Focusing on six words: Helping government do its job better

Some must-reads from Killefer, Obama’s performance person — in her own words

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As I mentioned yesterday, former Treasury officials Nancy Killefer was nominated by President-elect Obama as the government’s chief performance officer. She will also serve as the deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget, a position currently held by Clay Johnson. (I should note that she sits on the board of the Partnership for Public Service.)

One must read that I failed to mention yesterday and that Joel Whitaker was kind enough to send along to me on Twitter yesterday… If you want to get real insights into her thinking about government performance? On Aug. 14, 2006, Killefer and Lenny Mendonca, senior partner and chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute, where Killefer also works, wrote a column for BusinessWeek magazine headlined, Unproductive Uncle Sam: To boost performance, government needs to measure and set targets for its programs. It is based on a 25-page McKinsey white paper titled How can American government meet its productivity challenge?, which, I’m getting is getting more traffic today then it ever got before.

Both should be on all of our must-read lists given that this is the person who will likely guide how the new administration manages. And I’m hopeful because they talk about transparency — and Team Obama took a enormous step toward transparency earlier this week with the announcement that they are “exploring the idea” of creating a Web site to track where money is spent under the yet-to-be-passed gianormous economic stimulus package. [My guess is they will be talking to former OMBer Robert Shea about such a site. We did on Federal News Radio 1500 AM yesterday. Shea was the OMB’s point person on creating, which was created as a result of the Sen. Coburn-then-Sen. Obama sponsored Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. And creating this Web site, which my guess is underutilized, was no small fete. When I was at FCW, we gave Shea a 2008 Fed 100 award for getting it done at all — let alone getting it done early.]

Back to Kellener’s column — it’s interesting to note she also talks about using competition to spur performance.

An excert from the BusinessWeek column:

Competitive intensity at the industry sector level is the prime catalyst for productivity growth. It forces managers to improve performance and allows innovation to diffuse quickly across the sector.

Make no mistake, government is a sector — structured and regulated in ways that can foster or stunt productivity growth at its “firms” (agencies). And while it may not be possible to use competition in government to exert pressure to perform, Congress and the White House or state legislators and governors have plenty of tools to improve public agencies.

The most natural tool is the budget process, but the reality in Washington and many state capitals is that performance remains a secondary factor in budget decision-making. Congressmen fight for their district or their passions, and accordingly, agencies privately admit that you budget for what you can get, not what you need or deserve. Yet when government performance, or the lack thereof, is highly visible (witness the response after Katrina), everyone takes action.

That’s why we think a radical new approach to transparency of how government programs are performing is required. Only this will push Congress to exert performance pressure on government agencies. First, government should measure public productivity again and set national targets for productivity growth against which everyone can be held accountable. Next, political leaders should create a body we call “Gov-Star,” modeled after fund-rating agency Morningstar Inc., to provide completely independent measurement of government program performance; to develop comparable program data over time — between programs, between governments, and with the private sector; and to make the data and their implications clear to appropriators and citizens.

But in government, pressure without support can yield demoralization and underperformance. So we also need to adopt key transformation initiatives: incentives that allow agencies to reinvest savings to the top line of programs; the introduction of chief operating officers at public agencies, to be appointed based on management experience in government or leading corporations; and a SWAT team of management experts at the Office of Management & Budget to help lagging agencies.

It’s a long list. But if we want our government to do more and do better, we must take public management and productivity more seriously. Otherwise, citizen demands for effective government in the future will go unheeded.

There is much more out there today, but… Harvard professor Steve Kelman on his blog posts about her:

As I have written frequently in my FCW column, and sometimes in this blog, results-oriented performance measures are the public sector’s counterpart to profit as a performance measure in business firms. Managers can use performance measures to improve agency performance through their ability to focus effort, to motivate employees, and to provide feedback that can be used for learning and improvement.

There was some danger that government efforts to use performance measures to improve agency performance might not survive a transition to a Democratic administration, because some more traditional Democrats take an “everything is fine” approach to government performance and have been hesitant about the need for using performance measures (particularly if these might show that some programs aren’t working).

Obama’s commitment during the campaign was therefore a fantastic signal of a progressive approach to public management.

Read Kelman’s full post here.

Written by cdorobek

January 8, 2009 at 8:44 AM

2 Responses

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  1. Insightful interview with Jim Flyzik

    Phil Kiviat

    January 8, 2009 at 12:01 PM

  2. […] did with the chief performance officer — and give two titles to what is really one job. In Nancy Killefer’s case, the OMB deputy director for management also carries the “chief performance […]

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