Feds see red over OMB scoring

After two years of color-coded bubble-chart grading, some federal officials say they've had enough of the Office of Management and Budget's quarterly evaluations of agency progress in implementing the President's Management Agenda.

"A single color is too simplistic a measure for the complexities you need to take into account in an agency's success," said David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness. He spoke during a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., last week at the Excellence in Government 2004 conference.

Chu was referring to OMB's tricolor score card, in which green signifies total success, yellow means an agency has achieved some criteria and red indicates serious flaws.

Others agreed that colors can be misleading. "Red is not red is not red," said William Campbell, the Department of Veterans Affairs' assistant secretary for management, chief financial officer and chief human capital officer. "Neither is green or yellow. It is difficult, in my mind, to compare the red from one agency to another."

Campbell said the VA received a red score for competitive sourcing in OMB's score card for the quarter ending June 30. But, rather than signaling noncompliance, that score masks a structural obstacle, Campbell said.

VA officials cannot use medical care funds for conducting competitive sourcing studies, he said.

VA officials have unsuccessfully sought to persuade Congress to repeal that prohibition. Unless OMB officials allow the VA to "do some other things that don't require the studies," the VA will always be rated red in that area, Campbell said.

The score cards provide a reason for people to care about the management agenda, said Kim Nelson, the Environmental Protection Agency's chief information officer and a defender of the score cards process. "It's the best thing I've seen in a long time," she said during the panel discussion.

A spokesman for Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said the simplicity of OMB's grading is a positive feature. "The bottom line is that it's easy to understand, it's visible, agencies pay attention to it and agencies focus on how they performed compared to other agencies."

Dave McClure, vice president for e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government, said "all agencies know what they're accountable for under the President's Management Agenda...so it's something that certainly can be factored into a budget proposal."

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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