Administration unveils targeted management agenda

A strapped military health care system, error-prone student aid programs, and substandard public housing are some of the specific federal management problems President Bush pledged to correct in his management agenda released Saturday. Bush unveiled his management agenda during his weekly radio address Saturday, describing 14 initiatives designed to create a government that is focused on results and is more accessible to its citizens. While all of the government-wide initiatives in the agenda have been public for months, the management plan included nine new agency-specific reforms.

The plan also described two pieces of management legislation that the White House will send to Congress after Labor Day: a bill requiring agencies to budget for the full cost of all federal pensions and health benefits, and the Freedom to Manage Initiative, which would let more agencies experiment with pay banding and performance bonuses. Crafted by officials at the Office of Management and Budget, the management agenda sets a baseline for the Bush government reform effort, much like the original report of the National Performance Review did for Vice President Gore's reinventing government campaign. But unlike many previous reports on federal management, Bush's 71-page agenda is limited to a few major initiatives. This precise focus, along with a strong personal commitment from President Bush, sets the Bush management plan apart from its predecessors, according to Sean O'Keefe, the deputy director of OMB. "We have ownership and we will implement [the agenda]," said O'Keefe at a Friday press briefing on the agenda. "These are things we really intend to do." The first half of the plan summarized the five governmentwide initiatives that administration officials have previously described: human capital management, competitive sourcing, improved financial performance, expanding e-government, and integrating performance data with the budget. Although the plan did not offer much new information on these goals, it did announce that OMB will require quarterly financial audits from certain agencies. This new requirement will only apply to agencies that have consistently failed to get clean audits, according to O'Keefe. "It's not an overall [requirement]," said O'Keefe. Rather, agencies on the General Accounting Office's "high-risk" list for financial management are likely targets for the quarterly audit requirement, he said. GAO's high-risk list identifies government agencies and programs vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. The second part of the plan outlined the administration's nine program initiatives. These programs were chosen because of their presence on GAO's high-risk list or because they involve multiple agencies and require more attention, said O'Keefe. They are:

  • Faith-Based and Community Initiative: The administration will seek to remove barriers that prevent faith-based and community groups from receiving federal grants.
  • Privatization of Military Housing: The White House will look to the private sector to upgrade the military's inadequate housing.
  • Better Research and Development Investment Criteria: The Energy Department and OMB will develop performance criteria for research and development projects. Energy will not subsidize corporations that can fund their own projects and will reduce the number of programs that directly benefit a single firm, according to the plan.
  • Elimination of Fraud and Error in Student Aid Programs and Deficiencies in Financial Management: The Education Department has already launched an overhaul of its accounting systems. The administration will study ways to cut down on overpayments to student aid recipients.
  • Housing and Urban Development Management and Performance: The administration will work to resolve a variety of "chronic management weaknesses" that doom HUD to "harm the people and communities it was meant to serve." HUD will realign staff to improve oversight of contractors who manage public housing and to cut down on processing and other errors that sometimes cause residents of public housing to pay excessive rent charges.
  • Broadened Health Insurance Coverage Through State Initiatives: The Department of Health and Human Services will encourage more partnerships with states to administer Medicaid.
  • A "Right-Sized" Overseas Presence: Agencies have sent as many as 60,000 employees to work at State Department facilities overseas, but State lacks a system for tracking the full cost of such deployments. The administration will develop a system to capture these full costs and devise a process for estimating overseas staffing needs.
  • Reform of Food Aid Programs: The Departments of State, Agriculture, and the U.S. Agency for International Development all administer international food aid dollars, leading to duplication and inefficiency. OMB will perform an interagency review of all U.S. food aid activities and will explore more efficient ways to administer food aid.
  • Coordination of Veterans Affairs and Defense Programs and Systems: While approximately 600,000 military retirees have health coverage from both the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the two departments do little to coordinate their operations. The VA will improve data on participants in its plans and will try to increase data sharing with the Defense Department. The administration will also seek to let military retirees select a health care program through annual open enrollment seasons.
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