In both his campaign and in his inaugural address, President Barack Obama placed an emphasis on government performance and results. One commentator said that Obama will likely govern less through ideology and more through the pragmatic use of fact-based decision processes.
In an initial step, he said he would appoint the government’s first “chief performance officer” who would report directly to him. He named Nancy Killefer to this role in early January. Killefer’s background is well-suited to the role. She served as an assistant secretary for management in the Clinton Administration and was most recently in charge of McKinsey Consulting’s federal initiatives. She was also dual-hatted with the job of deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This means she’ll have the institutional leverage of OMB and be a Senate-confirmed appointee, not just a White House staffer.
Since the role is a new one, she’ll have plenty of opportunity to shape its direction.
A new report by Shelley Metzenbaum to the IBM Center for The Business of Government offers a framework for shaping the role of the chief performance officer. In Performance Management Recommendations for the New Administration, Dr. Metzenbaum examines the evolution of the development and use of performance goals and measures over the past two presidential administrations and offers insights and recommendations to the incoming Obama administration. These insights and recommendations are based on extensive interviews with key stakeholders in agencies, Congress, OMB, and outside interest groups, as well as her own experience as a federal executive.
• Dr. Metzenbaum’s interviews revealed that even after 16 years of efforts, there still is no comprehensive way for the public or Congress to see how the federal government is performing and what agency goals and program targets are..
She concludes that despite reams of performance material produced in response to federal requirements, “it is still remarkably difficult to find meaningful government performance information . . . because too little attention has been paid to communicating targets and trends and too much to communicating the ‘percentage of targets met’ as the primary indicator of overall performance.”
Based on the findings from her interviews and a premise that performance information should be primarily used to improve performance, not just create accountability, Dr. Metzenbaum created a set of fairly discrete recommendations for the new administration. She targeted her recommendations to the key actors on performance management in the executive branch:
The President should:
• Clearly identify presidential and cabinet priority targets, assign responsibility for them, and meet at least quarterly with cabinet members to assess progress.
• Create a Chief Performance Officer and a White House performance unit.
• Run goal-focused, data-driven meetings, similar to those used in “performance-stats” run by states and localities.
The Office of Management and Budget should:
• Direct agencies and programs to set targets and the direction of performance trends for key indicators.
• Continue, but revise the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). (note: the new Obama White House website retains the PART rating reports from the Bush Administration).
• Re-design the existing federal performance portal to make it easier to find performance trends, targets, and other related information.
• Facilitate cross-agency learning about performance improvement and analysis.
Cabinet secretaries and agency heads should:
• Review the performance trends and existing targets and revise to reflect the new Administration’s priorities.
• Run their own goal-focused, data-driven meetings.
• Create agency web-based performance portals and link them to their agency’s home pages.
The Performance Improvement Council – comprised largely of career agency officials — should lead a process to revise the PART so as to shift the emphasis from program rating to performance improvement.
Dr. Metzenbaum observes that two simple tools – goals and measurement – are among the most powerful mechanisms available to a President to influence the vast scope of federal agencies and programs. However, they are useless unless used. Her recommendations should provide a roadmap to the new Administration and the new chief performance office on how to leverage the existing plentiful supply of goals and performance information in new ways that get results Americans care about.