Posts Tagged ‘Government Accountability Office’

Performance Pay: Here to Stay?

August 27, 2009

Not unlike the recent public healthcare debates, the mention of performance-based pay generates much passion.  The continued rollout of the Defense Department’s version of performance pay was put on hold at the beginning of the Obama Administration, pending a study.  That study is now out.  It is short and clear:  continue the pause, rethink some of the initial premises put in place in 2004, engage employees in re-designing the system, and be sure to invest in training managers. While the report concludes” “Successful performance management systems have the potential to enhance organizations performance and drive effective results,” it pointed to several implementation actions taken in recent years that led to frustration by both managers and employees.

Media played up the unions’ disappointment that the system was not rejected outright.   But separately there were strong signals from John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, that President Obama is committed to linking pay to performance as a condition of any broader governmentwide pay reform efforts.

What should be the focus of the “rethink?”  A coalition of good government groups, the Government Performance Coalition, outlined several “key drivers for enhancing the prospects of success:”

Focus first on instituting a proven performance management system.  Performance management must initially be separated from pay.  The system has to be tied to proven improvements in performance, and “an effective performance system must be recognized as benefiting employee motivation and engagement, as well as recruitment and retention, regardless of pay.”

Second, provide for the proper level of transparency.  Without the ability to understand one’s rating or the way in which the process functions, a major reason for the enhanced system is lost.”

And third, reinforce the value of constructive ongoing communications.  Employee-manager feedback and dialogue are important, but oftentimes difficult to achieve.  Training helps, but it is important for leaders to “sustain a workplace culture that values constructive communication.”

Interestingly, these elements were reflected several years ago in an assessment of the performance pay system implemented at the Government Accountability Office.   This isn’t a new topic.  This blog has highlighted several other related IBM Center reports on this topic, if you want to dig into some of the background.


Anticipatory Governance

May 4, 2009

telescopeI was on a panel last week at the annual Washington forum of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the topic “Anticipatory Governance of Emerging Technologies.”  I was probably the only one in the room without a PhD and without a science background.  I was the designated “outsider” and felt a bit intimidated but was fascinated by the topic.

Here was a group of scientists concerned about the potential societal implications of nanotechnology, information technology (like autonomous robots), neurotechnology, and biotechnology.  They weren’t interested in just unintended consequences like disease, but also potential consequences for social equity, democratic values, the distribution of political power, etc.  They recognized that the traditional Scientific Model doesn’t capture all the dimensions people care about.

I’ve been intrigued by the notion of “anticipatory governance” for several years, stemming from the work of the Government Accountability Office under David Walker, who has long been concerned about the fiscal future of our country.  As a result, I drafted an issue paper on this topic for the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA) in preparation for the presidential transition – which I called “governing with foresight.”  The topic was also one of the four strategies described in a 2008 IBM Center report by Keon Chi on how states are transforming their governance.

Parallels Between Science and Administration

Listening to the other speakers, I realized that their insights about anticipatory governance in the scientific world roughly paralleled what I’d been reading and learning in the public administration world and that their ideas could be applied more broadly than just emerging technologies.

Scientists understand they need to develop ways to safely handle emerging technologies (e.g., nanotubes have molecular structures similar to asbestos, and we know what happens there). In addition, they understand they have an obligation to manage the potential future health consequences.

Like scientists, government needs to anticipate the future as well.  For example, the federal government’s preparation for the swine flu epidemic actually began three years ago in preparation for the avian flu.  The public health framework and antiviral stockpiles are in place.  Similarly, former Senator John Danforth, on a recent PBS NewsHour show, observed that government now needs to be developing an exit strategy from its unanticipated ownership of auto, banking, insurance, and mortgage companies.

Defining “Anticipatory Governance”

In my presentation, I defined “governance” as “the designation of players and their roles, and defining the formal prerogatives of the role-players; as well as prescribing the communication patterns and decision rights among these players.”  This is based on definitions used in the private sector.

I expanded the definition to “anticipatory governance” based on the public administration perspective reflected in Chi’s report: “Changing short-term oriented decisionmaking practices to long-term policies with vision, foresight; and making decisions based on informed trends, evidence-based decisions, with a future co-designed by professionals and citizens.”

The “co-design” element is important, based on studies of collaborative networks in public administration, because it create the legitimacy needed for policymakers to act.  But the scientists on the panel helped me understand a new insight. . . In the scientific community, there is great debate over the degree of certainty needed before public action is warranted in responding to uncertain scientific risks.  For example, what degree of certainty is needed before the scientific community calls for policy actions regarding climate change?  Is this strictly a scientific judgment or is there a role for citizens? To what extent should a decision rely on “deep thinking” by scientists vs. “the wisdom of crowds?”  This is when citizen participation seems to play an important role.  Citizens can grant the scientific community the legitimacy to act.

