentagon tenure from 1989 to 1993, O'Keefe said he witnessed assorted IT-related initiatives that went less than smoothly, including the attempt to create a single military pay system. A decade later, such a system still doesn't exist.
"The biggest mis--take I think we made at the time was not saying, "Here is the answer, everybody else who's not with the program, out of the pool.... As of right now your budget is zero for all those other alternatives,'" he said.
OMB will not define interoperability, he said. That will be up to the CIO Council.
"Interoperability means different things to different people, and what we're looking at is getting communities of interest working together on common standards," said Jim Flyzik, CIO Council vice chairman. One area is bringing together law enforcement groups to discuss secure wireless communications standards, he said.
Outsourcing brings more controversy. But the administration is not necessarily interested in shrinking the federal workforce — just in making it perform more efficiently, according to O'Keefe.
Ninety percent of an objective is accomplished "by the mere act of competitively sourcing it, determining what is the best means of delivery," he said. Whether the public or private sector does it, "if the cost and efficiency of the performance improves, you've won, you've succeeded."
Management is not O'Keefe's responsibility; he's charged with overseeing budget preparation. But lacking a nominee for deputy director for management, and an increased Bush emphasis on tying the two halves of OMB together, O'Keefe and other OMB officials are being pulled into management.
"The management side of OMB was always secondary to the budget," said Constance Horner, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution's Governmental Studies program and director of presidential personnel in the first Bush administration. "It bodes well that they're trying to bring the two closer."
OMB is calling in an adviser to work on management issues (see box), but that will not completely fill the hole.
"It has gotten to the stage where we really do need to move on with the IT agenda andwe're looking to try to emphasize the [agencies'] CIOs' responsibilities in the earlier days of this process rather than waiting around until it all comes together," O'Keefe said. n O'Keefe comes back to the Beltway, see profile on Page 52.OMB calls on expert temp
A member of the private sector has been appointed to temporarily fill the void created by the absence of an Office of Management and Budget deputy director for management.
Robert O'Neill, president of the National Academy of Public Administration, will serve as counselor to OMB Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. for up to 120 days.
O'Neill has been a fellow at the academy since 1997 and joined NAPA full-time as president in January 2000 after leaving a position as Fairfax County, Va., executive.
Among his other responsibilities, O'Neill will oversee governmentwide organizations, including the CIO Council, the Chief Financial Officers Council and the President's Management Council.