OMB details agency obligations under Government Performance Act

Chief operating officers must "redouble their efforts to cut waste" as they lead their agency's efforts to set priority goals required by the 2010 update of the Government Performance and Results Act, according to an Office and Management and Budget memo.

"The challenges we face today demand that, now more than ever, every federal employee must serve as a careful steward of taxpayer dollars," wrote OMB Director Jacob Lew and Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients in a directive titled "Delivering an Efficient, Effective and Accountable Government."

They noted that the chief operating officers and chief performance officers at every agency are tasked under the law with setting priority goals, designating a senior official responsible for each goal, and providing quarterly reviews of progress and cost reductions.

The memo's additions to the tasks set out in last year's law include an emphasis on implementing requirements of a June 28 executive order, part of the Campaign to Cut Waste, led by Vice President Joe Biden and a newly empaneled board made up primarily of inspectors general.

The memo also commences, in time for publication of the fiscal 2013 budget next February, OMB's effort to set interim federal priority goals based on agency priority goals. Under the 2010 law, OMB will consult with congressional staff, the President's Management Council, the President's Performance Council and agencies to finalize federal priority goals in by February 2014.

Two-year agency priority goals should focus on core agency missions, the memo stated, and some of these will be vetted by OMB to loop in multiple agencies. Proposals for priority goals are due with budget submissions on Sept. 12. They should focus on "key problems through which performance could be improved through cross-agency collaboration," the memo said. Proposals for priority goals should specify goal leaders, contributing agencies, organizations, program activities, performance targets, key milestones and management challenges.

Effective immediately, the memo applies to all agencies except the CIA, Government Accountability Office, Panama Canal Commission, U.S. Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission.

The memo's "important details" were welcomed by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a key author of the 2010 government performance act, according to a spokesman. "We will continue to track the implementation carefully to hold senior officials accountable for results and to promote more cross-agency collaboration," said Kevin Hall.

Jonathan D. Breul, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government, told Government Executive the memo will help reduce duplication and enhance transparency in procurement. The most striking thing about it, he said, is "how they make a clear linkage between implementing new approaches to improve performance while reducing cost in a more meaningful way, one that will enhance mission value provided by departments to citizens, states and local governments and business.

"The idea that improved performance and cost cutting can work together by applying proven commercial best practices," Breul added, "is an important and positive step toward more effective and efficient government."

Donald Kettl, dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, noted that the memo came a day after OMB tasked agencies with preparing for budget cuts of 5 percent to 10 percent. With Congress' new "super committee trolling for programs to slash and the automatic trigger lurking in the background, the administration is trying to get ahead of the game," he said.

"In the din of the budget battle and the rising anti-government sentiment among the public, it's hard to talk about things like government performance," he said. "But this is the administration's effort to put a more positive step forward, and to remind government managers that all the investments in trying to identify goals might help in identifying the budget cuts to come.

"In the middle of all the battles, it's going to be hard to remember that we have a government to run," Kettle added, "but the performance agenda provides at least a touchstone for focusing on how to get done the things that must get done."

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