Federal Government Chief Performance Officer

A Quality Manager for Obama

President-Elect Obama has hired a quality manager, and her name is Nancy Killefer. She is the newly appointed “Chief Performance Officer” whose mandate is to manage budget reforms while eliminating waste in government processes, ultimately making it more effective. An MIT & McKinsey alum, Time calls her the “first official waste watchdog.”

Previous administrations have had exactly the same thing (regardless what Time magazine says), so I don’t think we should get carried away. Eliminating wasteful government spending is a refrain from every new administration. She will be running the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and have this new title “Chief Performance Officer.” OMB has been the official waste watchdog, for at least decades. They are far from understanding muda. Time will tell if there is any change on that score going forward, I am skeptical.

Here is very typical OMB language from a 1995 memo by Alice M. Rivlin, Director of OMB:

Management controls are the organization, policies, and procedures used to reasonably ensure that (i) programs achieve their intended results; (ii) resources are used consistent with agency mission; (iii) programs and resources are protected from waste, fraud, and mismanagement; (iv) laws and regulations are followed; and (v) reliable and timely information is obtained, maintained, reported and used for decision making.

I worked with improving management in the federal government at the Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Quality Management Office and the White House Military Office. I was one of the founders of the ASQ Public Sector Network (now Government Division) and have managed the Public Sector Continuous Improvement Site since 1995. There have been plenty of great efforts to improve management in government that have made real progress. But there is much more that needs to be done.

There are complications in applying management improvement in government but they are fairly minor comparatively. In general, the difficulty is not the necessary adjustments for a different environment than the private sector, but similar challenges to improving private sector management.

In 1982, The Grace Commission provided a report to the Regan Administration. Radio Address to the Nation on the Management of the Federal Government by Ronald Reagan, October 29, 1988

“We also set up the Private Sector Survey on Cost Control led by Peter Grace — almost 200 top business executives. This Commission spent months looking at every part of the Government, finding out where modern business practices could eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in the Government. When they were through, they’d come up with 2,478 suggestions. And almost every recommendation we could put into effect without congressional action has been implemented. And we’ve saved close to $80 billion. We’re hoping that the next Congress will pitch in and do its part.”

The Clinton administration had the National Performance Review which was the closest thing to an attempt to move toward my concept of management improvement.

The current administration had their own President’s Management Agenda. Government Accountability: Efforts to Identify and Eliminate Waste and Mismanagement Hearing before the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, September 4, 2003.

President Bush has made right sizing the U.S. presence overseas a part of his management agenda, and we are working actively with the State Department, OMB and other international agencies to meet these objectives.

We are developing a comprehensive competitive sourcing plan to enable competition to generate savings and performance improvements in our administrative services. We are also collaborating with the State Department in this area in strategic planning and identification of opportunities for joint action.

And countless more examples can be found, I am sure. It would be wonderful if the new administration actually adopts management improvements to improve results. There will be improvement made I am sure. It is not very challenging to improve. The challenge is to improve significantly more quickly than others, and to sustain that pace over the long term. There is nothing wrong with being optimistic that the new administration will begin a new long term, significantly better than normal, continual improvement effort. But what is valuable, in my opinion, is to critically examine strategies and results not be happy with fairly vague promises (especially if the claims are more propaganda than coherent strategies for success).

Washington likes to present things as firsts. There are propaganda reasons for doing so and self-delusional reasons (it is easier to just pretend you are the first to try this so you don’t need to do the hard work of exploring past failures and seeing how optimistic desires alone don’t achieve results). Propaganda reasons don’t matter much to me, if people are aware they are just repeating previous efforts and learn from those past efforts the way they market themselves is not hugely significant (I am still a it worried by the inherit deceit behind saying one thing while knowing that fundamentally it is not accurate, but nothing is perfect).

But it is dangerous if they believe their propaganda and don’t learn from all the previous essentially identical efforts: a claim of “first” is trying to convince people those past efforts do not exist. This self-delusional pattern is very common in the practice of management and a significant reason why the practice of management has not improved more rapidly over time. To achieve success you need to determine why the problem still exists and exploring the very similar past efforts is critical to such study. If you actually believe your claims of “first” then you will likely fail, and probably for very similar reasons the last people failed (that you are now trying to distance yourself from with your “first” claims).

Another famous example of official government waste watchdog, from the legislative branch, is Senator Proxmire‘s Golden Fleece Award. He presented that “award” from 1975-1988 , highlighting government waste.

Related: Early History Of Quality Management OnlineDoing More With Less in the Public Sector: A Progress Report from Madison, Wisconsin (1986) – Management Improvement HistoryPresidential Quality Award winners from 1988-2002Theory of KnowledgeQuality and Innovation

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