But will it work?

The Congress has passed and the President has signed the new health care reform legislation.  But, will it work?

This is the question that The Brookings Institution’s R. Kent Weaver raises in a new Issue Brief:  “But Will It Work?: Implementation Analysis to Improve Government Performance.”  According to Weaver, even though many implementation problems occur repeatedly across programs and can be predicted in advance, legislators often pay little attention to them when programs are being enacted or overhauled.    Weaver’s solution is to have the Government Accountability Office (GAO) perform implementation analysis for major legislative proposals in Congress, much like the Congressional Budget Office does with budget scoring.

Weaver’s Issues in Governance Studies Issue Brief outlines major elements of  Implementation Analysis and argues that it could lead to major improvements in policy performance.   He identifies a number of problems that are likely to be highlighted by Implementation Analysis:

–  Interpretation  (i.e., leaving legislation open to later interpretation)

–  Organizational mission issues (potential conflicts between established organizational missions and new tasks)

–  Organizational and coordination issues (where cooperation of several organizations will be needed)

–  Resource and organizational capacity constraints (a realistic assessment of financial, workforce and technology resources)

–  Time lines (underestimating organizational and resource challenges involved in policy change)

–  Political interference (mechanisms to insulate decisions from inappropriate interference)

–  Program operator issues (problematic  behavior of front-line workers)

–  Target compliance issues (the “targets” of government policies may fail to behave in ways that were anticipated)

Kent Weaver concludes his very thoughtful set of recommendations with sensible modesty, acknowledging that “Implementation Analysis is certainly no panacea to avoid government problems.”   He concludes, however, that “Implementation Analysis offers a potentially powerful new tool to ensure that governments make informed decisions and that government policies live up to their promise.”


5 (not just 4) names to be Comptroller General

On Tuesday, Congressional Democrats sent President Obama a list of four candidates to nominated as the next Comptroller General.  The four are Rep. Todd Platts, Linda Bilmes at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, and former Assistant Comptroller Ira Goldstein.  Today Congressional Republicans sent their own letter to the President recommending Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.   The letter was signed by House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Darrell Issa.

Final Four to lead the GAO?

It is looking more and more as if we may soon see a nominee for the position of Comptroller General.   CQ staffer David Clarke is reporting that the Congress will soon forward President Obama four candidates to be CG and lead the Government Accountability Office.

The four names are:

Linda J. Bilmes – currently a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government,

Gene Dodaro – who is acting CG since David Walker left nearly two years ago,

Ira Goldstein – who leads Deloitte Consulting’s federal government practice, and

Todd Platts – Republican Congressman serving York County, Pennsylvania.

Stay tuned!

HUD Transformation Initiative

As mentioned here a few days ago in  blog entry on innovation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has been given in fiscal year 2010, what seems to be a large pot of money and new authority to conduct a transformation initiative in four areas that have been historically underfunded in HUD as well as most other agencies:

  • Research, evaluation, and program metrics
  • Program demonstrations
  • Technical assistance and capacity building
  • Information technology

Secretary Shaun Donovan was given authority by Congress to set aside up to one percent of the department’s budget (nearly $230 million) to support a new “transformation initiative.”

“However, [the House Appropriations] Committee is not in a position to grant full flexibility at this time, nor does the Committee believe flexibility to be the key obstacle in solving these issues.” So the Committee put some constraints on HUD’s use of these monies:

Information Technology Plans. “. . . not less than $80,000,000 and not more than $180,000,000 shall be available for information technology modernization, including development and deployment of a Next Generation of Voucher Management System and development and deployment of modernized Federal Housing Administration systems”. . . and “. . . .not more than 25 percent of the funds made available for information technology modernization may be obligated until the Secretary submits to the Committees on Appropriations a plan for expenditure that:

(1) identifies for each modernization project (a) the functional and performance capabilities to be delivered and the mission benefits to be realized, (b) the estimated lifecycle cost, and (c) key milestones to be met;

