Agencies are making significant progress meeting established priority goals for achieving savings and efficiency, the Office of Management and Budget reported Thursday. Even when efforts fell short, officials told reporters, the use of data to inform communication among management and staff still improved agency effectiveness from previous years.
“Most of the goals were either met or the agencies achieved notable progress,” said Deputy Director for Management Beth Cobert as she released the fourth-quarter and final 2013 results on Performance.gov. “We’ve seen real gains in programs such as exports and cybersecurity, where coordination across agencies is key to success,” as well as progress in reductions food-borne illnesses and hospital infections, she said.
Noting President Obama’s strategy, introduced in 2009, of setting both agency goals and cross-agency priority goals introduced in 2009, Cobert said “evidence-based practices like those used in the private sector” are focusing agency managers on regular data-driven reviews—quarterly or more frequently. “We’re trying not to get to yes-or-no answers but to the discipline of asking questions,” she added. “If we achieve our goals, should we be aiming higher? If we did not, why not?”
Such goals are required under the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.
Examples of progress the administration provided include:
- Commerce Department efforts on the President’s National Export Initiative, which raised the annual number of new markets entered by U.S. exporters by 7 percent and helped achieve a record level of exports of $2.3 trillion in 2013;
- The Treasury Department saved millions by electronically converting more paper financial transactions, with paper transactions falling from 131 million in 2010 to 39 million in 2013, increasing electronic transactions to 97 percent;
- The State Department beat its priority goal of directing diplomatic missions to increase the number of market-oriented economic and policy activities by 15 percent, exceeding that by 43 percent with 971 “success stories” of export deals;
- The Housing and Urban Development Department boosted efforts to help people at risk of home foreclosures, increasing the number of households assisted with early intervention by 31 percent from 2010 to 2013.
“We’re constantly evaluating our goals because they drive behavior,” said Deputy Commerce Secretary Patrick Gallagher. “More important than high-level strategic planning is their distillation into a set of specific actionable plans owned by specific people and programs across the department,” he added. By having bureau heads meet weekly, Commerce creates “detailed action plans and operational metrics that are turned into subordinate action plans in each agency, resulting in a cascade of metrics.”
Assistant Treasury Secretary for Management Nani Coloretti said goal-setting and the resulting meetings among deputies “gives us visibility into what the bureaus are doing.” Her department’s shift to electronic transactions, she added, “really increases the security and efficiency of government processing, and we’re leveraging it into a way of managing Treasury better.”
Cobert said new agency and priority goals will be included in President Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget coming out in March. She acknowledged that the troubled rollout of HealthCare.gov signaled that the government needs to improve its performance in information technology procurement, “though the administration has made progress though [the OMB initiative] PortfolioStat,” she said. “We’re looking to learn from the experience of the private sector and other public sectors, looking for ways to improve going forward.”
Cobert declined to single out federal agencies that haven’t made much or any progress.
Shelley Metzenbaum, who last year left her OMB post as associate director for performance and personnel management to run the nonprofit Volcker Alliance, told Government Executive that the information now on Performance.gov “makes it possible to see progress, but also the problems. For the most part, progress on the agency priority goals looks very good, with performance exceeded for some goals such as Interior's goal of approving capacity for renewable energy and Health and Human Service's goal to move more providers to electronic health care records to improve health care, reduce health costs, and expand access,” she said.
“Clearly, there are a few areas where challenges remain, including goal-setting and measurement challenges, but for the most part, progress looks very good.”
Correction: The original version of this article stated that Shelley Metzenbaum was deputy associate director of OMB. She was associate director. The article has been updated to correct the error.