CPO pick signals emphasis on accountability

President-elect Barack Obama’s creation of a chief performance officer probably in the White House means he’s serious about pushing agencies to perform better, be accountable and transparent, and deliver significant results, say experts in federal management.

His choice of Nancy Killefer to be the first person to hold the position only amplifies that commitment.

Obama also indicated that program performance would be linked with budget reform as he warned of the possibility of trillion-dollar deficits for years to come.

Killefer, a senior director at McKinsey and Co., will help scour the federal budget line by line, “eliminating what we don’t need or what doesn’t work, and improving the things that do,” Obama said in announcing his choice.

He also intends to nominate her as the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management.

Killefer is well known in management circles. Mark Forman, who was the first administrator for e-government and information technology at OMB, spoke highly of Obama’s decision.

“She knows the management issues of the government, and she knows how to make very positive change,” said Forman, now a principal at KPMG.

“Agencies should be prepared to understand if there are performance gaps … they’re going to be held accountable.” Forman said agencies should expect Killefer to require them to develop plans to address deficiencies and provide details about how they will change to fill in their gaps, he said.

Killefer’s track record spans government and the private sector. She served in three high-level positions — assistant secretary for management, chief financial officer and chief operating officer — in the Clinton administration’s Treasury Department.

She also led technology modernization efforts at the Internal Revenue Service and prepared Treasury’s computer systems for the Year 2000.

The CPO would lead a team to set ambitious performance targets and hold managers accountable for progress. However, Obama has not yet spelled out all the details of the position.

There will be some challenges in implementing Obama’s plans, Forman said.

The White House usually deals with agency leadership, but program managers are more directly involved in the performance and budget of individual programs, he said.

If Obama succeeds in making Killefer both CPO and OMB’s deputy director for management, she will have legal authority to tighten the link between program performance improvement and the budget, he said.

The idea of special teams is not new, said Jonathan Breul, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government and a former senior adviser to OMB’s deputy director for management. They have been used in the past to solve problems in student loan programs and Medicaid fraud.

“Basically, where agencies had paralysis or an inability to deal with a problem, they brought in the brains and levers to get it done,” he said.

Breul interacted with Killefer during the lead-up to the Y2K changeover, when he was at OMB and she was at Treasury. Based on her performance then, he said, she is a fabulous choice for the CPO position.

Forman said he believes the Obama administration will build on the progress that agencies have made under the Bush administration’s management initiatives, including using the Program Assessment Rating Tool, in which agency managers evaluate the program based on certain measures.

He anticipates that the new administration will augment the PART process.

“What we could see [under Obama] is a much more qualitative or objective assessment based on real data,” Forman said.

Bob Behn, a lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said agencies must also attack performance gaps at lower levels of management. Agencies need to invest more in middle managers through training and mentoring because they must motivate their line staff to accomplish the strategies to improve performance.

“It’s not just helping to get measures right but getting motivation right,” Behn said.

“What is really needed is performance leadership. And that responsibility — to motivate their organization to produce results — is not a staff function,” he said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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