Alexander A.Trofimov/

The Next President’s Choice: Tear Down or Build Out?

The next chief executive will have an opportunity to build on the real progress agencies have made in performance management.

Being a performance management advocate over the past two decades has required two traits—optimism and persistence. But the recent fiscal year 2017 budget adds a new dimension—hope!

In 2004, the Government Accountability Office released a report touting how, after a decade, the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 had “established a solid foundation for achieving greater results.” That may have been the first time GAO was overly optimistic.

In that report, GAO documented a number of statutory processes agencies were then implementing, but those changes hadn’t necessarily translated into widespread improvements in results. The processes created a supply of performance information, but there wasn’t necessarily a demand for it by decision makers. That gap was reflected in subsequent GAO reports on the use of performance information by managers, which was consistently low.

The Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 attempted to address this shortfall. With the steady implementation of its provisions by the Office of Management and Budget and agencies, the new budget describes real progress and offers real hope. That is if the transition to a new president next year doesn’t derail the framework and processes put into place over the past six years.

Ideally, the next president would not create a parallel performance management process to the one required by law, as happened at the beginning of the Bush and Obama Administrations because of the perceived shortfalls of the original law. By leveraging the existing performance management system, much like new administrations leverage the existing budget system, a new president could potentially act on his or her priorities more quickly and effectively.

What’s in the new budget, in terms of progress in the use and implementation of the performance management system?

An Increased Focus on Performance vs. Compliance. OMB has worked with agencies and the Performance Improvement Council to create a performance management framework for the federal government, and it goes beyond just implementation of the GPRA Modernization law. The focus is on improving government performance, not necessarily compliance with the many statutory requirements embedded in the law.

OMB has also tried to set standards and frameworks centrally, but that implementation, along with a good deal of flexibility and discretion as well as support from the Performance Improvement Council, is left to the agencies. The small offices in each agency that focus on performance issues have the potential to be “force multipliers” that leverage the activities of operational programs in a role that moves beyond just compliance, and not small, overwhelmed teams trying to do it all themselves.

Established Framework and Processes. Several years ago, OMB outlined a governance framework for performance management across the federal government and within agencies.  That framework, which describes roles, processes, and definitions of key terms, has become the foundation for understanding what is expected both near-term as well as years down the road. In recent years, this has resulted in:

  • Better alignment of key priorities. Early in the Obama Administration, some agency heads had their own priorities, their agencies had Agency Priority Goals (which were in response to an OMB requirement in the new Administration’s first budget guidance in 2010), and their statutorily-required strategic plans offered strategic goals that did not reflect what the agency head and the Agency Priority Goals. Today, the four pillars of the President’s Management Agenda are aligned with 8 of the 15 Cross-Agency Priority Goals, and these, in turn, are aligned with agency strategic plans and priority goals. In prior years, the management agenda was seen as a separate effort from the implementation of GPRA.

  • Increased implementation capacity for cross-agency priorities. For OMB, the key next step is ensuring meaningful implementation of cross-agency goals. This is now possible with staff support via the White House Leadership Development Program (16 individuals selected by their deputy secretaries are in the first cohort) and the recently-approved $15 million fund to support implementation of cross-agency goals. 

  • Sustained progress toward agency-level priority goals. Agencies recently committed to 98 Agency Priority Goals. This is the fourth cohort of two-year agency-developed priority goals. Placing a priority on a small handful of key priorities has proven to be effective; 80 percent of the last cohort that was assessed demonstrated improved performance. Agency action plans for the coming two-year cycle are posted on

  • More effective agency-level strategic reviews of progress. To date, agencies have conducted two rounds of annual strategic reviews (now called FedStat reviews) of their portfolios of strategic objectives. There are currently about 380 strategic objectives listed on OMB guidance indicates the 2016 reviews will occur in the May/June 2016 timeframe and will focus on cementing their capacity for conducting effective reviews.

  • Greater staff-level collaboration and learning. OMB understands that its written guidance will only get agencies so far. Having a fully-functional cross-agency Performance Improvement Council is a key tool for embedding a performance orientation in agencies.  The Performance Improvement Council has hit its stride and has a stable, sustainable budget with a small core team supplemented with project-based, temporary agency staff support and a Fellows developmental program, as well as a growing community of federal staff across Government participating in networking, problem-solving, and capacity building offerings. 

The increased collaboration is showing results: The new White House Leadership Development Program has already improved the quality of CAP goal implementation with better performance metric definitions. The Leaders Delivery Network has its first cohort of 25, comprised of the career deputies for APG leaders. Participants are provided training, networking opportunities, tools. Network participants are delivery leaders for the Agency Priority Goals and they aren’t necessarily “performance” staffers. The Council’s Enthusiast and Ambassador program is a good community-building tool; it also provides largely self-directed training. OMB and the PIC are interested in figuring out how to expand it outside the Beltway in coming years. Finally, the Council sponsors a Collaboration Studio, which agencies can use. It provides dedicated resources, an established facilitation methodology and a focus on the challenge at hand that may not otherwise be available to agency and cross-agency project teams.

Next Steps   

At the staff level, here are some things that may be expected of agencies in the future:

  • Push progress reviews to lower levels in each agency and continue building capacity to plan, collect and analyze data, conduct reviews, and act on results.
  • Develop the next cycle of strategic plans and priority goals, due to be submitted to Congress in February 2018.
  • Mature the use of strategic reviews via best practices and self-assessments.
  • Focus on enterprise risk management as part of the performance portfolio.
  • Improve data quality and create better links to the budget and decision-making.
  • Continued to build capacity and grow the community of people with the skills and mindset needed to fully implement performance management.

Going forward, performance management seems to be becoming more like the budget—a sustainable and repeatable process. The hope is that, while the next administration may offer new policy priorities, it would continue to use the existing performance processes to develop, monitor and implement their priorities, rather than start from scratch with a new system and a new set of processes.

(Image via Alexander A.Trofimov/