Archive for the ‘Recovery Act’ Category

Transition 2008-2009 Blog Index

September 1, 2009

This is the final entry to the IBM Center’s Presidential Transition 2008-2009 blog.  Following is an index of highlights from the 275 entries over the past two and a half years we’ve been writing.

But we’re not leaving!  The IBM Center for The Business of Government is expanding its blogging, post-presidential transition.  The new blog — The Business of Government Blog — will focus on the broader themes related to the management challenges of implementing President Obama’s agenda and the governance issues facing public sector leaders.  In coming weeks, we will be adding other bloggers, but for now, you can bookmark our new landing page and start reading today.  Share this new link with your friends!

Finally, thanks to our many readers and contributors who made over 95,000 visits to the Presidential Transition 2008-2009 blog!

Blogs on “The Big Picture” — Where Is Government Reform Going?

Blogs on What the Campaigns Said About Government Reform

Blogs on the History of Transitions

Blogs on the 2008 Transition:  Pre-Election

Blogs on the 2008-2009 Transition:  Post-Election

Blogs on The Bush Administration’s Transition-Out Activities

Blogs on the Obama Transition:  The First 100 Days

Post-100 Days:  Staff Transitions and Other Actions

Blogs on Recovery Act Implementation

Blogs on Open Government Implementation

Blogs on Other New Administration Management Initiatives

Blogs on FY 2011 Budget

Blogs on Management Ideas for the New Administration

a.  Getting Results/Governance

b.  Workforce

c.  Technology/Web 2.0

d.  Managing/Improving Performance

e.  Engaging People

f.  Government Contracting

Blogs on Advice for the New Team

Blogs on What Other Groups Are Doing

Transparency in Contracting

August 21, 2009

Government Executive’s Robert Brodsky says the Obama Administration plans to raise the bar on making more government contract information available in his article, “Administration Says It Is Committed to Posting Contracts Online.”

The public already has access to some details about government contract awards via www.USASpending.gov, which is a database of federal grants and contracts.  Even more is on the way via www.Recovery.gov, which tracks dollars associated with the implementation of the Recovery Act.  But rarely are the actual contracts available.

Then-candidates Barack Obama and John McCain had co-sponsored legislation last year, The Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008 (S.3077) that would have required agencies to publish more details about their contracts.  It did not go anywhere, and Brodsky reports that it will likely not be actively considered this year, either.  However, President Obama could administratively require agencies to do so.  

Contractors are concerned about potentially exposing proprietary information and agencies are concerned about the overwhelming administrative burdens of redacting such information.  For example, the Defense Logistics Agency alone signs 8,000 contracts a day.  Brodsky notes that it took the General Services Administration two weeks to release a redacted copy of the Recovery.gov contract when requested.

Transparency and government watchdog groups are strongly supporting the potential move. . . .. It’ll be interesting to see how far transparency can go, and how this will change both business and oversight!

Recovery Act: Six Months Old

August 18, 2009

recovery1Yesterday’s USA Today cover story was bannered: “Poll: 57%  Don’t See Stimulus Working.”  People are so impatient! Today, it’s the Recovery Act’s 6-month birthday. And yesterday, Recovery Act recipients could start signing up so they can report their progress starting October 1st.  Maybe then, people will see what is really going on with their money!

According to Recovery.gov, as of today there are 25,897 ongoing Recovery Act projects worth a total of $91.1 billion – out of a total of $787 billion authorized to be spent over the next year or so.

In an interview with Barry Bosworth of the Brookings Institution, Federal News Radio’s Suzanne Kubota writes that that the transfer payment (e.g., unemployment insurance extension) and tax reduction elements of the bill got up and running quickly and the direct spending programs in the bill are taking a longer time to get monies out.  This is no real surprise to government watchers – transfer payments and tax rebates don’t require much in the way of program guidance and are largely check-writing operations!

As for the direct payment programs, though, there’s more guidance and reporting.  And there are many more players involved.  Much of the media has focused on transparency of the funding.  This is provided via sites from non-profits, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, individual federal agencies, and individual states.

However, how about information for those who have to implement the direct spending programs in federal agencies, states, and localities?  Interestingly, many helpful sites are springing up to aid those in government trying to get it right:

The Council of State Governments has created a Recovery Act website – StateRecovery.org — that aggregates useful information for state officials.

The National League of Cities has dedicated a webpage to Recovery Act news, organized by policy areas where dollars are available (e.g., public safety).

