The Labor Department is the first to get to green.

Of 26 major agencies tracked by a presidential scorecard, the Labor Department is the first to garner the highest rating, a green mark, in the five categories deemed priorities by President Bush, officials said yesterday.

"We are very proud of what our department has accomplished," Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said.

The Bush administration will issue a new scorecard (for April, May and June) today -- and a report taking stock of the management agenda as it approaches a four-year anniversary.

Bush officials use the scorecard as a way to stress the importance of management practices that improve federal programs. Agencies are graded on how well they are meeting Bush's goals on personnel management, outsourcing certain functions, financial management, electronic government and performance-based budgeting.

The scorecard measures progress toward those goals with a traffic-light format: Green is good, yellow indicates that progress appears to have been made, and red is bad.

Four years ago, the average agency "was a bright red. The average agency today is yellow," said Clay Johnson III, the keeper of the scorecard and a deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget.

The previous scorecard, which tracked agency progress through March 31, showed that the departments of Labor, Energy and State were in a race to get to green first.

Johnson said the Labor Department "is a good example of what it takes to be successful on all management fronts. The top people in the agency are committed to it and visibly committed to it. Secretary Chao talks about it a lot, externally and internally."

Chao, Steven J. Law, the department's deputy secretary, and Patrick Pizzella, the assistant secretary for administration and management, have worked hard to meet the administration's management goals, Johnson said.

Officials said the department revamped its practices on several fronts to meet Bush's objectives.

The department adopted a performance management system for its 17,000 employees. It had previously operated with nine systems that used different standards to evaluate employees and operated on different rating cycles. Employees also developed a strategic plan for managing employees, which was published in 2003.

To help expand e-government, the department developed a common e-mail system to replace three separate systems, and managed an administration initiative, GovBenefits.gov, an Internet portal that lists all federal benefit programs and many state programs that serve the public.

In its effort to integrate budget and performance information, the department relied on employees to develop an annual performance and accountability report, officials said. It also developed performance agreements for 72 percent of its supervisors and 64 percent of its non-supervisory staff, with each agreement containing links to specific goals in the department's strategic plan.

As part of an effort to produce timely and accurate data, the department won eight consecutive "clean" audits of its financial records and set up a system for quarterly certification of financial information by agency leaders.

Competitive sourcing, the administration's effort to see if some types of federal work can be performed for less money in the private sector, was the last category to get the green designation at Labor. The department spent time training employees on the rules and how to set up "most efficient organizations" to compete against contractors. In most instances, employees have held their own and not lost work.

Chao said achieving all five management goals has been important because they are interrelated. For example, she said, linking budget decisions to program performance is "a very important steppingstone," but they both hinge on the department's ability to keep its financial records in order.

How much of the Bush initiative will carry over to the next administration is unclear. The management agenda has gained some traction on Capitol Hill, although some areas, such as e-gov, have received less funding than the White House sought. The job competitions between employees and contractors also have prompted controversy on the Hill, and unions have won support on some spending bills for restrictions on competitive sourcing.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com