Office of Management and Budget puts accountability online

Joe Davidson
Columnist August 24, 2011

If you’re a bureaucracy junkie, the Office of Management and Budget has a cool toy for you.

Performance.gov is a Web site OMB plans to launch at midday Thursday. It allows users to track the progress, or lack of it, federal agencies are making in a number of areas. Actually much more than a toy for geeks, it can be an important means of holding the administration accountable on its plans to make the government more user-friendly.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

During a period when many folks seem to want government to do almost nothing, those in government are forced to take extra steps to demonstrate not only that what government does is important but also that government does its duties as efficiently as it can.

President Obama put it this way in April, when he spoke about the national debt: “If we believe the government can make a difference in people’s lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works, by making government smarter and leaner and more effective.”

That’s music to the ears of Jeff Zients. He is a bureaucracy junkie who is really fired up about performance.gov, as should someone who carries the weighty title of chief performance officer for the U.S. government.

“Performance.gov tracks our progress on the administration’s efforts to create a government that is more effective, efficient, innovative and responsive,” said Zients, who also is the OMB deputy director for management. “Importantly, the site is also a valuable tool for sharing best practices across the government — supporting learning and coordination across agencies.”

The site has several areas of focus — including acquisition, financial management, technology, performance improvement, customer service and human resources.

The section of the site devoted to human resources says that hiring the most talented, diverse workforce is necessary to achieve the best for the nation. Then it adds: “We have not always lived up to that goal. Sometimes we miss out on potential employees because of a slow application and hiring process. Other times we lose talented employees by not engaging them or recognizing their excellence.”

The administration has a number of initiatives to improve its personnel problems, including points outlined in Obama’s May 2010 presidential memorandum on hiring. Among other things, it was designed to speed and improve an application process that had become notorious for discouraging applicants.

“We see performance.gov as one of the tools we’re using to help us make progress on the presidential directive,” said Shelley Metzenbaum, OMB’s associate director for performance management. The data, Metzenbaum said, can be “a learning tool that drives continual improvement across the government.”

Performance.gov presents new data on the satisfaction of applicants with the hiring process and the satisfaction of managers with the applicants referred to fill openings. On a 10-point scale, the responses from applicants ranged from 7.1 at Energy to 8.6 at the Social Security Administration. In school terms, those ratings would range from a C- to a B+ on a generous grading scale. No agency received an A from applicants, but none failed, either.

There was a similar spread on the satisfaction of managers with applicants. Social Security again topped the list, with an 8.6 score. The Department of Housing and Urban Development came in last, with 6.8.

The data indicate that improving the hiring process “is not just about speed,” Metzenbaum said. “It’s also about hiring quality and making sure that agencies keep their eye on the hiring quality, along with the hiring speed.”

It’s also a learning tool. Social Security must be doing something right, although it, too, must improve before it gets excellent ratings from applicants and managers. Zients pointed to that on another chart showing the average number of days it takes agencies to hire — SSA is one of the fastest.

“What that says to us is, what is SSA doing that we can transfer across the rest of government,” Zients said. Why aren’t other agencies “making similar progress, and how do we make sure they do by adopting the best practices from those who are doing well?”

“This keeps people accountable,” he added, “and helps drive performance and transfer best practice from agency to agency.”

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