Almost a year after promising to publicly show agency performance management on an online dashboard, the Office of Management and Budget finally launched the Performance.gov website.
The portal went live Thursday.
Jeff Zients, OMB’s deputy director for management and chief performance officer, said the site consolidates the information from other dashboards, such as the one for technology spending, in an effort to bring together all the components of the Obama administration’s performance management agenda.
The consolidation is one of three goals of the site, Zients said in an interview with Federal News Radio.
“It makes much more sense to have performance data in one site so that agency leaders and the public know where to go to see the key performance metrics,” he said. “Second we are adding new data sets. So if you go to the HR area, for example, we are looking at manager satisfaction on hiring and applicant satisfaction, looking at it agency-by-agency and that’s new data. The third is we will be adding more and more data sets across time.”
Zients said, for instance, OMB will add agency data center consolidation plans in the coming months to track how they will close 800 of these sites by 2015, and information on how agencies are disposing of federal real property.
Shelley Metzenbaum, OMB’s associate director for performance and personnel, has been promising the launch of the site since November 2010.
In October 2010, Metzenbaum said during a conference that Performance.gov would not provide a governmentwide look at all high-priority goals. Instead, Metzenbaum said, users can sort by agency goals, theme or by project type.
“You can sort to find out all the goals based on budget categories. Or you could search by a word, such as climate change,” she said at the time. “It will not be the federal government’s full suite of climate change goals because these only will be the high-priority goals. But it allows you to look a little more coherently so you can see what we are trying to do.”
OMB expected to launch the dashboard by the spring, and when that deadline passed, said it hoped to do so by July. But the administration delayed its launch for several reasons, including funding problems. Performance.gov was one of the sites that was affected by cuts to the E-Government fund.
“The E-government Fund cuts have had an effect,” Metzenbaum said in an interview with Federal News Radio. “We haven’t been able to push as far as would have liked and fix as many things as we would have liked to. We want to put information out there as accurately as possible and develop capacity to, for instance, where backlogs exist and we could know how the demand is changing and track it on the site.”
The launch of the portal comes just as agencies are finishing up their fiscal 2013 budget requests.
“In the areas of focus for Performance.gov are the central components of our performance agenda,” Zients said. “These are the areas we have been talking about since the beginning of the administration.”
The portal focuses on eight specific areas:
Under acquisition, for example, OMB details key initiatives such as developing the acquisition workforce or strategic sourcing.
Users also can go to specific agency acquisition pages. Under the Agriculture Department, the site lists the chief acquisition officer, how the agency is addressing the administration’s key initiatives and specific agency data on the number of certified contract specialists.
“Performance.gov advances the commitment in the President’s FY2011 budget to communicate candidly and concisely what the federal government is trying to accomplish, how it is trying to accomplish it and why these efforts are important,” OMB wrote on the “About Us” section of the site. “All of the cabinet departments and eight other major agencies have home pages on Performance.gov. Each agency’s home page describes the agency’s mission. Each page also provides links to the agency’s performance plans and reports and to pages showing agency progress on government-wide management initiatives.”
Users also can jump right to an agency’s section, where they will find links to performance and accountability reports.
On the Labor Department’s page, the site provides a short description of each of the agency’s initiatives under the eight main focus areas.
OMB said it’s accepting feedback on how to improve the site and make the data easier to use.
“We put information out there and we are trying to engage the public a little bit as we experiment and as we try different ways of presenting information about the priority goals so as we move to implement GPRA Modernization Act with new priority goals for fiscal year 2012 and 2013 we’ll really be better able to communicate on the key things the public wants to know about,” Metzenbaum said.
Reaction to Performance.gov portal was mixed.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) sent out a release saying the site is a valuable tool.
“The launch of Performance.gov takes us a step closer to our goal of creating a more transparent, efficient, and accountable government,” Carper said. “It is a common-sense solution that gives Americans the ability to monitor how their tax dollars are being spent and to stay informed on government operations, which will help keep the federal government accountable and on track.”
But other performance experts say the site falls short of expectations.
Steve Redburn, the project director for Peterson Pew Commission on Budget Reform and a former OMB official in the Bush administration, said the site does some things better than the old PART website, .but also misses the boat in other areas.
“This approach is much less focused on policy and much more on management at this stage. It’s also an advance in some ways,” said Redburn, who also is a fellow with the National Academy for Public Administration. “Everything is now accessible through one site, you can link to other data the government publishes and all the strategic plans for all the agencies. But there is not the same comprehensive systematic analysis of what is working and what isn’t working. I think there is a missing piece. In the 2011 budget, the Obama administration announced a number of priority goals and I was expecting to go onto the site and be able to see the targets they set for 15 or 18 months out and where they are on each of those goals. And those are hard to find.”
He said there are some areas, such as improper payments, that have good information, but other areas where there are gaps.
Bob Behn, a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a fellow with the National Academy for Public Administration, said the site in and of itself isn’t going to make a difference in how agencies measure and improve performance. He said leadership is the only way that will happen.
But Performance.gov could help give leaders focus on specific goals.
“One of the challenges of leadership is to define a purpose and link it to specific targets and build a coalition of people who want to get it done and are capable of getting it done,” he said. “Will a website help that? Maybe because it might encourage some people to take this responsibility more seriously. But it doesn’t automatically help someone.”
Behn said the challenge is always analyzing data to provide insight into the organization.
He said state and local governments are better at using data to meet goals.
“For the federal government this is a big challenge because the connection between data and what should be done isn’t always obvious,” he said. “In some ways the police have it easy. Every day they get data, crime reports, arrest data and the strategic implication is obvious.”
Redburn said the site will improve and become more useful over time as OMB and agencies add more data.
Metzenbaum said the goal is for the site to last.
“We built this based on what we learned from others,” she said. “What we’ve really tried to do is build something that is both a tool and an incentive for not only leaders in the organization but for people throughout the organization to drive progress, to know what the goals are they want to focus on, to stay focused on the measurements, to analyze it, to look across others where there are better experiences and where the better practices are. And to keep a continual review process going that complements what’s on the website and using Performance.gov as a way of reminding people we have to keep this up to date.”