Next Steps in Improving Performance

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Memo Overview:

The federal government has gradually expanded the use of performance management systems. Different administrations have tried a variety of approaches and techniques, the most promising of which have been incorporated into statute with the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act (GPRAMA) of 2010.

Leverage the new system: A temptation facing any new administration is to create a new reform agenda to improve federal agency performance. This would be a mistake. GPRAMA provides the President with the framework needed to institute the President’s agenda and improve government performance. The focus should be on creating the conditions for GRPAMA to succeed.

Focus on performance information use: Performance management reforms from the past were skilled at creating routines to measure and disseminate performance data. But these reforms did less well in creating routines that encouraged the use of performance data. Surveys of federal managers do not find any significant increase of performance information in the last decade. Increasing the use of performance data has been a goal of policymakers in recent years, but needs sustained attention if it is to be realized. 

Work with Congress: Congress has been traditionally reluctant to engage actively with performance management. This is a significant problem because goal clarity is central to mission achievement, and when the White House and Congress direct agencies to achieve contrary goals, the ultimate goal of performance management will be undercut.

Generate leadership commitment: Performance management systems are more likely to succeed when they have the clear and widely-perceived support of agency leaders. It is essential that the next administration prioritize hiring appointees (especially Chief Operating Officers) with a skill-set that allows them to lead discussions about how to improve performance.  

Build a culture of learning and improvement: Leaders should take a leaning approach to the use of performance measures, which calls for employees to acknowledge problems, question basic assumptions, and invest their ingenuity to solve problems. In the long-run, an emphasis on learning will generate greater dividends than a punitive approach that would lead federal managers responding defensively.

Manage collaboration across agencies: The emphasis that GPRAMA places on cross-cutting goals underlines the fact that many of the tasks that the federal government takes on require coordination across multiple agencies. GPRAMA provides a means for the White House to set cross-cutting goals to foster collaboration between agencies. Such collaboration needs basic governance rules to determine how information is exchanged, and how decisions are made.

Build analytical capacity: Agencies have come to expect that they need a mix of evaluation and performance data to understand program outcomes. Demand for quality evidence requires the resources to create the data, the capacity to analyze it, and the time to do so. Federal hiring practices should identify and utilize key skills and competencies needed to carry out performance management activities.


1. Leverage the New Federal Performance Management System to Implement President Obama’s Agenda

2. Active Congressional Consultation Will Make Getting Things Done Easier

3. Management Strategies for Working with Agencies

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