Since Congress passed the Government Performance and Results Act of
1993, the federal government has been struggling to measure outcome
rather than output.Agreement is universal that designing and
an outcome-based performance management system would increase
performance, as well as taxpayer satisfaction with the federal
Performance Management System
An example of an outcome performance management system can be
found in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).The agency wants to be
measure whether its actions increase the rate of voluntary
rather than measuring only the number of taxpayers audited
The IRSs primary mission is increasing citizens compliance with the
so knowing whether it is achieving that goal is more important than
audits. Most federal agencies are in similar situations.
Why doesnt every government agency at every level have outcome
management systems?Why has it taken the U.S.Office of Management
and Budget (OMB) so long to start something so basic, especially
organizational results is this administrations mantra? The
needs presidential leadership to undertake such an initiative.Only
last year, after
this president had five years in office,did OMB mandate that every
employees to form a test group and design and implement an outcome
management system for those employees.The executive branch is still
the starting gate,while the administrations remaining days in power
Will the tests lead to learning, adaptation, and broad
the slow death associated with no support?The jury is still out.We
however, that creating a performance management system with outcome
is very difficult.
The challenges to a performance management system include the
Agencies have difficulty accepting accountability for achieving
goals when they have little or no direct control over the outcome.
Forexample, the National HighwayTraffic Safety Administration
has no control over whether the public
drives while drunk, but it nonetheless accepted responsibility
for reducing the highway fatality rate
per 100 million vehicle miles traveled from a baseline
of 1.69 in 1995 to 1.38 in 2008an improvement
of nearly 20 percent. Similarly, the U.S.
Department of Education has control of only 8.3
percent of K12 school funds, but it is measuring its
success in terms of increased student achievement.
If an agency is willing to accept accountability for
an outcome goal, defining that goal is often difficult.
OMB defines outcomes as the intended result
of carrying out a program or activity an
event or condition that is external to the program
or activity and that is of direct importance to the
intended beneficiaries and/or the public. For example,
according to OMB, the output goal for a
tornado warning system might be the amount of
warning time provided.An outcome goal is much
broader and might include the number of lives
saved and property damage averted.
Initiating an outcome performance management
system requires a change from hierarchical command-
and-control management to a flatter organizational
structure. Setting and achieving outcome
goals requires agency leaders to create and manage
networks of contractors, nonprofit organizations,
and state and local governments.They cannot afford
to wait for five levels of approval before acting.
If agreement is reached on appropriate outcome
goals, creating systems for collecting the data and
evaluating results is difficult.The IRS had an easier
time counting the number of audits than determining
the level of voluntary taxpayer compliance.
Finally, once outcome goals are defined and the
measurement data collected, organizational goals
must be subdivided into individual employee goals
that can be identifiably linked to the organizational
goalsan endeavor that requires difficult, disciplined,
and detailed work.
Changing from Outputs to Outcomes
Changing from output to outcome goals, and evaluating
individuals and organizations on outcomes rather
than outputs, calls for significant cultural change. No
longer is an employees working hard a measure of success;
rather, the measure is the influence of the work on
the outcome goals of the agency. No longer do long
hours alone generate an outstanding rating: they must
lead to measurable results.Long-standing implicit agreements
between employees and their managers defining
loyalty and accessibility as the basis for an outstanding
rating have to be eliminated and replaced by measurable
The resulting impact on evaluations, promotions,
within-grade increases, and monetary awards would be
significant.The current practice of annual evaluations
containing great prose but little about specific, defined,
and measured results would end. Passing one award per
group around to several top performers would end.Only
the top performer would receive an award, and that
might be the same person every year.
Who Will Answer?
Given the significant organizational change effort,
who should be responsible for leading the change? Employees,
supervisors, mid-level managers, unions, and
members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) are resisting
and will continue to resist movement to an outcome-
measurement system.Why not have chief human
capital officers (CHCOs) champion the effort? Over the
years, human resources professionals have been responsible
for creating the evaluation forms and systems.
Moreover, political appointees turned to the CHCOs
when OMB demanded each agency create a performance
Although important, talented persons,CHCOs have
no control over how managers actually manage individual
performance.They are staff members to agency political
leaders and career program managers responsible
for results. Political and career managers, not CHCOs,
must determine the program goals and insist that supervisors
working with those they leadestablish individual
goals. CHCOs should assist agency political
appointees and program managers in setting goals and
give managers the training needed to create the relationships
necessary to achieve the goals. Because staff
members do not have program responsibility, they cannot
successfully lead the implementation of the major
organizational change efforts needed to implement a
performance management system. So long as performance
management is a CHCO thing, its successful,
broad implementation in the federal government is
Although critical to a performance management system,
program managers or members of the career SES
are also not viable candidates to successfully lead the effort.
To begin with, they have no time to plan and implement
such a large change
effort.They already have incredibly
busy schedules as they seek to
meet ever-increasing output goals
with fewer people and resources.
Giving them such prodigious additional
work, on top of an already
heavy workload,would not
lead to success.
Furthermore, successful cultural
change efforts reap few rewards
and pose significant risk of punishment for failure.
No large bonus is at the end of a performance management
implementation rainbow, but unfavorable reports
from the U.S. Government Accountability Office and
inspectors general, stories in the FederalTimes and Washington
Post, and congressional inquiries and testimony
can put black marks on career federal employees records.
Finally, friends and colleagues are guaranteed to resist.
Why dont the political appointees who head agencies
and departments champion this change? Every textbook
and consultant says that the person at the top
must lead a significant change effort. But political appointees
are, for the most part, uninterested in public
policy implementation, and that makes perfect sense.
They are evaluated by their president, peers, academics,
and many agency stakeholders on their ability to create
new public policy that will distinguish the sitting presidents
initiatives from those of the other political party.
Their traditional legacy is getting legislation passed and
regulations issued, not effectively and efficiently implementing
policies. Like SES executives and mid-level
managers, political appointees do not have the time for
significant change efforts. Every minute spent on public
policy implementation is one away from public policy
Similarly, success holds no reward, but may be met
with the grudging question, Why did it take you so
long?The political appointees tombstone is not inscribed,
Helped to create more effective government.
If implementation fails, though, a humiliating public
flogging could ensue.
The Top Manager
At the top of the federal
government is the president. Presidents
have long talked about the
need for a more effective and efficient
executive branch. Each has
had a plan of action that involves
others changing their behavior.
Presidents have demanded plans,
new measures of success, public
accountability, and so on.One need only recall President
Nixons zero-based budgeting, President Clintons
Reinventing Government, and President GeorgeW.
Bushs Presidents Management Agenda.
No presidential plan has included a presidents modeling
the behavior he soughtspending less time on
public policy creation and more time on public policy
implementation.We are stuck between presidential exhortations
for change and the reality faced by those trying
to make the change.Before political appointees, SES
executives, and mid-level managers take the risk of
spending time and energy on creating and implementing
a performance management system, they need to see
their boss, the president, change.They need to see the
president spend time on this movement in cabinet meetings,
talking directly to federal employees, and personally
monitoring success.They need to see the president taking
the same risks he asks the rest of us to take.
When performance management becomes the
presidents thing, thenand only thenwill it be institutionalized
in the executive branch.