Feds give low grades to OMB scoring system

Color-coded bubble charts are not the best way to evaluate progress in achieving the President's Management Agenda, several federal officials said today.

"Red is not red is not red," said William Campbell, assistant secretary for management at the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as that agency's 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 was referring to the Office of Management and Budget's quarterly color-coded evaluation of agency status and progress in implementing the agenda. Green signifies success, yellow means an agency has achieved some criteria and red indicates serious flaws.

"We need to come across with more uniform metrics on how we determine the color coding and the progress across the government or else [the score card] is fairly meaningless," he said during a panel discussion at the Excellence in Government 2004 conference.

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

The VA is prohibited from using medical care funds for conducting competitive sourcing studies, "and that has stopped us dead in our tracks," Campbell said.

Efforts to have Congress remove that prohibition have been unsuccessful. Unless OMB allows 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.

Other panel speakers echoed Campbell's disdain for the coding system. "A single color is too simplistic a measure for the complexities you need to take into account on an agency's success," said David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.

But the score card provides "a reason for people to care" about the Management Agenda, according to Kim Nelson, the Environmental Protection Agency's chief information officer. "It's the best thing I've seen in a long time."

Nonetheless, achieving a green score on the evaluation "doesn't necessarily mean results," she cautioned. To get high marks, EPA officials began writing business cases that were up to OMB standards, an act Nelson compared to busywork.

"A real written business case does not mean an agency will be successful in implementing a business case," she said, adding that she hopes OMB officials drop the requirement.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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