From Concepts to Action

The NAPA “foresight” paper outlines three steps for action. These three steps seemed to parallel what the scientists were finding in their work, as well.

Create a broad context that stakeholders can agree on. The military calls this  creating a “common operating picture,” where everyone can see the big picture.  There have been efforts to do this at the national level via efforts such as the “State of the USA” and Community Indicators projects.  A good state-level example is the Council on Virginia’s Future.

Create plans to act on the broader context. This has been done in the defense community via capability-based resource planning, and in the homeland security arena via scenario-driven planning.  An effort under the Bush Administration also used the development of “national strategies,”  such as the national security, homeland security strategy, and the cybersecurity strategy.

Put mechanism in place to act on the plans. In cities and states, this has been via “performance-stat” approaches such as Baltimore’s Citi-Stat and Maryland’s StateStat.  At the federal level, there are cross-agency or/multi-sector task forces, such as the newly-created food safety task force.

Obama is beginning to put in place some of the necessary elements.  His Open Government Directive will create the framework for citizen participation, and his effort to expand the use of Web 2.0 tools will provide the tools to do this.  It will be interesting to see how the scientific community takes advantage of these new approaches.

Collaborative Government: A New Report

March 17, 2009

A joint “national issues dialogue” co-sponsored by Deloitte’s Public Leadership Institute and the National Academy for Public Administration has released its final report:  Web 2.0:  The Future of Collaborative Government.”  


The dialogue was held in mid-2008.  It sought to address several key collaboration challenges raised by the Governmental Accountability Office in its 2005 report on key governance challenges facing the nation in the 21st Century.  These challenges include:


·         How can greater coordination and dialogue across all levels of government ensure a concerted effort in addressing key national challenges?

·         How can agencies better partner on cross-cutting issues?

·         How can agencies more strategically manage their portfolio of policy tools to better achieve national outcomes?


Interestingly, since the dialogue session was held, these challenges have only become more urgent and timely with the advent of the financial crisis and economic recession.


The report identifies the potential of key Web 2.0 technologies to:


·         Generate bottom-up ideas to improve government

·         Collaboratively develop policy

·         Transform how government gets work done

·         Recruit the next generation of civil servants


In each case, the report describes what innovative agencies and programs are already doing today to make these elements a reality.


The project also identified barriers to greater progress by other agencies.  These barriers include poor incentives to collaborate, a culture of hierarchy that doesn’t fit well with organizational flattening, and legal limitations.  The National Academy’s identifies several specific barriers that it is trying to help agencies overcome (see its Federal Web 2.0 Policy tab).


Finally, the report offers a roadmap for moving forward.  This includes recruiting a champion (and there are many in the Obama Administration!), starting with quick wins, and getting the lawyers on your side!


The report is timely; the Administration is soliciting ideas for developing its collaboration agenda and this report joins others in offering some priorities and a clear path forward.

Transparency and Open Government: Congress-Style

January 28, 2009

 The 647-page proposed economic stimulus bill (H.R. 1) not only contains the spending details for the $825 billion measure, it also includes a series of transparency and accountability provisions.  Some of these reinforce the Obama transparency directive; others may make it more difficult to implement.  For example, the increased funding for inspectors general  (which oftentimes tend to focus on enforcing existing procedures and hierarchy, even if antiquated) could run counter to Obama’s call for more cross-agency and cross-sector collaboration.  Strong leadership across the Inspector General (IG) community could overcome this potential impediment, however.   Here are some highlights:

  •  Designated IG offices get increased appropriations of nearly $250 million.  For example, the Agriculture IG gets an additional $22.5 million.  The Government Accountability Office receives an additional $25 million.  Now what would they audit?  Not just waste.  Here are some specific provisions they’ll have to ensure compliance with:
  • None of the monies can be “used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool.”  (these restrictions are examples of perceived past egregious behaviors; the bill, however, forgot to ban the construction of pyramids — an particularly spectacular economic development project that received a Golden Fleece Award in its time).
  • All iron and steel in stimulus projects has to be made in the USA.
  • All laborers and mechanics employed by contractors on projects funded by the economic stimulus bill have to be paid “prevailing wages.” (also known as Davis-Bacon Act wages).
  • All entities receiving stimulus bill funding have to participate in the E-verify program (so no illegal immigrants receive any funding).
  • Federal agencies have to publish a plan for how they will spend their monies on a new website: (is this the first time a web domain address has been legislated?)
  • Each contract or grant issued using funds from the stimulus bill has to be posted on the internet and linked to
  • Contracts, “to the maximum extent possible,” are to be fixed-price contracts, using competitive procedures.


