By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Chief performance officer

President-elect Barack Obama announced this morning that he will nominate Nancy Killefer as chief performance officer (she will be double-hatted as deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget). This is really good news -- it's the first major Obama management appointment, and it is a great signal about the management direction of the incoming administration.

During the campaign, Obama gave a speech on management issues whose most-promising point was a commitment to appoint a chief performance officer to work directly with Cabinet departments on performance improvement. This was good news for all friends of good government, and it reflected a positive desire to build on and improve the efforts during both the Clinton and Bush administrations that grew out of the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, under which agencies develop performance measures and set goals for performance improvement.

As I have written frequently in my FCW column, and sometimes in this blog, results-oriented performance measures are the public sector's counterpart to profit as a performance measure in business firms. Managers can use performance measures to improve agency performance through their ability to focus effort, to motivate employees, and to provide feedback that can be used for learning and improvement.

There was some danger that government efforts to use performance measures to improve agency performance might not survive a transition to a Democratic administration, because some more traditional Democrats take an "everything is fine" approach to government performance and have been hesitant about the need for using performance measures (particularly if these might show that some programs aren't working).

Obama's commitment during the campaign was therefore a fantastic signal of a progressive approach to public management. The appointment of Killefer -- a senior partner at McKinsey and a Clinton-era reinventing government stalwart as assistant secretary for management at the Treasury Department -- just confirms these good signals. A person who cares about good business practices, and who takes the results-oriented approach of reinventing government rather than the compliance-oriented approach to management that has had more visibility recently, is exactly what we need. And with performance measurement now surviving two presidential transitions, it is well on its way to becoming part of "how we do business" in government, an institution rather than a flavor of the month.

Especially given Killefer's McKinsey background, it is possible that a model for the new administration's performance measurement effort will be Tony Blair's Prime Minister's Delivery Unit in the United Kingdom, which was in charge of the Blair government's ambitious effort at performance improvement. The Delivery Unit was headed by Michael Barber, who now works on performance measurement for the public sector out of McKinsey's London office but spends a fair amount of time in the U.S. I have written an academic article about this organization, and Barber himself has a great book, "Instruction to Deliver," that tells the story of these efforts.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jan 07, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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