Obama administration a mix of successes and failures

Monday - 9/17/2012, 3:00am EDT

By Lisa Wolfe
Program Director
Federal News Radio

Federal News Radio evaluated 23 ideas and initiatives the Obama administration put its performance and management muscle behind over the last four years. We ranked 10 as 'effective' (green), seven as 'more progress needed' (yellow), and decided six were ‘ineffective' (red) to reveal an inconsistent legacy of major wins, missed opportunities and large-scale busts.

Each day this week, we explain how well the administration was able to grow a concept into a fully implemented idea with measurable success in the areas of management, technology, workforce and acquisition.

Use the dashboard below to navigate through the 23 different initiatives examined by Federal News Radio.

(Read more below dashboard)

Monday - Management

Management links
Chart of executive orders affecting feds, contractors

Video of Energy Department's "Cool Roofs"

Article about reducing improper payments with comments by OMB Controller Danny Werfel

Slideshow of Top 10 Agency Management Initiatives

Monday our sights land on the government's organizational structure.

What are the expectations of managers and are they being held accountable for their agencies' progress toward specific goals? Each fiscal year, agencies chose three to eight high priority goals, measured the progress against them and reevaluated these objectives. How effective have those goals been in changing how agencies meet their missions? Details are not easily found.

We think senior agency leaders are doing an effective job of driving agency energy sustainability efforts. And we take a rosy view of how newly created boards and offices are making an impact on reducing improper payments. But, we are not as impressed with the administration's efforts to turn regulations into helpful guidelines for efficient agency operations.

Exclusive interviews include:

  • Jon Powers, federal environmental executive at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, on sustainability

  • Jerry Ellig, senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, on reducing regulations

  • John Powers, Deloitte Consulting principal, on the proposed federal reorganization

Tuesday - Technology

Tuesday we look at Technology — the foundational element allowing new ideas to take wing.

Technology links
Cybersecurity checklist

Map of data center consolidation efforts

Update on DoD, VA health IT efforts

Exclusive interview with Kshemendra Paul, program manager for the Information Sharing Environment

Summary of 25-point IT reform plan

We wondered if the administration has set itself up for universal success of its ideas.

Federal News Radio critically examines the Open Government Directive; progress on information sharing among the intelligence community; advances in cybersecurity; collaboration between departments on health information technology and the map for IT proficiency into the future.

We'll explain the ironic conclusion that the 25-point IT reform plan is seen as effective while actions related to cybersecurity languish in an ineffective state.

Exclusive interviews include:

  • Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, on open government

  • Panel discussion on the 25-point IT reform plan, featuring:
    - Karen Evans, former administrator of the Office of E-Gov and IT
    - Dan Chenok, director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government

Wednesday - Workforce

Wednesday's focus rests with the federal workforce. The number of initiatives trying to reform the federal workforce is notable.

Workforce links

Article about support for federal employees

Charts showing hiring reform progress

Buyout Guide tracking agency early-outs

Pay and Benefits Tracker compilation of bills that could affect federal compensation

Article about DoD's cyber workforce

The administration spent a lot of time trying to improve how agencies attract and retain new federal employees, and the effort seems to be paying off. Reforming the Senior Executive Service, however, is a different story.

Federal News Radio inspects actions around the security clearance and retirement claims backlogs to find some progress made. Conversely, evidence of the administration's lack of support of federal employees is too prevalent to ignore. And the feedback we've solicited from the workforce speaks volumes about that.

Exclusive interviews include:

  • Linda Bilmes, senior lecturer, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on hiring reform efforts

  • David Snell, director of benefit services, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, on the retirement backlog

  • Eduardo Ribas, chief human capital officer, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, on SES reform

  • George Jakabcin, chief information officer, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration

  • Evan Lesser, President of ClearanceJobs.com, on improving the security-clearance process

Thursday - Acquisition

Thursday's spotlight is on acquisition and the process by which the government goes about amassing goods and services.

Acquisition links

Exclusive interview with DoD procurement chief Frank Kendall

Multimedia report on small business contracting

Special report on high-risk contracts

The bright spot that shines in our investigation is the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative. But that success is the lone shining star.

The rewards for the administration's efforts to reduce high-risk contracts and reform the Defense Department's acquisition process have yet to be claimed, although procurement experts have noted some areas of improvement and progress.