To oversee these requirements, a Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board (RAAT-B? what an acronym!) will be established to coordinate oversight of federal spending under the stimulus bill “to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.” There will be 7 members appointed by the president and it will be chaired by the Chief Performance Officer and provided a $14 million budget.  The board will issue both “flash reports” and quarterly reports, and annual reports.  It also runs the website.


The bill also establishes a 5-member independent advisory panel to advise the RAAT-B.  It would provide advice on how the Board can prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

Tough Jobs

January 1, 2009

The top cabinet picks are chosen.  But professor Paul Light in an article for the Washington Post,Low-Profile Jobs That Will Stay That Way, If Obama is Prudent,” highlights ten of the most challenging jobs in the federal government. Each of these positions is further described in the Council for Excellence in Government’s “Prune Book On-Line:”



The Prune Book summarizes over 100 key subcabinet jobs.  Not sure how many of these will be filled from the on-line jobs application (understand there are more than 400,000 applicants so far). 


Are there others you think would be more important than the ones selected by Dr. Light?  He touches on some of the key jobs dealing with healthcare, for example.  But he seems to focus on positions with traditional, longer-term management challenges raised by the Government Accountability Office and recent headlines, but not the seemingly more urgent positions that would deal with the economy, the bailout, or climate change/energy, which seem to be on the top of the Obama Transition agenda.

Governing with Foresight

November 20, 2008

Last night I attended a showing of the documentary “IOUSA” featuring former Comptroller General David Walker. The film was done before the financial bailout crisis, plunge in the markets, and recession. And it was scary. It describes how the country has created $55 Trillion in unfunded commitments – in pension benefits, healthcare, etc. – that future generations are being saddled with.

This made me think of an issue paper I drafted some months ago for the National Academy for Public Administration’s project assessing the management capacity of the President in facing 21st century challenges. The paper, “Governing with Foresight: Institutional Changes to Enhance Fact-Based Decision-Making in the Executive Office of the President,” explores several potential approaches the new Administration might take to create some forward-looking capacity and action-taking institutions rather than just responding to immediate crises.  The idea is that governing with such approaches might forstall the prediction of impending fiscal doom.  Quickly, here are the highlights:

Create a Compelling Context. The paper summarizes steps taken so far to create a broader public understanding of the context in which public officials need to act – like the IOUSA movie – but more comprehensive. This is being done by a non-profit, State of the USA, which is creating an interactive website of key national indicators that will show our country’s progress on a number of dimensions (such as life expectancy) when compared to other countries or over time or by different parts of the country. This can serve as a fact-based, non-partisan source of objective information. It is scheduled to be launched in early 2009.

Create Action Plans. There have been calls in recent years by the Government Accountability Office to craft a national strategic plan. This has fallen on deaf ears, but there have been successful efforts in recent years to craft specific plans around key national outcomes, such as a National Security Strategy and a National Homeland Security Strategy. This may be a more pragmatic approach than a comprehensive government-wide plan (and feel a lot less Soviet in approach).

Establish a Way to Act on Plans That Reach Across Government. Some states and localities have created “State-Stat,” or “Citi-Stat” mechanisms that governors and mayors use as a way to get action on priorities that reach across state or city agencies. There have been proposals to create a White House-based “Fed-Stat” or “Performance-Stat” to ensure focus and commitment to action on key national strategies.

President-elect Obama has already committed to creating a chief performance officer, possibly someone who would head a National Performance Council to oversee a “Performance-Stat” effort. The pressing issues he’ll face – along with the need to engage citizens in solving these issues (see yesterday’s blog entry) may be one approach to address the issues raised in the IOUSA movie.

GAO Transition Website Announced

November 6, 2008

gao_sealThe Government Accountability Office launched a new website filled with advice to the Obama Transition Team and the new Congress.  The site has a series of tabs that drill down into different issues:

The 13 “Urgent Issues” GAO identified based on its work that require urgent attention and continuing oversight to ensure the nation’s security and well-being are:
• Caring for Service Members
• Defense Readiness
• Defense Spending
• Food Safety
• Oversight of Financial Institutions and Markets
• Preparing for Large-Scale Health Emergencies
• Protecting the Homeland
• Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting
• Retirement of the Space Shuttle
• Surface Transportation
• The 2010 Census
• Transition to Digital TV

In addition to the urgent issues, the new GAO Web site includes sections on:

Agency-by-Agency Issues.  Each agency faces a range of distinctive major challenges affecting its mission, budget, and programs. Here, GAO summarizes its work at 28 federal agencies. This section allows new appointees to quickly and easily review GAO’s findings and recommendations on challenges facing each particular agency.

