Performance campaign

The president's 2003 budget contains a biting critique of the federal government's performance, contending that almost every agency fails to make the grade in each of five key management categories.

"The federal government is not a well-managed enterprise," Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. said recently at a budget briefing. "This is not exactly shocking news."

At a time when government employees are being counted on to work day and night in the war on terrorism, Daniels' comments are just plain dumb! Mr. Bush, we all support your war on terrorism, but please don't use the budget to take on the federal employees you're counting on to help you win this war.

The president's budget rates agencies in human resources management, competitive sourcing, financial management, e-government and linking performance to budgets. The rating system uses traffic light grading: green for success, yellow for mixed results and red for unsatisfactory. Of the 130 grades on the score card, 110 are red and 19 are yellow. Only the National Science Foundation received a green light for its financial management.

"The initial score card shows a lot of poor scores, reflecting the state of government this administration inherited," the Bush budget states.

Budget insiders say that the Bush administration calculatingly evaluated areas with the most evident deficiencies in performance across government in order to produce such a poor report. If true, this is a cheap shot. It's not as though Bush just arrived at the White House. He's been president for a year, and the scores — if you can believe them — reflect the performance of his appointees.

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said the budget "puts unprecedented emphasis on improving both the efficiency and the effectiveness of the federal government. And that is great news for the future of good government."

What is Thompson cheering about? Oversight of the executive branch is the responsibility of his committee. If government programs aren't working, Thompson is as much to blame as anyone. But it's a disservice to millions of hard-working feds to say government isn't working but the private sector is!

The budget says "improvements in the management of programs can result in greater results for less money by realizing the same productivity gains commonly expected in the private sector."

We keep hearing such comparisons from this administration but never a mention of companies such as Enron or Tyco International Ltd., which have no productivity gains, only losses. I think it's pathetic for an administration to make such statements in public. Perhaps commending feds instead of criticizing them is the best way to realize the same improvements in employee morale and productivity commonly expected in the private sector.


Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at

"Protected disclosures" [Federal Computer Week, Feb. 4, 2002]

"Gift tax exclusion keeps on giving" [, Feb. 1, 2002]

"Entitlement" [Federal Computer Week, Jan. 21, 2002]


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