Federal performance officers stretched too thin, study says

PIOs don’t have adequate resources or time to identify poor-performing employees, report finds.

Federal performance improvement officers are stretched thin and receive too little support from above for their work, according to a new report.

In a survey of 23 PIOs released on Wednesday, the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP found that few agency leaders hold their workforce accountable for performance and program inefficiencies. PIOs also spend too much time complying with duplicative reporting requirements that are not used effectively to improve performance, the report found.

President Obama in January signed the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, the first major revision to landmark 1993 legislation. The new law requires agencies to designate senior officials to serve as chief operating and performance improvement officers tasked with saving government money by eliminating redundant programs and better coordinating common administrative duties, such as purchasing.

PIOs spend less than half their time on performance management because many have other responsibilities within their agencies, according to the report, which surveyed PIOs or their staffs in 23 agencies. Respondents said mandates to report to Congress are a hindrance because the information often is not used constructively. Agencies need reliable performance measurement systems that produce meaningful results, the report said.

"There is plenty of measurement that happens, but mostly what we can rather than what we should," said Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership. "It's a compliance rather than a management exercise. Rarely is that information actually being used to better manage the outcomes we want out of government."

PIOs can build off of past successes, Stier said. For example, in complying with the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, agencies used data in an effective way and spent money smartly, and that infrastructure could be used going forward, he said.

Robert Shea, principal at Grant Thornton and formerly associate director for administration and government performance at the Office of Management and Budget, said the creation of a COO position, as Obama's law mandates, could bring a new level of leadership commitment to agency performance agendas.

"Those individuals need to have experience managing large organizations and would see the value in having someone charged exclusively with ensuring government agencies and employees are measuring performance and using data in a meaningful way that helps improve the performance of the organization," Shea said.

According to Stier, PIOs also play an important role in workforce planning. For example, agency officials don't know how much shutdown preparations cost government nor how many employees will consider leaving due to the uncertainty it created, but PIOs can and should help leadership understand what's happening and what kind of responses are necessary to address those concerns, he said.

"PIOs, if using the data right, should help inform decisions that will hold on to the talent you need and recruit the talent you don't have," said Stier, noting these responsibilities are "directly interrelated to the health of the workforce."