Management Challenges Across the Government.  Agencies share a number of management challenges to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness and address current and emerging demands.

Major Cost-Saving Opportunities.  A number of opportunities exist to limit costs and reduce waste across agencies and programs, as well as increase collection of revenues already due the government. GAO discusses about 50 such opportunities.

Long-Term Fiscal Outlook. This section describes the federal government’s long-term fiscal challenges.

Examples of Upcoming GAO reports on Major National Issues. GAO’s forthcoming work focuses on a wide range of key federal policies and programs.

There’s even a video introduction by Acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro!

P.S. — Thanks to Dan Coberly for flagging this new resource for us!

Elements of the Next Management Agenda

June 3, 2008

It’s obviously too soon to tell what elements will comprise the next president’s commitments to better manage the government.  The elements will depend on the direction of the campaigns, the personal interests of the candidates in engaging in such issues, and of course the broader context.  However, the context and the perspectives that may frame such an agenda are already being developed in a series of different forums.  I just returned from one such forum on Web 2.0 and the future of collaborative government.  A fellow blogger, Anne Laurent, covers it well in her blog today.


Of course the Government Accountability Office offers a contextual framework to discuss government-wide management issues.  Its 2006 report on 21st Century challenges facing the nation outlines about 200 questions that policy makers should be asking in order to reexamine the base of the federal government’s future commitments, including questions about management.  In 2007, it issued a potential agenda for action.  More recently, it has been releasing a series of reports that focus on how the fiscal condition of the government, and its future commitments, may circumscribe what government does and how it does it.


The IBM Center published a report recently, Ten Challenges Facing Public Managers, that gives our best guess of what we think are a set of management issues the government will face in the coming years.    These challenges include not only GAO’s fiscal concerns but also the role of results, the impending crisis of competence, and the blurring of boundaries when delivering services.


More globally, another IBM think tank, the Institute for Business Value, also recently released a report “Government 2020 and the Perpetual Collaboration Mandate,” which identifies six worldwide drivers that will influence governments across the globe.  Drivers such as demographics will affect countries differently.  For example, in Iran nearly 70 percent of the population is under 30.  In Japan, over 25 percent of the population will be over 65 by 2020.   These different demographic mixes strongly influence what public services will be needed.  Similarly in the U.S., demographics will strongly influence demands for a different mix of public services as well.


IBM also released its global 2008 survey of chief executive officers.  This survey of 1,100 CEOs cover both the public and private sectors and is revealing in that it reflects a pervasive rethinking of how enterprises, like large government agencies, will have to dramatically remake themselves in order to effective respond to the major drivers.  Flexiblity and collaborative behaviors are both seen as key factors.


Outside IBM, other think tanks are also examining the broader trends and context.  Just one example, Deloitte Research recently released a report on the future of collaborative government and Web 2.0.  Its work parallels efforts underway at the National Academy for Public Administration, which is sponsoring a collaborative governance effort, as well.


These varied reports identify a wide spectrum of trends and drivers, but there are significant overlaps.  The overlaps may be areas where a new president may choose to focus since these are areas where there seems to be growing consensus as to what the challenges (and potential priorities) may be.


Taken together, the trends seem to be to transform government to have more foresight, to be more collaborative in nature, to be more results-focused, to be more transparent, and to engage citizens more actively in both governance and solutions to personal and community challenges.  How these broad trends might play out in terms of specific initiatives is unclear.  But that’s the exciting part. 


Are there trends you think should be added to the agenda?

Think Tanks and Other Players: 2008 (Part I)

April 1, 2008

The ThinkerThis is a start of an inventory of who is doing what in terms of developing management advice and support to the incoming President. Since a mix of efforts undertaken by various think tanks and other groups in 2000 helped create a useful bridge in that transition, hopefully similar efforts are underway in 2008. This initial inventory should give you some sense of who is doing what, where the holes are, and where there are opportunities for collaboration.

We’ve divided the various players into four groups: think tanks, government, academics, and other groups. We’re open to other ways of organizing this and, of course, any updates, corrections, or additions. The intended focus of this inventory is on groups supporting government management and the transition – not those groups focusing exclusively on policy issues (that list would be far too long!). There’s at some point a gray area, but this is the general rule of thumb imposed went creating this list. Also, there are oftentimes ongoing collaborative efforts among these different groups and we may not have gotten all these efforts properly described.