The Association for Government Accountants has created a Recovery Act webpage for its members who have to administer the funds.

Government Executive magazine has created a “Stimulus Checklist” to help feds keep up with what’s going on, along with a series of webinars and forums.

And of course, the Office of Management and Budget has a list of its guidance.

Do you have a favorite resource?  Feel free to add via the “comment” box!

Efforts to Engage the Public

August 12, 2009

The healthcare reform debates raging across the country in townhalls and on-line, all show that Americans do want to actively engage in their government.  Obama’s Open Government Directive, which is still under development, intends to expand public involvement.  But various agencies are already jumping in.

The Environmental Protection Agency has long been a leader in engaging citizens.  They’ve developed extensive resources and networks that can be of help to others.  They are currently helping revamp the main website for public participation in e-rulemaking, regulations.gov.  Here, they are encouraging citizen involvement in redesigning the website.

The Office of Personnel Management has posted a draft version of its 2010 strategic plan on line and is asking for both employee and public comment.

The Department of Homeland Security has invited the public to participate in a statutorily required Quadrennial Review of its policies and priorities. Federal Computer Week’s Ben Bain notes that the review covers six areas, such as border security and disaster response.  The first on-line dialogue sponsored by this effort ended several days ago, with 10,000 participants.  The next dialogue will launch at the end of the month, followed by a third several weeks later.

Federal agencies aren’t the only ones getting excited about increasing citizen participation.  A conference held earlier this month brought together over 90 participants committed to “strengthening our nation’s democracy” via a range of efforts, including voting reforms, institutional changes to that way government engages citizens, as well as grassroots organizing.  Participants developed a draft set of action items for Obama’s White House as well as the broader democracy movement, which participant Sandy Heierbacher summarized in her blog:

1. Draft Statement of Principles (The preamble which will likely carry the definitions, values and ethics talked about during the conference)
2. Democracy Skill-Building Agenda (How to transfer knowledge and ability to do this work)
3. Health of Democracy Report (The state of this imperfect union)
4. National Demonstration Projects (To show the real world value of what was proposed)
5. Recognize and Support Engagement by Disenfranchised Communities (To ensure full inclusion)
6. Institutionalize Participatory and Collaborative Governance (Embed it in federal, state and local institutions)
7. Ensure Adequate Resources for Public Engagement (Paying for it)
8. Adopt and Electoral Reform Agenda (Self explanatory — more later)
9. Feedback on Consultation Efforts (Evaluation)
10. Mechanism for Sustaining Leadership (Ensuring that this doesn’t disappear in four years)
11. International Exchange (Learning from our global colleagues)

Details and the final report will be posted here where available.

Recovery Act: Watching the Watchers

August 10, 2009

recovery1The Recovery Act created a huge oversight mechanism and provided more than $350 million for audits and investigations to ensure the $787 billion in the Act would not be wasted.  For example, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board released a checklist for how to look for waste, fraud and abuse in Recovery Act grants (e.g., “Was the award announced on FBO?  Yes/No”).    Government Executive’s Elizabeth Newell reports that the Board has created an outreach program to agencies to help them.

But what is really interesting is the number of other groups that are engaged in tracking and money and conducting oversight as well.

The most well-known is a private company, Oniva (no, not the calcium supplement), which created its own version of Recovery.gov, the federal government’s website to track the funds being spent.  Their website is:  www.recovery.org.  This site is compiled by dozens of analysts who comb local news media for notices about public spending linked to Recovery Act funds (collecting their info from the bottom up).  It reports 24,463 active projects, spending $77.48 Billion.  In contrast, the federal site (www.recovery.gov) depends on reports from federal agencies, grantees, and contractors (collecting from the top down).  It reports $73.14 Billion as “paid out” as of July 31st.

Another, OMB Watch, is sponsoring a “Coalition for an Accountable Recovery” (CAR) that advocates for greater transparency in Recovery Act spending.

In addition, the advocacy group, “States for a Transparent and Accountable Recovery” (STAR) looks at similar issues from a state-local perspective.

Last week, another advocacy group, “GoodJobsFirst” released a report assessing how transparent the states were being on their Recovery Act websites.

Senator Tom Coburn has been conducting his own investigations of how Recovery Act monies are being used, but they’ve been seen as partisan (or at least incomplete).  His report seems to have gotten more publicity, at least . . ..

