Policies and Practices: President's Management Agenda'slip or grip?

Jason MIller

Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, has been quoted numerous times over the last few months saying that the President's Management Agenda has gained 'traction' with federal employees.

Johnson proclaimed that the agenda is no longer the president's but now belongs to the employees who have taken ownership of e-government, competitive sourcing, human capital management, budget and performance integration, and improved financial management.

But is Johnson right, or is he seeing the federal world through rose-colored glasses?

From some of the questions that followed his speech at the Information Resources Management Conference in September, it looked as though Johnson's assumptions were a bit premature.

Federal employees peppered Johnson with questions about how he is measuring PMA success. Johnson, agitated by this line of questioning, provided shallow support for his claims.

Looking into this a bit further, there seems to be evidence that the PMA is taking hold, especially with senior managers and as it relates to e-government.

A number of e-government project managers said the process by which agencies take ownership of the PMA happens slowly, like turning a battleship.

One manager said projects have traction when agencies are quick to provide funding and resources, and become more ingrained when federal employees, especially those in the community the project affects, see results.

Another project director said it is important for agency chief financial officers to accept and participate more in the e-government process. That is happening as CFOs realize the importance of business cases, enterprise architectures and better tracking of intergovernmental transactions.

So on one hand, Johnson is right, the PMA is gaining traction, but only at the executive levels. What about with career employees?

Well, he may be waiting for the trickle-down effect there. Career employees seem to have a wait-and-see approach to e-government. They like the potential but are not sure if it will last beyond the current political appointments.

Only a handful of the e-government changes have affected career employees so far, according to managers and employees. Federal employees understand the importance of business cases and may even have helped with their agency's enterprise architecture work, but the effect is minimal at best.

Until OMB starts migrating legacy systems to joint systems, e-government will have little impact on career employees' day-to-day work.

Career employees are more concerned about the administration's plan to open federal jobs to competition with the private sector and with the looming human capital shortage, especially in the GS-6 to GS-10 levels.

The administration has done a poor job in communicating to employees what competitive sourcing is all about. Many continue to believe it is about outsourcing their jobs and not about making the government more efficient.

The best way to measure whether Johnson's assertions are true is to see how far down they filter beyond the senior executive level. That is when real traction, as Johnson likes to say, happens. The government isn't there yet, but the battleship seems to be turning.

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