recommended reading

Op-Ed: Labor’s Moneyball Approach to Boosting Performance

The 2002 Oakland Athletics were the subject of the Michael Lewis book Moneyball.

The 2002 Oakland Athletics were the subject of the Michael Lewis book Moneyball. // Eric Risberg/AP file photo

The recent Congressional budget deal is an important, if modest, foundation for economic growth and stability -- a far cry from the stopgap spending and shutdowns that have slowed our economy’s recovery since 2011. It assures greater certainty for federal managers struggling to carry out their agencies’ and departments’ missions as they grapple with furloughs, layoffs, and a Congress that provides only a few months of funding at a time. But the budget deal also highlights the fact that federal agencies and departments still must find innovative ways to maximize their performance.

One model for this improvement comes from the sports world -- the Moneyball concept popularized by General Manager Billy Beane of baseball’s Oakland A’s in the 2011 film of that name and recently adapted in a campaign to push government agencies towards more evidence-based decision making. 

The Moneyball approach could deliver better results for the people agencies serve. This has been a central priority of the Obama Administration from day one. The president proclaimed in his first inaugural that “the question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” 

The Labor Department is a proud leader in this effort. We arrived to an organization hurting from years of leadership openly hostile to its mission. Some agencies had been told, subtly or explicitly, to stop carrying out their missions. Less than one-third of Labor’s 23 agencies had operating plans that set annual goals. Most agencies weren’t held accountable for results because there wasn’t sufficient data to allow leaders to judge performance.

Our answer was to adopt our version of Moneyball and the results have been outstanding. In the three years our Moneyball system has been fully operational, the department’s agencies have dramatically improved performance, accelerating improvement each year. In 2013, despite sequestration and employee furloughs, agencies beat the average of their own past performance on eight out of 10 metrics. For nearly six out of 10 metrics, agencies beat their own best performance from the previous five years.

We know that playing Moneyball requires mountains of data. It also involves testing new strategies. The idea is to improve outcomes, and that means conducting rigorous evaluation to find the most efficient means to achieve results.

In baseball, general managers know which metrics matter. But in government, it’s often harder to know when you’ve succeeded, and success frequently has a longer horizon. Data-driven evaluation in government must not simply be an existential threat for government programs. It must be a device for driving continuous improvement. After all, when the Oakland A’s were losing, Billy Beane didn’t fire the team and take a wrecking ball to the stadium.    

In 2010, the Labor Department produced a new strategic plan that listed concrete goals for how each agency would improve working families’ lives. Did we reduce workplace fatalities? Did we increase the number of people receiving industry-recognized credentials from training programs? Did we help federal employees with disabilities return to work?   

Next, we required every agency to create an annual operating plan. These plans allow employees in the organization to know exactly how the agency would achieve its goals: how many investigations and compliance assistance activities our worker protection agencies would conduct, how many people would be served by job training grants, how quickly workers’ compensation checks would be distributed and the timeliness of labor statistics production, among dozens of others. Every strategy had a performance target. 

Each quarter, the head of every agency would report whether they had achieved their targets and, if not, why not. We analyze every bit of relevant data and explore alternative strategies and opportunities. In 2010, we hired the Labor Department’s first-ever Chief Evaluation Officer to help us determine whether agencies’ strategies achieved our outcome goals.

Our version of Moneyball has changed the department’s culture. A 2012 Government Accountability Office survey, performed every five years, shows the Labor Department improved on our 2007 results for use of data and evidence to drive decision making. We also outperformed other agencies. On 80 percent of all questions in the survey, Labor Department managers responded more favorably than other federal managers; on 22 percent of those questions, the favorability gap was double digits. 

We are fully committed to this plan and we are getting results. Put simply, the Labor Department answers to the taxpayers, Congress, the president and the people and businesses we serve. They deserve to know that our strategies and programs are achieving our mission in the most cost-effective way possible, and if not that we make necessary changes. Like in sports, government agencies must analyze every relevant bit of data about their priorities and strategies. Managers must use those data to inform their decisions, even when it leads to solutions not previously obvious.

Seth D. Harris is the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer at the United States Department of Labor

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.