Good management or measurement make-work?
Bureaucracy doesn't have to be a bad word. Metrics, management guidelines and reporting requirements are a given for government agencies that ultimately answer to the American people. And, as any effective leader will tell you, things that don't get measured usually don't get done.
Still, it was hard not to sigh when Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan's memo came out on April 6. Titled "Focusing on Implementation to Drive Improvements," M-15-10 is a rousing call to ... document priorities and work toward benchmarks for the final 20 months of this administration.
"[I]t will be more important than ever for the senior leadership team to focus on implementation to lock in progress on Administration priority issues," Donovan wrote. Agency leaders are encouraged to "identify their Priority Goals, Goal Leaders, strategies, indicators and milestones to achieve these important priorities."
And of course, those urgings come with a list of accelerated deadlines for developing said goals.
This came just days after the Government Accountability office published a report detailing the 36 IT management reporting requirements that agency CIOs must address for OMB. The CIOs told GAO that just four of those requirements were of great help in managing agency IT; 24 were of little or no help at all. (Donovan's memo is aimed mainly at agency heads, but the effort it urges all but guarantees CIO involvement and additional data calls.)
This is not to imply that Donovan’s diktat is pointless. The goals that agencies are being pressed to measure are real and outcome-oriented. His requirement that agencies designate a senior career executive to push each goal forward is praise-worthy. And implementation should be the emphasis -- not just in the final year of an administration, but always in government. We've had quite enough 25-point plans.
Yet the memo reads like nothing so much as a forcing mechanism to keep agencies focused in the administration's waning days. And GAO found that agencies already were spending at least $150 million annually on reporting requirements of questionable value, just on IT matters.
So it's worth asking: Where does accountable government stop, and bureaucratic box-checking begin?
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.
Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.
Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.
Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.