OMB’s new performance framework to combine the best of the past

Deputy director for management Jeffrey Zients hires Shelley Metzenbaum to help lead the performance management effort. OMB to lean on the Performance Improvemen...

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor

Every federal agency is refining three to eight high-priority performance goals that they will be expected to achieve over the next one-to-two years.

These short terms objectives are the first piece of the Obama administration’s management agenda.

Still without a formal name, the Office of Management and Budget is working through Performance Improvement Council (PIC) to finalize governmentwide priorities and a performance management framework to which agencies will tie their specific goals to. The PIC is made up of senior officials responsible for their own agencies performance management efforts.

“It is not one size fits all,” says Jeffrey Zients, OMB’s deputy director for management and chief performance officer. “We’ve asked agencies to develop high priority goals in areas where management matters so it is not a policy or legislative issues and there isn’t a requirement for additional budget dollars. As you go agency-by-agency, and look at their mission, and look at their high priority goals, they tie very nicely to the agency’s mission.”

Zients detailed the administration’s management goals for the first time on Thursday during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security.

He announced at the hearing that Shelley Metzenbaum would be joining OMB to help oversee the performance management agenda. Metzenbaum, who will be OMB’s associate director for performance and personnel management, is a former Clinton administration appointee with the Environmental Protection Agency, an author of several performance management books and the founder the Collins Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts.

Metzenbaum, whose first day at OMB was yesterday, will work closely with the PIC on pushing the management agenda forward, Zients says.

Zients told the committee that he plans on incorporating into a new management agenda pieces of previous administrations’ efforts.

OMB will take the program level performance measures from the Bush administration’s Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART), and the requirements detailed by Congress under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), and add it to its new framework.

“It is time to pray far more attention to the use of federal performance information as a powerful performance improving tool-useful for communicating priorities, progress and raising issues; for illuminating what works that should be continued and what does not work that needs attention; for motivating the best from our workforce and our service delivery partners; and for allocating scare resources wisely,” Zients says.

Zients would not commit to using a similar stoplight scoring system that the Bush administration used for the President’s Management Agenda.

“We are working on what our priorities will be overall and I will leave open whether we will do scorecards of the nature you are describing,” he says. “As a management team we are thinking through what are the areas that matter most across the government to improve performance. What barriers do we need to provide? What tools can we provide? What training can we develop to improve performance?”

The framework would focus on outcomes, allow for comparisons across programs and agencies and show trends over time, Zients says.

“We will use new information technologies to make this more feasible, less cumbersome and far more useful than past alignment efforts,” he says. “In addition, the administration is proposing historic investments in comparative effectiveness research and evaluations, and we will integrate these efforts into our performance management work.”

Zients also wants OMB to take on new role. He says over the last eight years the focus has been on compliance, and he wants it to be on education, training and sharing of best practices. This is not to say OMB will not play the heavy when needed, he says, but it needs to transition away from its historic role.

“To make this transition happen, the PIC will play a key role,” he says. “It is starting to get some real traction. We’ve asked them what to do with PART and GPRA, and how we make them more usable.”

He adds performance management must be a collaborative effort between OMB and the agencies, and Congress. And, Zients says, any system must be tied to the budget and influence budget decisions.

Zients also will lean on the President’s Management Council, which is made up of agency deputy secretaries, to ensure performance management receives visibility and attention in the agencies.

And it seems Zients has a lot of work to do. The Government Accountability Office issued its survey of agency progress in meeting GPRA. GAO surveys the government’s progress every four years.

Bernice Steinhardt, GAO’s director of strategic issues, says there are pockets of performance management success, but there is not widespread adoption of the principles or the use of the information.

Steinhardt says certain agencies are making more progress such as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Board.

“At CMS, the percentage of managers who said top leaders are committed to using performance information increased from 49 percent in 2000 to 69 percent in 2007,” Steinhardt says. “Nearly all CMS managers credit performance metrics to improving how they meet their mission.”

GAO ranked NASA, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency and the Veterans Affairs Department as the top three agencies for using performance information to meet their mission.

Steinhardt says there are some common practices GAO found at successful agencies. These include:

  • Visible commitment from management to using performance management.
  • Management communicating the importance of performance management
  • Managers finding the performance data helpful in meeting their mission.

The bottom three agencies were the Interior Department, FEMA and the Forest Service, GAO’s survey states.

Steinhardt says she sees potential in much of what OMB is planning to improve performance management. She says making the information useful, providing training to managers on how to set metrics and use the data, and focusing the performance goals on specific priorities all will help move the government closer meeting GPRA.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the subcommittee that held the hearing, says he will work with OMB on legislative changes to how the government collects and uses performance data.

On the Web:

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – Performance management hearing

FederalNewsRadio – Agencies taking diverse paths to performance measurement

FederalNewsRadio – Can you SAVE the government?

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