Survey: Program managers need more support

Agency program managers say they are spending more time feeding measurement systems than focusing on strategic decisions to improve their results, according to a recent survey.


Selena Rezvani, an  assessment consultant at Management Concepts, conducted the survey for the Council for Excellence in Government. The Office of Management and Budget invited program managers to participate, and 123 responded, Rezvani said at the Excellence in Government conference July 15.


Managers responded that discussions with other managers and independent evaluations provided more assistance to improve their programs than did formal agency assessments and reports from agency inspectors general or the Government Accountability Office. For example, OMB’s Program Assessment Ratings Tool to determine performance progress was not uniform across similar programs, and the final rating process was not transparent, managers reported.


Their most difficult activities were developing measures and assessing program results, responding to OMB special requests and preparing and negotiating budgets, according to the survey.


However, the managers said they had little support from executives and between 35 percent and 50 percent reported they had no training in developing requirements, risk management, and budget and financial management. Some managers said they needed soft leadership skills to communicate and engage with the next generation entering federal service.


In another survey, Bill Eggers, global director for Deloitte Research Public Sector, in conjunction with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) polled 160 federal Senior Executive Service executives and NAPA fellows on the ability of government to execute large projects.


About 49 percent of the respondents said government was less capable at implementing large programs now than it was 10 years ago, he said at the conference. Federal managers cited ineffective political leadership and poor policy design for government’s poorer performance on executing large programs. An increase in complexity, lack of focus and more partisanship also contributed to poor program execution, the survey reported.


Two thirds of the respondents said the government was ineffective at designing policy, and 45 percent said they believed that policy designers, such as congressional staff members, rarely have experience in policy implementation.


Among large federal programs over the decades, managers rated as successful the 1950s interstate highway program and NASA's goal of landing astronauts on the moon. Programs during the current decade did not fare as well. Managers rated Medicare reform as somewhat successful, the No Child Left Behind education program as somewhat unsuccessful, and Iraq reconstruction as unsuccessful.


Managers cited these barriers prevent  successful program implementation: unrealistic costs and timelines, partisan politics, a lack of flexibility, leadership shortcomings and poor management of key stakeholders


Successful policy designs would have sufficient resources, realistic and clear goals, realistic scopes, and the support of Congress, some managers reported.

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