The president's fiscal 2004 budget, scheduled for release tomorrow, finds plenty of fault with the government's management and "the Washington mentality" that "has wasted untold billions of dollars."
Take President Bush's top management issue -- the "strategic management of human capital," the administration's wonkish way of labeling the government's people problems.
In dire tones, the budget declares, "The federal government faces a crisis in personnel management." It raises the specter of a brain drain, pointing out that 40 percent of federal workers and 71 percent of senior executives will be eligible to retire by 2006.
But 18 months after Bush put personnel issues at the top of his management fix list, a report card on 26 agencies, included in the budget, shows that only six have made significant progress on workforce issues. They are the Defense, Energy and Labor departments, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Social Security Administration and the Office of Personnel Management.
In the area of "competitive sourcing," Bush's effort to see whether more federal work can be turned over to contractors, the scorecard looks bad across the board. That project, the budget says, "has registered the least progress" of any Bush management initiative. All 26 agencies studied got a red mark, which indicates that their outsourcing projects are nonexistent or seriously flawed.
Still, officials expect the outsourcing initiative to pick up speed once agencies build an infrastructure to determine what federal work can be turned over to companies. Angela Styles, who heads procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget, estimates that 7 percent to 10 percent of 850,000 "commercial" jobs in the government are in competition or being studied for competition.
Those snapshots come from budget excerpts provided to reporters last week by administration officials. In addition to Styles, they included Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., OMB's director; Mark W. Everson, a deputy OMB director; Mark Forman, who oversees technology and e-government policy at OMB; Marcus Peacock, an OMB official who helped develop a program-performance rating system; and Dan Blair, OPM's deputy director.
The management scorecard tracks areas where Bush thinks agencies ought to be changing their ways. In his 2004 budget, it is accompanied by individual program ratings, what Peacock calls the "most sweeping systematic assessment" of federal programs ever conducted.
Under the Program Assessment Rating Tool, as OMB calls it, 234 programs were evaluated. Only 6 percent were judged effective. About half the programs analyzed received a rating of "results not demonstrated" because of a lack of data.
The program ratings are far from perfect, Peacock and Daniels acknowledge. Until the administration has more experience with the system, Daniels said, officials will be careful about drawing conclusions and imposing consequences for poor performance.
Though frustrated by the state of the government, the Bush appointees sounded optimistic about their chances of shaking up the status quo. For example, Everson said, the Treasury Department and the Social Security Administration produced audited financial statements in 45 days, in contrast to previous efforts that took as long as five months. For the first time, he added, the Agriculture Department received a favorable opinion on its financial statements.
Many federal employees, however, don't share the optimism of Bush's appointees, to put it gently. Countless employees feel threatened by efforts to turn federal jobs over to the private sector, and many clearly think the administration's recommended pay raise for next year -- 2 percent -- is woefully inadequate. Longtime employees have seen management fads come and go, and many figure that they can "slow-roll" the Bush initiatives.
The president's budget acknowledges that previous administrations have been down this road. One of the first efforts, the Planning, Programming and Budgeting System, was launched by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. It was followed by Richard M. Nixon's Management by Objective, Jimmy Carter's zero-based budgeting and Bill Clinton's reinventing government.
Vestiges of each linger, but Bush's 2004 budget ruefully notes, "The inertia of the status quo eventually limited the impact of each initiative, and we are no closer to measurable accountability than in President Johnson's day."
Stephen Barr's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.