Posts Tagged ‘Government Executive’

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!

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!

Will UK Government Reforms Inspire Obama?

July 22, 2009

Union JackSome of the initiatives undertaken in the early days of the Clinton-Gore reinventing government initiative were inspired by reforms underway in Britain. This included customer service standards, performance contracts, audited financial statements. That might well happen again! Prime Minister Gordon Brown has released his government’s latest round of reform initiatives, entitled: “Working Together.” Some may inspire potential initiatives by the Obama Administration.

The British reform efforts, begun in 1997, have moved to a new stage.  Brown says they now face two challenges: “how do we ensure [public servants] who deliver public services can respond in new and innovative ways to the diverse personal needs of those they serve?  And, how can we ensure that the quality, sense of personal touch, and responsiveness that exists in the best of public and private sector practices is available to all users of public services?”

He said that the earlier phases of reform entailed setting clear national standards and targets to drive performance, and now – that services are “repaired and rebuilt” – the next phase is to drive change from within the civil service and from citizens by providing more “freedom, flexibility and incentives at the front line to push progress.”  This will mean fewer (but sharper) targets and standards and “new freedoms for front-line staff and institutions  . . .coupled with greater choice and diversity for citizens.”

The British reform is organized around three principles:

Empowering citizens.  Put people first by placing power in the hands of those who use the services by personalizing services and providing greater choice by “democratizing information.”  This will rely on “an information revolution to enable parents, patients and citizens to share information and experiences on the performance of schools, hospitals and police forces.”  While citizens can access other people’s reviews on Amazon or eBay, “we do not yet have systematic access to other people’s experiences when choosing” among public services (e.g., nursing homes, hospitals, schools). 

“We are ushering in a new world of accountability in which parents, patients and local communities shape the services they receive, ensuring all our public services respond not simply to the hand of government, but to the voice of local people.”  This includes “open-source, real tie data on the performance of services” and having the ability to provide feedback to these services and share comments with other citizens.

Ensuring a new professionalism.  Provide front-line professionals and local service deliverers with the space, the skills, and the power to respond.  Boost skills and attract “the brightest and best into our public services. . . “ and give “front-line workers the power to identify and cut unnecessary bureaucracy, and the support they need to innovate and improve services.”  . . . this certainly sounds a lot like what the Gore Reinventing Government initiative attempted to do with its streamlined waiver process!

Providing strategic leadership.  The white paper offered a lot of specifics around what government might do to make government more strategic. It focuses on creating a government that “leads an effective system where empowered users, incentives, and accountabilities drive improvement.”  This means providing more information, technology tools, and opportunities to “foster a dialogue about public services and policy with citizens and professionals.”  Specifics include:

  • Focusing on delivering 30 medium-term objectives via Public Service Agreements.
  • Ensuring transparency that delivers accessible and useful information on the performance of services and outcomes they achieve based on the principles of open information, open innovation, open discussion, and open feedback.
  • Increasing civil service accountability and performance via simpler, more transparent departmental performance assessments, better assessing departmental capabilities, and improving the quality of leadership and management.
  • Driving improved productivity and efficiency by, for example, streamlining back-office functions, shared service centers, asset sales, strategic sourcing, etc.
  • Transforming mission-focused systems via “public value program” projects.
  • Fostering innovation by launching a Public Service Innovation Lab to incubate radical innovations that address long-term challenges;  by harnessing the innovation of citizens via better feedback and a stronger voice in how services are run;  and by engaging front-line public servants in service redesign to cut waste and improve services.

The Obama Administration is still building its reform agenda, according to a recent article by Government Executive’s Elizabeth Newell, “Obama Performance Agenda Takes Shape.”  In fact, some of the themes in the British approach seem to be reflected already. But it might be worth looking a bit more into some of their ideas!

Performance Management Advice: Build on Foundation

July 10, 2009

Last week, another consortium of good government proponents released a report, “Building a Better Government Performance System: Recommendations to the Obama Administration.”  Sponsored by the Accenture Institute for Public Service Value, the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, and OMB Watch, the report reflects the results of a workshop they hosted last year as their public service contribution to the transition effort.

The resulting report has both principles and recommendations to the Obama Administration on how it might best move forward on its management initiative “Putting Performance First.”  Robert Brodsky, with Government Executive, characterized the bottom line of the report as “Groups Warn Against Reinventing the Wheel on Management Reform,” which is actually a big step forward!

Principles:

  • Enhance the public’s right to know how well government programs work
  • Strengthen leadership and accountability from top to bottom
  • Modify, don’t trash, current systems
  • Re-balance the roles of OMB and federal agencies
  • Improve performance and accountability with positive reinforcement
  • Seek input from outside stakeholders

Recommendations:

  • Reform the implementation of the OMB Program Assessment Rating Tool and the Government Performance and Results Act by “developing ownership throughout agencies over performance measurement and reporting.”
  • Promote leadership and accountability by having leader focus on results and ensuring federal employees buy into the performance system.
  • Foster policy innovation and ownership with the use of positive reinforcement and an emphasis on improvement, not punishment.
  • Balance the roles of OMB and federal agencies by engaging agencies, and agency performance improvement officers, in program assessments and making OMB’s performance activities more transparent.
  • Engage outside stakeholders in providing feedback on program performance as well as linking performance reviews to the congressional budget process.

