Agency performance improvement officers are helping mission offices look beneath the data to find the real impact of their programs.
In a new and exclusive Federal News Radio survey, every agency PIO who responded said their agencies make good use of their performance data, and existing metrics and measures lets them do quality analysis.
Federal News Radio conducted an online survey in September of 46 federal PIOs and received a 15 percent response rate. The respondents included PIOs, deputy PIOs and other senior performance managers.
Like previous PIO surveys, this one showed performance improvement officers are confident in the data and are getting better at using it.
Nani Coloretti, the assistant secretary for management and performance improvement officer at the Treasury Department, said her agency is tracking metrics and milestones to make sure projects are meeting their goals.
She said that is never more important than during tight budget times.
“We have been tracking budget execution data and human resources data for sometime here at Treasury. What that helps us understand is, where is the attrition rate or where are people needing to slow down or do a hiring freeze?” said Coloretti during an interview on In Depth with Francis Rose Tuesday. “If you are needing to make sequester cuts … one good way to get ready for that is to look at your pipeline spend. We used quite a bit of real time data on what money was going out the door and when during the course of the fiscal year to help us make some choices when we realized we were really going to need to implement a sequester midway through the year.”
Survey respondents ranked financial management and human resources as the two areas they used data the most to help deal with budget cuts. Meanwhile, 86 percent said performance data had some impact on budget cut decision.
But coordination and data are far from perfect. One respondent commented, however, that there is “not enough communication between budget and performance staff” to manage spending cuts better.
Coloretti said Treasury found a way to deal with sequestration cuts, in part because it has developed a culture of not just analyzing data, but looking underneath it to find the real meaning of what’s going on in the program.
“We do a prioritization process across every bureau of Treasury and do these quarterly reviews with the deputy secretary to look underneath the data on specified goals we are trying to head, to whether it’s improving performance in a program or implementing something new,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have a dashboard, but it’s also helpful to look at what the data is telling you, what’s underneath it, and what you might need to do from a management perspective to address a project that is falling short of its deadlines or other performance impacts that might be coming up.”
Coloretti said the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act (GPRAM) and the Office of Management and Budget’s focus on agency high-priority goals contribute to this culture change.
In fact, 86 percent of the respondents say OMB’s attention to performance management increased over the last four years, and 71 percent of respondents said their high-priority goals are improving the execution of their agency’s mission.
“Huge improvement from OMB in providing more information to agencies in helping them improve performance,” said one survey respondent.
Coloretti said Treasury dug deeper into the data to figure out how to increase its small business contracting.
She said Treasury struggled to meet small and disadvantaged business goals over the years, but by looking at it quarterly as part of the management review, the bureaus started paying closer attention to them.
“For the last two years, we are the only Cabinet level agency to get an A+ on our goals and met or exceeded all of our subgoals. We are on track to do that for a third year in a row once we get those numbers certified,” she said. “That’s really a win because we are now spending about 38 percent of our $2.3 billion on small business eligible contracts. Every 1 percent increase in our contracting that goes to small businesses translates into $23.4 million of investment into the small business community. So it’s not small numbers and it really was just a relentless focus on the data and where you were every quarter.”
Treasury also is pushing toward the culture of performance through close collaboration with the agency’s CFO, chief information officer, chief acquisition officer and chief human capital officer.
Coloretti said they have weekly meetings where they go over cross-cutting issues to spark dialogue and collaboration.
“Everything is in my reporting line so I can help make those connections where they are not easy to make or if people are working in their silos and it’s not so easy to make those connections,” she said. “I started something called a shared service council. It’s the deputy directors or deputy commissioners of every bureau at Treasury and we meet once every other month. We bring issues forward to that group that may cross cut operational areas. In most instances, the deputy commissioner of that bureau is responsible for the whole CXO community. We bring both topics for discussion and resolution up to that group as well so that every bureau, their chain of command, is aware of some of the things that I may be struggling with here, centrally.”
Other PIOs also see the benefits of collaboration across the CXO community.
In the survey, every PIO respondent said they collaborate with CFO and business offices. But only 43 percent said they collaborate with the CAO’s office.
Coloretti said Treasury is paying close attention to how they can improve their processes as they are collecting data.
“We have a process improvement effort here where, when we are looking across the data and we start to see something that we think can be made more efficient, we go in and start analyzing all of the steps in that process,” she said. “It’s like a Lean Six Sigma if you’re familiar with it. That’s actually helped us reduce the cycle time for some of the functions and work we are doing. And that’s a way we can do more with less. To me, what’s interesting, can you use data to make real change happen and those are the things that stick.”
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.