Biden Administration Issues New Guidance Instructing Agencies to Start Tracking Goals Again

Andrew Harnik/AP

White House reversed last-minute Trump policy to end the practice of developing and monitoring agency objectives.

The White House on Wednesday formally reinstated requirements for federal agencies to create and track performance goals that reflect the Biden administration's objectives, reversing an 11th hour change the Trump administration implemented shortly before leaving office. 

The Biden administration instructed agencies to bring their goals in line with the president’s priorities, noting the White House will review them for compliance. Rob Fairweather, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, issued a memorandum on Wednesday to explain the changes, which took effect through an update to Circular No. A-11, the document that sets budget preparation and execution policy. 

The Trump White House's decision in December 2020 to remove the requirement to set and track agency goals as part of budget preparation “threatened to disrupt strategic and performance planning across federal departments and agencies,” Fairweather said. “These activities are critical to clearly defining the outcomes the federal government aims to achieve, using feedback from our customers to improve service delivery, and being transparent about agency results.”

Agency goals are monitored by performance improvement officers, though each objective generally has its own point person and various offices often join forces to create “cross-agency priority goals.” The goals inform the budgeting process and the development of the president’s management agenda, which Biden officials said will be released in the coming months. They are developed in compliance with the Government Performance and Results Act and tracked on Performance.gov. In justifying their removal from the budgeting process, then-OMB Director Russ Vought said the data "attract little interest" and amounted to "bureaucratic processes that do not lead to impactful change or measurable efficiencies."

Biden’s reinstatement of the goals was first reported by The Hill.  

Pam Coleman, OMB’s associate director of performance and personnel management, said in a blog post on Wednesday agencies themselves drove the decision. 

“Agencies were clear, and unanimous, in their desire to have the earlier framework reinstated,” Coleman said. “Grounded in proven management practices of high-performing organizations both private and public, the framework emphasizes a focus on implementation by engaging senior leaders through ambitious and data-driven goal setting, regular reviews of progress, and public reporting of results.”

She added the Trump administration had sought to centralize power with regard to administration priorities, while the new guidance would give agencies more flexibility in setting goals. Fairweather’s memo still requires agencies to submit draft goals to OMB by June 4, which will then work with policy councils at the White House to ensure Biden’s priorities are adequately reflected. The goals will help guide both Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget and his forthcoming management agenda. Fairweather said the administration will solicit feedback from agencies and outside stakeholders over the next several months “to identify improvements that can be made to the effectiveness of the performance framework.”

As has been the theme since Biden’s inauguration, the goals will focus on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, advancing equity and addressing climate change. Coleman encouraged political appointees to work with career staff as they develop the goals. She stressed that previous objectives during the Obama and Bush administrations have achieved results, such as those aimed at reducing veterans homelessness, slashing paper transactions at the Treasury Department and boosting water conservation. 

Agencies will provide quarterly progress updates through Performance.gov. 

“Through this simple process of being clear about our goals, showing the public our plans to get there, and then being transparent about our results,” Coleman said, “we aim to continue building trust with the American public.”

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