Four senior U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officialswho
are leading the Obama Administrations management effortsrecently
discussed their game plan and top priorities at the 49th annual
Interagency Resources Management Conference (IRMCO) conference,
convened this April in Cambridge, Maryland.
The IRMCO conference brings together the federal governments senior
program managers and human capital, information technology,
acquisition, and finance executives for a candid and open dialogue
about current management challenges. This year, the opening plenary
panel entitled Expanding on the Management Agenda was a
conversation with the four senior OMB officials driving the Obama
Administrations approach to improving government performance.
The panelists were
- Danny Werfel, controller for the Office of Federal Financial
- Shelley Metzenbaum, associate director for Performance and
- Daniel Gordon, administrator for the Office of Federal
- Vivek Kundra, chief information officer and administrator for
E-Government and Information Technology.
Strategies to Improve Government Performance
The panel began by summarizing the six strategies that OMB Deputy
Director for Management and Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey
Zients has indicated offer the greatest potential to improve
performance: eliminating waste, driving top priorities, leveraging
purchasing scale, closing the IT performance gap, opening
government to results, and attracting and motivating top talent.
Each of the four OMB officials described their top two or three
priorities. Rather than dwell on the six strategies, the panelists
explained how they are working together on a shared agenda. What
became clear was that the panelists are jointly undertaking a
pragmatic, problem-solving approach: looking to take the best of
what works in other governments, the private sector, and recent
federal efforts to transform the way government works.
Indeed, it was apparent from their individual priorities, as well
as the way they describe how they are working together, that OMB is
operating as a coordinated and integrated team. Fixing problems and
improving mission performance is no longer considered someone elses
job, but everyones job.
Office of Federal Financial Management Danny Werfel,
Werfel started by explaining that OMBs approach is to move toward
long-term, transformational change. At the same time, OMB wants to
hit critical short-term milestones that can serve as the building
blocks that support such change. While many of the financial
management initiatives are familiar, the approach OMB is taking has
The first priority is eliminating waste. While reducing improper
payments may sound similar to the past, OMBs approach is changing.
President Obamas September 2009 executive order called for a set of
strategies and deliverables drawn from what has been learned over
time. It extracts what OMB believes to be the most successful
- more senior accountability, charging each agency to come up
with a senior accountable official responsible for improper
- more frequent and targeted error measures so there is a better
understanding of the root causes
- incentive opportunities for state and local governments, as
well as contractors to improve how they spend government dollars.
As an example of leadership from the top, the president held a
March 2010 event in Missouri where the main topic of discussion was
Real Property Management
A second priority is real property, which is property that the
government owns but no longer needs, as well as management of
property that the government needs to continue to hold. OMB
expects, in the near future, to have policy announcement on how to
handle real property.
Financial Systems Management
This effort is not only another way to eliminate waste; it also
supports closing the technology performance gap. Departments and
agencies do not always modernize their systems on cost or on
schedule. When they do, optimal deployment is not always achieved.
This problem has become acute in recent years. Costs have risen
$400 million, $500 million, $800 million, and sometimes even
higher. Modernizing systems is taking longer, sometimes even five
to 10 years longer than expected. When deployed, these systems
often fail to meet business needs. One of OMBs major priorities is
finding more efficient and better ways to modernize financial
This final priority highlights OMBs responsibility to ensure that
the information the government is pushing into the public sphere is
high quality and reliable, as well as comprehensive and timely.
When the administration sat down to determine where responsibility
for this endeavor lies, it looked no further than chief financial
officers who have a longstanding practice, history, and experience
in building quality control frameworks around financial and other
The CFO community, led by OMB, is taking on new measures to improve
the reliability of information that is released into the public
sphere, particularly information on spending.gov and recovery.gov.
Performance and Personnel Management Shelley Metzenbaum,
Metzenbaum explained how the administration aims to deliver more
value for the taxpayers dollar. While it is tempting to look at the
administrations six strategies and see them as stovepipes, OMB is
trying to become more outcome-focused. But who determines those
outcomes? According to Metzenbaum, the outcomes are being defined
by individual departments and agencies.
They have not only chosen specific actions to deliver, they have
selected precise strategies to drive top priorities. One strategy
is getting government to use performance information to lead,
learn, and improve outcomes. A second strategy is communicating
that information coherently and concisely to improve results and
transparency. The third strategy is to strengthen problem-solving
Using Performance Information
OMB asked every Cabinet member to identify three to eight
high-priority performance goals, which are in the presidents FY
2011 budget. These are mission and outcome goals, such as moving
200,000 top-quality teachers to low income areas or increasing our
renewable energy supply with specific quantities by specific dates.
Metzenbaum explained that setting such goals is a convenient way to
communicate priorities across organizations and to get people
involved in delivering on them.
OMB has begun to have action plan meetings with agencies to ensure
that they are thinking about how to deliver on goals. OMB is asking
such questions such as, If we are starting here and are going
there, what is the trajectory to get there? and How are we going to
know along the way whether we are on or off track?
To do so, agencies need data via multiple measures to guide them.
They also need people to analyze the data, digging into root causes
(both positive and negative). Then, they need to be able to use the
data to direct further behaviors and communicate information
concisely. As a result, OMB is building a performance measurement
website for not only the public and Congress, but for those across
government to provide a line of sight to what agencies are doing
and what they are trying to accomplish.
