Progress cited on reorganization of government

OMB’s Jeffrey Zients says effort may involve short-term costs to achieve long-term gains.

Federal agencies are making progress on the Obama administration's mandate to reorganize the government and improve performance, but not without delays and extra costs, officials said on Tuesday.

At a forum sponsored by the Brookings Institution in Washington, Office of Management and Budget officials outlined specific signs of progress in the administration's plan to improve performance and restructure government. Agencies are moving forward on identifying low-priority activities and holding regular progress reviews, but, the tool federal managers use to set and track goals, still has not been approved for public release, said Shelley Metzenbaum, OMB's associate director for performance and personnel management.

Officials last year announced plans to unveil, a website on which the public can track the progress and performance of agencies in each of six key reform areas of the administration's Accountable Government Initiative. These include meeting high-priority performance goals; reducing waste and cutting inefficiencies; reforming federal procurement; closing the federal information technology gap; attracting top talent to the government; and driving results through open government.

Agencies are moving forward at different paces, Metzenbaum said, adding that the keys to elevating performance include focusing on using information to improve outcomes, increasing communication and transparency, and incorporating ideas from diverse sources. Agencies have been asked to meet ambitious goals and are being held accountable for results. Particularly in an era of tight budgets, agency leaders must determine how to do more with less, she said.

"We have to walk before we run," she said. "The first step is to figure out what we're trying to accomplish. We actually need to have the outcome information in order to have the conversation."

President Obama first outlined reorganization efforts, which focus on eliminating redundancy in government operations by consolidating duplicative functions, during his Jan. 25 State of the Union address. On March 11, Obama signed a memo directing federal Chief Performance Officer and OMB Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients to develop a plan to overhaul federal trade and export agencies within the next three months.

During the event, Zients noted that restructuring government comes with costs attached, but he added that investments now will bring much greater benefits down the road.

"I hope we will have a compelling case" for the benefits of reorganization, Zients said, so that "to the extent there are short-term costs, those will be funded."

Zients' reorganization team has been meeting with congressional staff and lawmakers and also is studying the work of public administration experts on previous reorganizations. "We're very mindful of what has worked and what hasn't," he said.

Administration officials also are seeking input from government workers on how to reorganize the 12 federal agencies that oversee trade and export issues. Employees can submit ideas online for eliminating duplicative programs and boosting cost savings through April 15.