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Transforming Federal Government – An Unknown Success Story

The President’s Management Agenda is almost an unbelievable success story! Money has been saved, efficiencies have been achieved, and higher accountabilities demonstrated. We have been in the midst of this transformation the past seven years with significant and positive changes in government that we taxpayers should applaud. Since most of these are not public activities, very few people outside the government know about them.

The Secret. The din of the debates about the Iraq war, the historical certainty of the 2008 presidential elections, and the disenchantment about this presidency drown out many positive successes. Quiet successes of government improvements are not splashy and front page news and are mostly buried under louder news. The President’s Management Agenda (PMA) of 2001 has successfully impacted twenty-six agencies, effectively one of best kept secrets in government. It has not been press worthy, but an astounding success from a government reform perspective. The desire to improve government has been a goal of every administration. During President Bill Clinton’s years, VP Al Gore led the effort to improve government. Using the Government Performance and Reform Act (GPRA, 1993) as a driver, Gore championed a Golden Hammer award to encourage agencies to improve program results. The GPRA required each agency to provide a five-year strategic plan followed each year with an annual plan. The challenge was that there were no real consequences for non-compliance. Many of the plans were created and filed away and not used to guide the agencies as intended.

The Plan. In 2001, President George W. Bush announced his five-point PMA. The PMA pushed corporate ideas into the Federal government to create greater efficiencies and effectiveness. The PMA included: 1) strategic management of human capital to optimize placement of people and to support their growth; 2) competitive sourcing to outsource non-mission critical efforts and to be competitive with commercial companies; 3) improving financial performance with better and timely information to better inform decisions; 4) expanding e-government by using technology wherever possible to reduce manual tedium, improve information flow; and 5) integration of budget and performance by tying funding with desired performance outcomes. Additionally, a Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART) was added to measure performance in the five areas. Performance standards/goals were established between each agency and the President’s Management Council, the body tasked to evaluate results. These performance results are annually posted using a Stoplight scoring system — Red for unsatisfactory, Yellow for mixed results, and Green for successfully achieving goals.

The Challenge. When the first (baseline) scorecard was published in 2001 for the twenty-six agencies against the five PMA measures, there were 109 Red results, 20 Yellow, and only 1 Green (National Science Foundation). In 2007, there were 17 Red, 53 Yellow, and 60 Green, an astounding decrease of 84% in the red category! Several Websites are worth a visit: Results.gov to view the annual scorecards since 2001, Whitehouse.gov/omb for descriptions of the GPRA, PART, and PMA, and ExpectMore.gov to read more and to see the candor within government about being more effective, and less bureaucratic.

The implementation of the PMA has been good news for the government and for those from the commercial world looking in. The result is that government processes get better and more aligned with the business world, and best practices from the business world are welcomed and being applied to government efforts. Ultimately, there are real benefits for the public in increased efficiencies and effectiveness in the use of public funds.

It is easier for those working as contractors inside the government to see progress. Implementing the PMA has produced higher satisfaction in project work than before the PMA, when it was more like treading water than in reaching a destination. With the regimentation of the PMA, everyone is more focused on achieving meaningful and measureable objectives.

Tangible Success. Implementing the PMA has met resistance and turmoil. This dramatic effort toward changing government has challenged government leadership and personnel, with increased stress and low morale. Imagine the need to compete against a commercial firm to keep your job! Making change is never easy! Nevertheless, there are real successes because of the PMA:

a) Workers have been provided Individual Development Plans with the idea to help them grow in their jobs. b) The requirement to find activities within government that are not critical to running the government has released those noncritical activities to the private sector (like travel and conference planning). In some cases activities, such as managing training, are put forth for direct competition between the government entity and the private sector. This latter effort forces the government entity to bid on their own work with greater project and fiscal clarity to adjust costs to the lowest best denominator in order to win the bidding contest. In one case a private sector team lost a competition to the government entity. The team bid $20 million to the government’s $10 million to do the job that originally had an annual budget of $40 million. The process clearly created a leaner government entity.

c) There is more use of Web-based technology for communicating, training, application for grants. One agency recently converted three instructor led trainings into Web-based self-paced modules. This will provide training on a 24/7 basis plus saving the cost of travel and instructors. d) The move to performance-based contracting has forced government and outside providers alike to be very focused on aligning project outcomes with budget support. One firm, with experience in the private sector, provided useful guidance to develop performance-based assessments on two contracts they were on during the transition from traditional result-based to performance-based contracting. Simply, the President’s Management Agenda has driven government toward a better return-on-investment of public funds. A very good thing!

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