And advocacy groups aren’t only looking at the Recovery Act!  There’s a group, Bailout Watch, that is tracking the use of the $700 Billion in bailout monies under programs like TARP.  It has a page called “SubsidyScope.com” that tracks what financial institutions are receiving under the various federal bailout programs.

Are there other websites out there that you know of that are tracking the money (and/or its impact?)

. . . here’s a late addition.  Pro Publica has created a “Stimulus Progress Bar” that’s worth looking at!

Transparency Pot Shots

July 20, 2009

recovery1The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board estimates that about 200,000 entities (state agencies, localities, companies, non-profits) will be entering data into the recovery.gov website.

Anybody can look up every expenditure reported. But how do you ensure clarity and accuracy? Will media or others take pot shots without attempting to follow through on unclear information that’s been posted?

Today, the answer is “yes.”  Drudge Report started posting some odd-looking entries into the recovery.gov system with alarming headlines, such as:  “AWARDED: $1,191,200 FOR ‘2 POUND FROZEN HAM SLICED’ “  This led to a quick scramble by the Department of Agriculture to explain

“The references to “2 pound frozen ham sliced” are to the sizes of the packaging. Press reports suggesting that the Recovery Act spent $1.191 million to buy “2 pounds of ham” are wrong. In fact, the contract in question purchased 760,000 pounds of ham for $1.191 million, at a cost of approximately $1.50 per pound.”

Is it up to the data submitter (in this case, Clougherty Packing, LLC), the reporter, or the government to ensure clarity or context?  Doing data quality control over 200,000 separate submitters and still allow relatively “real time” access to data is probably impossible.  Will a political “gotcha” atmosphere temper the Obama Administration’s efforts to increase transparency?  Or is this just the price of getting it right?

As Recovery Board chairman Earl Devaney notes in his first blog post today:  “Think of Recovery.gov as a “New Dawn” in transparency and accountability. To my way of thinking, the government will have to follow this model in future spending. The public will not accept any less, and you shouldn’t.”

Real-Time Results Reporting

July 15, 2009

The Obama Administration is actively promoting transparency of program data via data.gov.  But what about transparency of program results?

Traditionally, agencies report their performance results of their programs at the end of each year.  This is required under the Government Performance and Results Act.  It wasn’t too long ago when it was a big deal that agencies shortened their year-end reporting from 6 months after the end of the fiscal year to 6 weeks after the end of the fiscal year.   Today, the new expectation is that performance results should be continually available – ideally in real-time.

The Poster Child for Real-Time Results:  Recovery.gov.  The poster child for this new expectation is the Recovery Act’s website, www.recovery.gov.  OMB requires weekly reports from agencies on progress on monies going out to states and localities.  Each agency and each state also have their own websites, as well.  The recovery.gov website has been criticized for only reporting spending and not results, such as jobs created (which is actually a bit unfair, given that these projects are just getting underway!).  Still, the law requires the first real quarterly reports on progress and results from about 200,000 reporting entities (e.g., states, localities, contractors) in October.  And OMB is still fine-tuning the guidance for what should each type of entity be reporting.

An Early Adopter:  Millennial Challenge Corp.  But recovery.gov isn’t the only federal effort committed to reporting more regularly on program results.  Yesterday, I was invited to the unveiling of a results-oriented website created by the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  Hopefully, this is the beginning of a broader, governmentwide trend!

Here’s a quick snapshot of what I learned:

What is the MCC?  Launching a results-oriented reporting system is a natural for MCC, given its origin and mission.  MCC was created in 2004 as a different way of providing foreign aid.  As a separate, independent agency, MCC doesn’t just fund a wide range of projects in different countries. It focuses specifically on reducing poverty by partnering with host countries to make them more responsible for their own development.  It signs a compact — the equivalent of a performance agreement — for a multi-year period with the host country and monitors progress on a range of indicators tied to program performance (e.g., economic rates of return) and poverty reduction.

MCC starts with a set of selection criteria that determine whether a country can even qualify for participation.  These criteria include ruling justly, investing in people, and encouraging economic freedom.  About 30 countries are eligible to apply.  To date, 18 have signed 5-year compacts for grants totaling $6.3 billion.  At this point, MCC estimates that the rate of return for this investment will be about $8 billion in increased income, benefiting 22 million people – broken out by country and by project.