(2) demonstrates that each modernization project is (a) compliant with the department’s enterprise architecture, (b) being managed in accordance with applicable lifecycle management policies and guidance, (c) subject to the department’s capital planning and investment control requirements, and (d) supported by an adequately staffed project office; and

(3) has been reviewed by the Government Accountability Office:

Technical Assistance Funds. Of the remaining money, “. . . not less than $45,000,000 shall be available for technical assistance and capacity building. . . “ And this “technical assistance activities shall include, technical assistance for HUD programs, including HOME, Community Development Block Grant, homeless programs, HOPWA, HOPE VI, Public Housing, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Fair Housing Initiative Program, Housing Counseling, Healthy Homes, Sustainable Communities, Energy Innovation Fund and other technical assistance as determined by the Secretary” . . .

Research, Evaluation, Program Metrics, and Program Demos.  “. . . of the amounts made available for research, evaluation and program metrics and program demonstrations, the Secretary shall include. . .”

“. . ..  an assessment of the housing needs of Native Americans, including sustainable building practices” and “an evaluation of the Moving-to-Work demonstration program” . . . And the Senate Committee “. . .  encourages the Secretary to plan or begin a demonstration on the conversion of public housing to Section 8 project-based vouchers.”


Plans on Use of the Monies.  And to top it off: “. . . the Secretary shall submit a plan to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations for approval detailing how the funding provided under this heading will be allocated to each of the four categories identified under this heading and for what projects or activities funding will be used.”  . . . . This plan is due 30 days after the bill was enacted – which would be January 15. . . . so some folks in HUD didn’t have much of a Christmas holiday!  Or, with the new monies, did they?

So, while there may not have been much flexibility provided in the use of the funds, if a similar opportunity was available other agencies, is this the kind of transformation initiative other agencies might want to have?

OMB: A Change in Tone

WFED’s Jason Miller reports that the Office of Management and Budget wants to change its stripes and “move away from command and control toward a focus on collaboration.”

The old National Performance Review tried do this and failed.  At the time, NPR’s recommendations to “Reinvent OMB’s Management Mission” and “Improve OMB’s Relationships with Other Agencies” were seen as so controversial, that the formal recommendations were never printed. But this time the effort is being led from the inside by Jeff Zients, OMB’s deputy director for management. 

Zients spoke today at a conference co-sponsored by George Mason University and the Government Accountability Office.  Zients said OMB will go “from oversight to partnership; from shipping reams of guidance to a two-way dialogue around how we achieve the desired outcome; from transparency not just for accountability but for idea flow and to find the best practices and share them broadly; from ad hoc engagement with stakeholders such as Congress to regular communication.”

He also said that OMB is developing a new set of management goals and is about 80 percent completed and it “may be a few more months until the methodology is final.”

He re-emphasized several points he made at a conference earlier this month, noting that “execution determines success or failure and it’s most challenging in government.”

Jumpstarting Performance Management

Last week, Senator Tom Carper held an important hearing based on a key finding from a Government Accountability Senate Hearings in ProgressOffice (GAO) released last year.  GAO’s 2008 report summarized a survey it conducted of agency program managers on their use of performance information.  It found wide differences between agencies and that, over time, some agencies increased their use and others infrequently used performance information that they collected.

Senator Carper had asked GAO to conduct a study “to better understand the barriers and opportunities for more widespread use.”  It did this by evaluating what was being done differently in agencies that used performance information to make decisions vs. those agencies where managers said they did not use performance information. 

GAO conducted case studies of four agencies’ use of performance information.  Leaders from these agencies were also invited to testify:

The testimony of CMS acting deputy director Michelle Snyder, was particularly inspiring.  She described clearly how CMS uses performance information to not only implement its programs and improvement management, but also to monitor the delivery and quality of the overall healthcare system for CMS beneficiaries.

