OMB works to boost management message

Government officials love to cite examples of how much attention agencies are paying to the President's Management Agenda. At some Cabinet meetings, department heads fight over bragging rights, they say.

However, evidence of the agenda's penetration beyond political appointees and senior executives is less readily available, possibly because it doesn't exist, Office of Management and Budget officials admitted last month.

OMB has done little to communicate the "message of the management agenda" to career federal employees or help them understand how adhering to it will improve their agencies' operations and their ability to do their jobs, said Clay Johnson, the agency's deputy director for management.

The agenda covers everything from better management of agencies' workforces to financial management to e-government. As agencies move from planning improvements and strategies to actually implementing changes that will affect how their organizations function, all federal workers must understand exactly how the management agenda affects them, Johnson said.

"We have an excellent opportunity to do that more effectively," he said last month when the updated management agenda was released.

Agencies have already made some basic, expected changes, such as developing new systems to track their employees' skills. And many are involved in the 24 cross-agency e-government initiatives, which are aimed at consolidating similar functions — grant-making and issuing security clearances, for example — across multiple agencies.

Each of the initiatives affects agencies' frontline workers to a certain extent, but as they move into the more fundamental changes — such as incorporating performance metrics into budget decisions — it is critical to have buy-in at every level, said Don Kettl, professor of public affairs and political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Robert La Follette School of Public Affairs.

This type of change cannot simply be a structure or process laid atop agencies' operations, Kettl said, adding that it must truly change the way employees approach their missions. That requires an understanding of what the changes are supposed to accomplish.

"They're really talking about going from infrastructure to institutionalization to really hard-wire [the changes] into an agency's mission," he said. "We'll know that it's stuck when people think in terms of results."

Results, of course, depend on goals. And agencies are still learning how to set good goals, said Marcus Peacock, former initiative leader for the budget/ performance integration area of the management agenda.

OMB officials have been helping agency officials improve their ability to set appropriate goals and focus on service results that make a difference, instead of just measuring actions or outputs, but that has been a very slow process, Peacock said. The agency is now looking to the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to assist, both in determining what makes a good goal or metric and teaching the skill to agencies, he said.

Across the board, OMB plans to rely on agencies' internal initiatives to raise awareness and understanding, Johnson said. But the administration also has another tool it has so far not promoted to the entire federal workforce: the Web portal., which launched late last year, focuses on the management agenda and other management issues. It was designed for political appointees in the Bush administration. However, it presents an ideal way to get the message out to the federal community at large, he said.

And that message is needed, said Al Ressler, director of NAPA's Center for Human Resources Management.

"I think there's just been a lot of ambiguity about what it means and how it impacts the day-to-day work within an agency," Ressler said.


Results available

Information about the President's Management Agenda available to agency employees on the portal includes:

* Agencies' score card results.

* The agenda's five initiatives.

* Departments' progress updates.

* Agency success stories.

* Other management reforms.

* Answers to frequently asked questions.


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