Management nominee backs performance, accountability measures

The first federal chief performance officer and management director-designate told senators on Wednesday that if confirmed, he would use his private sector experience to improve information on the effectiveness of federal programs and to oversee Recovery Act implementation.

In advance of his nomination hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Jeffrey Zients, a prominent Washington management consultant and entrepreneur with no government experience, provided a long list of priorities he would address if he becomes deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget. These included developing a usable set of performance metrics, improving the effectiveness of government according to those measures, revitalizing the federal workforce, and increasing transparency and accountability across government.

OMB Director Peter R. Orszag has identified Zients as the administration official who will work to establish a new method of evaluating program performance akin to the Bush administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool. Zients applauded the PART system for measuring performance at the program level for the first time, but said it did not significantly increase the use of performance information in decision-making.

"The test of a performance management system is, is it being used to make important resource allocation and budget decisions," Zients said during the hearing. "I'm looking forward, if confirmed, to taking a collaborative approach, working with all the stakeholders, to develop a system."

Zients' longtime friend Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., praised the nominee's expertise in financial management and business strategy, as well as his character and sound judgment. "President Obama could not have found someone better-suited for the job," Bennet said. Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said the panel will expect Zients to apply that expertise in government, if confirmed. While touting his resume, Zients acknowledged that systems and best practices from the private sector are not directly transferable.

"I recognize and appreciate that government is different from the private sector," he said. "If confirmed, I would seek to apply and instill government best practices more broadly while, at the same time, drawing on approaches and models that have proved successful in the private sector."

Joining government means learning a whole new language, and Zients addressed the issues behind a number of the federal buzzwords, including "competitive sourcing" and "inherently governmental." The nominee said that if confirmed, he would support Obama's call for a clearer definition of inherently governmental work and discourage agencies from outsourcing core competencies.

"We must recognize there are critical functions that, even if not inherently governmental, should be performed by federal employees to make sure organizations have the internal capability and capacity to maintain control of their operations," he said. "An agency may have both federal employees and contractors performing many of these functions; however, the agency must make sure there is always enough in-house talent and capacity in these functions both to maintain control of the organization and of any contractors who are providing support."

When a decision is made to conduct a public-private job competition, Zients said the government must ensure it is conducted fairly and in a timely manner, and that cost savings can be measured objectively.

If confirmed, Zients will oversee implementation of economic stimulus spending in a number of ways, including issuing guidance to agencies and collecting data. He said he expected to move quickly to improve spending data relevant to the Recovery Act and apply any knowledge gained to long-term efforts such as USAspending.gov.

"With Recovery Act reporting from recipients and subrecipients set to begin in October, it will be important to concentrate resources in the immediate term on ensuring the recovery data collection effort is successful and stable going forward," he said. "However, along the way, we should be planning on a broader deployment of the recovery solution so that transparency of federal spending extends to all taxpayer dollars."

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