OMB adds a twist to two-year goal setting process

Lisa Danzig, associate director for personnel and performance, OMB

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Agencies have about a month to come up with new management goals for fiscal 2016 and 2017.

As part of the Office of Management and Budget’s annual goal setting process, agencies are following a well-worn path. But this year that path also includes a bit of a twist.

Lisa Danzig, associate director for personnel and performance at OMB, said the April 6 memo from Director Shaun Donovan aims to lock in both progress and process going forward for the rest of the Obama administration and beyond.

“In this memo, we’ve accelerated the publishing date. Instead of publishing them with the budget in February next year, we are publishing them in October of this year, which gives us a little more time in terms of ramp up and focus,” Danzig said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “Every year we’ve required a deputy goal leader, but this time we are requiring a career deputy goal leader to institutionalize the leadership around each of these priorities. We’d also expect in the fourth cycle of this process that the quality of the goals in terms of the focus on outcomes and their boldness now that people have some familiarity going through the process would be stronger.”

Donovan’s memo sets a series of deadlines for agencies leading up to the publishing of two-year goals in October.

By May 15, agencies should provide OMB with draft goals and the names of goal leaders.

OMB will provide feedback on the goals by June 15.

Then by July 15, agencies should send OMB draft action plans for each of their goals.

Finally by Sept. 7, OMB begins the final clearance process for agency goals.

“As this administration begins to establish its final set of Agency Priority Goals for FY ’16-‘ 17, we ask each of you to use this opportunity to bring together career executives, managers, front line employees and service providers to accelerate progress on those areas that will have the greatest impact for the American public,” Donovan wrote in the memo. “In particular, we encourage you to consider areas where multiple agencies and organizations need to coordinate to achieve the end result. Building these relationships and routines across organizations can leave an important and lasting legacy.”

Over the last few years, OMB has instructed agencies to set two-year goals as part of the implementation of the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.

PIC’s growing influence

Danzig said agencies still can choose between three and eight high priority goals — as has been the guidance since the beginning of the Obama administration.

But over time, Danzig said agencies have realized that three-to-four goals make better sense as resources, time and leadership are limited.

Donovan also urged agencies in the memo to consult with the appropriate offices within OMB, whether E-Government and IT or the Office of Federal Procurement Policy or on the budget side and the Resource Management Officers (RMOs).

“We just want to ensure they are continuing to consult with all those normal stakeholders and policy counsels,” Danzig said. “A lot of that comes via the RMO, that’s often the central point of contact, but agencies … by nature of the work they have relationships with people they collaborating with and to the extent they don’t, the often rely on the Performance Improvement Council or our office if they want to make a connection in a certain place.”

The Performance Improvement Council (PIC) is seeing its influence and role expand.

Danzig said the PIC is helping to facilitate discussions and share best practices around goal setting. She said recently the PIC established a law enforcement working group to bring together agencies to look at metrics that relate to that mission area.

“The data-driven reviews are getting better in terms of the quality of the metrics, the ability to have some simple templates to know where progress is, better in terms of engaging components and field staff in that process so it’s not just a headquarters or leadership exercise,” she said. “I think it’s happening in varying degrees at varying agencies, and it’s not a linear path and probably goes up and down depending on who’s managing the performance shop and what the goals are and who the leadership is.”

The PIC also has convened speakers from the Social Security Administration to discuss how the agency applies data analytics, from the United Kingdom to talk about performance and leadership transitions, and created an ambassadors program, where it brings in agency performance experts to get immersed in the performance community for a short amount of time.

Deep dive on cross-agency goals

Danzig said the PIC most recently helped facilitate the IT Solutions Challenge where 39 GS- 9- 13s came from 16 agencies to discuss how to solve some of the more pressing IT and acquisition challenges.

“They are both directly working with agencies under specific projects. They are more broadly bringing in more information about how we can do our work better, and then as appropriate, convening folks in various forums to share information,” she said. “We just did a session a few weeks about on story telling. Data-driven reviews are useful and great, but they don’t really stand alone. You need a narrative about how you are communicating the progress you’ve made, how you communicate the decision that needs to be made, and how you tailor information to various audiences. Several people came and talked about their story, and what the elements of good story telling are. They are really trying to be responsive to the needs of performance community and the needs of the goal leaders in terms of what the gaps are around accelerating performance management in agencies.

We are continually refining our understanding of where those gaps are and developing solutions around them.”

Along with the PIC contribution, agencies should continue to run oversight sessions or Stat sessions, while OMB will provide a higher level of accountability.

Danzig said OMB is focusing on both agency specific progress and the governmentwide cross-agency priority goals.

She said OMB recently did a “deep dive” review around the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) goals.

Beth Cobert, OMB’s deputy director for management, wrote in an April 14 blog post that the administration is trying to create a more cohesive framework for delivering STEM education.

“Guided by the federal STEM education five-year strategic plan and a significant reorganization of programs, agencies are increasing coordination, strengthening partnerships, and identifying ways to leverage existing resources to improve the reach of agency assets,” Cobert wrote. “The number of different STEM programs has been cut from over 220 to fewer than 140, a reduction of roughly 40 percent. The budget builds on these efforts and continues to reduce fragmentation, ensuring that investments are aligned with the strategic plan.”

Danzig said many of these efforts are focused on institutionalizing the goal process, which is a major reason why OMB is asking for agencies to name career goal leaders this year instead of just more general goal leaders.

With less than 20 months left in the Obama administration, Danzig said the memo is a good example of the ways OMB is trying to ensure data-driven, performance management continues to improve agencies.

“The specific designation of being a deputy goal leader is a useful forcing mechanism to create both the accountability and the leadership at the career level. There may have been career leadership involved, but in a disparate way with a single political contact,” Danzig said. “I think we want to ensure there is not just a career leader leading a component of the goal, but a career leader acting as a single point of contact for the group.”

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