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Obama Team Aims to Ensure Agency Performance Goals Outlive This Administration

Agencies are identifying career employees as goal leaders.

The Obama administration is picking up the pace on setting agency performance goals, and has started the process of ensuring that the management priorities survive the transition to a new president, an Office of Management and Budget official said on Monday.  

Lisa Danzig, OMB’s associate director for performance and personnel, said White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan has accelerated agency deadlines for submitting next year’s agency priority goals so that the final lists will be published this October rather than with next February’s budget.

Speaking at the 15th “Government Performance Summit” sponsored by the nonprofit Performance Institute and the Association of Government Accountants, Danzig said the White House also hopes to “institutionalize” performance management by having agencies identify career employees as goal leaders in preparation for the change in administrations. About half of performance goals survive a typical transition, she said.

In a progress report on agency performance goals, Danzig combined verdicts of “tremendous progress” with “works in progress” and promising future opportunities.

“What has worked well” over the past four years, she said, are the 92 agency priority goals, consisting of three to eight per major agency. Successes include the Justice Department’s effort to recover more missing children through the “AMBER Alert” program, she said. In 2012, 87 percent of missing children were found within 72 hours, while the figure is now 94 percent.

Similarly, the Social Security Administration, which is battling a disability claim backlog of 1 million, is now in its 10th year of permitting claimants to appear before administrative law judges by video, doubling the number of hearings to 600 per day.

And the Transportation Security Administration has boosted the percentage of airport passengers allowed “expedited review” at security checkpoints from 10 percent in 2013 to 48 percent today. Expedited review means travelers do not have to remove their shoes or unpack their laptop computers.

Less impressive are the efforts at cross agency goals, which have broad themes such as cybersecurity, customer service, people and culture, said Danzig, who has worked for Donovan in New York City and at the Housing and Urban Development Department. “We are collecting cost and quality data” on common functions such as managing payroll, contractors and buildings costs, and encouraging agencies to consider shared services, she said. “Agencies are starting to see where they fit in, but we’re only on the brink of success.”

Danzig also graded strategic reviews first attempted last year as works in progress. “They’re done not by program or budget code or silo or component, but across the organization,” Danzig said, pointing to 350 strategic objectives across the government. Last year only 14 percent showed notable progress.

On the plus side, the strategic reviews help agencies focus and work across components and seek a “holistic perspective” that helps them collaborate, she said. An example of issues raised in a review came from NASA, where managers are grappling with facilities designed during the Apollo program and 82 percent of infrastructure is outdated. Unscheduled maintenance on such facilities costs three times as much as it would if it is scheduled and budgeted strategically.

Later this month, Danzig said, all the major agency deputy secretaries will meet to share a “snapshot” of mission performance progress. She praised the Performance Improvement Council established by the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act for generating “a lot of energy and engagement” as officials convene in working groups to create metrics, bring in speakers and share tools for effective “storytelling” of how data represents results.

She encouraged senior executives to learn of other agency successes using the Office of Personnel Management’s website and said the White House plans to bring in executives this fall for six months of training in performance management, “like an internal version of the White House Fellows.”

The Obama team also has a budget proposal to transfer $15 million to implement its cross agency goal of improving customer service. In December, Obama announced a coming set of awards for this fall, “an extension of the Sammies,” or Service to America Medals, Danzig said, that will be based the best stories submitted by agencies this July.

Finally, Danzig identified as areas of future opportunity the intensified pursuit of evidence and administrative data for use in evaluating programs and grant-making, as well as systematic enterprise risk management—for example, the Federal Aviation Administration’s efforts to persuade pilots to candidly discuss near-collisions they experience in flight.

Asked whether members of Congress are likely to factor in performance management data as they prepare what are expected to be severe cuts in agency programs, Danzig said, “We get a mixed response on the Hill.” Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, “is invested in metrics, but others say no, it is not as relevant and want more policy discussion. The more relevant we make it, the more Congress will pay attention,” she said. “The more that data and performance work are connected to a story form, the more useful it will be for people on the Hill.” 

(Image via Chris Parypa Photography /