The Obama administration is exposing the results of its four-year push to create a data-driven government.
The Office of Management and Budget today updated its Performance.gov portal, highlighting the progress, or lack of progress, of dozens of agency specific and cross-agency goals.
This third iteration of the portal is a major facelift with more data for the public to analyze OMB’s management agenda. “What we’ve now done is we’ve given you information about those goals,” said Shelley Metzenbaum, OMB’s associate director for performance and personnel management, during a press conference Thursday. “We’ve explained why the goals were chosen, the strategies for each goal. We’ve explained the progress we’ve made for each goal, if there are problems. We’ve explained why we think they are arising and what we plan to do about it.”
Metzenbaum said the site also now lists short term and long term plans, and a series of indicators that are specific to the progress on the goal or give context or other data about what’s happening.
“We also provide information about contributing programs,” she said. “It’s much greater depth and it really takes that next level of accountability up.”
A major milestone
OMB launched Performance.gov in August 2011 after several months of delay. It updated the site in February 2012 with information from the fiscal 2013 budget request, including information on the 14 cross-agency goals, each with a goal statement and a goal description as well as some tools to sort by agency or theme.
This third version is providing the level of information many thought the dashboard would have when OMB initially released it.
Metzenbaum said pulling together all this data and putting it up on the portal is a milestone down the path of improving how the government is managed, and how they meet the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization (GPRAM Act). President Barack Obama signed the GPRAM Act in February 2011.
The new data on Performance.gov is a result of the changes OMB has been seeking in the way agencies focus on priorities over the last four years. Metzenbaum said OMB has been laying the foundation for agencies to make data-driven decisions, and Performance.gov is a key piece of that effort.
Meeting the renewable energy goal
The Interior Department’s goal to increase the amount of renewable energy produced on federal land is one example of the change that OMB says is occurring across government.
David Hayes, the deputy secretary of Interior, said the total amount of renewable energy that came from federal land was about 2,000 megawatts during the first 163 years of the agency’s existence. Interior set a goal of producing 6,000 megawatts of power through renewable energy in two years starting in 2010. Hayes said they not only hit the goal, but surpassed it because of the discipline the performance management process brought to the agency.
He said Interior found some level of success among all its high-priority goals.
“What we did was set up quarterly reviews where the teams responsible for each of these goals with the coordinated help of our policy, management and budget team would come in and report to me as the deputy secretary every quarter on how we are doing with metrics against the goal,” Hayes said. “As we found out we were being short on the goal, what we need to do to get back on track. As we found that we hit the goal, what’s our next goal? This had never been done before at the Department of the Interior, and the performance is pretty amazing.”
Data drives school turnaround program
The Education Department had a similar experience with Interior in how data impacted its high priority goals.
Tony Miller, the Education deputy secretary, said the goal to turn around poorly performing schools is one of the agency’s best examples of how data has driven change.
“That was the first time, at least in a long time, that we had literally systematically done the complete profile of the whole portfolio of resources that we had available to [improving school performance], and aligned it in a programmatic way with strategic outcomes,” he said. “Now once we set the goal, we say we will hold ourselves accountable, and …as we update these on a quarterly basis, while as much as there is accountability are you making or not making the goal, what we are finding is the real value is saying what do you do, it’s the interventions you are taking.”
Miller said what Education realized they didn’t have enough organizational focus, so they created an office of school turnaround. The office is ensuring ongoing accountability across the agency to make needed changes to meet their goals.
He said the process governing how they oversee their progress against the high priority goals has transferred in to the next level of Education’s goals. The agency includes these mission-related objectives during their quarterly reviews, and the management infrastructure around the data-driven decisionmaking is modeled after Performance.gov.
Data quality matters
As with any program or dashboard, the accuracy of the data always is tough to get 100 percent correct. This administration seems to publicly side with releasing imperfect data and asking for help from experts and others in the public.
Metzenbaum said OMB vets all the agency data before putting it on Performance.gov.
“There’s data quality information we are putting it in there. We are very concerned about that,” she said. “At the same time, we want to make the data useful and sometimes you don’t need a 100 percent accuracy rate.” Metzenbaum said the issue is to figure out how to improve the information, and how the data will be used.
“Part of the transparency, we hope, will tell us if there are errors in it, but we also look at it ourselves,” she said. “Every one of our budget offices, the budget offices at OMB, the Resource Management Offices, they have a lot of expertise in this information. They are very engaged with the agencies on all of the information you are seeing on Performance.gov. So if they have a question, they will ask that question.”
Education’s Miller said the goal across these programs is to improve so overstating the data doesn’t bring them any benefits.
“How we measure ourselves against the goal in essence is very definitional and it is very rigorous. We have a clear definition of what is a comprehensive evaluation system. We have a systematic way in which we evaluate states against that and whether districts meet that,” he said. “Because we link to some of our programs and it’s conditional upon funding and some legal flexibilities, it’s very binary, either you meet it or you don’t. It is verifiable for us and it’s verifiable to the public. We can literally go back to each state that we would list or each district and point to the document and/or the process by which we would verify that number.”
Interior’s Hayes said most of their goals and how they are doing is transparent. He said for the renewable energy goal on Performance.gov there is list of projects, the status of them both in terms of permitting and development and how much renewable energy they are expected to produce.
OMB’s Metzenbaum said her office is aggressive in getting agencies to use Performance.gov to change the way they manage programs and in using the evidence to improve them.
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-9 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.