GAO’s Bernice Steinhardt testified that key management practices “can contribute to the use of performance information in management decision making.” These practices include:

  • Demonstrating leadership commitment
  • Communicating the importance of using performance information frequently and effectively
  • Creating a clear “line of sight” linking individual performance with organizational results
  • Improving the usefulness of performance information, and
  • Developing the capacity to collect and use performance information

Deputy Director of Management at the Office of Management and Budget, Jeff Zeints, also testified and committed to greater use of performance information by federal agencies in coming years.

 GAO has been monitoring agencies’ development and use of performance information for over a dozen years and, while the availability of measures has increased significantly, their use hasn’t.  Hopefully, this new congressional, GAO, and OMB attention to performance information in agencies will jumpstart their use in decision making.

Using Czars to Govern

Czar Nicholas IIThe media, and some members of Congress, continue to focus on President Obama’s use of “czars.”  An article today by the Wall Street Journal’s Neil King examines how this dust-up highlights the ongoing challenge of how government is increasingly facing problems that reach across traditional agency and program boundaries.  These problems include food safety, climate change, and the Recovery Act.  There is no accepted institutional mechanism to manage these problems and President Obama is using a pragmatic approach – appointing someone to be in charge on his behalf.

The media is focused on this particular management tool – the use of “czars” – and not the management challenge of how do you act on problems that cut across boundaries.  Professor Don Kettl predicted this growing conundrum in his book, “The Next Government of the United States,” where he notes that: “The importance of boundary spanning . . .  suggests a new approach for government – an approach that democratizes the process by spreading participation, privatizes government by relying more on nongovernmental partners, governmentalizes the private sector by drawing its organizations more into strong public roles, and ultimately challenges the framework of American democratic institutions.”

This is a real governance challenge.  But it is one that past presidents and other countries have faced as well.  As a result, there are several different models, other than “czars,” for addressing cross-cutting challenges:

Reorganize.  The traditional model is to reorganize government agencies and programs around a common mission or outcome.  This approach is cumbersome and does not readily reflect a continually changing world.  Examples of this approach in recent years:  the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

National strategies.  About a decade ago, the White House began to use “national strategies,” mainly in national and homeland security policy areas.  Under this approach, the President issues a “strategy” that provides an overarching strategic approach to addressing a particular cross-cutting issue.  Examples include:  the National Homeland Security Strategy, the Pandemic Flu Strategy, the National CyberSecurity Strategy. Sometimes someone was in charge (a “czar?”) and sometimes it was just a framework.

Performance-Stat.  Also about a decade ago, state and local governments adopted an approach initially piloted in the New York City Police Department called “CompStat.”   CompStat is a management approach that regularly brings together top leaders and managers to work regularly together to use fact-based information to address operational issues reaching across agency boundaries.  This approach, under various names, has been adopted in places such as: Baltimore (Citi-Stat), Maryland State Government (State-Stat), and Washington State (Government Management Accountability and Performance).  It could be adapted to the federal level, as well.

Delivery Unit.  Developed in 2001 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, this approach is a variation of Performance-State, but focuses on strategic issues.  Blair identified 20 key outcomes that he wanted to achieve in his term in office, set measurable targets around each outcome, and charged his staff with ensuring strategies were in place and progress was tracked.  This approach has been recently adopted in the State of Maryland to supplement its StateStat efforts.

President Obama could use a mix of these approaches, including the use of czars.  He has already designated a “chief performance officer” who would be the logical focal point for coordinating these various cross-cutting initiatives.  However, this does not address one of the concerns raised by Congress:  how does Congress ensure accountability?

A Congressional Performance Resolution?  Congressional jurisdiction is organized around the traditional agency and program paradigm.  As Kettl notes, this paradigm is increasingly ineffective in addressing non-routine governmental functions.   So how can Congress be an effective player?  One recommendation offered by the Government Accountability Office is for Congress to adopt a “performance resolution,” similar to the existing budget resolution.  A performance resolution would be organized around major national outcomes.  It might parallel presidential “national strategies.” But it would, like the national strategies, define who is responsible for action on different elements of a broader agenda.  It also means that Congress would not have to reorganize its committee structure in order to become an effective player in cross-governmental challenges.