Priorities and Principles for Performance

Chief Performance Officer Jeff Zients debuted before an audience of federal managers yesterday at the Excellence in Government Conference 2009, recapping what he has seen and learned during his “listening tour” of the government in his first 100 days in office.

He said he was not ready to lay out the Obama Administration’s management initiatives, but did lay out a set of short-term priorities and longer-term principles that will serve as the core of those initiatives and offered some hints of things to come. . . . .

He said his initial impression from talking with employees across the government was that “employees have a clear idea of what needs to get done, and what is in the way.”  His near-term priorities are addressing four of those barriers in order to “free up people to get things done.”

Addressing Four Barriers.  The four barriers he identified include:

  • Senior leaders who focus on policy and not management or implementation
  • Failed large-scale IT projects
  • Cumbersome contracting procedures
  • Slow hiring

He stressed that IT management needs to be fixed, from end-to-end and that he is “deeply committed to filling the technology gap” in the federal government.  He also elaborated on the contracting and hiring fixes that are needed in the near term.

Creating Focused Collaboration.  He then outlined a longer-term strategy to “install a sustainable implementation approach” which he dubbed “focused collaboration.”  He said that focused collaboration has four core principles:

  • Prioritization of results to be achieved, which the Obama Administration already has underway.  Earlier this summer, OMB asked each agency to identify their top 3-5 priority performance goals to be accomplished in the next 12-24 months.  Agencies have submitted their proposed goals, but OMB has not yet announced the results.  Likely, this will be part of the Administration’s announcement in the next few weeks.  Interestingly, the criteria Zients outlined for these goals included the development of integrated goals reaching across agency boundaries (such as addressing homelessness).
  • Transparency, which is not only the focus of a broader Obama initiative, but is being demonstrated by specific initiatives already underway such as the IT Dashboard and Data.Gov (which started with 47 data sets in May and now has 118,000 data sets available to the public).
  • Engagement, which is also the focus of a broader Obama initiative, with a focus on the public.  However, Zients focused on engagement with employees.  He talked about Idea Labs, like the one at TSA, as well as the recently-launched Open Innovation Competition at the Department of Veterans Affairs to fix the VA benefits claims process (and which received 6,000 suggestions in the first 72 hours).
  • Rapid results, which has been demonstrated by the 90-day turnaround effort that created the Citizenship and Immigration Service’s naturalization “Check My Case Status” dashboard, allowing applicants for the first time to find out what their status is in the naturalization process.  That web function was “turned on” on September 24, exactly 90 days after the project’s launch.

It’ll be interesting to see what the full package of management initiatives look like, along with the Open Government Directive, also being promised in the next few weeks.

ADDITION, Oct 19th:  The IBM Center has created a useful “Performance Resource Center” that you may find helpful!

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