Efforts to boost small business contracting, foster better industry/government relationships and hammer out a clear policy for insourcing and inherently governmental positions have been less successful.

Exclusive interviews include:

  • Dan Gordon, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, on strategic sourcing

  • Steve Grundman, Lund Fellow at the Atlantic Council, on improving the relationship between government and industry

  • David Childs, program manager at Management Analysis, Inc., and Jacob Pankowski, chairman of Greenberg Traurig's government contracts group, on government insourcing

Friday - Look Ahead

More links

Obama's management vision

Romney's private-sector approach

Column about Obama's possible second term

Unions, groups detail priorities

Our efforts on Friday look to the future.

What are the management priorities of the next administration, and what do federal-employee unions and other government groups want to see on the radar of the Presidential campaign?

We exact plans and promises from the campaigns of Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, examining management agendas and proposals for federal pay and benefits.

Plus, experts from government groups from every sector weigh in on their priorities for 2013 — no matter who's elected — and beyond.


Our investigation began with information gathering from many and varied sources. First, we surveyed the federal workforce for their comments and opinions of administration efforts. Next, we solicited the opinions from federal agencies on what they considered their biggest accomplishments. We also sought advice from numerous thought-leaders, current and former government executives both civilian and military, academics, and industry on what they brand administration successes and failures.

Then, we formed an editorial board to research the efforts surrounding the administration's initiatives, reviewed the information and exchanged facts. We identified major initiatives as hallmarks of the Obama administration and rated each of the 23 with one of the following marks:

  • EFFECTIVE - spirit of idea embraced; progress made toward stated goals; results apparent.
  • INEFFECTIVE - spirit of idea not embraced; little progress made toward stated goals; few results apparent.
  • MORE PROGRESS NEEDED - spirit of idea embraced in some ways but not others; limited progress made toward stated goals; progress made toward some goals but not others; some results apparent.

Conclusion and Analysis

Our investigation found the Obama administration does an above average job of developing a concept and outlining it for agencies.

The 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management has specific goals and measurable results within a stated time frame. This clearly outlined strategy has resulted in agencies adopting cloud computing at a fast rate, shutting down or consolidating data centers and reopening old priorities such as shared services and program management with a new perspective.

Beth McGrath, the Defense Department's deputy chief management officer, told Federal News Radio at a recent conference, "It all starts with a strategy...if everyone is rowing the same way and everyone understands their role in achieving the outcome, the probability of success is very high."

Strategy is a strong suit of the administration. Philosophical academics are aplenty within the political ranks, holding a perception of how the government "should" work. In taking this view, their vision becomes obscured to the reality of how the government is actually organized, what is needed to make fundamental changes and how to motivate the workforce toward its goals. Too often, the strategy, while valid, is developed too late.

McGrath says, "Change is absolutely possible, but it won't happen unless people decide actually to step up and lead."

Our review ranked four more ideas in the 'effective' column than in the 'ineffective' column. But the number of initiatives steadfast in the 'more progress needed' column should give the administration pause.

Even with a clear vision of concept, the lack of urgency to flex the muscle and turn the concept into a fully implemented idea with measurable success results in something less than effective.

Such were the cases of SES reform and addressing the retirement backlog claims. Why did it take the administration 2 1/2 years to begin paring down the growing number of retirement applications that OPM was not processing quickly enough? Why has the administration's progress toward reforming the SES and improving performance management slowed to a trickle?

What makes administration ideas fizzle? Was the idea influenced by politics? Did the President relinquish control of the idea to a gridlocked Congress? Did enough people "step up and lead"?

Of the 23 initiatives, 10 initiatives demonstrated desired results while 13 didn't. President Obama's garden is certainly growing and producing fruit, but it is hard to find amongst all the weeds.

Explore different parts of our series each day this week and examine the research we've completed to support our conclusions. We also welcome your feedback — interact with us on Facebook, email us or send us your comments as we post stories each day.

More from the special report, The Obama Impact: Evaluating the Last Four Years

Part 1: Evaluating the Obama administration's management initiatives

Part 2: Evaluating Obama's technology reforms

Part 3: Evaluating Obama's workforce initiatives

Part 4: Evaluating Obama's acquisition efforts

Part 5A: What would a second-term for President Obama mean for feds?

Part 5B: What would a Romney presidency mean for federal workers?