OMB makes pitch to senior executives on performance management

A top Office of Management and Budget official urged senior federal executives on Wednesday to engage in the Obama administration's data-driven effort to improve the performance of federal agencies and programs.

Shelley Metzenbaum, associate director for performance and personnel management at OMB, told attendees at the Senior Executives Association's annual Career Executive Leadership Conference that the administration is committed to working with agencies to ensure performance improvement efforts are not just simply about collecting and reporting data.

"We're trying to move from a system less focused on planning and reporting… and more to a system focused on use," she said. "If nobody is using [performance metrics], we ought to be asking why we're collecting them."

One of the things that makes performance improvement difficult in government, Metzenbaum said, is agencies and leaders are always faced with crises and outside pressures that take priority. To address this issue, the administration has asked agency leaders to develop high-priority performance goals that they are committed to achieve no matter what crises come up.

Metzenbaum said senior agency leaders must channel the power of goals to communicate with the people they manage. She cited New York City's COMPSTAT program as an example of how leaders can engage with those they oversee. Under COMPSTAT, police officers and others responsible for reducing crime were required to report on whether their efforts had succeeded -- and why. "No one got in trouble if crime went up," Metzenbaum said. "They got in trouble if they didn't know why it went up or how to deal with it. You are reinforcing goal-focused, data-driven meetings by the questions you ask."

OMB is committed to using performance information to "lead, learn and leverage" to improve outcomes, Metzenbaum said. The agency is not just focused on problems, but on identifying successes in individual agencies that can be transferred elsewhere or applied to meet cross-agency goals.

"Measurement and evaluation are not separate," she said. "They complement and feed each other."

Metzenbaum acknowledged that the administration's approach asks leaders to take risks, but agency officials agreed it's imperative to do so in the interest of innovation. "Performance management isn't just a good government idea, it quite frankly is a matter of surviving and hopefully thriving," said Michelle Snyder, deputy chief operating officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The challenge, said Shelby Hallmark, director of the Labor Department's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, is it's harder to set performance goals in government than in the private sector.

"Performance management is difficult for us, because we don't have a bottom line," Hallmark said. "We have to figure out what our fundamental outcomes need to be and figure out ways to measure them that are not self-evident."

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