Rep. Cuellar pushing for agencies to link performance, budget

Agency efforts to measure their performance and continually improve upon those results are slow to materialize. Two House lawmakers want more action and more progress.

To that end, new language in the House appropriations bill could hold agencies to higher performance standards in fiscal 2015.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the author of the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act and co-author of the new Lean and Responsive Government Act, said provisions in the spending bill would require agencies to link performance measures to the budget request. Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) is the other co-author of the Lean and Responsive Government Act.

“That language is tentatively in until we have the final omnibus bill hopefully at the end of the year,” Cuellar said Tuesday after he spoke at an event sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration and Federal News Radio on Capitol Hill. “But next year, I’m hoping, and our office is drafting some ideas of what we think those measurements might be and then we can have a dialogue with the agencies.”

Cuellar said the provision passed through the committee so far, and he’s hopeful it should be part of the year-long spending bill.

“I hope people are paying attention, and hopefully they are showing it’s something that’s important,” he said. “The next step will be more interesting because we’re actually going to get into some of the mechanics of what those measurements should be. I’d rather it come from the bottom up, and we certainly have to have that dialogue.”

All quiet on the performance management front

Cuellar said agencies and Congress are supposed to discuss potential metrics for programs under the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act. But he said those meetings haven’t happened yet and he’s not sure why.

Cuellar said agency implementation of GPRA Modernization has been mixed.

He said there are several examples on Performance.gov — the White House’s website listing agency-specific and governmentwide goals — that focus on outcomes. But he also said there are others, such as the Homeland Security Department’s goal of preventing terrorism attacks in the U.S., that lists analyzing and disseminating information as one of its top goals.

He said measuring results takes more effort than coming up with outputs or activities, and that’s why discussing these goals is important.

The Government Accountability Office found in June that many of the reviews lacked relevant information, such as time frames for particular goals and the status of ongoing efforts.

Since that June report, OMB updated Performance.gov with new goals, more data and agency owners.

Along with the performance management language, Cuellar hopes to add his customer service bill to an omnibus.

“Bottom line is, we are trying to set up some basic criterion as to customer service, and we certainly want to emphasize customer service. I want to make sure every agency has some sort of basic level of customer service,” he said. “They set up their own criteria. We can’t have the same measurements, but we ought to have some sort of basic standard for customer service where the taxpayer is giving the best interest of what sort of service should be provided.”

Cuellar has introduced a bill to get agencies to set metrics for customer service each of the last two years but hasn’t had any luck in getting it through the Senate.

“We will have some language that will call upon all agencies to set some sort of standard for customer service,” he said. “Right now, it’s been included on the committee level.”

Continuous improvement catching on

Cuellar and Latham have high hopes for the Lean and Responsive Government bill.

The two lawmakers introduced the act in July.

“The bill works to augment the framework under GPRAM and mandate continuous process improvement,” Latham said at the NAPA-Federal News Radio event. “It asks agencies to tell us what has changed, how it’s working better and it has accountability built into the framework. You have to understand it’s not a threat to your job or it’s not about cutting your budget. It’s about greater accountability and a greater opportunity to do a better job for the citizens.”

Latham said the current system doesn’t let employees innovate because they can’t see where the potential exists, or if they do, they don’t have a way to reach it.

Continuous process improvement is catching on across government.

The Defense Department is leading the way, having trained more than 30,000 employees in Lean Six Sigma techniques and using the approach on actual programs.

Chuck Brandon, the director of the Lean Six Sigma Program Office in DoD’s Office of the Deputy Chief Management Officer, said over the last seven years the Pentagon has trained leaders to ask the right questions and understand the outcomes that improve how they deliver on their mission.

Brandon said the use of Lean Six Sigma has led to billions in savings, but more importantly, it’s changing the conversation around the military.

“We’ve received something like 219 submissions for process improvement projects from all over DoD,” he said. “We will go after the ones that give us the greatest return on investment. But we ask each of the project submitters what belt the person has or when they will take Lean Six Sigma training to work on the project. We are teaching them to fish, not giving them a fish.”

FIT team spreading the word

In the civilian agencies, the Federal Improvement Team is sharing best practices and meeting every other week to discuss how best to implement process improvement.

Kristen Irvin, the chairwoman of the Federal Improvement Team and the acting director of continuous process improvement at the General Services Administration, said they are borrowing the DoD body of knowledge and the Army’s cost calculator and improving upon them for the rest of government.

Irvin said her office helped a GSA customer service center in St. Louis, Missouri, improve the time it took to respond to the deluge of emails it received daily. She said the customer service office, which accepts orders from all over the world, answers most emails in less than 18 hours, after it was taking about 46 hours on average.

“That was a quick project where we created a process map and hear from team members and customers about where the challenges were and how to improve the process,” Irvin said. “Our sweet spot is to help as many people as we can with the tools we have.”

Cuellar said the Lean and Responsive bill is trying to understand when the government spends money, what do they get for that dollar.

He said there needs to be more education on Capitol Hill about how the government can be more efficient.

“We need to do a lot more education so members can get away from the two extremes and get to the other part where they say there actually is good government, it’s efficient, lean and provides the best bang for the dollar,” he said.

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