Obama urged to focus on performance-based government

Members of a coalition of good-government groups have met with representatives of President-elect Barack Obama's transition teams to promote an agenda focused on improving measurement of the performance of government programs.

In an interview with Government Executive, members of the Government Performance Coalition, which includes more than a dozen organizations, said they have met with members of Obama's transition teams to present recommendations aimed at implementing a performance-based framework at executive branch agencies.

Franklin Reeder, leader of the Obama transition team at the Office of Management and Budget, was involved in the discussions, as well as leaders of the Office of Personnel Management review team, the groups said.

The coalition last month released three broad recommendations for the new administration and Congress: implement a performance-based framework at agencies, invest more in federal human resources and mandate the use of innovation and technology to revolutionize government.

"The recommendations reflect the diversity of the group, but they also reflect a common understanding of the group around questions of performance … the importance of the workforce and the need for innovation and technology," said Jonathan Breul, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government, a member of the coalition.

Breul, who serves as the coordinator for the coalition, said the group started putting the recommendations together earlier this year, with the goal of pooling resources to draw attention to the common theme of its 18 member organizations: government performance.

"What I think is important is how many different agencies and federal executives that this coalition comes in contact with every week, every month, every year," said Jon Desenberg, senior policy director for the Performance Institute, another coalition member. "There's no other group in town that has such a depth and reach of experience and exposure to what's happening."

Coalition members said their recommendations likely will lead to questions from the Obama administration and Congress on the specifics of improving performance-related initiatives. Kathryn Newcomer, director of the public policy and administration program at The George Washington University, said one issue is the role of OMB and its relationship with federal agencies.

John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, said the new administration and Congress also will have to address the question of how to approach federal pay and compensation. The consensus among the coalition, he said, is that modernizing the decades-old General Schedule pay system must involve common parameters and flexibility for agencies, as well as communication and collaboration with human resource leaders, employees and employee representatives.

"The whole performance issue is focused rather quickly on pay," Breul said. "The performance part of it kind of got lost. … It has to be a broader effort in order to be successful."

Michael Filler, an associate director at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a coalition member, argued that labor unions should be involved in management and performance initiatives in government, saying that a restructuring of the Internal Revenue Service in the 1990s was successful largely because labor was a partner in the process. "Labor does want to be involved; labor does want to be a facilitator; labor does want employee engagement," he said. "The only way you can achieve a high level of success and satisfaction to the American public is with a fully engaged workforce."

Members of the coalition also said this could be the first incoming administration that will not have to start from scratch on improving government performance. "I get a different sense of the maturity level of the government today," Desenberg said.

Breul touted the inventory of knowledge, analysis and experience within government and the coalition that can help agencies tackle many of the tough management and performance challenges in the next administration. The incoming team "may change the direction or change the focus a little bit," he said, "but there's an enormous capability and reservoir of knowledge that can be tapped much more quickly and smartly."

The groups also noted that external pressures and challenges, such as the economic crisis, the quest for energy independence and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have increased the willingness of the incoming administration and agencies to engage in more serious discussions about performance. While the coalition's recommendations might not solve all of the problems government faces, they can help to reduce the frequency and intensity of challenges.

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