Some of these recommendations had been made in earlier reports (see GAO and IBM Center), but the good news is that the Administration seems to be committed to taking action on a number of them.

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.”

Performance Management: Obama Style

June 16, 2009

People have been asking me:  What’s the Obama performance management agenda?  I keep saying, “you’ll have to wait until his chief performance officer gets on board.”

Well, that may be true in some respects, but the agenda is steadily being fleshed out.  The President’s FY 2010 budget, according to Federal Times, laid out a set of specifics that agencies will have to develop in the coming months:

• Establish a comprehensive measurement system to link programs with agency and governmentwide performance goals.

• Reform program assessments to report on and explain performance trends, risks and improvement plans.

• Identify agency officials who will ensure performance improvement plans work.

• Revamp the Bush administration’s ExpectMore.gov to make performance data agencies submit easily accessible to the public, Congress and other stakeholders.

• Launch a governmentwide research program to compare the effectiveness of different program strategies to ensure programs achieve their goals.

And last week, the Office of Management and Budget released guidance to agencies in developing their FY 2011 budget and performance plans.  There, it said “Over the next several months, OMB also will work with Congress, interagency management councils, experts in Federal management policy, Federal employees, and other key stakeholders to craft a broad management and performance framework” that will address both presidential priorities as well as long-standing management challenges.

The guidance went on to require agencies to identify, by July 31st, a set of “high-priority performance goals” where there will be “regular reviews of the progress agencies are making.”  The guidance offers criteria for what the goals should look like and directs the Performance Improvement Council to work together to develop a common template for their agencies to report their goals and measures of progress.

NOTE: It’s interesting how this OMB guidance memo was described by different media outlets.  The memo covered several topics and different media covered different aspects.  Government Executive’s Elizabeth Newell covered the performance element; Federal Times’ Stephen Losey focused on the budget element; the Washington Post’s Joe Davidson emphasized the hiring reform element; and Federal Computer Week’s Alice Lipowicz highlights the memo’s emphasis of IT investment goals around transparency and collaboration.

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.”

Human Capital is Out, People Are In

June 2, 2009

PeopleJohn Berry, the new director of the Office of Personnel Management, seems to want to change the conversation!  He doesn’t like the term “human capital,” but does like the term “people.”  Maybe the General Services Agency’s the new star agency, since they already have a Chief People Officer!

But more substantively, he’s beginning to outline the Obama Administration’s people policies, according to Government Executive’s Alyssa Rosenberg.  He has defined three near-term priorities and three longer-term priorities:

Near Term priorities, which he has assigned to action teams within the Office of Personnel Management, to:

  • simplify the hiring process
  • design more ambitious work-life balance programs, and
  • improve veterans’ preference programs.

Long Term priorities, which will likely require large scale study and stakeholder involvement:

  • Pay reform, which will focus on the need to:
    • create a fair and credible performance appraisal and accountability system
    • develop training that would prepare employees for promotion and support them throughout their careers; and
    • establish genuine parity between federal and private-sector salaries for employees in comparable occupations.
  • increasing the diversity of the federal workforce, and
  • controlling costs in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

According to Federal Times’ Stephen Losey, Berry says he met with President Obama to outline his agenda and the President told him he could pursue pay parity only if he can put in place a credible employee performance management system.

In tandem to Berry’s agenda, Congress is also taking some action on personnel issues.  A Senate committee has voted out legislation on expanding telework and allowing temporary hires of retired federal employees in critical jobs, without having their pensions reduced.  The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe notes, in “Congress to Consider a Flurry of Bills Aimed at Federal Workers,” that this may be the result of a friendlier climate on the Hill toward federal workers, but “Some senior Republican staffers say the flurry of legislative activity is more a signal of growing discontent on Capitol Hill with a government hiring-and-pay system that lags far behind the private sector than the manifestation of a friendlier political climate for federal employees.”

In either case, the actions of both the Administration and the Hill will likely contribute to Obama’s goal of “making government cool again.”

Survey on Transparency in Government

April 10, 2009

The current issue of Government Executive magazine has a terrific article by Andrew Noyes, “Behind the Curtain: What Transparency Really Means,” which explains why Obama’s Transparency and Open Government Directive will be challenging to draft and implement.

 

Noye’s article raises key questions:  “What exactly is government transparency? How is it interpreted by those inside government who need to execute it? How will it be measured? What will it look like to the public?”

 

He begin to answer some of these questions with results of a recent survey of senior government managers that shows a clear disconnect between what government employees may see as transparent vs. how citizens and advocacy groups may view transparency:

 

·         nearly 90 percent said they viewed transparency as providing facts and figures on project results and findings.

·         about 74 percent said open government also included providing information such as policy rationales on how agencies went about making the decisions that they did, and

·         67 percent said open government also included making data ready for analysis from nongovernmental groups.

 

What managers said was not part of their definition of transparency was supplying names of those involved in top-level policy decisions (only 45 percent said those should be made public) and minutes from meetings (26 percent).

 

Noyes observes: “How transparency plays out will have significant political ramifications for Obama, say academics and government technology specialists. If the administration gets transparency right, which means it succeeds in opening the policymaking process and government operations in a way that the public perceives as credible and holds agencies accountable, it will forever change standard operating procedure in Washington.”

 

The results of the Government Executive survey will be discussed in a webinar on Tuesday (April 14) at 2 p.m., if you’re interested in learning more.