Balanced score card tool gains in popularity at civilian agencies

Management technique helps agencies achieve individual goals and meet Bush adminstration targets, creator says.

A management tool that has been around for more than a decade and has been used heavily at the Defense Department is becoming more prevalent at civilian agencies, according to speakers at a Thursday conference.

The "balanced score card" approach, developed by Harvard Business School Professor Robert Kaplan, has taken hold at the General Services Administration, Commerce Department and other civilian agencies, conference participants said. Kaplan originally designed the approach to fit private sector needs, but later adopted it for government work.

The balanced score card encourages managers to concentrate on five areas when trying to improve program performance: ensuring that the program has a clear mission; attracting resources and support; developing internal expertise; aligning resources; and allocating funds to areas where money would make the most difference. Agencies can use the approach to achieve President's Management Agenda goals, Kaplan said at the conference.

According to Kaplan and other speakers, the technique bridges the five main management agenda items: personnel reform; competitive sourcing; financial management; electronic government; and budget and performance integration. The balanced score card is broader than the PMA because it not only provides goals but a method of reaching them, he said.

Organizations that excel at the approach have strong leaders, apply the technique consistently, involve all levels of employees in strategic planning and can translate paper plans into action, Kaplan said. The event was hosted by the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative Inc., a Lincoln, Mass., consulting firm.

The General Services Administration used the balanced score card approach to find ways of better aligning resources and to help in submitting performance-based budgets, said Stephen Perry, the agency's administrator. The technique also has played into plans for an agency reorganization and has helped keep employees focused on GSA's mission.

Managers can use balanced score cards to show congressional authorizing committees and the Office of Management and Budget that they are spending money efficiently and achieving good results, said David Sampson, deputy secretary of the Commerce Department. Sampson assigned teams of "top-notch" staff members to implement the technique at Commerce's Economic Development Administration in an effort to improve strategic planning and garner more resources for the agency, which had gone unauthorized for 18 years.

As the tool takes hold at civilian agencies, it continues to be popular at the Pentagon as well, speakers said. At the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the balanced score card approach has helped in implementing management agenda goals, said Zack Gaddy, the agency's director. By combining PMA goals and Kaplan's score card, DFAS has prepared to move to a performance-based pay system, and implemented electronic projects such as My Pay, which allows employees to conduct pay transactions online.

The technique also has been applied in the Iraq war, said Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commanding general of the Army's First Cavalry Division. During a tour that ended in March, Chiarelli - who uses the balanced score card approach - and his troops worked to resolve water, electricity, trash collection and sewage problems in Baghdad. Data collected by Iraqi researchers and the Army indicated a link between improvements to basic services and a drop in insurgent attacks in some areas of the city, he said.