Posts Tagged ‘Association for Government Accountants’

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, 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 – — 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!


The “New” Transparency

May 15, 2009

magnifyingGlassA couple weeks ago, I attended the Mercatus Center’s 10th annual ceremony releasing their assessment of how transparent agencies were in reporting their performance via their annually-required performance report under the Government Performance and Results Act. It made me think about how far the whole transparency movement has come.

Old-Style Transparency.  Federal agencies have been required to report performance information for a decade.  Several organizations, such as the Association for Government Accountants and the Mercatus Center, have been assessing the quality of these reports.  There’s been a consistent theme in their assessments over the past decade that, while there is a steady supply of performance information, that it is not being used to make decisions and the reports are not being widely read.

Traditionally, performance reporting has been seen as a top-down exercise, with an agency head annually collecting, assessing, and reporting on his or her agency’s performance to the Congress and the public.  This approach to government transparency — reporting its performance to the public — has increased dramatically over the past 15 years via annual performance plans, annual performance reports, annual financial reports, scorecards on how well programs were performing, and scorecards on agency management capacity.

New-Style Transparency.  The Obama Administration seems to have raised the bar and shifted the focus on what constitutes “transparency.”  This new world is reflected in several initiatives:

  •, a website where all agencies must post their grant and contract spending.  This was enacted into law under President Bush, but the law was co-sponsored by then-Senator Obama.
  •, a website where all Recovery Act spending and results are to be posted publicly.
  •, a planned website where raw federal data sets (e.g., from the Federal Register, Census, EPA, etc.) will be posted to allow public users the ability to perform their own analyses and create their own uses for the information.

In each of these cases, the data is far more immediate.  It isn’t a pre-digested end-of-year report.  It is far more interactive, and allows both employee and citizen engagement around the interpretation and use of the data.  It takes data and its analysis out of the hands of experts and puts it into the hands of line managers and citizens.

In a way, the new transparency trend runs counter to conventional wisdom, which recommends a small number of measures, digested and interpreted for simplistic understanding.  It means less centralized data interpretation.  It is far more decentralized in terms of data availability and allows individuals the ability to conduct their own analyses and come to their own conclusions.

Challenges to Hierarchy.  But what are the implications of this new-style transparency?  By making data more widely available – even if only within the government – it will empower a wide range of users to more routinely make fact-based decisions.  This has the effect of pushing analysis and decision-making down to the front-line instead of staff offices.  This could be the beginning of a new performance agenda, which author W. David Stephenson calls “Democratizing Data.”  Support for making such data available more broadly to the public is being pushed by advocacy groups such as the Sunlight Foundation.

In addition, there will be questions raised by professional analysts about data quality and the quality of data analysis. However, Intuit and Wikipedia use this approach to gain the “wisdom of crowds” (also sometimes called “crowd sourcing”) in their businesses and the quality and accuracy of the information tends to be equivalent to that produced by professional analysts.  In any case, this may be the beginning of a new accountability structure for networked government.

Think Tanks and Transition 2008: Update

July 9, 2008


The Thinker

The Thinker

I started an inventory back in April (Part I and Part II) of what different think tanks are doing related to the transition.  There was a good story in Federal Times this past week on some of the groups (including the IBM Center), but there are a few more developments over the past few months worth highlighting.


Updates on Think Tank Players


Government Performance Coalition.  The Coalition’s a website on transition issues is being updated more frequently.  The Coalition and its nearly two dozen members (some of whose efforts are described in more detail below) anticipate pulling together a set of insights for the next Administration this Fall.


IBM Center for The Business of Government.  In addition to sponsoring this blog, a series of issue briefs and forums on acquisition reform, the IBM Center will be publishing two books this Fall.  One, “The Operator’s Manual for the New Administration,” will highlight the key features of running an agency, such as what you need to know about government systems dealing with people, money, and technology.  The second book, “Getting It Done,” provides insights for new government leaders on working across different stakeholder groups – Congress, OMB, the media, unions – to get things done.  Its transition website will be regularly updated to reflect these items, as well.


Council for Excellence in Government.  CEG plans to continue its famous “Prune Book” but make it an on-line version this time, highlighting about 25 key jobs. It is also providing pre-transition assistance to the Department of Homeland Security by helping organize emergency and planning exercises under the National Response Framework.


