Posts Tagged ‘OMB’

High Performance Government

May 11, 2009

People have been asking me when I was going to blog on the President’s new budget.  I wasn’t interested in jumping in on the program cuts, etc. because everyone else covered that with more depth.  But I was interested in seeing the outline for the management elements in the budget.  That was released today as a short chapter in the Analytical Perspectives segment of the budget, entitled:  “Building a High-Performance Government.” 

 The chapter is at a fairly high level, but outlines six themes:

 Putting Performance First.  The new Administration wants to replace the OMB Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) with a new “Performance Improvement and Analysis Framework.”  The PART helped establish performance measures across federal programs, the budget notes, but “it has been less successful in encouraging the actual use of performance measurement as a performance improvement tool.”  The new approach will “switch the focus from grading programs as successful or unsuccessful to requiring agency leaders to set priority goals, demonstrate progress in achieving goals, and explain performance trends.”  Cross-program and cross-agency goals would receive as much or more focus as program-specific ones.  These themes are consistent with a recent IBM Center report by Shelley Metzenbaum!

Ensuring Responsible Spending of Recovery Act Funds.  The emphasis on transparency and accountability that has been consistently hammered on in recent weeks is repeated here.  It reinforces the management focus being placed on the Act’s implementation.

Transforming the Federal Workforce.  The budget notes that almost half the existing workforce will retire the coming decade (with almost one-third retiring in the first term of the Obama Administration).  It notes “In filling these positions, it is essential to restore the prestige of public service and reform the recruitment process. . . “  It continues: “The federal hiring process also needs to be reformed” and this will be led by the Office of Personnel Management.  The budget say greater investments need to be made in the existing workforce and agencies “should make greater use of management rotations both within and between agencies” to better develop leaders.

Managing Across Sectors.  This section is vague but promising . . . . “In the new management agenda, the focus will be on determining and then implementing government services in a manner that provides the best value for taxpayers” by “acquiring needed resources from the private and nonprofit sectors, and collaborating across levels of government.”

Reforming Federal Contracting and Acquisition.  This section reiterates President Obama’s March 4th memo on reforming government contracting, which instructs OMB issue new guidance on: (`) reviewing all existing contracts to determine if they are appropriate, (2) maximize the use of competition in the contracting process, (3) use different types of contracts appropriately, (4) improve the capacity of the acquisition workforce, and (5) clarify when outsourcing is and is not appropriate.

Transparency, Technology, and Participatory Democracy.  This section reiterates the elements of the January 21st presidential memo, committing “to innovate in providing better levels of transparency and openness, and in devising new tools to let citizens have their voices heard by those who serve them.”

As noted, most of these elements have already been described in earlier White House announcements.  However, putting these six elements in one place, together, finally give an outline of the potential priorities for the Obama Administration’s management initiatives.


Using Czars and Commissions to Govern

March 20, 2009

Happy first day of Spring! 


Yesterday, the Office of Management and Budget announced that Ed DeSeve has been appointed a special advisor to oversee the implementation of the Recovery Act.  DeSeve, a former deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, will work with Vice President Biden and his Recovery Act task force to ensure the government gets intended results, for the best value.


There have been several media articles commenting on the increased use of White House “czars” to lead different initiatives for the Obama Administration.  For example, the National Journal’s Amy Harder, raised concerns about a possible “executive power grab.”


There are different ways of looking at this.  This blog was launched two years ago, in part, to track the evolution of how we govern.  The initial post asked readers to comment on Professor Don Kettl’s provocative paper (which is now a book, “The Next Government of the United States”). Well, now it is the Next Government.  The traditional “Vending Machine” model of government that he describes doesn’t work any longer for the challenges we’re facing.  And Obama is adopting the new tools Kettl predicted would be needed to act boldly in an ever-changing environment.  But how do you keep track of a government that works across organizational boundaries?


The old approach was to reorganize government.  The new approach is to work with networks.  But how do you make sense of the dozens of connections?  Long-time network theorists, Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps, have been puzzling over this in large corporations.  They’ve turned their attention to government.  Here’s how they’ve created a new “virtual” government organization chart (be patient, it takes a few moments for the software to load, and no, it’s not a virus).  It’s based on the published organization charts of agencies  . . . you can move your cursor to different agencies and you’ll see the connections between organizations recalibrate from that node’s perspective.


