The White House will issue new performance goals for agencies as part of its fiscal 2015 budget request to Congress on March 4.
This would be the third time agencies updated their three-to-eight high priority goals since the Obama administration took office in 2009, and the first time the administration revised the cross-agency priority goals since 2011.
Over the past year, agencies and the Office of Management and Budget have worked on coming up with either new goals or expanding current goals based on how much progress they made over the last few years.
Beth Cobert, the OMB deputy director for management, said in the 2015 budget request, the administration will establish a new strategic plan that will highlight both new agency-specific and new cross-agency goals.
“We are actively working through the budget process to update the goals — both the agency goals and the cross-agency priority goals. It’s been a process where we too have tried to apply the lessons learned,” Cobert said Thursday during a briefing with reporters. “We’ve been in active dialogue with the agencies to make sure we have goals that are defined clearly, and to make sure we have goals that are implementation focused. And we’ve been in a process to figure out how do we define new goals and not just keep goals on a list, but keep those goals visible. It’s been a very active dialogue with OMB, the agencies and across agencies to make sure we have goals that are meaningful, that will be measurable and will drive important results for the American people.”
More user-friendly portal
Part of this update of goals will be more to put data on Performance.gov, as well as to improve its usability features.
Performance.gov is potentially useful, one former federal official said, but it’s hard to compare progress, and the site is less than user friendly.
In addition to the new goals, OMB updated the progress on the current agency specific and cross-agency priority goals.
A new report from OMB highlights how agencies met or exceed their goals over the last two years.
For example, the Treasury Department sent more money out electronically in 2012 and 2013 than via paper check.
Treasury reported the number of paper benefit payments sent out dropped from 131 million in 2010 to 39 million in 2013. At the same time, Treasury says electronic collections jumped from 85 percent of total collections in 2010 to 97 percent in 2013, thus reducing their costs.
“We use the agency performance goals and the goals we set forth in our strategic plan, and we do quarterly reviews with each bureau. That’s a lot of staff time and meeting time at pretty high levels at Treasury in order to gain visibility into how well we are doing on goals we really want to lean into,” said Nani Coloretti, Treasury’s assistant secretary for management. “So what we’ve done over time is really socialized that in the agency that allows for problem solving, cross- cutting conversations and more in-depth reviews.”
Bringing CXOs together
She added by bringing the right people together to work on the goals, from technology, acquisition, finance, human capital to the program side, Treasury can look at the data and metrics to drive change.
Coloretti said meeting the goal of moving to electronic payment processing rather than paper increased security and the efficiency of government processing. She said this was just one way Treasury is managed better today than previously.
The Commerce Department reported a mixed bag of progress against its goals.
On one hand, OMB found Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) met its goal of increasing the annual number of new markets that current U.S. exporters enter with ITA assistance to 6,100, a 7 percent increase.
“What I’ve done is convened a, what I call, the department management council, which is comprised of all the deputy agency heads within the Commerce Department and we’ve been meeting weekly to develop a detailed action plan,” said Patrick Gallagher, the out-going director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and who’s performing the duties of the deputy secretary of Commerce. “These are, in turn, turned into subordinate action plans within each agency that they are actively managing to. So, you get this cascading set of metrics that’s really important because the real power of this system isn’t accountability in the sense of pass/fail, but it’s accountability in the sense of ownership and responsibility, and making sure everyone understands their role. In particular, it provides managers like myself an invaluable tool to identify areas that need that particular focus.”
Gallagher said specific bureaus leaders own each of the goals, and they work toward creating metrics that are both outcome focused and based on activities for meeting those measures.
He said one of those specific goals owned by a bureau is the Patent and Trademark Office’s objective to reduce the patent backlog. But he said PTO missed its goal of reducing the backlog to 529,000 applications from 670,000 applications. Gallagher said PTO managed to reduce the backlog to 580,000.
But through the data-driven process, PTO now better understands why it didn’t meet the goal and what’s needed to meet it in the future.
“This is a beautiful case of looking at all the underlying metrics. If you go to the PTO website and look at their dashboard, which is online all the time live, you will see there are dozens of intermediate steps that support reducing the backlog,” Gallagher said. “The one that affected our ability to meet our goal this year was the number of patent examiners we have. In other words, one of the ways we were going to meet that goal was the hiring and bringing new patent examiners online, not just last year, but the year before.”
He added the main reason for missing the goal is PTO hasn’t been able to hire as many people as quickly as it wanted to help address the backlog because of cuts under sequestration. Gallagher also said PTO had to delay IT projects because of budget reductions.
Gallagher said Commerce is constantly evaluating not just their performance, but the goals themselves.
“The reality is, a goal is driving behavior. There’s just no doubt about it. Sometimes we find through experiences that it may not be driving the exact behavior we wanted, so it’s important to fine tune that,” he said. “Looking at the Commerce goals, in some cases the program is maturing, and we are changing in a way that we need to change the goal.”
One example of that need to change is the goal of expanding access to broadband Internet access. Initially, Commerce received funding under the Recovery Act. But after that money expired, Gallagher said Commerce had to change its approach and therefore its goal.
Gallagher said another example is how Commerce initially thought to increase exports. First, the agency focused on those companies already exporting products overseas and helping them grow. But he said Commerce learned that a customer service goal that focuses on a specific company goal to increase exports and how to help them achieve it may be more appropriate.
Cobert said in a case such as PTOs, OMB expects agencies to be able to explain the causes and, most importantly, have rigorous plans in place to improve performance going forward.
And for those agencies who continue to struggle, Cobert said there is help.
The Performance Improvement Council created a working group on data-driven reviews. The group meets monthly and has grown to more than 100 agency staff, sharing specific experiences and learning from each other by incorporating best practices across agencies.