October 20, 2008 Update:  NOTE:  This blog entry has been the most popular of all the entries in 2008.  As a result, in conjunctions with Federal Computer Week, these entries are now posted on a wiki site and are regularly updated.  Visit that site and bookmark it!

Think Tank Players

Government Performance Coalition. The Coalition is comprised of a range of good government groups. It has been sponsoring a website on transition issues since March 2007. It is also coordinating a series of seminars on key management issues, such as the February 2008 Government Performance Summit, sponsored by the Performance Institute, and the March 2008 Human Capital Forum, hosted by the Partnership for Public Service. It aspires to develop a set of recommended actions for the next Administration based on these efforts.

IBM Center for The Business of Government. The Center sponsors this blog and recently posted a set of issue briefs on selected issues. It plans to develop a set of management resources and a guide for new appointees. It is also sponsoring a series of collaborative seminars that could result in recommendations to the next Administration on selected topics, such as improving contracting.

Council for Excellence in Government. CEG plans to continue its famous “Prune Book” but make it an on-line version this time. It is also providing pre-transition assistance to the Department of Homeland Security since, as a new department, it has never experienced a presidential transition before. It is also partnering with other groups on related projects.

National Academy for Public Administration. NAPA is also assisting Homeland Security by inventorying the Department’s executive staff positions. A group of Academy Fellows is drafting a series of papers on key management capacity challenges facing the next Administration as well. The Academy is also collaborating with other groups on related projects.

Partnership for Public Service. The Partnership has already co-sponsored a forum on human capital issues facing the next Administration, with CNA Corporation, the Coalition for Effective Change, and others, and plans to summarize insights that came out of that forum. It also plans to gather lessons learned from previous government reform efforts and offer recommendations to the new Administration.

American Society for Public Administration. The Society does not have a specific project but its professional journal, Public Administration Review, plans to publish a series of articles related to presidential transition over the coming year. It is also running a column with questions and answers on government reform with the presidential candidates. It is also coordinating a coalition of good government groups to develop a letter to candidates to encourage access to government by young people interested in public service.

Association of Government Accountants. AGA plans to co-sponsor a forum with NAPA on the role of chief financial officers in the next Administration and the human capital challenges in the federal financial community. Together they may offer recommendations or insights to the incoming Administration.

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.

Heritage Foundation. Heritage has just published a new book, “Keys to a Successful Presidency,” which offers insights to a new President.

Brookings Institution. Brookings is sponsoring an update to Brad Patterson’s book, “The White House Staff.” It may also sponsor and work collaboratively with others on related transition issues. It’s emphasis at this point is more policy-oriented via its Opportunity ’08 initiative.

American Enterprise Institute. AEI plans to gather lessons learned from past government reform efforts and reenergize its effort to streamline the presidential nomination and Senate confirmation process, in conjunction with the Brookings Institution.

Reason Public Policy Institute. Reason plans to host a forum this summer of top experts to craft a set of recommendations on how the next President can use competitive sourcing approaches. It also plans to focus research on transportation funding issues the next Administration will be facing when the transportation bill comes up for reauthorization.

Government Players

General Services Administration. GSA serves as the administrative arm for the President-Elect’s Transition Team by providing office space and equipment. It also is required by a 2000 law to develop a transition directory, which was a website in 2000. The same law makes GSA responsible for delivering orientation training for new political appointees.

National Archives and Records Administration. NARA is responsible for the out-going President’s records and it is responsible, by law, for assisting GSA in developing a transition directory.

Office of Personnel Management. OPM is responsible for cataloging all the political appointee positions, which are published as the “Plum Book” by congressional committees. In 2000, it also published a guide for executives on personnel rules associated with the transition.

Government Accountability Office. Since 1988, GAO has developed both a list of High Risk Areas and transition reports that assess key cross-cutting management issues and agency-specific issues. For 2008, GAO will likely continue its High Risk list and reprise its “21st Century Challenges” report, but may not publish a separate series of transition reports. It will likely provide a series of short issue briefs to the incoming transition team, Congress, and appointees based on what it has found in its reviews over the years and its advice on improvements the new Administration may want to undertaken.

House and Senate government oversight committees. These committees publish the Plum Book and historically the House committee develops a report on the state of management in the federal government based on reviews of GAO and inspector general reports.

* * * *

Since this is getting to be a bit long, I’ll continue the inventory in my next blog entry with the academic and other groups. Meanwhile, your additions and revisions are welcome!