Successful metrics for measuring agency performance

Monday - 8/9/2010, 4:36pm EDT

Jon Desenberg, John Kamensky, & Robert Shea

Click to hear the conversation

Download mp3

This week's In Depth Conversation focuses on setting successful metrics to measure agency performance.

The DorobekInsider spoke with chief performance officer Jeffrey Zients last month about where performance reporting stands and what still needs to be done.

Today, host Francis Rose got analysis from three additional experts:

  • Jon Desenberg of the Performance Institute
  • John Kamensky, Senior Research Fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government; and former deputy director of National Partnership for Reinventing Government
  • Robert Shea of Grant Thornton and former Associate Administrator for Management at OMB

Kamensky says he thinks what the administration is doing right now is fairly radical.

"They are pushing transparency. Data.gov, Recovery.gov, USASpending.gov -- all these things . . . [are] getting raw data out there and letting citizens and advocacy groups and non-profits analyze it, as opposed to having it filtered and packaged for them by government employees. So, this whole notion of turning your thinking, or the source of data, over to others to be able to do some thinking and setting priorities and setting performance information, is going to be radical, I think, as it rolls out."

He added that this will be an especially dramatic change for government employees, who have always had control over data and the analysis of it. This could, however, also change the business of government for the better.

"This means you don't have to have annual performance reports. They could be live performance reports with data that are current. This is going to change the dynamic of the whole performance field."

Shea agrees that the transparency is a big step and thinks it will benefit the government overall.

"I think it's generally going to be positive, though I've found in our efforts that very few people really made use of the information. The analysis of it was pretty weak. The administration has also tried to drive very senior level focus on the most important performance improvement efforts, which I think is really a very positive step. What I think folks miss is some of the structure, believe it or not, from the President's management agenda scorecards and the program assessment rating tool -- I'm totally biased -- but I find folks telling me that the performance management professionals who want to leverage these kind of initiatives to improve performance in the agency miss these requirements -- miss this structure around which to measure, improve and manage performance."

Desenberg says he does think that the administration is trying, but the message is getting garbled when it comes to performance officials actually knowing what the government wants.

"While the administration may have a framework in their back pocket or something they're secretly working on, no one knows about it and so people are left to drift to their own devices. I understand part of this. They did not want to add yet another framework, they did not want to be responsible for yet another reporting burden, but not doing anything is in many ways like doing something. For an administration that prides itself on messaging and getting its message out, they have not done a good job in this area getting their message out."

He adds that Congress has a role to play, as well, and many performance officials are waiting for the legislative branch to jump on board and start using the measures to make better decisions about the budget.