President's Management Agenda begins to take root

Most agencies are on the verge of moving out of red to yellow on the scorecard, OMB's Clay Johnson says.

Henrik G. DeGyor

Federal managers have made enough progress on the President's Management Agenda for the beatings to stop. The Office of Management and Budget, which has at times forcefully pushed the agenda, is instead ready to cheer agencies' initial successes.

In the nearly two years since the Bush administration unveiled the effort, OMB finds its chief role now is helping agencies discover ways to reach the PMA goals. OMB no longer has to force agencies to admit their need for better management, said Clay Johnson, who the Senate this month confirmed as OMB's latest deputy director for management.

'Most agencies are on the verge of moving out of red on the scorecard to yellow,' he said, referring to the red, yellow and green ratings the administration uses to rate agencies' progress. A green rating means an agency has met all of OMB's requirements, yellow indicates it has met some, and red signifies serious problems.

'The scorecard will be mostly yellow in a year,' Johnson predicted.

'Ownership is beginning to pass from OMB to the agencies,' he said this month at an e-government conference sponsored by Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va., and Potomac Forum Ltd. of Potomac, Md. Agency systems officials echoed the administration claims.

The agenda's plan for improving the way agencies manage their missions is filtering down throughout the Environmental Protection Agency, said Rick Otis, deputy assistant administrator of EPA for environmental information.

'I've received unsolicited comments from career employees who said they are surprised and pleased that this administration is interested in better management,' Otis said. 'E-government is focused on making people's lives better by targeting our resources toward performance outcomes.'

Agencies were slow to accept some of the changes OMB wanted them to make, both administration appointees and veteran feds said. To boost compliance, OMB initially had to use the carrot-and-stick approach: offering funding to agencies that began work on the agenda's initiatives, and taking it away from those that attempted to elude the management directives.

'The PMA is coming of age after a lot of unconditional love and some tough love, at times,' Johnson said. He added that the next year or two will be critical in advancing the agenda.

Jim Van Wert, the Small Business Administration's senior adviser for policy planning and e-government and project manager of its the Business Compliance One-Stop e-government initiative, said the public scorecards are pushing agency managers to pay more attention to meeting the agenda's goals.

'SBA managers gather monthly about meeting budget and performance integration goals. The agencies have taken the whole issue of the agenda more seriously because they see this as a value-added benefit,' Van Wert said.

Agencies have spent the last two years planning how to meet the agenda's goals, and 'now they are moving to implement these plans,' Johnson said. 'The key is whether we can take all the progress we've made over the last two years and connect it to tangible change in the way government functions.'

Benefits to the citizen

In the sphere of e-government'one of the five agenda categories'the next challenge will be 'getting the employees beyond the IT universe to get this,' Otis said. 'We must explain to the regulation writers, to the research folks and other programmatic people that e-government is beneficial to the citizens and not just about technology.'

Van Wert said OMB spent a lot of time educating agencies about the agenda, which besides e-government includes budget and performance integration, competitive sourcing, financial management, and human capital management.

'People are understanding that e-government and the PMA are about better management, and technology helps you get there,' he said.

As evidence of progress, Johnson noted that OMB expects 23 of 24 major agencies to have clean financial audits by October. 'Every agency but the Defense Department is on track,' he said.

Drew Ladner, CIO at the Treasury Department, said the agenda's measure of success is if citizens get what they need and want. He noted several examples where the administration's agenda helped push Treasury to serve its customers better, such as IRS' Free File program, which this year let 2.7 million income taxpayers file their returns online at no charge. He also mentioned pay.gov, a Treasury collection system that lets agencies conduct online transactions.

'As there are more successes with e-government initiatives, there is an increasing enthusiasm in agencies because of the potential,' Ladner said. 'Agencies are seeing there is value being delivered to the citizen, and that is what this is all about.'

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