OMB unveils upgrade to governmentwide performance website

Additions include bar graphs and other features to help measure progress on goals.

The Obama administration’s pursuit of goal and data-based “smart management” passed a milestone on Friday as the Office of Management and Budget went live with an enhanced version of the interagency website performance.gov.

The revised site “strengthens the government’s performance management with greater transparency, accountability and shared responsibility,” Shelley Metzenbaum, OMB’s associate director for performance and personnel management, said Thursday at a preview for reporters. The online tool “lets the public see how agencies are progressing on their performance priorities,” she said, adding that it “helps managers and employees across the government stay focused on their priorities and constantly look for smarter ways to accomplish their objectives.”

Planners of the fledgling site suffered funding shortfalls during the 2011 threat of a government shutdown and criticisms for malfunctions and a lack of robust data.

The changes launched Friday are designed to flesh out the administration’s priority goals established under the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act -- including 14 cross-agency goals introduced last February in the president’s budget.

The changes consist of new tabs that add to the existing goal overviews such uniform offerings as indicators of progress (bar graphs with trends), next steps and contributing programs. The discussion around each goal includes a name, title and photograph and title of the effort’s leader, and public feedback will be encouraged.

“We scoured best practices in and around the world in business and around the country in state and local government” to make the site’s presentation “simple but robust,” Metzenbaum said. By fleshing out goals that “focused on outcomes, are owned by leaders, are measureable and are subject to data-driven review and action plans,” performance.gov becomes a “tool for sharing the information with those who will use it,” she said. The site can also attract ideas from experts and “help us coordinate across agencies and learn from other agencies.”

Tony Miller, deputy Education secretary, told reporters the site “resonated with us and will help agency leadership get engaged.”. Unlike many past assignments from OMB, the information sets “are very relevant to agencies and allow us take ownership of our mission and use the data in quarterly performance reviews,” as well as in promoting a holistic approach to managing, budgets, policy and programs, he said.

Miller cited the example of the Education Department’s goal of turning around failing schools. With some 100 related programs funded by Congress, Education’s planners were able to “do a complete review of our portfolio” in a “mapping exercise” to focus resources and enforce accountability, he said. The result is not a “one-off initiative” but a catalyst to help “build strategic operations and capabilities.”

The process did not create “goals imposed on us by OMB,” echoed David Hayes, deputy Interior secretary. In the past, “we would have a zillion goals, and it’s human nature that they would become less important and not easily tracked, so we would fall on our face.”

Under Secretary Ken Salazar, the Interior Department focused on five goals in the areas of new energy sources on public lands; repairing frayed relations with Indian tribes; engaging youth in conserving natural resources; distributing water; and addressing climate change and its impact on wildlife. The refined goals included metrics, Hayes said, such as increasing permitting of renewable energy on public lands to an unprecedented 9,000 megawatts (a goal the department topped) and reducing crime on tribal reservations, which decreased by 35 percent, he said. “If we fall short of a goal, we see what can we do to get back on track,” Hayes said, “and if we meet a goal, we ask, what’s our next goal?”

The text on performance.gov is in plain English, with minimal acronyms, Metzenbaum said. The reliability of the data is backed by sources reviewed by OMB specialists, though she said it’s better to get the information out for vetting than to insist on 100 percent accuracy.

“It’s not always rosy information,” added Hayes, citing examples of managers rerouting resources in response to negative results.

“It’s not bells and whistles but smarter management,” Metzenbaum said, expressing hope that the site will help the administration learn more about how to make progress on the14 cross-agency goals, such as export promotion and energy efficiency.

Asked to anticipate the reaction from Congress, she said, “Some members will be excited, but I can’t speak for them all.”

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This story has been updated to clarify that energy efficiency, mentioned in the penultimate paragraph, is a governmentwide goal.

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