OMB intends to measure to the end

By GHIT Staff
10:12 AM

With about 18 months left in the Bush administration, officials are not reducing their expectations under the President's Management Agenda. In fact, the Office of Management and Budget is adding to the initiative that they believe will improve agency efficiency and effectiveness.

The most recent example of the administration's continued push came in the fiscal 2007 third-quarter report card issued July 30. OMB added health information technology and improved credit management as two new areas in which officials will be tracking and grading some agencies.

"We are reminded every quarter how powerful and important transparency is," said Clay Johnson, OMB's deputy director for management. "Transparency is raising questions and moving agencies. It also is raising some questions in Congress, but not enough."

Johnson said that by tracking agency progress in those new areas, OMB is shining a brighter light on two key federal functions.

Under the health IT area, OMB will evaluate how the Office of Personnel Management and the Defense, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs departments meet specific criteria for improving how they use and implement standards.

Johnson said the administration has been measuring agency progress in that area since the previous quarter and recently decided to permanently add it to the quarterly score card.

OMB has now added five categories to the five original ones on the score card, which it began using in 2001. Each quarter, the administration grades agencies' progress in workforce management, competitive sourcing, e-government, financial performance, performance management, improper payments, real property asset management, and faith-based and community initiatives. All agencies are graded on the first five areas, but only certain ones are evaluated on the latter three.

OMB added health IT to support President Bush's 2006 executive order calling for agencies to promote transparency and reduce costs, said Tim Young, OMB's associate administrator of e-government and IT.

"It is information sharing and technology," Young said. "We will measure how they build their systems to enable interoperability. On the sharing aspect, they also leverage standards to encourage DOD to share e-health records."

OPM also will be held accountable for how its contractors use electronic health records for federal employees, Young added.

Private-sector experts applauded OMB's decision to track agency progress under health IT each quarter.

"This administration realizes they have about 500 days left, and we are seeing a lot of activity, particularly at the Health and Human Services Department, and they want to ensure the momentum they have generated can maintain itself," said Christine Bechtel, vice president of public policy and government relations at the

eHealth Initiative. "The president set a goal of providing most Americans with an electronic health record by 2014, and that is what is driving the bus. This is the administration saying we are not giving up on the goal."

Officials at HHS' Office of National Coordinator for Health IT said they had no comment on the changes and referred all questions to OMB "as this process is very complicated."

Overall, agencies' progress in the original five categories - workforce management, competitive sourcing, e-government, financial performance and performance management - remained flat. OMB said 12 agencies saw their scores drop in at least one category, while six had their grades improve in at least one category.

Under e-government, the Commerce and Labor departments dropped to red and yellow, respectively, while the Smithsonian Institution and OMB raised their scores to yellow.

Young said the OMB and Smithsonian scores improved because they completed a segment of their enterprise architecture. Meanwhile, Commerce's score dropped because Congress did not let the agency transfer funds for e-government programs, while Labor had programs on the management watch list, he added.

Patrick Pizzella, Labor's chief information officer, said this was the first time in eight quarters that his department was not green in all five categories.

He attributed the drops to congressional restrictions on competitive sourcing and a shortage of funds to meet their milestones under their core accounting system project.

"Congress has not fully funded our core accounting system for the last two years, and that caught up with our ability to maintain our progress there," Pizzella said. "We're regrouping on the business case for our effort on the core accounting system. We've had some visits with congressional staff so they are more aware of our needs, and we are hoping to make some headway with them."

Johnson said Labor was not alone with their problems with competitive sourcing. OMB said almost all of the drops can be attributed to congressional restrictions on the program.

"We must do a better job of educating Congress on the benefits of the program so they stop prohibiting this," Johnson said. "There are more prohibitions now than in the past."