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Savings sought through improved program performance

Jan. 10, 2013 - 01:48PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Shelley Metzenbaum, associate director of performance and personnel management at OMB, hopes that agencies will make better use of their performance information this year.
Shelley Metzenbaum, associate director of performance and personnel management at OMB, hopes that agencies will make better use of their performance information this year. (Army Times)

2013 brings escalating pressure for agencies to find new ways to do their jobs better and with less money.

The squeeze will be coming from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

By the end of May, for example, agencies must post on their websites lists of their programs, under orders from the Office of Management and Budget.

In guidance released last summer, OMB officials said too much important information on federal programs is decentralized and the creation of a central inventory would make it easier to better coordinate programs with shared goals.

The 82 pages of guidance, created by the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, aims to bring more order to the sprawling machinery of government. Under the law, agencies must produce performance agendas that link long-term strategic objectives with select priority goals. They must also explain how those priority goals mesh with broader governmentwide targets and provide regular updates on their performance.

This year represents a key stage in implementation. Last month, OMB began providing online updates on agencies’ progress toward meeting their goals.

One goal at the Health and Human Services Department, for example, is to improve patient safety by reducing hospital infection rates. In a recently posted progress update on the OMB website, performance.gov, the department said it is on track to reduce two types of infections transmitted through sloppy catheter use by up to 25 percent by September. Under the law, OMB must now post quarterly online agency updates.

Until now, agency managers have made little use of their programs’ performance information.

This time, “we’re hoping that it will be different,” said Shelley Metzenbaum, associate director of performance and personnel management at OMB. “We’re hearing that it’s different.”

Agencies this year must prepare updated strategic plans for release in February 2014, said John Kamensky, senior fellow at the IBM Center for The Business of Government. And OMB will begin evaluating agencies on progress toward meeting their strategic objectives.

“It’s going to be fascinating,” Kamensky said.

Early this year, the Government Accountability Office will update its survey of duplication, overlap and fragmentation in government programs. Previous reports have found extensive duplication in areas such as food safety and background investigation responsibilities, and have attracted widespread notice on Capitol Hill and helped to prompt modest agency streamlining.

“I think it’s already had an impact, and I think it will continue,” said Paul Posner, a former senior GAO official who now teaches at George Mason University.

Meanwhile, some agency leaders are saying that tight budgets are driving them to adopt new approaches to performing their missions, such as partnering more with the private sector and using innovative financing schemes to bankroll needed projects.

“We cannot continue to do business as usual,” Dan Tangherlini, acting administrator of the General Services Administration, said last month in urging collaboration with private companies to renovate federal buildings. “We must look for new ways to maximize the value of our assets.”

Thomas Winkowski, acting chief operating officer at Customs and Border Protection, said his agency will consider more use of public-private partnerships to build and upgrade traffic lanes and other facilities at border crossings.

“We have to have the will to do this, instead of talk about it,” he said at a forum on border security.

Agencies are operating under a continuing resolution that will keep their budgets at last year’s levels at least through March. Even with funding shortfalls, however, the pressure to improve performance remains.

OMB’s Metzenbaum acknowledged, however, that tight budgets could hinder agencies’ progress toward meeting performance targets.

“We know that they are driving [toward their goals], but we aren’t being unrealistic about adjustments if they are needed,” she said.

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