The Federal Performance System: Looking Back to Look Forward

By John Kamensky

January 2, 2013

In December, a forum co-hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration and the IBM Center for The Business of Government reflected on the evolution of a results-oriented federal performance management system over the past two decades and how it will evolve over the next few years.

The forum participants comprised a range of stakeholders in the federal performance and results management system: agency performance improvement officers, strategic planners, program evaluation leaders, and priority goal leaders. In addition, there were participants from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Federal agencies, Congress, the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, academia, state and local government, unions, and non-profits – all of whom play a role in improving government performance.

The Forum’s Objectives. The forum was designed to address four elements:

The Updated Federal Performance Framework. OMB described its objectives and strategies for the performance management framework that is now reflected in both law and guidance to agencies. They say they recently completed visits to the 24 major departments and agencies to share the framework and an interagency group meets every two weeks to further refine it.

Many aspects of the framework are already in place. For example, to date, OMB and the agencies have set 117 initial priority goals and measures of progress, designated goal leaders, conducted quarterly progress reviews, and developed a governmentwide reporting structure so progress information can be posted on a common, central website on a quarterly basis.

Key elements of the new law that will be implemented in the future include updates to all agency strategic plans, annual performance plans, and priority goals; the development of an inventory of all federal programs and an annual review process for agency strategic objectives; and the posting of additional information on The timetable for these is interdependent, so it will take some effort to coordinate them all (see graphic) and phase them in appropriately.

Examples of Early Progress. While fleshing out the framework has absorbed a great deal of time and energy, pioneering initiatives under the earliest phases of the framework demonstrate the value of a disciplined approach to focus on results-oriented priority goals. For example, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ priority goal to reduce violent crime on a handful of Indian reservations by 5 percent resulted in decreases in crime by more than half. The lessons from these reservations have been shared more broadly with over 300 other Indian communities.

Similarly, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), have jointly committed to reduce the number of homeless veterans. They are doing this through targeted efforts in 21 communities with the largest number of homeless veterans. Agencies sent in top-level teams into each community, developed a 100-day plan of action, and are working across organizational boundaries to overcome barriers in order to meet their goal. To date, VA and HUD are making progress in reducing the number of homeless veterans from 67,500 at the end of 2010 to 35,000 by the end of 2013, on track toward a goal of no homeless veterans by the end of 2015.

Key Challenges in Coming Months. The various panels at the forum identified three areas of challenges that OMB, Congress, and the agencies will face in the coming months as the federal performance system is updated to reflect the requirements of the new law:

Next Steps. The IBM Center, in conjunction with the National Academy, have committed to developing a report in early 2013 summing the insights of the panelists and stakeholders at the forum, and identify some of the potential options for addressing the challenges raised. So stay tuned!

Image via Nik Merkulov/

By John Kamensky

January 2, 2013