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Buried in the Budget: Ways to Rev Up Performance

The administration’s fiscal 2016 budget proposal shows that it is committed to creating capacity and sustainability for performance-and-results based government.

Beyond the dollars in the president’s budget, there are some details buried in congressional justifications that are worth examining. There are three sets of initiatives—which for the most part do not create new programs or spend much in new dollars—that are worth attention:

  • Building the capacity to implement and sustain cross-agency priority goals
  • Creating capacity to conduct meaningful performance-and-results assessments and link them to implementation
  • Extending evidence-based approaches to solving problems

Cross-Agency Priority Goals

The administration continues to implement the 2010 revisions to the Government Performance and Results Act, which requires creation of cross-agency priority goals that span an administration’s four years. The Obama administration last year highlighted 15 priority goals and tracks their progress quarterly on Following are two key initiatives:

  • Fund cross-agency goals. The budget notes: “There is no established means of funding the execution of these cross-agency efforts.” So the president has requested authority to transfer up to $15 million from agencies’ existing budgets to help support these initiatives. The cross-agency goal to improve customer service, for example, aims to ...

It's a Data Request, Not a Fire Drill

We all know that email. The one with the red exclamation point of doom and the dreaded words “due in two hours.” That’s right, it’s the “fire drill” data call email. The one where you stop everything you’re doing because someone important needs an answer now.

Organizations can put a stop to the fire drills that occur during data calls by taking the following steps:

Designate a Point Person
When fire drill requests come in, they’re often distributed to a large number of people simultaneously. This approach means there’s a risk that an entire team could see the email and ignore it, assuming that someone else on the team will handle it. Here’s where a strong coordinator is critical. When a request comes in, this person should take the lead on coordinating, compiling and cleaning up information. While they’re not expected to know every detail of every project, ideally they’ll be knowledgeable in your team’s portfolio of work and can quickly determine who to go to for what information. This person should be a strong writer who can translate a few bullets from a project manager into clear and concise information ...

A Lesson for DHS: Engagement Happens at the Local Level

Three years ago, the workplace environment at the Homeland Security Department looked bleak, ranking among the lowest federal agencies for employee satisfaction. Despite leadership attention, attempts at creating change continue to prove ineffectual. As The Washington Post reports, DHS has spent about $2 million on studies, while progress remains elusive.

DHS’ interventions to improve engagement include a headquarters-based recognition program, creation of a steering committee and leadership council, and executive leader selection. However, top-down approaches to improving engagement miss the mark.

Will Transportation Security Administration screeners at the Missoula, Montana, airport have a better employee experience because DHS created a new steering committee? Will Border Patrol officers in McAllen, Texas, be more engaged by knowing that 300 out of nearly 200,000 employees are being recognized at headquarters? What DHS needs to understand is that change happens at the local level. Three years ago, Gallup wrote an open letter in Government Executive that offered the keys to unlocking DHS’ engagement conundrum: Focus on local managers.

A team’s manager is the critical contributor to shaping the team’s culture. Employees interact with their supervisor or manager much more than they ever would with leaders, and these day-to-day interactions are what ...

Are Organizations With Drug Tests Weeding Out Great Candidates?

The FBI's jobs page makes it pretty clear how the agency feels about marijuana: "You can easily determine whether you meet the FBI's illegal drug policy by answering the following questions." The list's first question: "Have you used marijuana at all within the last three years?"

Government agencies are some of the strictest of employers when it comes to drug testing. The CIA's policy, for example, prohibits marijuana use in the previous 12 months, but any prior drug use is "carefully evaluated."

Yet news that the FBI might be having a hard time recruiting cyber-security experts due to a strict "no marijuana" rule raises the question of how applicant pools will be affected by the growing popularity and legalization of marijuana. Last year, FBI chief James B. Comey made comments that the bureau might loosen the rules to recruit hackers, though he later backtracked. And one police force in Idaho said that its recruitment efforts are set back by its own drug policy, which mandates that anyone who has used marijuana in the past three years can't be hired.

With nearly half of Americans reporting that they have tried marijuana andmore than a third ...

IQs Are Higher Because We’re Better at Taking Tests

If the trajectory of IQ tests is to be believed, then intelligence is increasing across the world.

But the real story is more complicated, as researchers at King’s College in London found in a study to be published in the journal Intelligence that examined the steady rise in IQ scores worldwide. They looked at 734 studies and surveys on IQ tests in 48 countries, from 1950 to 2014.

In 1950, people were getting less than half of the answers correct in non-verbal intelligence tests, on average. By 2014, that average had risen to near 70%. But the overarching increase in IQ is skewed by a more rapid increase in IQ scores in developing countries. The data show that in the countries identified as developed—including the US, Europe, South Korea, Japan—scores on the test started higher, with people on average answering just under 60% of answers correctly. Developing countries started lower at under 50% correct on average, but have increased more rapidly.

 The percent of correct scores on IQ tests is increasing over time.(Peera Wongupparaj, A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of Raven's Progressive Matrices)

The greater gains in developing countries reflect increasing access to education, healthcare, and internet ...