Obama team outlines its management agenda

The Obama administration is developing a government reform agenda that includes overhauling the Bush administration's methods of evaluating program performance and hiring "several hundred thousand" federal employees, according to budget documents released on Monday.

Obama's management agenda will be based on six themes aimed at "building a high-performing government," the analytical perspectives volume of the fiscal 2010 budget stated. The first will be to replace the Bush administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool with a new performance improvement and analysis framework.

The focus will shift from grading programs as successful or unsuccessful to requiring agency leaders to set priorities, demonstrate progress in achieving defined goals and explain performance trends. In an attempt to break down inter- and intraagency silos, the performance model will give cross-program and cross-agency goals at least as much attention as program-specific ones.

The Office of Management and Budget will start by asking major agencies to develop a short list of high-priority goals with valuable measures and quantitative targets. Then the president will hold Cabinet-level meetings to review progress toward meeting those goals, according to the budget. Obama also is putting OMB in charge of identifying ongoing opportunities to engage the public, Congress and other stakeholders in the effort to improve performance.

While the budget stated that the new performance framework will replace PART, it also noted that the administration will work with agency leaders and the Performance Improvement Council to "streamline reporting requirements under [the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act] and PART to reduce the burden on agencies and OMB."

Observers said the administration appears to be building on and improving the Bush administration tool, instead of scrapping it entirely.

"They seem to be saying, 'We want to build on the data collection and reporting within PART, but talk about that data and use that data in a different way,' " said Adam Hughes, director of federal fiscal policy at the nonprofit OMB Watch.

The main shift, Hughes said, seems to be a desire to emphasize performance trends rather than program scores. "The focus they want to have is on talking about performance and sharing information and understanding what different performance data means for program implementation, rather than saying, 'Send everything you have to OMB and we'll tell you how you're doing,' " he said.

John Mercer, president of Strategisys LLC, who helped draft GPRA while serving as counsel to the then-Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said the Obama administration is attempting to do what PART struggled to accomplish -- use performance data to improve program performance.

"Even political leadership at OMB in the previous administration wanted to do that and was frustrated that performance information wasn't being used more," Mercer said. "It's one thing to come up with an assessment of a program … it's another thing to have programs use it to improve performance, and it ain't easy stuff to do."

Another major theme is "transforming the federal workforce," the budget stated. In contrast to the Bush administration's early goal of outsourcing more government work by opening 425,000 federal jobs to competition from the private sector, the Obama team plans to expand the civil service by hiring several hundred thousand civilians during the next four years. In doing so, the administration is attempting to "restore the prestige of public service and reform the recruitment process to improve targeting and outreach to talented Americans eager to serve," according to the budget document.

The Office of Personnel Management will lead initiatives to help agencies develop workforce plans; post brief, clear job announcements free of bureaucratic jargon; provide timely notification to job seekers on the status of their applications; and measure the average length of the hiring process, along with the effectiveness of hiring reforms.

The administration also plans to emphasize training programs to ensure top young talent has a range of experience and skills before stepping into lead management roles. Such programs could include management rotations within and among agencies, a practice widely used in the private sector, according to the budget.

Agencies also should put a healthy leadership pipeline in place, identifying possible successors for mission-critical positions several years before potential retirees leave federal service, the document stated.

With the debate over pay-for-performance continuing to be a hot topic governmentwide, the administration will look into improving methods of evaluating employees' work, "implementing mechanisms for rewarding both success and smart risk-taking for individuals as well as teams, and creating incentives to retain talented workers."

Three other themes identified in the analytical perspectives volume have been priorities since early in the administration: ensuring responsible spending of economic stimulus funds; reforming federal contracting; and promoting transparency, technology and participatory democracy.

The goal of managing across sectors is perhaps the vaguest of the six. In three sentences, the budget stated that the administration acknowledges that governing in the 21st century involves managing public sector resources, acquiring necessary resources from the private and nonprofit sectors, and collaborating across all levels of government.

"In the new management agenda, the focus will be on determining and then implementing government services in a manner that provides the best value for taxpayers," the administration said.

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