Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Long Overdue

This morning, President-Elect Obama introduced his selection to fill a new position created by his new Administration: The Government Chief Performance Officer.

This is one of those ideas that makes you wonder why it wasn't done two or three decades ago.

Basically, the new Performance Officer, who will report directly the President (giving her real power), will be in charge of developing and monitoring metrics to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs.

It will almost certainly take a few years for the new organization to have a substantial impact, but this is a big step in a positive direction.

You can read about the office and the selection here.


Unknown said...

This may be a big step in a positive direction, but I'll refrain from getting too excited until I see some results. It's easy to say "I'm putting this person in charge of making the government more efficient," and it's an admirable goal, but until it actually happens, it's just a goal.

I also found this little quotation moderately mind-bending: "I think the challenge for her is to figure out what are the good aspects of the way the government currently evaluates government performance, and where are the bad parts."

So she has to evaluate the performance of the government's procedures for evaluating the performance of the government. Will she then have to evaluate her evaluation of the evaluation? Where does it end? My God, where does it end, Jared??!!

Justin said...

Unfortunately, without any structural power, this new CPO's influence will be entirely dependent on her ability to keep the ear of the President. Perhaps Obama will give her an honest hearing, but will future Presidents?

Unknown said...

Justin articulates my essential objection much more clearly than I did. Future Presidents will place exactly as much importance on government efficiency/accountability as their whims (and their political agendas) will dictate. There is a person in every administration called "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency," but at the end of the day, if the President doesn't give a crap about environmental protection, the existence of that person doesn't mean a whole lot.

Similarly, I suppose it will be nice to have a person called "Chief Performance Officer," but if the President doesn't make government performance a priority, then the mere existence of this new office is not really very exciting. I am optimistic that Obama will be interested in improving government performance, but (A) it remains to be seen if that optimism comes to fruition, and (B) when Obama leaves office, all bets are off.

Jared said...

The issues that you both raise are right on and may in fact make this office fairly meaningless over the long term.

On the other hand, the optimist in me thinks it could actually work out for a couple reasons. First, Obama and Killefer are extremely intelligent and recognize the issues you raise. Killefer specifically has a ton of experience addressing these exaxt problems in business - and although government is quite a bit different than the private sector, it's not as different as many people think given the right approach.

I'm not sure what the solution will be - or if there is a practical one - but I suspect these people will spend a good chunk of the next four years trying to idtentify and implement it.

Here's a specific idea that could make a difference: how about giving civil servants a financial bonus for successful accomplishing their objectives while coming in under budget?

Of course, this will be easier to set up and reliably execute in some areas than others - but it would reverse the opposite incentive that exists today in most goverment agencies to go out of their way to spend their entire budget lest they lose the funds the next year!

Of course, the United States government is almost certainly never going to be a model for efficiency. But it is actually so bad that even a little bit of practical innovation could make a material differece - not to make it perfect or even "good" - but just to make it a lot better - and save us several billion dollars every year.

Unknown said...

Here's a specific idea that could make a difference: how about giving civil servants a financial bonus for successful accomplishing their objectives while coming in under budget?

There's enormous potential for abuse there; e.g., your boss intentionally inflates the budget for your project in exchange for a 20% cut of your bonus...

Jared said...

Certainly true - but there has to be practical audit procedures that could ensure that the benefits of this program - or similar ones - outweigh the costs/risks.

Unknown said...

So much for that.