The MCC’s Performance System.  In launching MCC’s web-based performance system, acting chief executive Rodney Bent said in his blog: “I’m pleased to draw your attention to the newest feature on MCC’s website:  a dedicated section on results.  This one-stop resource is the first step in an evolving compilation of MCC’s results. . . .”  The site allows you to:

  • View country and thematic monitoring and evaluation information.
  • Understand evaluation criteria and performance measures, such as economic rates of return.
  • Track progress on a quarterly basis.

What does this look like?  Let’s take one country (not unlike looking at a single state’s website in the Recovery.gov world):

Armenia:  An Example of Country-Level Reporting.  The MCC website summarizes project expenditure rates and progress to date in Armenia, but more importantly, the local Armenian partner for the program runs its own website (which is conveniently translated into English as well!).

Both the MCC and local sites, like the one for Armenia, are still evolving.  They still have a number of documents in PDF format, but the locally-run site for Armenia is beginning to geo-map the locations of projects by region and posting their plans, expenditures, and surveys used to assess progress.  They also post some success stories to give a flavor of what is happening, which may (in some cases) be more compelling than just data. . . and these are similar to the approaches states are taking in reporting on their Recovery Act monies!

Implications.  Both cases (MCC and Recovery Act reporting)  are examples of pioneering new approaches that could well have a far broader impact.  Putting measures of results out there will likely touch off discussions, and possible adoption, of common standards for how to measure the results of a range of programs.  In the foreign aid community, this might reach across different aid agencies and different countries and non-profits providing aid.  In the Recovery Act, it might be the development of common results measures reaching across states, localities, and the more than 300 programs funded by the Act. . . and possible programs beyond the Act.

Bailout: Dealing with the Big Questions

July 13, 2009

There’s been a lot of attention on the implementation of the Recovery Act. But it’s only half the action.  We’ve recently published several reports on the implementation of the bailout provisions, which in some ways may have a longer-term effect on the U.S. governance system.

Our most recent report, “Governance Challenges and the Financial Crisis: Seven Key Questions,” by Terry Buss and Lois Fu, is based on a roundtable co-sponsored with the National Academy of Public Administration.  It raises big questions triggered by both the financial meltdown and the federal government’s response:

  • How should the terms of the social contract among government, business, civil society and the American people be redefined?
  • What is the new global role for the United States in the wake of the economic crisis?
  • What structural changes in the financial system should be made to foresee, prevent, and respond to future economic crises?
  • What should be done to improve congressional oversight and expertise?
  • Is it time to re-examine the distribution of roles, power, and authority among federal, state, and local governments in light of the financial crisis?
  • How do we strengthen transparency and accountability?
  • What is the government’s exit strategy from various sectors of the economy in which it has intervened in response to the financial crisis?

With respect to the last question, the IBM Center has sponsored two other reports:

Strengthening Government’s Ability to Deal wit the Financial Crisis,” by Tom Stanton.  This report examines how the financial crisis evolved and recommends a number of steps, including enhancing government’s institutional capacity to respond effectively.  Steps include giving the Federal Reserve the responsibility for monitoring and addressing systemic risk, ensuring the Federal Housing Authority and Department of Education have the capacity to support their markets, and ensuring cross-agency coordinated actions via working groups.

Managing a $700 Billion Bailout:  Lessons from the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation and the Resolution Trust Corporation,” by Mark Cassell and Susan Hoffman.  This report examines the strengths and shortfalls of these two organizations in order to frame the discussion of what operational capabilities the federal government may need to create to succeed in its current financial crisis.  These include issues such as the type of organizational capabilities and expertise it may need to carry out new responsibilities. . . and then how do you unwind the government’s role and return responsibilities to the private sector once the crisis is over.

These reports help frame the Obama Administration’s next steps in responding to the current economic crisis – by looking beyond the policy implications to the governance implications.

Recovery Act Tracking

June 23, 2009

recovery1The Washington Post reports today that a new survey shows citizens’ confidence is slipping in their belief that the Recovery Act will boost the economy. 

Whoever was surveyed clearly has not been reading OMB guidance on expectations for how these monies will be tracked!

The complexity of implementing the Recovery Act is becoming clearer over time.  In fact, this was the focus of the feature article in this month’s Government Executive magazine, “Untangling the Recovery.”  In that article, author Robert Brodsky notes: “For the nation’s 2.7 million federal employees, the stimulus plan represents a more personal mission. It is a chance for redemption, to convince the rest of the world that the government still can operate as an efficient and effective management organization.”

Even the Washington Post notes: “Tracking Stimulus Spending May Not Be as Easy as Promised,” and cites how a private website, www.recovery.org, is reporting seemingly more complete information, faster.  But this private site doesn’t have to develop guidance for, and document, how many jobs are being saved or created! 

