Bush administration puts compliance on the agenda

Bush administration puts compliance on the agenda

As if agencies didn't already have a multiheaded dragon of compliance mandates breathing down their necks, the Bush administration is turning up the heat on management reform.

That means more deadlines, more mandates and more milestones to meet.

The President's Management Agenda, building on reforms of the past decade, sets new goals in five areas: expanded electronic government, budget and performance integration, competitive sourcing, improved financial performance and strategic management of human capital.

'The president's five key management initiatives cannot be addressed in isolation or in piecemeal fashion,' comptroller general David Walker said last month at the Joint Financial Improvement Program's annual meeting in Washington. 'All five of these initiatives are interrelated and mutually reinforceable. Agencies should address them together.'

Togetherness

Tackling the management initiatives together will give agencies their best chance of meeting their mandates, Walker added.

To a large extent, Bush's management agenda embodies major elements of the interconnected, overlapping and complementary reform measures that Congress churned out in the 1990s.

The roster includes the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, the Clinger-Cohen Act (enacted as the Information Technology Management Reform Act) of 1996 and the Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998.

To many federal executives and managers, this corpus of statutes looks like a colossal compliance monster.

The very heart of the beast, and the wellspring of the administration's management agenda, is GPRA.

GPRA was designed to improve efficiency and shift the focus of government management to performance and results.

While it required agencies to show closer links between program performance and budget, the administration's management agenda is taking it a big step further, mandating full integration of performance into budget requests.

The administration also has set a goal for agencies to use performance-based acquisition techniques for at least 20 percent of services contracts over $25,000 this fiscal year.

Leaders across government are behind the spirit of reform, even those whose relationship with the executive branch is at times adversarial.

'There is much more commonality on basic good government issues, irrespective of what administration it is,' said Walker, head of the General Accounting Office.

To be sure, there are many hurdles ahead in what the administration calls 'the long march to a results-oriented government.'

One problem is that recurrent turnover in agency top management robs reform efforts of the leadership and continuity necessary to meet mandates.

Then there are the sheer organizational barriers to reform. It's not easy for agencies to change the way they do things.

'Many agencies will have to engage in a cultural transformation,' Walker said. 'They will have to become flatter, more partnerial, more results-oriented and more externally focused.'

Beyond management and performance mandates, agencies face other compliance challenges.

Telework mandate

For instance, the Transportation Department's 2001 appropriations bill requires agencies to make telecommuting available to 25 percent of their workforces each year for the next four years.

Thus, the beast grows.

But mere compliance with various laws and administration mandates isn't'or shouldn't be'the goal for agencies, said Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for IT and e-government and acting chairman of the federal CIO Council.

'The issue is quality of management,' he said. 'The change that a lot of the government reform legislation brought was moving away from a focus on compliance at the front end to a focus on results.'

For Forman and other federal officials looking over agency shoulders, it's the sword of good management that ultimately will tame the compliance monster.

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