While that’s a neat visual, how can you use it “for real?”  Well, Lipnack and Stamps constructed a sample around the programs funded under the Recovery Act.  You can theoretically (once the data are available via the website) trace a grant or contract from the program all the way down to the recipient, and all the intervening connections.  The paths for accountability become clearer with these kinds of graphical depictions.  Maps “on the fly” like this can help both citizens and oversight organizations better understand what is happening – without having to formally reorganize government agencies.


Allowing greater agility in how the executive branch is governed, such as through task forces and other temporary structures, can allow quicker responsiveness.  Providing greater transparency and graphical visualization of complex information are new tools for providing public understanding and accountability.  And it seems President Obama is willing to use them!

Fast Action on Stimulus Implementation

March 12, 2009

recovery1The Obama Administration recognizes the importance of the Recovery Act and doing a credible job in its implementation.  The initial emphasis was on accountability to ensure the monies were not ill-spent. 

President Obama emphasized this in his meetings with both governors and mayors. In speaking to state governors on February 23, President Obama said:


“. . . I’m announcing today that I’m asking my Vice President, Joe Biden, to oversee our administration’s implementation efforts.  Beginning this week, Joe will meet regularly with key members of my Cabinet to make sure our efforts are not just swift, but also efficient and effective.  Joe is also going to work closely with you, our nation’s governors, as well as our mayors and everyone else involved in this effort, to keep things on track.  And the fact that I’m asking my Vice President to personally lead this effort shows how important it is for our country and our future to get this right, and I thank him for his willingness to take on this critical task. In the coming weeks, we’re also going to appoint some of the nation’s best managers and public officials to work with the Vice President on this effort.”


He’s been known to call Vice President Biden the “sheriff,” in overseeing the Recovery Act.  There’s been a lot of emphasis on accountability, with the creation of and the creation of the Recovery Act Transparency Board, headed by Earl Devaney.


But it’s increasingly clear that accountability can’t be the primary emphasis.  Obama needs a “trail boss,” not a sheriff!  The Washington Post’s Alec MacGillis says this will be a chance for public servants to show government can work.


The lack of some key appointees has been part of the challenge.  The “normal” government would have seen the deputy director for management at OMB and the deputy secretaries taking the lead in implementing an initiative of this scale.  But these positions are still being filled.  So another approach is being used.


Today, Vice President Biden hosted a conference of state budet officials to describe progress so far on the Recovery Act’s implementation.  He said the President will announce new implementation rules tomorrow.


Here are some of the key pieces of the evolving governance structure that have been developed so far:


Vice President’s Office.  Vice President Biden convened his first meeting on February 24th with an emphasis on transparency and accountability.  But the meeting quickly shifted to implementation, with a high concern over whether the contracting workforce can handle the anticipated increase in their workload (for example, the General Services Administration’s budget is increasing by 1,130 percent, without much of an increase in contract staffing).


Office of Management and Budget.  OMB has taken an early lead by publishing initial guidance, mainly for the reporting requirements in the Act.  Government Executive published a helpful “Economic Stimulus Checklist” to keep the various reporting requirements in line.  Agencies’ first weekly reports on the Recovery Act were due March 3rd.


OMB is also flagging potential problems, such as yesterday’s announcement that the governmentwide portal for grants applications,, could be overwhelmed if steps are not taken to ensure it has the capacity to process the number of expected grants applications.  Agencies have until March 13th to assess their grants management systems.


Office of Personnel Management.  OPM knows that getting the right people in place is going to be a key element of success. It has been pressed to delegate certain authorities to agencies, and in response convened a governmentwide meeting to work out the details.


Agency Recovery Act Coordinators.  The White House asked agencies to designate a point of contact for their agencies.  Lacking political appointees in many agencies, this started slow, but agencies are now making progress. For example, Interior Secretary Salazar named his choice recently.  Agency finance officers are seeing major challenges, as well, according to Government Executive’s Katherine Peters, who says agency chief financial officers are facing staff shortages already, and have a growing workload from other programs, as well.


