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Performance Reporting

by John Kamensky, Director
Managing for Results Practice,
IBM Business Consulting Services

Slow, but steady improvements have been made in performance reporting at all levels of government over the past decade, but now I've seen Nirvana.And as a result, I'm even more adamant about what needs to happen in government performance reporting.

After a long career in government, I am now in the private sector. The privately-held consulting firm for which I worked was acquired by publicly-traded IBM a few months ago.In mid-January, I opened my office email one morning and found a message from the head of my new division. She was reporting on the past year's performance of the company. I was astounded! In all my years in government, I had never seen anything like this.

Sure, there is a public reporting on IBM's performance to Wall Street, but this was a report on the performance of each division, with up/down arrows next to the pictures of the heads of each of the divisions - and a message from each division head to his/her employees on what was accomplished and priorities for the coming year.  And this was less than three weeks after the end of the fiscal year - a report to all 330,000 employees! As one of those employees, I can see concretely how my contributions fit in the bigger scheme of things, and what will be generally expected of my team and me in coming months.Can that be said in most public sector organizations?

I have seen similar reports on performance in my federal career. When I worked at the General Accounting Office (GAO), the Comptroller General reported quarterly to employees on the production of products, such as testimonies and recommendations.But not performance against targets, with names and pictures!And the GAO internal reporting was a government rarity.

Progress on performance reporting is taking place in the public sector generally, though.In local government, the New York City Police CompStat and Baltimore's CitiStat are two examples of solid reporting on performance that can be used to actually manage for results.  In state government, Minnesota agencies report their results regularly. Other states are beginning to do so as well; for example, Virginia and Iowa not only report agency-level performance data, but also state-wide "quality of life" indicators.

The federal government's budget this year expands on program-level reporting of performance that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) piloted last year in the budget. This year, the budget includes an assessment of the effectiveness of a broader set of 234 programs via its Program Assessment Review Tool. This goes beyond agencies' annual performance reports by providing a common assessment methodology so similar programs can be compared across agencies.

For the past three years, agencies have reported on their performance under the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act.  This year, this report is being combined with agencies' annual financial reports and both will be released by March 1 (instead of the statutory due date of March 31).Next year the deadline will be even sooner -- December 31.  This will take heroic from agencies, but having performance and financial information earlier creates a "place at the table" for this kind of information in the budget decision-making process.

This year, federal agencies will be judged on the quality of their reports by two independent entities.  The Mercatus Center has developed a set of criteria to assess how accessible agency performance reports are to the public (and this includes comprehensibility) and reports on how well federal agencies do against the criteria. Similarly, the Association for Government Accountants awards a Certificate of Excellence in Accountability Reporting to agencies that meet the criteria they have developed, which include financial elements not included in the Mercatus review.

However, all the action on performance reporting is not in the federal government. At the state and local levels, the Government Accounting Standards Board is in the process of developing "suggested criteria" for states and localities to include in their financial statements.This builds off the work of its long-term Service Efforts and Accomplishments performance measurement project.These draft criteria were publicly released in early February.In coming months, the Sloan Foundation will pilot their use in several localities to determine their feasibility.

Another interesting movement is citizen reporting of performance via electronic discussion groups.  In Iowa, the Sloan Foundation is sponsoring citizen-initiated performance assessments over a three-year period in nine participating cities. Co-leaders of the project, Paul Coates and Alfred Ho, say this project differs from traditional performance measurement in three ways:first, it emphasizes collaboration among citizens, elected officials and managers in developing key performance measures; second, it emphasizes the citizen perspective; and third, it emphasizes proactive dissemination of results to citizens. The project participants are currently identifying the key measures to be reported for the first time next year.

So, while we can see exciting progress at all levels of government in reporting on performance, it has a long way to go. While I have advocated this for years, my recent experience in the private sector reinforces for me the power of reporting on an organization's performance to its employees.

By the way, since government reporting - to both citizens and employees -- is an evolving arena, if you have any good examples of this in the public sector, let me know and I can share them in future columns.

John M. Kamensky is a charter board member of ASPA's Center for Accountability and Performance. He is Director of the Managing for Results Practice at IBM Business Consulting Services in Arlington, VA.

This article was previously published on the website of the American Society for Public Administration and is reprinted here with Mr. Kamensky's permission.

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