Bush orders agencies to appoint ‘performance improvement officers’

President Bush has issued an executive order requiring heads of federal agencies to set clear annual goals, lay out specific plans for achieving them, and designate "performance improvement officers" to assess progress toward meeting the goals and report on it to the public.

With the order, issued Tuesday and detailed at a press briefing today, the Bush administration hopes to establish a lasting legacy for its management improvement agenda.

The performance improvement officers will be required to oversee agencies' "strategic plans, annual performance plans and annual performance reports as required by law," the order states. The officers also will review the goals of agency programs to determine if they are "sufficiently aggressive toward full achievement of the purposes of the program," and "realistic in light of authority and resources assigned to the specified agency personnel."

"The goal is greater effectiveness during this administration and beyond," said Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Robert Shea, OMB's associate director for management, said the position of performance improvement officer could be assigned to a career employee in order to establish continuity through the next administration, although a final decision has not been made. If a political appointee is named to the role, Shea said, there must be a career official in place that is capable of carrying on the initiative during the next administration.

The order stipulates only that the officer should be a "member of the Senior Executive Service or equivalent service."

The order, which OMB hopes to fully implement by the end of 2008, also mandates the creation of a Performance Improvement Council, chaired by Johnson and including all performance improvement officers and other relevant agency officials.

The impetus for the executive order, Johnson said, was a meeting last year in which President Bush explained that his goal was not only for agencies to earn high grades on his administration's management score card -- which uses a stoplight system of green, yellow or red ratings to assess performance -- but for federal officials to use these tools to "make sure agencies are working better."

The order would formalize many of the administration's performance improvement efforts, some of which have been carried out informally for the past several years, and would build upon initiatives such as the Program Assessment Rating Tool.

Many programs were assessed under the PART up to five years ago, Johnson said. Performance improvement officers could review whether to change a specific program's goals based upon such evaluations and more recent data.

For failing programs, that could mean setting more attainable goals or altering a program's focus. For those that are succeeding, the bar could be raised even higher.

Goals should be consistent, transparent and based on outcomes, not outputs, Johnson said. To that end, agencies will be instructed to provide direct access on their Web sites to their most recent program performance evaluations as well as relevant inspector general reports.

"This focus on results is just the way we do things around here," Johnson said. "And that was not the case 10 years ago."

Program managers and agency heads will be held directly accountable for establishing and achieving goals, and failure to do so could effect salaries and bonuses, Johnson said.

"Accountability and commitment needs to be at a high level, and it needs to be real," Johnson said.

Howard Weizmann, deputy director at the Office of Personnel Management, said the public now demands that agencies be more effective, which has driven government to develop better oversight and assessment tools.

"Demand is what will drive this consistency into the next administration," Weizmann said.

Much of Wednesday's discussion focused on establishing an evaluation system that would be adopted by the next administration, no matter the party. Johnson said he has reached out to members of Congress to explain the PART and OMB's other program oversight tools.

Congress, however, has yet to put its own stamp on the PART process. This year, Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., included an amendment in the fiscal 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill that would have cut funding by 10 percent to programs rated as ineffective by OMB. But President Bush vetoed that bill Tuesday for unrelated reasons. Allard has indicated that he would offer the same amendment in all future appropriations bills.

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