OMB’s Cobert says new performance goals to ‘drive tangible outcomes’

In the fiscal 2015 budget request to Congress, the White House detailed 15 cross-agency priority goals and almost 100 agency-specific goals. The goals and new s...

Agencies have almost 100 specific performance goals and 15 cross-agency priority goals to work on over the next two years. At the same time, agencies released new strategic plans to tell the Office of Management and Budget how they will achieve those goals.

As a part of the fiscal 2015 budget request to Congress, both of these exercises are laying the groundwork for how agencies will improve mission delivery and internal operations over the next two years.

Beth Cobert, deputy director for management, OMB (File photo)
Beth Cobert, the deputy director for management at OMB, said the cross-agency goals will help deliver on President Barack Obama’s second term management agenda, while the agency-specific goals will drive a different kind of performance improvement.

“We’ve got three mechanisms through which we are working with agencies, and agencies are really working themselves — that’s the most important part — to drive against a defined set of strategic priorities,” Cobert said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio after she testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday. “There’s the agency strategic plans, which have been done this year together for the first time that the agencies have really worked hard to define their overall missions, where they are going and their core activities.”

The cross-agency priority goals are separated between mission and management. Under mission, OMB lists seven goals, including cybersecurity, insider threat and security clearance and service members and veterans mental health.

OMB breaks down the management goals into four other categories:

  • Effectiveness: Smarter IT delivery and customer service
  • Efficiency: Strategic sourcing, shared services and benchmarking and improving mission support operations
  • Economic growth: Open data and lab-to-market
  • People and culture: Unlocking the full potential of the federal workforce

“The key is to focus on interactions that require multiple agencies to engage, and we are focused on implementation. They are priorities of the administration, not all of the administration priorities, but places where implementation is really key,” she said.

Under the agency-specific goals, each department listed two to five areas that are ripe for improvement.

Cobert said the strategic plans brings all of this together. The Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act (GPRAM) required agencies for the first time in 2014 to release updated strategic plans along with the budget request.

“What’s been great about that is how engaged agency leadership has been. We’ve hosted a couple of sessions at OMB through the Performance Improvement Council,” she said. “We’ve had a couple where we had room for 200 people and had an overflow of signups, and we actually have done it a couple of times. The agencies really are using these to drive performance against tangible outcomes.”

Some new, some old CAP goals

Together, all three of these goal setting and strategy activities are linked and based on accountability, metrics, data driven reviews and transparency on progress, she said.

“We went through a very disciplined process with the agencies on their priority goals and the cross-agency priority goals. We started the cross-agency goal process by saying, ‘let’s sort of assume you all graduated. You have two obligations. One is, if you are going to stay graduated, how are you going to continue to report performance and stay accountable?'” Cobert said. “But we thought it was really important not just to add on to the list. So we went through a process in the administration and with the agencies to develop goals and to make sure each goal had an accountable set of leaders, one within the agency, senior agency leadership, as well as senior executive office leadership against each of those goals.”

Cobert said a number of goals continued, such as cybersecurity, but others, such as export controls, made a lot of progress over the last few years were left off the list because OMB didn’t think the governmentwide focus would help that much.

One new governmentwide goal is around benchmarking and improving administrative systems.

The General Services Administration and OMB are leading that effort.

Dan Tangherlini, the GSA administrator, said the point of the effort is to assess the effectiveness and cost of similar back-office functions such as human resources, IT, acquisition and financial management.

He said then OMB and GSA can share best practices across government and help agencies improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

Cobert said they focused on a select set of functions to start with based on the data available and came up with metrics that would lead to actions.

“It will help contribute to decisions, such as when to move to strategic [sourcing], where the places are people doing well, if someone is at the top of the charts, what are they doing differently and how do you translate those practices,” she said. “We’ve been through this with each of the agency councils. They are currently in the processes of developing the data. We should have the first set of data back on the first round of benchmarks over the next month or two.”

Move to lower cost, high performing services

Cobert said the longer term visions will focus on figuring costs for basic core functions across the government and whether it makes sense to continue doing them internally or move them to a shared service provider.

Under shared services, another cross-agency goal, the CXO councils will develop common standards and benchmarks to measure shared service utilization, performance and cost.

From the standards, OMB will focus on increasing the capacity of shared service providers and requiring the use of lower cost and higher performing services for those who can’t meet the targets.

OMB said financial management is first, followed in order by human resources, technology and acquisition.

Improving IT management is a related cross-agency goal.

Cobert said the government needs to focus on small increments that helps the agency to get a sense of the requirements. That means, TechStat must help agencies look early at needs and how to ensure continuous learning.

Coburn also said the IT reforms that are under development will address the issue of giving chief information officers more accountability and responsibility.

Over the next two years, Cobert said OMB will continue to hold agencies accountable through quarterly meetings.

“What we are looking for and what agencies are taking on is their own ownership of the agency priority goals,” she said. “They need to own them. That’s how we will get impact.”


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