COOs give President’s Management Council a mixed grade

Agency chief operating officers are meh on the White House’s efforts to tackle governmentwide management challenges. Deputy secretaries and other COOs give lackluster reviews to the President’s Management Agenda and President’s Management Council in a new report by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Just a quarter of them said they thought the agenda had been greatly effective in addressing governmentwide management challenges. Slightly more–a third–though the council had been greatly effective.

The agenda, which is set out in the annual budget request, has “so much promise, but so little follow through,” said one COO quoted in the report. Others said it changes so quickly and includes so many priorities that it is difficult to use.   Yet some said it was easier to get resources and attention for agency programs that dovetailed with the agenda’s priorities.

The problem with the council, made up mostly of deputy secretaries, is that the wrong people are in the room, said former Homeland Security Department Under Secretary for Management Rafael Borras at a presentation of the report Wednesday. For that reason, he dubs it the “Pretty Mediocre Committee.”

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“Quite frankly, many deputy secretaries just don’t bring back the goods from the PMC meeting. It doesn’t get articulated correctly in the organization and then the staff can be aligned or misaligned with the primary objectives of it.”

But the membership list doesn’t reflect the people who truly understand how agencies’ support services help, or hinder, their missions, he said. Those people are sometimes further down the line of command, he said.

“Somebody like my good friend [Under Secretary of State for Management] Pat Kennedy performs the roll of COO much more closely than the deputy secretary there. But under most circumstances, he wouldn’t be allowed in the room,” Borras said. “The right people have to be at the table for the right conversation to occur.”

The council is supposed to bring these top agency managers together with the president and key Office of Management and Budget staff. But organizations go around the council, choosing instead to find someone at OMB likely to communicate better with them, Borras said.

But the council has been helpful in supplying data that lets agencies know how they stack up against each other, said Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti.

A benchmarking exercise that compares how much agencies’ spend on things like human resources and certain types of acquisition has helped HUD focus on certain priorities.

“It’s been helpful to spark conversations to show where [agencies] are below the median or above the median,” she said. “OMB has done a fantastic job integrating that work into a series of discussions that they’re having with agencies called FedStat. That dialogue is helping inform our operational agenda.”

The report recommends that OMB strengthen the council by emphasizing how agencies can collaborate on governmentwide management goals. It also says OMB should cut down on the number of items in the president’s management agenda to focus on a few long-term goals.

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