Government Transparency gets new look

Shelley Metzenbaum

Shelley Metzenbaum, associate director for performance and personnel management at the Office of Management and Budget, briefed reporters on Dec. 13 about the revamped is once again getting a new look -- but this time the revamp is being driven by changes within the agencies it measures.

Mandated by the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act and launched in 2011, is the Obama administration's portal to show progress on how to build a more efficient government. By February 2012, it had evolved to reflect more of a management focus, and posted agencies' fiscal-year 2013 priority objectives, with statements and descriptions of each goal. And as of Dec. 14, the site is shifting again.

"What we've now done is give you information about those goals: we explain why the goals were chosen, the strategies with each goal, we explain the progress we've made with them, and if there were problems, we explain those," Shelley Metzenbaum, associate director for performance and personnel management at the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters at a Dec. 13 briefing.

The revamped website now provides details about each performance goal of 24 agencies -- shining more light on progress made and milestones met. Key leaders on each goal are also identified, and what steps are being taken to make advance goals even further.

The effort all began with so-called priority goal setting, Metzenbaum said. Leaders of 24 larger agencies were asked to identify a small set of ambitious priority goals they were trying to accomplish in two years. Next, they had to figure out how to manage toward those goals and measure outcomes, and then create action plans and develop strategies and what measures to take to make progress on these overall goals.

"We at the Department of Education have very much embraced the fundamental philosophy of strategic focus linked to clear, tangible goals based on a set of operational drivers as a way of running an agency," said Tony Miller, deputy secretary and chief operating officer at the Education Department. "When OMB encouraged and catalyzed this approach, it resonated with us."

Much of what Education does is not direct service delivery, Miller said, but providing resources and setting policy objectives to continue the improvement in areas like education reform. What emerged as one of the priority goals was to turn around the lowest-performing schools, with the objective to being able to replicate the new model elsewhere.

"At the front end, you're trying to be aspirational but also realistic," Miller said. "You want to hold yourself accountable."

Unlike the Education Department, the 70,000-strong Interior Department did not have as much trouble figuring out its goals. David Hayes, Interior's deputy secretary, said that his agency's challenge was finding appropriate ways to frame and prioritize those objectives and then meet them.

"The idea here was to break from the past where traditionally our departments are asked to identify a zillion goals [and] priority measures out the wazoo," Hayes said. "What happens typically is when you expand the number of performance goals, human nature is that they become less important. They are not easily tracked, and frankly, you end up falling on your face."

Interior officials set out to focus on five goals. Within two years, Hayes said, those goals had not only been met but exceeded -- often by large margins. For example, the original goal to reduce by 5 percent violent crime in four tribal communities ended up being 35 percent. Water conservation turned out to be another area that saw substantial improvements, saving 350,000 acre fields of water.

Quarterly reviews were also set up, and when metrics were measured against goals and matched, Hayes said, the focus then became on identifying the next objective. "This had never been done at the Department of the Interior, and the performance is pretty amazing," he said.

The process was no cakewalk, however. In the violent-crime-busting initiative, baseline data was missing and had to be created. Law-enforcement officers had to be trained and recruited. Programmatic changes needed to be implemented to meet this particular goal. "That's what's behind the scenes of all of these [goals]," Hayes said, alluding to the challenges.

What is important to remember with this endeavour of goal setting is that it is not a process imposed by OMB, Miller said. Agencies often feel as if initiatives from OMB are not as relevant to them specifically -- they are typically requests that do not garner much attention. However, "has allowed us to get our management processes in place," Miller said.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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