Posts Tagged ‘Robert Brodsky’

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!

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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.”

Bogged Down Appointment Process

March 4, 2009

As predicted months ago in earlier blogs, the appointments process is going slowly (see blog postings from 2007, 2008a, 2008b, 2008c).  The White House says that appointments are faster than previous administrations, though.  According to a Washington Post article, as of this morning, out of about 850 top appointments, 71 appointees have been named, 41 nominated, and 28 confirmed.  For perspective, President Bush had a total of 29 confirmed after his first 100 days in office.

 

There are some holdups as a result of Senate actions:  two science-related appointees are being held up over an unrelated issue involving Cuba.  But most of the holdups are occurring in the executive-branch vetting process.  According to The Hill, “Obama Tightens Appointments After Gaffes.”   And it has!  The Washington Post article says that only 6 nominations went forward in February because of several nominations that ran into trouble.

As the Washington Post article describes: “People who are offered a job for the roughly 800 executive posts that require Senate confirmation receive an e-mail from the White House a day later congratulating them and instructing them to fill out three long forms: a comprehensive FBI questionnaire; a Form 278 from the Office of Government Ethics; and a list of questions from the relevant Senate committees. . . .

“The nominees are then questioned by a team of committee investigators led by former IRS agents hired by the Senate Finance Committee to perform what some describe as the equivalent of a full-fledged IRS audit before their hearings can be scheduled. . . .

“One nominee was asked about a $13 receipt. Another described the vetting as particularly intense, saying an FBI agent spent weeks conducting an investigation dating back 15 or 20 years, talking to the appointee’s friends, neighbors and people he served with on nonprofit boards. But the nominee understands why the process demands such scrutiny.”

The concern, according to Peter Baker in a New York Times story, “Obama Team Has Billions to Spend, But Few Ready to Do It,” is that policymakers are not yet in place in departments and agencies.  Government Executive writer, Robert Brodsky, says agencies are moving ahead, appointing temporary officials to lead the implementation of the stimulus bill.

The Boston Globe in “Vacancies Abound in Crucial US Posts,” quoted Michael Casserly, executive director of Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based coalition of the nation’s largest urban public school systems, as saying: “The fact that the current staff has added responsibilities certainly puts more pressure on them, but they seem to be rising to the occasion,” . . .  “I’m not worried about it at the moment. If the same situation existed in six months, I probably would be worried.”

Brookings Launches Transition Website

November 10, 2008

The Brookings Institution says it has been providing advice to newly-elected presidents for the past 90 years. For this transition, it has assembled a multi-faceted set of web-based resources to assist the Obama Transition Team.


The project director, Darrell West, says Brookings will host a dozen forums related to the transition. The first was held last week. According to Government Executive’s Robert Brodsky, the first forum, held last week, hosted a bipartisan panel of political veterans who agreed that Obama’s initial agenda should be targeted to stabilizing the financial markets and curbing the recession.


The website has a dozen policy-related memos to the president-elect in areas such as foreign affairs, energy, and the tax system.


Stephen Hess’s open memo of advice in the Washington Post to President-Elect Obama is based on his new “Workbook for the President-Elect.”


In addition, the site will post weekly podcasts with updates.

Watchdog Reforms

October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Last week, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO for short) released a set of government reform recommendations.  POGO is a non-profit committed to improving government accountability by exposing corruption and official misconduct.  So naturally, its recommendations focus on creating more government openness, especially in its contracting operations.  These include:

• Place online all new government information that is not exempted by law (for example, for privacy or security purposes).
• Reducing the use of “classified” designations.
• Publish online all new and existing contract and grant awards above $100,000.
• Act on the congressionally mandated database of information on the integrity and performance of contractors.
• Reinvigorate the independence of Inspectors General to seek out waste, fraud, and abuse.

Refreshingly, POGO also offers a series of recommendations around improved government effectiveness, including:

• Review each agency to determine their effectiveness and offer recommended improvements – or elimination.
• Prevent problematic outsourcing of work that is inherently governmental.
• Make civil service pay competitive with the private sector.

According to Government Executive’s Robert Brodsky, in “Watchdog Unveils Government Reform Priorities for Next Administration,” POGO executive director Danielle Brian said: “I sense we are going to have a giant culture change, no matter who wins, in the direction of these kinds of reforms.”