A hopeful update on the President's Management Agenda

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Steve Kelman says there's a lot to like in the Biden administration's approaches to improving citizen satisfaction, employee engagement and acquisition reform

My old friend and Clinton-era reinventing government partner John Kamensky (then a civil servant at the Government Accountability Office, after that a stalwart at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, now mostly retired) has written a nice update for the IBM Center on the President's Management Agenda. John's update links to an administration document  that puts a lot of meat on the vision statement that came out last November and that I had blogged about somewhat critically at the time, worried it didn't include enough about performance metrics.

It turns out that there is a lot to like in this document. For starters, it includes only three priority goals, respecting the adage that "if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority." These are strengthening and empowering the federal workforce, delivering excellent and equitable federal services and customer experience, and managing the business of government.

But the most-important part of the document is that it provides, I think for the first time for any effort such as this, actual citizen satisfaction goals for government services as part of the second of the three priority areas. The document sets a goal to move the federal government from last place to one of the top 10 scorers in the customer experience index compiled by the consulting firm Forrester, and to attain a 75% transaction trust rating. These are very bold goals, and I really commend the administration for stepping up to this plate.

There are also specific goals and measures for strengthening and empowering the workforce. 

For example, the document establishes the specific goal to increase agency Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey employee engagement index scores by narrowing gaps by organizational unit by 20%. The document also states that agencies "will select a minimum of three FEVS questions as topics to target for action and quantifiably improve results on these questions." (Specifically, agencies are asked to improve their scores on the FEVS question: "I am given a real opportunity to improve my skills in my organization.") Two other goals and metrics are to "increase by 20 points the percentage of [Chief Human Capital Officer] survey respondents who agree that OPM provides agencies with high-quality workforce data and information to be used in decision-making" and to increase the percentage of hiring manager satisfaction with the hiring process.

Finally, the document names goal leaders in each of the first two priority areas, some civil servants and some political appointees at the deputy secretary and assistant secretary level. This is also an excellent step.

The third priority of managing the business of government includes a discussion of acquisition, which given my background in the area is of special interest to me. This paragraph is a pastiche of three very different themes in federal procurement policy. There are words expressing support for a classic good contracting agenda of getting a good deal for taxpayers and agency customers. The section talks about category management and reducing procurement cycle times, and about moving the approach of the system "from compliance to outcomes." 

Contracting folks will feel at home with such language—the words about compliance to outcomes harkens back to reinventing government from the Clinton administration. A second traditional theme, increasing contracting with small and minority businesses, is also present, here rebranded under the moniker "equity." And a traditional theme of politicians dabbling in contracting, Buy American–presented as "the Administration's goals to advance domestic manufacturing"—is there as well.

Other acquisition themes create a real tension with the "good deal for taxpayers and agencies" theme, because they are likely to raise the prices of what the government buys. Without strong leadership advocating on behalf of taxpayers and agency missions, the first theme tends to get short shrift—the bane of contracting policy over the decades. I fear that Biden's gut (or more likely, the gut of his advisors, since Biden himself is not going to be personally engaged in this), as a union guy, is to care mostly about the Buy American theme, secondarily about the small and minority-owned business contracting theme. 

Good government forces don't have the heavy guns here (to put it mildly)—though the more progressive and enlightened government contractors are often in this corner, along with many in the digital government community, who enjoy a "cool" cachet we contracting nerds lack. We also have the perhaps weak reed of the language in this document about category management, cycle times, and results there in the document. Maybe that's not that much. But let's make a fight.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating—how strong are the improvement efforts, and what results do they show? But the administration is, I hope, on track to move performance measurement in government an important step forward.

P.S. I have started a second blog, called "Steve Kelman on politics, culture, and life" that comes out about three times a week and features short snippets of commentary. Click here to learn more and also subscribe for free.