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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

OMB finally details broad management doctrine

The Obama administration details its broad management approach in the fiscal 2011 budget request, focusing on three typical areas: outcomes, communication and best practices.
But it's the way the Office of Management and Budget plans to meet these three goals says a lot about where agencies are heading over the next three years.

"The whole performance management approach described the budget lays out a promising and more aggressive approach to performance management in the sense that it is more coherent and comprehensive than the past administration," says Jonathan Breul, executive director for the IBM Center for the Business of Government and a former OMB official. "We know when leaders focus on a few priority goals, we see tremendous performance improvements. That is what they are doing with the high performance goals."

OMB last summer asked agencies to choose 3-to-8 high performance, high priority goals. In the budget request, the White House lists those agency objectives.

Now the administration is taking it one step farther by requiring bureaus to detail similar high-priority goals that align with their department's broader objectives. All of these program measures will be placed on a Federal Performance Portal. The portal also will link to the growing number of cross-agency dashboards-cybersecurity, improper payments, procurement, research and development, federal workforce and information technology.
Breul says this approach will help motivate employees.

"Unlike the previous administration that had ratings and scores and were taking assessments and grades, this administration will shift subtly, but importantly, to focus on improvement and progress," he says. "How programs and policies are doing over time can be a great employee motivator. There is a lot to be encouraged here."

Breul is not alone in his assessment.

Robert Tobias, the director of the Key Executive Leadership programs at the American University in Washington, says OMB is asking for a clearer definition of outcome measures and holding all levels accountable for achieving them.

He adds that many times the focus is on creating public policy, but not seeing it fully implemented.

"This is a focus on implementation," he says. "Secretaries of the departments will be asked about and challenged to meet performance objectives like never before."

Robert Shea, who ran the President's Management Agenda for the Bush administration and now is director in Grant Thornton's global public sector, says the Obama administration's approach forces agencies to figure out where they really need to improve and accelerate performance in those areas.

"Their approach is built on the Comstat models seen at state and local governments and a little in the federal government," he says. "This is where they analyze data and discuss the outcomes with those who are accountable. Their approach shows real promise in the way they have constructed things. They could see short term improvements, which are necessary to get people to continue moving forward."

The administration also wants to create problem solving networks. Using Web 2.0 tools, the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) will coordinate groups to solve similar governmentwide problems. The PIC also will look to private sector, academia and non-government organizations for help in solving issues.

Shea adds that relying on the PIC will help bring agencies with similar problems together.

"This is consistent with whole initiative where they are bending over backwards to make sure these requirements actually fit the need or use for the agency," Shea says.

The administration also plans to fund some of the performance improvement efforts. OMB has allocated $100 million for 17 agencies to pay for evaluations of programs or training staff to do the evaluations.

The experts say while $100 million is not a lot of money, it does show how serious the administration is taking this effort.

-Jason Miller, FederalNewsRadio.com

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