Giving itself a pat on the back, the Obama administration says federal agencies are making strides toward improving their performance.
Agencies have made “significant progress across the government in delivering positive impact for the American people,” according to a summary of an Office of Management and Budget report.
The report covers performance goals for two dozen mostly large federal agencies. The areas of focus include measuring what works, acquisition, financial management, hiring, workforce engagement and managing large information technology projects.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Beth Cobert, an OMB deputy director, said that “overall, performance across the government . . . was promising. Most goals were either met or achieved notable progress. . . . Even when they missed their target, agencies were able to improve upon previous year’s performance.”
Among the success stories cited in the summary:
●U.S. exports reached a record level in 2013, $2.3 trillion, supporting an additional 1.3 million U.S. jobs. “The Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) met its goal of increasing the annual number of new markets that current U.S. exporters enter with ITA assistance to 6,100, a 7 percent increase.”
●“Treasury estimates that it has saved the American people hundreds of millions of dollars by . . . increasing electronic transactions with the public to improve service, prevent fraud, and reduce costs.” Paper benefit payments dropped to 39 million in 2013 from 131 million in 2010, and electronic collections increased from 85 percent to 97 percent of total collections during that period.
●A Department of Housing and Urban Development goal focused on reducing home disclosures by helping borrowers in the early stages of mortgage delinquency. HUD increased the number of households assisted with early intervention programs by 31 percent between 2010 and 2013. The department’s mitigation programs cut six-month re-default rates from 17 percent in 2011 to 8 percent in 2013.
Sometimes goals were not met.
The Office of Personnel Management, for example, did not reach its goal of processing 90 percent of all federal retirement claims within 60 days. Most OPM goals list the target and the result. In this case, the OPM said the result was “not measured.” A footnote, however, said “the elimination of overtime and surge of retirement claims significantly impacted” the agency’s ability to meet the goal.
The OPM exceeded another goal, “to complete the fastest 90% of initial national security investigations” in 40 days, by five days.
The Commerce Department did not meet its “very aggressive” multiyear goal to reduce the backlog of patent applications from 670,000 to 529,000, but it did cut the number significantly, to 580,000, Patrick Gallagher said on the call. His title was given as “NIST Director performing the duties of Deputy Secretary of Commerce.”
NIST is the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Because Gallagher is not officially the acting deputy secretary, he is loaded with a cumbersome descriptor that only Uncle Sam would tolerate. Perhaps the government should set a goal of simplifying titles.
Gallagher said the backlog goal was not met largely because budget cuts prevented the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office from hiring patent examiners.
“The hiring wasn’t there,” he said.
More information about the performance goals is at Performance.gov.
Administration goals affect “people’s lives each day,” Cobert said, in areas such as “reducing food-borne illness through targeted inspections, coordinating multiple agency services to reduce veterans homelessness, and reducing hospital acquired infections.”
That’s a good segue to a National Treasury Employees Union campaign to boost the image of federal workers by informing the public about the services they provide.
The 16-day government shutdown in October “gave many Americans just a small glimpse of what life would be like without federal employees, and it was not a pretty picture,” said NTEU National President Colleen M. Kelley. “But even though the shutdown has ended, we are still headed in the wrong direction.”
The year-long campaign does not encourage the public to press Congress on behalf of federal workers. The NTEU seeks to create a positive image of employees using radio and television public service announcements, a Web site and social media.
For example, one 15-second PSA says:
Without us, you should be afraid of your salad.
Without us, our borders would go unprotected.
Without us, we would live in fear of a nuclear meltdown.
Federal employees. They work for U.S.
The announcements are being sent to 300 TV stations and 1,000 radio stations in top markets.
This is the NTEU’s third campaign “and each time it keeps getting bigger,” Kelley told reporters Wednesday. Between June 2011 and June 2012, radio, TV and cable outlets ran NTEU PSAs 25,048 times, worth $7.4 million in media time, according to the labor organization. The NTEU said 292 million people saw or heard those PSAs.
The current PSAs are available at TheyWorkforUs.org. The union said it is paying $40,000 to distribute the PSAs. On the Web site, NTEU asks the public to imagine what life would be like without feds. NTEU also supplies the answer:
“You wouldn’t want it.”
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/