Obama wants faster program reviews and more agency input

The administration wants to continually streamline what works and eliminate what doesn't work.

Obama administration officials have launched a new evaluation method that includes more reviews and requires more commitment from agencies, saying that past systems for reviewing the programs’ usefulness have fallen flat.

“The ultimate test of an effective performance-management system is whether it is used, not the number of goals and measures produced,” administration officials wrote in the fiscal 2011 budget proposal. "Federal performance-management efforts have not fared well on this test."

The budget documents released Feb. 1, which lay out President Obama’s plans for future spending, describe how the adminisration wants to revise the evaluation procss..


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Under the new method, agency leaders will begin holding rigorous quarterly sessions to review programs and solicit feedback to keep their programs in line with their targets. To drive the process ahead, officials from the Office of Management and Budget will help. They will initiate the regular meetings and updates so senior leaders stay on track as well, according to the budget documents.

Ultimately the administration would like these reviews and updates to be useful. To that end, officials want agency leaders to be energized and enthused by their own programs’ goals. That interest would make the reports on programs more than a routine exercise, officials believe. They are now allowing agency leaders to develop their own objectives that they will have to stand behind.

“By making agencies’ top leaders responsible for specific goals that they themselves have named as most important, the administration is dramatically improving accountability and the chances that government will deliver results on what matters most,” the documents state.

In addition to internal changes, the government will be more candid with the public, noting when it doesn’t meet a program’s goals, for instance. Agencies also will explain the reasons for and the effects of program failures, and the plans to get a strugling program back on track. When needed, agencies will tap into communities—inside and outside of government—to improve a program and performance management, according to the proposal.

Past systems for measuring government programs only made agencies measure more, but agencies didn’t use the information, the administration says. Indeed, Congress doesn’t use the measures agencies produce to conduct oversight, agencies don’t use them to assess value or drive improvements, and they have not provided meaningful information for the public, the budget documents state.

The Obama administration's proposal is a signal change from how officials have eyed their federal programs in the past. The new administration is turning away from the report-heavy Government Performance and Rating Act (GPRA) of the 1990s and the slow pace of the Program Assessment Rating Program (PART) of 2000s.

“The annual reporting requirement of GPRA and the five-year program PART review cycle did not provide agencies the fast feedback needed to assess if delivery efforts were on track or to diagnose why they were or were not,” the budget states.

Overall, taxpayers “deserve a government that is constantly looking to streamline what works and to eliminate what does not,” officials wrote in the budget proposal.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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