The departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs are almost half way to their goal of reducing the number of homeless veterans by 59,000 by 2012.
Peter Grace, HUD’s director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Management and an advisor to the secretary for management, said at a recent conference that the two agencies are ahead of their target by 46 percent.
Part of the reason for the success, at least on HUD’s side, is the setting of and adherence to performance goals, he said.
HUD is monitoring and overseeing this and three other major goals through HUDStat sessions. Similar to the TechStat and AcqStat sessions run by the Office of Management and Budget, HUD senior officials, led by Secretary Shaun Donovan, meet quarterly to oversee the program’s performance.
“It’s extremely performance focused so it’s very much grounded in the data,” Grace said. “We are always looking to compare data. Compare it to a previous period of performance. Compare it geographically. And comparing programs to one another in terms of how they are performing and achieving their goals. There’s also cross agency and for us, like many agencies, there are silos within HUD that we try and break down through this process.”
Along with reducing veteran homelessness, HUD is applying the stat sessions to foreclosure prevention, serving additional families through their rental programs and making HUD-assisted housing greener, or more environmentally friendly.
When the rubber meets the road… HUD started this process in October and has run a HUDStat session every month on a different program.
“We are seeing results,” Grace said. “Some more than others. Some have challenges we are working through. But the discipline of using data to talk about performance, to talk about what’s impeding performance or what’s working and we can share, that process — the HUDStat process — is very much underway.”
HUD’s work with VA is the agency’s best example of how HUDStat works.
Grace said his agency and VA set joint goals. The two agencies are signing a memorandum of understanding to formalize their data-sharing agreement. And he said there is leadership involvement from both agencies with Donovan and VA deputy secretary Scott Gould participating in the sessions and asking tough questions.
“At a program level, that communication that happens where the rubber meets the road out in the field, whether it’s at VA medical centers or housing authorities, there has to be working relationships up and down the organizations and we’ve been able to do that,” he said.
HUD is taking many of the lessons learned from the work it has done with VA and expanding it to other major goals.
“We are having these discussions and they are getting better each time. We do get a little deeper every time,” he said. “We are able to focus in the intervening periods between meetings on what can we do to solve those problems if we can’t solve them in the meeting themselves. There is more focus on that and on the follow up.”
Quality of the data He added each HUDStat session begins with the notes from the previous meeting to make sure new challenges don’t overtake existing ones.
The biggest challenge in getting these sessions up and running is the quality of the data.
“We’ve gone through as you would expect startup pains to get data into shape where we feel comfortable at least directionally speaking about it,” he said. “But it’s getting better every time. We’ve gotten over the hump of that sort of start-up pain to the point where we are really getting into the substance of the issues where the data leads us to.”
He said the programs had already been collecting most of the data, but it didn’t show the whole story. Grace said HUD had to start looking at new data points to help understand the entire impact of the program.
Grace said program managers also needed to get comfortable with talking about their problems and why.
“There’s still some show-and-tell that happens we are trying to get passed, but it gets better every time,” he said. “I think people realize every time we do it, it’s okay to be talking about these challenges because ultimately this is really about trying to solve those challenges.”
What makes sense for agencies? HUD isn’t alone in the struggle to collect and analyze its data. The Performance Improvement Council (PIC) created a working group looking at data-drive analysis sessions to come up with best practices.
“The recognition that agencies are in very different places in this process of starting up these dialogues is really part of the challenge for the working group,” he said. “I’ve been participating in the working group and bringing the experience that we’ve had through the HUDStat process. And, conversely, learning from what other agencies have been doing.”
Grace pointed to the departments of Commerce, Treasury, and Health and Human Services who have started their own performance dialogues. He said he’s attended other agency’s stat sessions to see how they do it and brought back ideas to HUD.
“A lot of the natural tension between the agencies and OMB — with OMB being at 20,000 feet and the agencies being on the ground — is being broken down because, I think, OMB is getting a firsthand look at what the challenges the agencies are up against,” he said. “But that is good. That is really helping the agencies to really figure this out and use the resources of the PIC and leadership at OMB to really shape these in a way that makes the most sense for agencies.”