Study reveals that IT is key to agencies' performance

That the Social Security Administration gets top grades for its year 2000 efforts is
old news. But a new review of government practices earned Social Security an A for overall
performance as well as for information technology management.


Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs did the
two-year review for its Government Performance Project, which the Pew Charitable Trusts is
funding through a four-year grant.


SSA led the 15 agencies whose operations Syracuse studied; five agencies working on
some of the government’s most extensive systems projects landed at the bottom of the
list and received Cs. They were the IRS, Customs Service, Health Care Financing
Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, and Immigration and Naturalization
Service.


“In this case, C is not viewed as an average grade,” said Patricia Wallace
Ingraham, director of the Government Performance Project and a professor of publication
administration and political science at the Maxwell School.


Ingraham said the ultimate conclusion to be drawn from the study is that management
matters. The study also revealed that managing for results is still a problem for some
organizations; linking measurements and plans is a powerful tool; and having a top-down
vision for change is critical, Ingraham said.


The review looked at specific projects and initiatives within the agencies, which she
said showed that the federal government is improving its performance.


“Eleven of the agencies got a B or better in financial management. Ten did the
same in managing for results, and nine got a B or better in information technology,”
Ingraham said at a briefing in Washington last week. “The Government Performance and
Results Act has surely had an impact on the 10 agencies at B or above in managing for
results.”


It is almost impossible to make strides in overall performance without carefully
managing IT, she said. The review contrasted Social Security’s IT management with
that of the IRS. SSA has juggled a modernization effort and its project to prepare systems
for 2000. The IRS is on track to have its systems ready for 2000 but has been struggling
to modernize its tax processing systems for more than a decade, the review said.


SSA Commissioner Kenneth S. Apfel said his agency’s effort to improve management
reflects a broader governmentwide emphasis on the need for strong and effective management
to meet the government’s biggest challenges.


The school also reviewed government program management within the 50 states and found a
wide range of performance.


“Over three-fourths of the states did well, a B or better, in financial
management; 66 percent got a C or lower in information technology management. Nearly 60
percent got a C or lower in managing for results,” Ingraham said. 


“IT, human resources and managing for results continue to present some challenges
to most states. The percent of As did not rise above 4 percent in any of these
cases,” she said.   n


“It doesn’t just happen,” he said. Improvement takes hard, dedicated
work by SSA’s management team and all 65,000 employees, Apfel said.



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