State Recovery Act Coordinators.  States are designating Recovery Act coordinators as well, to serve not only as a counterpart to their federal coordinators but also to work across their own state governments.  States are creating their own Recovery Act websites as well that are being linked to the federal site.  These sites are in response to the reporting requirements in the Recovery Act.


External Efforts to Monitor Progress. External groups are also evolving to monitor the implementation of the Recovery Act.  For example, StimulusWatch is sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation.

Obama Priority: Contract Reform

March 5, 2009

President Obama made a number of campaign commitments regarding the federal government’s contracting system, including more competition, more fixed-price contracts, and reducing government’s dependence on contractors.


With the passage of the Recovery Act, what’s become clear is that it can’t be effectively implemented without either more contract officers and/or fixing the complex procurement process.  This issue has quickly jumped to the top of the agenda.  Not only was government contracting a topic at the President’s Fiscal Responsibility Summit, it has begun to gain greater reach. 


Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, editorialized about the need for more, better trained, contract officers in “Federal Contracting System in Serious Disrepair.’  He says President Obama “should avoid a knee-jerk reaction of arbitrary cutbacks in contracting or automatic increases in the size of the federal career civil service.”


Yesterday, the President announced a contract reform initiative.  The directive asks OMB to lead a process to develop guidelines by July 1, 2009 to be used to re-assess all existing contracts to determine their usefulness.  In addition, OMB will lead a related process to develop guidelines by September 30, 2009 that would (1) govern the use of sole-source contracts, (2) define appropriate oversight of different contract types, (3) assess the capacity of agency contract staffs, and (4) clarify when outsourcing of services is not appropriate.


The media picked up the Obama contracting initiative as a “waste, fraud, and abuse” story, but the issue is really much more about governmental capacity, not malicious behavior.  For example, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing today where Allan Burman, former OMB administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy testified on the contracting community’s ability to help implement the Recovery Act.  He clearly defined the challenge: “I would particularly like to call the Committee’s attention to the need for agencies to be fully prepared to define requirements and desired results early in the planning process, and to have sufficient and well-qualified acquisition resources [i.e., people!] in place to manage the procurements in an timely and effective manner.”


What’s not clear is how contracting officers will handle a record amount of new spending under the Recovery Act, with stricter requirements than existing contracts, and then comply with new OMB guidance to review all existing contracts to determine their usefulness!

Advice to Chief Performance Officer

January 29, 2009

In both his campaign and in his inaugural address, President Barack Obama placed an emphasis on government performance and results. One commentator said that Obama will likely govern less through ideology and more through the pragmatic use of fact-based decision processes.

In an initial step, he said he would appoint the government’s first “chief performance officer” who would report directly to him. He named Nancy Killefer to this role in early January. Killefer’s background is well-suited to the role. She served as an assistant secretary for management in the Clinton Administration and was most recently in charge of McKinsey Consulting’s federal initiatives. She was also dual-hatted with the job of deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This means she’ll have the institutional leverage of OMB and be a Senate-confirmed appointee, not just a White House staffer.

Since the role is a new one, she’ll have plenty of opportunity to shape its direction.

A new report by Shelley Metzenbaum to the IBM Center for The Business of Government offers a framework for shaping the role of the chief performance officer. In Performance Management Recommendations for the New Administration, Dr. Metzenbaum examines the evolution of the development and use of performance goals and measures over the past two presidential administrations and offers insights and recommendations to the incoming Obama administration. These insights and recommendations are based on extensive interviews with key stakeholders in agencies, Congress, OMB, and outside interest groups, as well as her own experience as a federal executive.

• Dr. Metzenbaum’s interviews revealed that even after 16 years of efforts, there still is no comprehensive way for the public or Congress to see how the federal government is performing and what agency goals and program targets are..

She concludes that despite reams of performance material produced in response to federal requirements, “it is still remarkably difficult to find meaningful government performance information . . . because too little attention has been paid to communicating targets and trends and too much to communicating the ‘percentage of targets met’ as the primary indicator of overall performance.”

