Agencies show modest gains on management score card

Federal agencies saw modest improvements on the latest Bush administration quarterly management score card, with the biggest gains evident in e-government initiatives.

Eight of 26 agencies improved their e-government grades on the traffic-light-style President's Management Agenda score card for the first-quarter of fiscal 2006, which ended Dec. 31, 2005. Only the Transportation Department was downgraded in that area. The Office of Management and Budget published the scores Thursday.

The last time score card results were issued, the e-government category saw an unusual number of falling marks, with six agencies' grades dropping. The new score card reversed that trend, with all but the Interior and State departments regaining lost ground.

Agencies continued to show relatively poor results in financial performance, however.

Two agencies suffered dramatic drops in that area -- the General Services Administration and Energy Department moved from green to red lights, indicating "unsatisfactory" performances. The Smithsonian Institution jumped in the other direction, moving from red to green, signaling "success." The Office of Personnel Management saw a more modest change, improving to yellow, for "mixed results."

Overall, the financial performance category on the score card remained bathed in red as 24 agencies continued to struggle with rules that require annual audits. While 19 of those agencies merited clean audits for the past year, many were held back on the score card by "material weaknesses." In the most recent ratings, 17 agencies obtained red scores in financial management, while only eight earned a green mark.

Management initiatives related to human capital, the opening of federal jobs to competition from contractors, and the linking of budget and performance results were stable, with just two agencies seeing changes.

In presenting the latest results, Clay Johnson, OMB's deputy director for management, highlighted achievements in an initiative that aims to create a comprehensive listing of federal properties. Johnson said the effort has identified $9 billion in "unneeded assets."

Johnson also noted progress during 2005 in eliminating improper federal payments, saying the total fell by $7.8 billion, or about 17 percent, exceeding a $5 billion goal.

Karen Evans, administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology at OMB, said the downgrades to e-government scores on the previous score card were largely related to the progressively more difficult milestones that agencies were committed to reach on the initiative. Early goals for agencies to develop plans for particular e-government functions were relatively easy to meet, she explained, compared with those for migrating to the new systems.

For example, the last score card, which reflected accomplishments at the close of fiscal 2005, was the first on which green status required an agency to have implemented all the relevant e-government initiatives and to have ceased investments that duplicated those efforts, Evans said. When agencies experienced setbacks in those implementation plans, it influenced their score card progress and status scores.

Bill Corrington, the Interior Department's acting deputy chief information officer, last week said his department's score on the previous card was hurt by an unusually heavy workload in May and June, when the information technology department was called on to produce 4.5 million documents in response to an ongoing court case. The caseload had a ripple effect on other IT-related programs, he said, and caused various milestones to be pushed back.

Evans said her office worked with agencies that failed to meet key targets in time for the last grades to determine what went wrong and what changes were needed to future goals to get back on track. "From my perspective, this is a direct reflection of my performance, of how well I work with the agencies to achieve the results they're looking for," she said.

By contrast, Evans said that agencies benefited on the most recent score card from updates to annual cybersecurity audits, with those that met the standard of having 90 percent of systems accredited seeing a boost.

As e-government continues to move from planning into implementation, agencies could have trouble if people at the top are not committed to projects, according to Evans. "That implementation plan affects everyone in the department, so that's going to show up," she said.

While Evans said her office worked with agencies to foster buy-in -- and sign-off -- at the deputy secretary level, she warned that it would quickly become apparent in the score cards if agencies are not fully committed to change.

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