PIOs stretched too thin, lack authority to affect change

Tuesday - 4/12/2011, 9:00pm EDT

Robert Shea, principal at Grant Thornton

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John Buckner
Federal News Radio

The majority of performance improvement officers at large federal agencies say they spend less than 50 percent of their time on performance issues while some report spending as little as five percent of their time dedicated to their actual job description.

The PIOs surveyed for the Partnership for Public Service's report, A Critical Role At A Critical Time, identified four main challenges to doing their jobs effectively, including multiple job responsibilities, complicated processes, lack of government-wide performance dedication and lack of authority to affect change.

PPS conducted interviews with performance improvement officers from 23 of the 24 major agencies between June 2010 and January 2011.

Responsibilities vary

"More than half of the PIOs interviewed...are chief financial officers or budget directors and pulled in many different directions," said PPS in its report.

Forty percent of respondents devote all of their time to performance improvement and the PIOs who have multiple jobs said their budget duties take precedent over performance duties. Respondents said that their additional roles as CFOs can add to performance management while others said that focusing solely on performance would help them do their jobs better.

"We don't really need a PIO," said one respondent. " [The duties] should be integrated with other positions."

PPS's report said the 2007 executive order from President George W. Bush is flawed in that it did not specify where a PIO belongs in an agency or that they are to only hold one job. To fix this, President Barack Obama passed the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act to continue President Bush's executive order and improve upon it.

Obama's 2010 law gives PIOs a set position in the hierarchy of the agency requiring them to be senior agency executives as well as mandating they report directly to the chief operating officer.

Complicated Processes

Respondents also agreed when it comes to the complexity of performance reports. PIOs are required to annually report progress with one set of goals and quarterly with a separate set of goals. PPS said that many times the reports are duplicative and appear unconnected with performance management.

Obama's 2010 law also addresses this problem by reducing reports by 10 percent to limit duplication. The administration's law also asks the Office of Management and Budget to assess and eliminate unnecessary reporting requirements.

While respondents expressed that legislation could help fix some issues, they still reported that government as a whole is not performance driven.

Lack of government-wide performance dedication

PPS asked the interviewees to rate the culture of performance across government. On a scale of one to five, one being the lowest and five the highest, PIOs gave the culture of performance across government an average of 2.5.

"There isn't a culture and there is no overarching coordination; the usefulness [of performance information] is still in question," said one respondent.

While the PIOs did not see performance improvement government-wide, they did respond positively about their individual agencies. Many of the PIOs reported that performance management is integrated into every employee's routine in their agency but could not say the same about other agencies.

In addition, the majority of PIOs felt that their jobs go unnoticed or are under-appreciated.

Lack of authority to affect change

PIOs suggested that there is a disconnect between the management and budget sides of their agencies.

"It would be nice if the budget examiners read the management side's guidance," said one respondent. "The budget side does not even acknowledge the PIO role."

Respondents also said they would like to be brought into the performance and goal-setting process earlier instead of just implementers once the plans are provided to their agencies.

The PIOs also suggested Congress should make better use of the data that they provide to them. Many of the PIOs said that a lot of the information they provide Congress is not necessary to begin with and that legislators don't ask the right questions.

"Every year we get questions in appropriations hearings about performance measures, but they are mostly output-related," said one respondent.

Recommendations

PPS recommended that agency leaders ensure PIOs focus entirely on performance issues rather than doing multiple tasks.

PPS also recommended:

  • Agency leaders should give clear authority to PIOs to carry out their duties.
  • Agency leaders and the Office of Management and Budget should use the PIO reports to hold senior executives and managers accountable.
  • OMB and Congress should support agencies as they build performance management capacity.
  • Congress and the executive branch should only ask for data that they will use.
  • OMB should better coordinate goal-setting between management and budget.
  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act should be the model for enhanced performance management and reporting.

John Buckner is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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