Achieving effective outcomes through management initiatives proves difficult

Monday - 9/17/2012, 3:23am EDT

By Lisa Wolfe
Program Director
Federal News Radio

In Part 1 of Federal News Radio's special report, The Obama Impact: Evaluating the Last Four Years, we examine five of President Barack Obama's most important management initiatives, rating each as effective (green), ineffective (red) or needs more progress (yellow). View the details of each initiative through our interactive dashboard.

MANAGEMENT
Sustainability
Improper Payments
  Performance Management Agenda
Regulations
  Reorganization of Government

Performance Management Agenda

There is a contradiction within the administration's performance agenda. It has the will to design the process by which progress is measured, but lacks the conviction to demand agencies follow the process. This mixed bag results in good initial progress but more is needed to realize its potential.

The administration told agencies to establish three to eight high-priority goals in 2009 with the idea to encourage agencies to achieve measurable change in 12-to- 24 months. Along the way, the Office of Management and Budget measured quarterly progress toward those goals.

More management links


How executive orders affect feds, contractors
(chart)

Top 10 Agency Management Initiatives
(slideshow)

Federal News Radio conducted a review of the progress of each agency's priority goals and found data sparse or non-existent and none of it conformed to a standard report or scorecard. The performance data is inconsistent and not transparent because of the assorted ways agencies present it in their annual accountability reports to Congress.

While performance metrics on specific agency goals seem to be uneven, the administration's commitment to holding managers accountable for progress is strong. The Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 requires agencies to improve performance measurement and remove duplicative programs.

OMB launched Performance.gov to highlight accountability, responsiveness, innovation and efficiency. But the administration delivered the website almost a year after it was promised and updates to the site have been irregular over the last year. Data on contracting savings within the acquisition section contains 2010 data, the acquisition workforce section and finance section have 2011 data, while the human resources section contains 2012 data.

On the positive side, there is a concentrated focus on data-driven reviews: TechStat, AcqStat, and CyberStat are governmentwide, while HUDStat, FEMAStat and FDA-Track are agency specific goals.

All of this data is part of an unprecedented effort to feed data into dashboards, making it easier for Congress, the public and industry to find and understand how much progress departments are making.

Regulations

Jerry Ellig, senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, discusses streamlining regulations. (Interview)

The White House has made a respectful push to reduce the numerous regulations agencies oversee and produce each year including signing Executive Order 13563 - Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review and Executive Order 13610 - Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens.

Just this year, OMB issued policies to give sunlight to and to reduce regulations. In January, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) provided guidance calling for agencies to write straightforward executive summaries at the same time they are creating "regulatory preambles for lengthy or complex rules".

And in August, then-OIRA administrator Cass Sunstein asked agencies to review outdated rules or rules that are no longer needed, and get rid of them. OMB says these reviews are on track to save $10 billion over five years. But progress has been slow and inconsistent partly because of the enormity of the task.

Despite the policy efforts, TechAmerica, an industry association, says the number of acquisition regulations has skyrocketed over the last four years from 87 in 2009 to 208 in 2012. (Source: TechAmerica roundtable Sept. 2012). And in August, the man at OIRA behind the effort to reduce regulations stepped down.

Sustainability

Federal managers have embraced the administration's philosophy around two initiatives; energy sustainability and reducing waste, fraud, abuse and improper payments.

Sustainability Video

Read more: Cool Roofs Initiative helps agencies achieve energy-saving goals

Agencies have made noticeable improvements in the adoption of green technologies, taking small but important steps such as double-sided printing or trimming down the number of personal printers federal employees have.

Of the 15 OMB Scorecards on Sustainability/Energy from cabinet level agencies, as of January 2012, 10 received a green score in at least four of the seven areas targeting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing energy intensity, use of renewable energy, reduction of portable water intensity, reduction in fleet petroleum use and increase in green buildings.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the General Services Administration each earned seven greens scores. NASA and the Labor Department earned six greens while the National Archives and Records Administration, the departments of Veterans Affairs, Treasury, Interior, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Agriculture, the Smithsonian Institution and the Tennessee Valley Authority all garnered five of the highest scores.

Only the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and the Office of Personnel Management received three or fewer green scores. The Army Corps of Engineers received seven red scores and the scorecard for the Small Business Administration is not available.

Agency culture is changing as a result of the "green" commitment. OMB says 61 agencies have appointed a senior sustainability officer, including all 15 cabinet agencies, and GSA's green toolkit helps agencies buy more sustainable products and services.

Waste, Fraud, Abuse and Improper Payments

Congress and the administration recognized the importance of transparency and accountability when it comes to how the government spends money. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) co-authored the Federal Financial Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) in 2006. Lawmakers and the White House applied the same concept to the Recovery Act.

Federal News Radio's Jason Miller interviews OMB Controller Danny Werfel and
other officials on combating improper payments (article)

Improper payments by agency (chart)

The Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board (RAT Board) paved the path for a more in-depth and higher degree of oversight and accountability through Recovery.gov. In fact, the RAT Board has redefined the way the government tracks grants and contracts. The board now is the model for efforts to implement governmentwide spending oversight, and bipartisan legislation in both the House and Senate could make the RAT Board a permanent fixture in overseeing federal spending.

The board is working on several pilot programs, one of which is a pilot with FederalAccountability.gov to track Recovery Act spending with Medicare and Medicaid provider enrollment data, veterans' disability payments and small business HUBZone Certifications.

President Obama also created the Government, Accountability and Transparency Board (GAT Board) through a June 2011 executive order as part of the administration's Campaign to Cut Waste initiatives. It is modeled after the Recovery Board. The goal of the board is to increase transparency surrounding non-Recovery Act federal spending.

Other areas of savings supporting our effective' evaluation around the administration's efforts to reduce waste, fraud abuse, and improper payments are the creation of the SAVE award launched in 2009 and the commitment to shed unnecessary federal real estate, which is on track to save the goal of $3 billion by 2013.

Federal workers have submitted more than 85,000 money saving ideas to OMB so far. OMB says the SAVE award program is on track to save over $200 million by the end of the year.

According to Performance.gov, as of January of this year, agencies have saved $2.4 billion by reducing their property footprint through disposals or consolidations, saving energy and operating costs, and sharing space with other agencies.

Reorganization of Government

The idea to reorganize Commerce, an effort to merge agencies dealing with business and trade, was an uphill climb from the start.

Jon Powers, Deloitte Consulting principal, discusses the proposed government reorganization (Interview)

The President needed Congress to give the Executive Branch the authority to make structural changes to consolidate agencies. Congress gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt that authority during the Great Depression but the law sunsetted in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced bills earlier this year to reinstate the consolidation authority, but both bills languished in committee.

The President, however, did elevate the SBA to Cabinet-level status and launched Business.USA.gov, but these moves fall painfully short of the original idea designed to create an efficient, effective and accountable government.

Click on the individual initiatives in the dashboard above for more details and analysis from Federal News Radio. Throughout the week, Federal News Radio will also evaluate the President's most important technology, workforce and acquisition initiatives to date.

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?