Strengthening Problem-Solving Networks
A third aspect is strengthening problem-solving networks. The
government frequently depends on others to get things done: It
needs to leverage others and enlist help. OMB wants agencies to use
communication and incentives to accomplish this. When asked to
explain how OMBs current efforts differ from what they were doing
in the past, Metzenbaum explained that OMB wants to move
performance management from being a compliance-oriented exercise
(to comply with the requirements of the Government Performance and
Results Act) to a performance improvement way of doing business.
She acknowledged that there were accountability elements in the
For example, there were the red, yellow, and green (stoplight)
scorecards and the Program Assessment Rating Tool. However, while
OMBs rating of departments and agencies was a useful system for
increasing the production of goals and measurement, there were a
lot of problems, including people producing data to put into
reports that no one read. OMB is now trying to move from a
compliance-focused effort to something where everyone says:
- We are really changing the way we do business.
- Wow, this is really connecting the dots.
- We really are beginning to work across the organization to
focus on the things we really wanted to focus on.
OMBs notion of accountability is twofold. First is transparency. By
getting some of this information out to the public, OMB hopes to
encourage agencies to get more serious about it. But disclosure
alone does not always motivate change. OMB is also having action
plan meetings around high-priority goals. It is asking agencies to
very clearly identify goal leaders.
OMB will be very much in the picture, asking for quarterly
performance updates and discussions about how agencies are going to
accomplish efforts. In addition, OMB is asking each agency head to
start her own constructive performance reviews. For example, the
U.S. Treasury Department has done so by bureau, and the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration has done so as well.
Finally, OMB is still OMB. If agencies are really not paying
attention, they will hear from OMB. They will not get into trouble
if they do not meet their targets. They will have a problem,
however, if they do not know why they did not hit their target or
do not have a plan to deal with it. OMB is going to be asking those
who do not some very hard questions come budget time.
Office of Federal Procurement Policy Daniel Gordon,
Gordon began by explaining that the worlds of each of the OMB
officials overlap. There is a lot of collaboration among them, and
their efforts interconnect. He then explained the facts.
- Fact one: The annual procurement spend has more than doubled
over the last five to eight years. What started at $150 billion is
more than $500 billion now.
- Fact two: The acquisition workforce has not kept pace. The size
of the workforce has essentially been stable.
- Fact three: The prior administration was so focused on
outsourcing that, in many situations, the federal government has
lost control over what has gone to contractors and what must be
done by federal employees.
The administrations priorities flow from these facts. Priority 1 is
that the government must strengthen the acquisition workforce. The
budget has $158 million to build the acquisition workforce through
hiring and training. Priority 2 revolves around fiscal
responsibility. The government needs to move from the unsustainable
path of procurement spending, which is increasing 10 to 12 percent.
The procurement community needs to save money and to reduce fiscal
risk to the federal government.
Priority 3 maintains that the government needs to rebalance its
relationship with contractors. There is a need to ensure that the
government is not contracting tasks that federal employees should
be doing. Departments and agencies need to maintain control of
Gordon also discussed the implications of the Office of Federal
Procurement Policys March 31, 2010, Federal Register notice, which
seeks comments on a draft OMB policy letter about inherently
government functions. He explained that OMB is trying to develop
clearer guidanceno longer a blurred line between what can be
contacted out and what
must be done by federal employees.
OMB wants people to understand what needs to be done to prevent a
contractor from unwittingly sliding into inherently governmental
work when work that is closely associated with inherently
governmental is contracted out. It also needs to make clear that
the federal government must maintain control of its mission and its
operations agencies are doing a critical function when using
contractors to accomplish what is considered a critical function.
Office of E-Government and Information Technology Vivek
Kundra, Administrator and CIO
Kundra explained that the president has been very clear from day
one that every dollar the government spends on technology should
help serve the American people. For far too long, the government
has spent billions on information technology, but has not seen the
dividends that were promised. He identified four priorities to
close the IT performance gap.
Manage a Multibillion Dollar IT Portfolio
In 2009, OMB launched an IT dashboard that focused on the health of
IT investments across the federal government. This year, OMB is
taking that information and acting on it in tech-stat sessions with
officials who are running projects, as well as the business owners.
Manage Efficiently and Effectively
OMB is looking at efficiency and effectiveness, particularly in
terms of infrastructure. This tends to be one of the largest areas
of spendingcurrently $19 billion and rising. Last year, OMB focused
heavily on developing a cohesive strategy around moving toward the
cloud and consolidation of data centers. In 2010, OMB is executing
against that path. The U.S. General Services Administration, for
example, is moving toward providing a public engagement platform
without having to build it themselves.
On his first day in office, President Obama issued his Open
Government Memorandum. Since then, the government has launched
data.gov. It has also begun use of dashboards in such areas as
technology, healthcare, and regulations. Finally, it has hard-wired
the presidents goal of an open, transparent, and participatory
When the president called for a bottom-up review of cyber security,
OMB conducted a review that highlighted national security issues.
It worked closely to make investments that do not necessarily
center on compliance, but instead focus on real outcomes. There
also has been a huge shift in terms of the Federal Information
Security Management Act, making sure that investments serve the
American people and do so in a context that recognizes that
cyber-security threats are real and that the government needs to
tackle them head on.