Based on the findings from her interviews and a premise that performance information should be primarily used to improve performance, not just create accountability, Dr. Metzenbaum created a set of fairly discrete recommendations for the new administration. She targeted her recommendations to the key actors on performance management in the executive branch:

The President should:

• Clearly identify presidential and cabinet priority targets, assign responsibility for them, and meet at least quarterly with cabinet members to assess progress.
• Create a Chief Performance Officer and a White House performance unit.
• Run goal-focused, data-driven meetings, similar to those used in “performance-stats” run by states and localities.

The Office of Management and Budget should:

• Direct agencies and programs to set targets and the direction of performance trends for key indicators.
• Continue, but revise the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). (note: the new Obama White House website retains the PART rating reports from the Bush Administration).
• Re-design the existing federal performance portal to make it easier to find performance trends, targets, and other related information.
• Facilitate cross-agency learning about performance improvement and analysis.

Cabinet secretaries and agency heads should:

• Review the performance trends and existing targets and revise to reflect the new Administration’s priorities.
• Run their own goal-focused, data-driven meetings.
• Create agency web-based performance portals and link them to their agency’s home pages.

The Performance Improvement Council – comprised largely of career agency officials — should lead a process to revise the PART so as to shift the emphasis from program rating to performance improvement.

Dr. Metzenbaum observes that two simple tools – goals and measurement – are among the most powerful mechanisms available to a President to influence the vast scope of federal agencies and programs. However, they are useless unless used. Her recommendations should provide a roadmap to the new Administration and the new chief performance office on how to leverage the existing plentiful supply of goals and performance information in new ways that get results Americans care about.

Transparency and Open Government: Obama Style

January 27, 2009

As one of his first acts in office, President Obama signed a memorandum, “Transparency and Open Government.”  The memorandum directs the yet-to-be-announced Chief Technology Officer to lead a 120-day study on ways to act upon three principles outlined in the memo:


Government should be transparent: agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online, and solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.


Government should be participatory:  agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and provide their collective expertise and information.


Government should be collaborative:  agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across levels of government, and with nonprofits, businesses and individuals.  Agencies should also solicit public feedback to assess how well they are collaborating and to identify new ways to cooperate.


The study, to be coordinated with the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the yet-to-be-named administrator of the General Services Administration, is to recommend an Open Government Directive that agencies would implement.


It was unclear from the memorandum when the 120-day study period would begin.  If you know, please respond in the comment box below!

Where Are the Keys?

January 16, 2009

Earlier today, outgoing deputy director for management Clay Johnson sent me (and others) a note that was equivalent to leaving behind the keys to the office.


In his note, Johnson said every agency has performance goals, plans for accomplishing those goals by a specific date, senior managers designated who are responsible for implementing the plans to get these goals done, and a system of transparency behind all of this so outside groups can hold them accountable.


So here’s the list of web links to all of this.  The new team will inherit the keys.  Do they  fit the new door, or did someone penny lock it?  (we’ll find out on Tuesday when we’ll see which of these sites remain up and which are taken down by the National Archives as Bush Administration officials records).

Performance, government-wide


Performance, by Program


Management Reform Areas

  • Human Capital
  • Commercial Services Management
  • Financial Management
  • Electronic Government
  • Performance Improvement

Improper Payments


Real Property Management


Expanding Electronic Government


Improving Financial Performance


Security and Suitability Clearance Reform


Human Capital Survey


Government Financial Report


GAO High Risk areas

More Advice to New Appointees

January 8, 2009

Here’s some sage advice from a “pair who’ve been there.”  Tom Korologos was a former presidential advisor in Republican administrations; Ed DeSeve was Clinton’s deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.


In a piece for the Washington Post, “Obama Nominees, Take Note,” Korologos offers advice on how to successfully navigate a Senate confirmation hearing.  For example, he notes:  Hearings can be judged by the 80-20 rule. If the senators are speaking 80 percent of the time, you’re doing fine. If it’s 60-40, you are arguing with them. If it’s 50-50, you’ve blown it.”

DeSeve has a new book out, “The Presidential Appointee’s Handbook,” published by the Brookings Institution.  In a column on it for Government Executive magazine, he highlights the six competencies  he sees as especially important for top-level appointees.  These include: leading for results; managing change, speaking the same language (as your employees); leading others, leading yourself, and thinking globally.