National Academy for Public Administration.  NAPA also assisted Homeland Security by inventorying gaps in the Department’s executive staff rank in a recent report.  A group of Academy Fellows is drafting a series of papers on key management capacity challenges facing the next Administration as well, which will be available on the web later this summer.  NAPA is also collaborating with other groups, as described below.


Partnership for Public Service.  The Partnership has sponsored a series of forums on the human capital agenda for the next Administration.  It is developing a white paper based on its forums and plans to contribute data and information during the general election campaign to further dialog on these issues.  It also plans to provide insights and advice to the next generation of political appointees.


American Society for Public Administration.  The Society’s professional journal, Public Administration Review, published a series of articles related to presidential transition in its July/August issue.   


Association of Government Accountants.  AGA has launched a blog on financial management issues, some of which may be relevant during the upcoming transition.  It is also developing a white paper on financial management challenges, jointly with NAPA.


Center for the Study of the Presidency.   The Center is sponsoring several efforts related to the transition.  One, which is more strategy-oriented, is “Agenda 2008:  A Nation at Risk,” which defines organizational challenges facing the next President.  The more specific effort is its sponsorship of the Project on National Security Reform, which is devoted to rethinking the National Security Act of 1947 which created the Defense Department.



“The President’s Executive Academy.” This new initiative is being developed by a consortium of groups:  the University of Maryland, the Council for Excellence in Government, the University of Pennsylvania, and NAPA.  Under the guidance of Ed DeSeve, a former OMB official, the consortium is developing a curriculum for new presidential appointees, with plans to help support the orientation of new appointees.  It is also planning the development of a web-based orientation and network.


Updates on Government Players


Office of Personnel Management.  OPM has published an updated transition guide for political appointees.    


Office of Government Ethics.  OGE will have an important role in the transition.  It is responsible for reviewing and certifying financial disclosure reports of presidential nominees.  It reviews each nominee’s written ethics agreements and transmits opinion/clearance letters to the appropriate Senate committees responsible for confirming appointees.  It also provides ethics briefings to senior White House officials. 


Congressional Research Service.  CRS produces reports on various topics for members of Congress.  It has produced an updated report on Presidential Transitions.  It will also likely produce a series of other reports on transition-related issues, such as national and homeland security.  


Updates on Academic Players


The White House Transition Project  is conducting a series of interviews of 11 key White House officials about the lessons they learned in their roles and advice they have for their successors.  They are planning on a book later this year with essays on selected transition topics such as:  the first 100 days in the White House (which should be useful to CNN, which has announced a series it plans on the first 100 days); the presidential decision-making system, and the president’s military and foreign policy roles. 


Midge Smith Center for Evaluation Effectiveness (a part of the Trachtenberg School for Public Policy and Public Administration at George Washington University).  The Center is collaborating with a NAPA advisory group to develop a white paper identifying options for strengthening performance management initiatives in the next Administration.  The effort is based on a series of focus groups with OMB and agency officials and will be ready in the Fall.


Updates on Other Players


Deloitte Public Sector Research.  Deloitte Research sponsored a conference in June on the potential role of Web 2.0 in the next Administration.  It also plans a forum in September to develop a “redesign framework” to facilitate the review of the roles and functions of government.   


Cisco.  Cisco has undertaken several transition initiatives to help the next Administration develop a management agenda. Most recently, it launched a website to engage visitors in identifying new ideas for government that could be offered to the new Administration.  In addition, Cisco’s Alan Balutis supported a special forum on management issues in the Spring 2008 issue of The Public Manager. 


Management Concepts, Inc.  Management Concepts is publishing a series entitled In the Public Interest.  The first book was out in May 2008:  Transforming Public and Nonprofit Organizations: Stewardship for Leading Change by James Edwin Kee and Kathryn E. Newcomer, both with George Washington University.  In addition, Management Concepts is sponsoring (and working on) improvements to program management with CEG, based on a survey of program managers.


OMB Watch. OMB Watch plans to prepare a briefing paper on the regulatory process and options for improving it to be more transparent.


MITRE Corporation.  MITRE is developing a set of white papers on 5-8 topics, based in part on a series of roundtables held in conjunction with CEG in late 2007.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Again, if you’ve got additions or revisions, the blog lines are open!