The man­age­ment view on Trump’s bud­get.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY JENA MCGRE­GOR jena.mcgre­gor@wash­

Most of the news about Trump’s pro­posed bud­get fo­cuses on the num­bers part — the steep cuts to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and de­part­ments like Agri­cul­ture, La­bor and State; the $54 bil­lion in­crease in de­fense spend­ing; the elim­i­na­tion of nearly 20 in­de­pen­dent agen­cies.

But tucked in­side the 53-page doc­u­ment from the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get is a brief two-page de­scrip­tion of how the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tends to man­age the fed­eral bu­reau­cracy, a nod to the agency’s man­date of over­see­ing agency per­for­mance and things like hu­man cap­i­tal, pro­cure­ment and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.

The sec­tion, ti­tled “Mak­ing Gov­ern­ment Work Again,” be­gins by not­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s me­moran­dum from Jan­uary that im­posed a hir­ing freeze for the non­mil­i­tary fed­eral work­force and called for a long-term plan to re­duce its size, as well as his ex­ec­u­tive or­der from Monday aimed at re­or­ga­niz­ing the ex­ec­u­tive branch. In that or­der, he in­structs agen­cies to submit plans within six months to re­or­ga­nize them­selves, in­vite the pub­lic to make com­ments and de­liver a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion plan to his desk six months af­ter that.

Yet the “blue­print” also listed four state­ments the White House aims to “be able to say” its fed­eral agen­cies achieved by 2020: more ef­fec­tive man­age­ment, more re­sources de­voted to ob­jec­tives rather than un­pro­duc­tive com­pli­ance, more sup­port for pro­gram out­comes and more ac­count­abil­ity.

Re­sponses from aca­demics and other ex­perts on gov­ern­ment man­age­ment were var­ied. Some ap­plauded in­clud­ing the topic in the ini­tial bud­get pro­posal. Oth­ers were skep­ti­cal about its com­mit­ment to in­vest­ing in man­age­ment re­forms as it si­mul­ta­ne­ously makes stark cuts to many parts of the gov­ern­ment.

Max Stier, pres­i­dent and CEO of the non­par­ti­san, non­profit Part­ner­ship for Pub­lic Ser­vice, said he sees “this as a pos­i­tive, that a new pres­i­dent is stick­ing this stake in the ground on man­age­ment is­sues from the getgo.” He said that “yes, there’s not a whole ton of de­tail here, but we’re seven weeks into the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

He pointed out that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s first bud­get pro­posal also spent less than two pages dis­cussing how he in­tended to go about “mak­ing gov­ern­ment more ef­fec­tive.” It called out sim­i­lar goals — to “put per­for­mance first,” “stream­line gov­ern­ment pro­cure­ment,” cut re­dun­dancy and in­crease the use of tech­nol­ogy. (Obama de­voted much more space to the is­sue, mean­while, in his fi­nal bud­get.)

Oth­ers were more skep­ti­cal. Paul Light, pro­fes­sor of pub­lic ser­vice at New York Univer­sity, said he was “un­der­whelmed.” He noted that “ev­ery pres­i­dent since FDR has en­tered of­fice promis­ing to make gov­ern­ment bet­ter. Some­times they do it with bells and whis­tles like Jimmy Carter, and some­times they use bluerib­bon com­mis­sions like Rea­gan. The real ques­tion is what’s be­hind the promise.”

Not­ing the in­vest­ments it takes to im­prove things like per­for­mance data and man­age­ment, Light said, “You’ve got to spend money to save money.” He said there’s a “dis­so­nance” be­tween the bud­get’s man­age­ment sec­tion and the deep cuts it calls for, say­ing, “I haven’t heard any­thing from this ad­min­is­tra­tion that would make me be­lieve they are se­ri­ous about sus­tained in­vest­ments in bet­ter per­for­mance.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The doc­u­ment first says it plans to “take an ev­i­dence-based ap­proach to im­prov­ing pro­grams and ser­vices — us­ing real, hard data to iden­tify poorly per­form­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions and pro­grams.” While that may sound like com­mon sense, Stier says it’s an area where the gov­ern­ment has plenty of room to im­prove. “This is ac­tu­ally some­thing Obama started fo­cus­ing on, but it’s by no means done,” he said.

Light, mean­while, said the gov­ern­ment’s ex­ten­sive per­for­mance data is already mea­sured. “I was par­tic­u­larly taken by the three or four words about us­ing ‘real, hard data.’ As op­posed to what? The fed­eral agen­cies are drown­ing in the per­for­mance mea­sure­ment sys­tems that we already have.”

An­other pri­or­ity, Stier said — shift­ing re­sources more to­ward ex­e­cu­tion — also moved in the right di­rec­tion. “Gov­ern­ment has de­volved into a lot of process and that be­comes ex­tremely frus­trat­ing for the con­sumer,” he said.

How­ever, the ad­min­is­tra­tion will face a chal­lenge in get­ting started be­cause of the lack, in many de­part­ments, of deputy sec­re­taries — the peo­ple best pre­pared to man­age th­ese re­forms, Stier said. The peo­ple lead­ing the ef­fort “have to have enough se­nior­ity to help this hap­pen,” he said. “But they’re not there yet. That presents a real is­sue.”

The goals listed in the pro­posed bud­get also in­clude more of a push to hold agen­cies ac­count­able for per­for­mance. But even with a call for “crit­i­cal per­for­mance met­rics” on which agen­cies can show “demon­stra­ble im­prove­ment,” de­mands for ac­count­abil­ity can be hard to man­age, said Robert Behn, a lec­turer at the Har­vard Kennedy School who stud­ies per­for­mance in gov­ern­ment. “The word ‘ac­count­abil­ity’ has a lot of bag­gage as­so­ci­ated with it,” he says. “My wise guy com­ment is it means if you do some­thing right, noth­ing hap­pens. If you do some­thing wrong, all hell breaks loose.”

Whether the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is suc­cess­ful on th­ese man­age­ment-driven re­forms will also have much to do with whether Congress gets be­hind them, ex­perts say.

Behn says they rarely care about such ef­forts — “it’s the man­age­ment types who do” — and Stier notes that Congress is es­sen­tial for ac­com­plish­ing real change.

Lay­ing out goals for man­age­ment re­form is “the equiv­a­lent of one hand clap­ping,” he said. “You need both hands. Congress has to be en­gaged in this.”


Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­cently re­leased bud­get has a two-page de­scrip­tion of how the ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tends to man­age the fed­eral bu­reau­cracy, called “Mak­ing Gov­ern­ment Work Again.”

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