Killefer as Performance Czarina

January 7, 2009

Following up on a campaign commitment to improve government performance, President-Elect Obama named Nancy Killefer as his first “chief performance officer.”  She will be located in the Office of Management and Budget and will also serve in role of deputy director for management at OMB.


In making his announcement, Obama said “this is among the most important appointments I will make.”  He noted that not only does the government have a budget deficit but also a deficit of accountability and trust.  This is the earliest that any new President has announced a leader of a government-wide reform effort.  For example, both Clinton and Bush made announcements in their first 100 days in office, but not during their transitions.


Killefer previously served as the Treasury’s chief operating officer under President Clinton and as managing director for McKinsey consulting company.  She remarked at her announcement that “there is an urgency to begin now,” and emphasized that government employees will be central to her efforts.


Following are some media story links:   New York Times.  Washington Post.  Washington Times. Government Executive.

And for some background, here’s a 2006 piece by Killefer on improving government productivity.

Transition Team Resource Guide

November 4, 2008

white-house-south-lawn By the end of the day, we’ll know whose transition team picks up the keys to the transition office in downtown Washington DC tomorrow.

(UPDATED: November 15, 2008).

The transition team itself will start to grow quickly.  Based on past history, it could range in size from 300 to over 1,000 members.  Most will be volunteers, some will be paid, few (if any) will be federal employees.  So, most won’t know their way around the federal government.  Here’s a quick resource guide:

The GSA Presidential Transition Website.  The General Services Administration is the designated administrative resource for the transition team.  This site provides basic background information on the transition and GSA’s role. 

The Presidential Transition Resources Directory.  This site is a joint effort between GSA and the National Archives to provide the transition team with baseline information about how the government works.  This will be the “go to” place for government information.

The Obama Transition Website.  Here is the Transition Team’s official website. —  It encourages visitors to contribute their impressions, a blog, information on the progress of the transition, and a place to submit interest in working in the Obama Administration.

The Plum Book.  The Senate worked with the Office of Personnel Management to develop this inventory of all policy-making and political appointments.  It will be the baseline for identifying where positions will be available, by agency.  It will become a hot item for all transition team staffers.

The Prune Book On-Line.  The non-partisan, non-profit Council for Excellence in Government has created a guide to a subset of 114 key jobs listed in the Plum Book.  It describes the challenges of what previous office-holders have faced in those positions (such as the head of the IRS) and what skills would be most useful to be successful in those jobs. 

Agency Performance Links.  The Office of Management and Budget created a useful “go to” webpage with every agency’s strategic plans, performance plans, performance reports, and program-level assessments.  A useful baseline of what’s going on!

Wiki Inventory of Think Tank Transition Efforts.  The 1105 Government Information Group has created a wiki inventory of what different think tanks and other groups are doing to provide insights and recommendations related to management improvements in government.

Political Appointee Roadmap.  The Council for Excellence in Government has created an interactive roadmap for potential political appointees.  It tailors a checklist of action steps to be taken, depending on whether you’re looking for an appointment for a Presidential Appointment with Senate Confirmation, or a lower-level Schedule C position. 

The Operator’s Manual for the New Administration. The IBM Center put together this manual to help incoming agency leaders navigate their way around their agency’s main management systems.  It can be helpful to transition team members, especially those in “parachute teams” visiting agencies, to frame a quick understanding of what’s going on.

Getting It Done:  A Guide for Government Executives.  Another IBM Center resource, this guide helps incoming agency leaders gain a quick understanding of how to get things done.  It can be a useful resource for prospective appointees so they can understand who the key stakeholders are that they’ll need to be dealing with, and initial steps they can take to be successful in their jobs.

White House Staff Guide.  Brad Patterson has updated his 2000 book that inventories office-by-office what goes on in the White House complex.  For anyone working in a White House, this is a detailed “how to” manual that provides a baseline for how it works today.  This 475-page book can be order from the Brookings Institution.

If there are other great links you think would be helpful to the transition team, let me know and I’ll add them here or in the wiki!