Major changes to performance management in OMB budget guidance

Wednesday - 8/8/2012, 5:05am EDT

Shelley Metzenbaum, Associate Director for Performance and Personnel, OMB

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New budget guidance from the Office of Management and Budget is making significant changes to the way agencies manage their performance goals.

The updated A-11 Circular released late last week helps agencies prepare for their fiscal 2014 budget requests due to OMB in mid-September.

OMB traditionally releases an updated A-11 in June. The timing of this year's release forces agencies to make some tough decisions in about six weeks.

"This is laying out an aggressive multi-year plan for improving performance and accountability across government as well as implementing the Government Performance Results Modernization Act," said Shelley Metzenbaum, OMB's associate director for performance and personnel, in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio.

Metzenbaum said the guidance tries to bring agencies working on similar programs together more naturally.

"Where we have common needs, such as common data standards, it begins to establish common definitions," she said. "The goal is to provide the public and Congress the coherent picture of what government is trying to accomplish, the strategies it's using, and how well it's working and, where it's not working, what we are trying to do to fix it."

"Where we have common needs, such as common data standards, it begins to establish common definitions," she said. "The goal is to provide the public and Congress the coherent picture of what government is trying to accomplish, the strategies it's using, and how well it's working and, where it's not working, what we are trying to do to fix it."

Shared programs, goals

"There are 80 pages of new performance management requirements to help agencies to meet the changes in the GPRA Modernization Act," said Robert Shea, a principal with Grant Thornton and a former OMB official, in an interview on In-Depth with Francis Rose Monday. "There is a new focus on aligning strategic plans with the election. Agencies will have to update their strategic plan a year after the election to coincide with the President's agenda."

OMB's Shelley Metzenbaum

Shea added part of the GPRA Modernization Act implementation is the attention to shared programs.

"There will be a focus on cross-cutting goals," Shea said. "If you've got goals other agencies have, you will have to report those same goals the same way to show how everyone is working together to achieve those cost-cutting goals."

The guidance also tries to address a few challenges agency performance improvement officers said they had with the goals.

Metzenbaum said OMB expanded the definition of indicators. She said there are performance indicators and other indicators to help agencies manage a goal.

"Other indicators by definition are those that do not have a target," she said. "An example — if you are trying to clear out a backlog and your goal is to clear out the backlog. But, what we realized is we needed to fully appreciate the work an agency is doing. You needed to know what were the incoming applications as well as how many applications had been processed. What we began to see is you could have your incoming applications go up significantly and a backlog would stay flat when in fact an agency was making great progress, so you couldn't see that picture. It's that kind of other indicator or there may be other side effects you want to keep your eye on."

Another change is improving the definition of milestones especially for those things that weren't measurable and couldn't easily be measured.

"We also want them to think about outcomes and not get into the weeds too much, and make sure their managers and goal leaders are really thinking about what they are trying to accomplish and how they can stay connected to the outcomes that make a difference to people's lives," Metzenbaum said. "We created a concept that we had before but strengthened it on strategic objectives. We have strategic goals. We have strategic objectives and then performance goals contribute to that. In terms of how agencies manage, we think it will make it more practical and not get everybody thinking they have to deal with the minutiae but actually thinking strategically what's working and what's not working."

Metzenbaum said agencies will update Performance.gov with progress reports on their high-priority goals this fall.

"Agencies are providing to OMB their quarterly updates on how they are doing, the progress they are making and the problems they are encountering," she said. "Then we're having regular meetings. We are in the midst of action planning meetings with agencies on all of their priority goals to make sure we understand their strategies, even as they are beginning to implement them. We are discussing with them whether we have the right indicators and milestones."

Metzenbaum said the oversight is not a one-size-fits-all approach and will be adapted for what works best for each agency.

"Among the changes, OMB is requiring agencies to use the same format for their high-priority goals in order to report them the same way on Performance.gov," Shea said.

The Obama administration's performance agenda over the last three-plus years has been part foundation building and part making change. But with the release of the updated A-11 Circular, the Office of Management and Budget is moving into the next phase of performance management.

"This guidance, especially being within the guidance for the budget, makes it very much a part of the way the government does business and it's part of the core foundation, the structure on which the government will operate," Metzenbaum said. "We're incredibly excited about this guidance, even though people don't tend to get excited about guidance."

The A-11 document includes a broad range of budget requirements for agencies to meet, ranging from updates on financial management systems to justification for office rental payments to apportionment planning.

OMB also wants to know how agencies are cutting travel and taming credit card spending. Additionally, the administration is asking agencies to explain how they are moving to the cloud and reinvesting savings into innovative IT.

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