Government Executive’s Katherine Peters notes that tracking the number of jobs will be tricky and “documenting that number may take some fancy footwork.”  Federal Times’ Gregg Carlstrom wrote a couple weeks ago that the Office of Management and Budget would be coming out with guidance last week.  But it was delayed; when circulated to agencies for comment, OMB got more than 700 comments to resolve.  So it was released late yesterday.

The new OMB guidance, dated June 22, finally clarifies the two streams of data (money going out vs. reporting back on dollars spent, project results, and jobs created or saved).  It also creates a distinction between what it does vs. what the Recovery Board does by creating a new, separate website.  The new website, federalreporting.gov/, is to be used by grant, contract, and loan recipients and sub-recipients to report back to the federal government.  The new guidance explains how they are to report information on this new website.  It also promises: “Additional guidance to Federal government contractors will be forthcoming. . . revised guidance on lobbyist communications is also forthcoming.”

The guidance also includes a supplement which, for the first time, lists all 306 federal programs that receive Recovery Act funds and are included in the reporting system.  Some of these are listed here, along with their Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance number, to provide some flavor of the diversity of this effort:

The variety suggests the complexity of reporting back data in a consistent manner.  But the guidance also asks for help:  “The general public and non-governmental entities interested in “good government” can help with data quality, as well, by highlight problems for correction.”  They’ll be able to do this via a feedback mechanism on the soon-to-be re-designed Recovery.Gov website.

UPDATE: Robert Brodsky and Elizabeth Newell at Government Executive, wrote a good summary of the guidance in “Stimulus Guidance Calls for More Detailed Reporting.”

Chief Performance Officer Jeff Zients

June 12, 2009
Jeffrey Zeints

Jeffrey Zients

Earlier this week, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a confirmation hearing for Jeff Zients, President Obama’s choice to be the first Chief Performance Officer and deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget.  Who is he and what did he say?

Who is he? Elise Castelli, Federal Times, profiled Zients a few weeks ago:  “From 1999 to 2004, Zients was chairman of Advisory Board, a successful health care consulting firm. From 2000 through 2001, he also was chairman of Advisory Board’s sister company, Corporate Executive Board. Under his leadership, the two management consulting firms went from making millions of dollars to making billions.”  She went on to note that he was seen by his peers as “very analytical” and developed a collaborative business model.  While he’s not had government experience, his approach may well be effective in a government environment.

What did he say? Here is Zient’s formal statement to the committee and some excerpts from media coverage of that hearing:

Rebecca Neal, Federal Times:

  • Zients said he is concerned the government doesn’t have hiring and succession plans in place to replace the large numbers of baby boomers who soon will be eligible to retire.
  • He pointed particularly to the need to expand and strengthen the acquisition workforce.
  • Zients said he will work to return inherently governmental work to civil servants but does not discount the value of contractors in certain fields.
  • Zients said improving federal Web sites and improving transparency is one of his priorities,
  • “I believe leadership starts with putting the right team together and measuring the goals for the organization,” he said.

Max Cacas, WFED Radio:

  • Zients’ management philosophy: “As a CEO, I’ve always focused on three areas: leadership, measurement and a motivated workforce. I believe leadership starts with putting the right team together, and articulating the right goals for the organization. Measurement means translating these goals into an operating plan with clear metrics. A motivated workforce means creating an environment to attract and keep the best talent. I believe these three are the keys to strong performance.”
  • Zients says he favors a more collaborative approach involving all stakeholders to create a better system than PART.
  • He supports President Obama’s call to redefine “inherently governmental work,” to determine what jobs need to be brought back into the federal service and which jobs are more appropriately outsourced to outside contractors.

Elizabeth Newell, Government Executive:

  • Zients “provided a long list of priorities he would address if he becomes deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget. These included developing a usable set of performance metrics, improving the effectiveness of government according to those measures, revitalizing the federal workforce, and increasing transparency and accountability across government.”
  • “The test of a performance management system is, is it being used to make important resource allocation and budget decisions,” Zients said during the hearing. “I’m looking forward, if confirmed, to taking a collaborative approach, working with all the stakeholders, to develop a system.”
  • “With Recovery Act reporting from recipients and subrecipients . . . .  we should be planning on a broader deployment of the recovery solution so that transparency of federal spending extends to all taxpayer dollars.”