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6 Ways Obama's New Agenda Aims to Make Government Smarter

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In July, President Obama spoke about a new Management Agenda from the Administration.   With the release in late July of OMB Memorandum 13-17 on using evidence and innovation, the foundations of that Agenda are becoming clearer.  A summary of key elements in the Agenda follows, as well as thoughts on further areas for agencies to consider.

The President’s stated goal for management improvement is to drive “a smarter, quicker, and more responsive government”.  To that end, the new Management Agenda relies on a variety elements, some of which continue existing management initiatives and others which link to new approaches:

  1. Harnessing the power of technology to innovate improvements, much as the private sector has done.  This continues a longstanding management theme of looking to information technology as a vanguard for change in government, and enables more direct integration with citizens
  2. Allocating resources to programs and practices backed by strong evidence of effectiveness while trimming activities that evidence shows are not working well or duplicative.  Last week’s evidence memorandum furthers this endeavor and ties it to the budget process, more below.
  3. Leveraging open data, to allow new paths for citizens and businesses to interact with government in a more streamlined and less bureaucratic fashion.  Based on the Executive Order and OMB Memorandum promoting open data from the government, this allows the public to develop apps and tools that allow for direct interface with agencies – this can be a much more cost-effective way to deliver government services than through a large overhead operation.
  4. Partnering with industry, to bring new thinking and people to government.  This builds on the success of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program run by White House Chief Technology Officer.
  5. Continuing with common-sense proposals to streamline and realign agencies,especially when they are engaged in common missions.  While some of this work can be done through administrative means, true reorganization authority requires statutory change.
  6. Linking to existing data sources for a broader perspective on program performance.

With regard to the second point above -- how analysis can inform smarter planning and budgeting across programs -- Friday’s release is an important step forward.  This is reinforced by unprecedented breadth of the co-signers of Memorandum 13-17, who include the Directors of the OMB, the Domestic Policy Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, along with the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.  The Memorandum cements a number of threads that many have commented on recently, including Center Senior Fellow John Kamensky in a series of blog posts on evidence-based governing approaches.

M 13-17 directly ties evidence to the budget process, explicitly stating:  “Agency requests are more likely to be fully funded if they show a widespread commitment to evidence and innovation.”  The Memorandum goes through a set of strategies that can be used to develop evidence that informs resource and management decisionmaking, including:

  • Linking to existing data sources for a broader perspective on program performance,
  • Building small-scale assessments into ongoing program operations,
  • Focusing Federal grant programs around payments based at least in part on performance outcomes, and
  • Improving the ability of agency’s to gather, share, and act on evidence.

The Memo also informs agencies that these practices will be discussed further in a series of interagency meetings and workshops beginning in September, which will follow on the current set of meetings that OMB is leading to refine the overall management agenda.  As OMB works with the agencies to move forward in this effort, we would recommend that the Administration incorporates effective practices and lessons learned from prior management reform initiatives, as well as research and recommendations on how to improve going forward. 

Our Center continues to work on such research as well.  Our new research agenda highlights six drivers for change in government over the next few years, which we will explore in more detail in a report this fall.  The six drivers are:

  • Fostering Innovation and Transformation
  • Aligning Mission Support with Mission Delivery
  • Developing Cost Savings Strategies That Improve Efficiency and Effectiveness
  • Making the Best Use of Performance and Results Management
  • Managing Risk in a Rapidly Changing World
  • Developing New Models of Public Leadership Within and Across Agencies

We hope this research will help the government in furthering its new Management Agenda, as agencies continue to use data to improve management and performance within and across programs.

Dan Chenok is Executive Director of the IBM Center for The Business of Government. 

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