Government implements new performance management law

Agencies have two weeks to pick a senior official to serve as chief operating officer.

Within the next two weeks, federal agencies must select a senior political official to serve as chief operating officer, according to Office of Management and Budget guidance on implementing a new law that dramatically overhauls government performance management.

The first major revision to the landmark 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, the new bill, signed by President Obama in January, targets a limited number of ambitious outcome-oriented goals and management priorities.

"The administration is committed to practical, useful performance management," OMB Director Jack Lew and Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients wrote in the governmentwide memo issued late last week. "Our goal is to create a performance management framework that encourages good management and innovation without fear of penalty for failing to achieve every ambitious target that has been set, but with heightened pressure to achieve breakthrough gains on priorities."

To begin implementing the law, agencies first must name a deputy secretary -- or the equivalent position -- by May 2 to serve as chief operating officer. "Among other responsibilities, the COO is responsible for providing overall organization management to improve agency performance and achieve the mission and goals of the agency through the use of strategic and performance planning, measurement, analysis, regular assessment of progress, and use of performance information to improve results," the memo stated.

By June 1, a senior executive at the agency must be selected to assume the role of performance improvement officer. Agencies that pick a political appointee as PIO also should name a career senior executive as deputy PIO, according to the memo.

Most agencies already employ a PIO through a Bush administration performance improvement initiative. The 2010 law elevates the PIO role, allowing the official to conduct regular performance reviews, goal selection, analysis and cross-agency collaboration; align personnel performance appraisals; and communicate performance information, OMB said.

Finally, by June 30, agencies must begin running data-driven progress reviews on the high-priority performance goals that were identified in the fiscal 2011 budget. The reviews must be performed at least quarterly.

These goals are expected to focus on outcomes in a limited number of cross-cutting policy areas, including financial management, human capital, procurement, information technology and real property. The 2010 law also requires agencies to report performance against those goals through a single government website instead of submitting them to Congress annually.

Under the 1993 GPRA bill, agencies were required to set myriad goals encompassing virtually every area of their work. The Obama administration has asked agencies to narrow that focus, exclusively homing in on a series of "high-priority performance goals."

Still, even Obama administration supporters have publicly argued there should be fewer, more meaningful goals.

"There are still too many so-called high-priority performance goals -- 128, to be exact -- and many are decipherable only to people inside government," John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, a progressive advocacy group, told the Senate Budget Committee's Task Force on Government Performance last month. "Fewer, more resonant goals would raise their profile and better communicate government priorities to the public."

Podesta, who ran the administration's transition committee after the 2008 election, said the high-priority goals that agencies have set thus far "leave much to be desired" because they are overly technical and focus on activities more than results.

The memo also requires agencies to begin considering new high-priority goals that will be included in the fiscal 2013 budget. Thereafter, the goals must be updated every two years.

"Goals should be chosen that are outcome-oriented with stretch targets relative to available resources," the memo stated. "Agencies should highlight efficiency gains in the goal statement."

The budget document also must include a list of all reports that agencies are legally required to submit to Congress, identifying at least 10 percent that are duplicative or outdated. Critics argue the reporting requirements associated with the original Government Performance and Results Act are onerous and often unnecessary.