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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Performance management likely will get a makeover in the next administration

Improving government performance is not exactly the kind of topic that packs 20,000-seat stadiums and stirs voters into a frenzy. So it's not surprising that the leading candidates for the White House generally discuss performance management only in terms of broader policy goals, such as responding more efficiently to disasters or mandating that all large federal contracts are competitively bid.

While specifics may be lacking on the campaign trail, the challenges and nuances of performance management will be unavoidable by the time the 44th president takes office -- and they could go a long way in determining the next administration's success, suggested professionals in the field.

Among the first priorities for the new government will be what to do with the Bush administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool, which uses the answers to a simple questionnaire to rate the effectiveness of all federal programs.

While critics suggest PART is a politically biased tool designed to promote the administration's ideological policies, most agree that the system itself has provided a great deal of useful data and appears to have improved the performance of hundreds of programs previously unable to demonstrate results.

And while the next administration may change the questionnaire or scrap the program's name, PART's increased focus on critical evaluations and program results will be difficult to dismiss completely, said Jon Desenberg, senior policy director for the Performance Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

Desenberg directs the Transitions in Governance Project, a coalition of major federal organizations that is developing management recommendations for the next administration. The group, which has contacted the campaigns of all three remaining presidential hopefuls, also plans to issue a white paper on performance management recommendations this summer.

Those suggestions likely will include eliminating the subjectivity of program examiners, developing common performance outcomes across federal agencies, and expanding the boundaries of government to include state and local officials, as well as the private sector.

The next president, he said, also must move the proverbial performance management ball so the goal goes beyond measuring ability to measuring results.

Despite the improved transparency, agency heads rarely apply this performance data in their larger decision-making process, Desenberg said.

Porter Shomo, director of Cognos Federal, an IBM company that provides the government with performance management solutions, said government has a "rear view mirror" approach to program data in which the focus is on how things were done in the past, rather than on how to accomplish them in the future.

Changing that approach, he said, will involve navigating one of the most controversial aspects of performance management: tying program performance to the annual budget appropriations process.

-Robert Brodsky, GovExec.com

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