Agency Priority Goals: Playing Hide and Seek

 

Agency Priority Goals: Playing Hide and Seek

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 - 10:06
Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - 09:56
The FY 2013 budget identifies 103 Agency Priority Goals. They were created in response to requirements in the new GPRA Modernization Act, but the creation of priority goals was initially inspired by an early Obama performance initiative that administratively identified agency “high priority performance goals” after he took office in 2009. It’s a solid start, but finding the information in one list wasn’t easy.

According to OMB:  “Twenty-four major Federal agencies have . . .identified a limited number of two-year Agency Priority Goals in the FY2013 budget, aligned with their strategic goals and objectives. Agency Priority Goals target areas where agency leaders want to achieve near-term performance acceleration through focused senior leadership attention. The Administration has also adopted a limited number of Cross-Agency Priority Goals to improve cross-agency coordination and best practice sharing.”

To provide context, OMB’s  “Clear Goals” webpage provides agencies’ strategic goals & objectives and nested within them are the “priority goals.”  For the most part, the blue stars on each webpage indicate which objectives include a priority goal.  Some priority goals support more than one objective, so they are sometimes repeated.

The best way to find a list of just the priority goals is to use the webpage’s sort function and sort the “Goal Type” column for just Agency Priority Goals.  While this provides a list, you have to manually open each agency’s priority goal in order to read it.  Here’s a link to a more readily accessible list of the 103 Agency FY 2013 Priority Goals.

How do the new goals compare to the original list of 2011 High Priority Performance Goals?  I did a quick scan and found that more than half of the 2013 goals are continuations of the 2011 goals. 

Did agencies meet their FY 2011 goals?  Some of the 2011 goals were completed, such as the Department of Education’s commitment to streamline the college student aid loan application forms, and NASA’s commitment to complete the Shuttle program safely.  A comprehensive status of the FY 2011 goals, however, has yet to be compiled (at least outside the government).  If someone wants to do the drudge work, you need to dig through each of the 24 participating agencies’ Annual Performance Reports for FY 2011 and find their status. 

A spot check shows agencies were candid in their assessments.  For example, I dug into the USDA’s FY 2011 annual performance report and found on page 88 (it’s a PDF file) the status of its food safety goal (“By 2011, reduce the case rate due to Salmonella in USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulated products to 5.3 cases per 100,000.”):

The report describes USDA’s efforts and concludes:  “Despite these efforts, many of which are longer-term in nature, the third-quarter, FY 2011 target for reducing Salmonella was not met. CDC data lags real time by at least one full fiscal year quarter. CDC reports a case rate of 6.28 cases of Salmonella per 100,000 people as compared to a goal of 5.32 cases. . . . “

Are the FY 2013 goals an improvement?  For the most part, yes.  For example, the Department of Health and Human Services FY 2011 goal to reduce smoking was:

“By the end of 2011, increase to 75 percent the percentage of communities funded under the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program that have enacted new smoke-free policies and improved the comprehensiveness of existing policies.”

This goal offered no baseline from which to assess progress or significance, and it was process-oriented, not results oriented.  Who cares about the percentage of communities funded?  Did people stop smoking?   So compare this to the FY 2013 goal:

“By December 31, 2013, reduce annual adults’ cigarette consumption in the United States from 1,281 cigarettes per capital to 1,062 cigarettes per capita, which represents a 17.1% decrease from the 2010 baseline.”

Much better!

However, there are still too many examples of how agency goals still leave much to be desired.  For example, the Department of Education set a lofty goal: “Improve outcomes for all children from birth through third grade,” but then goes on to define this as having nine states “implement a high-quality plan to collect and report disaggregated data on the status of children at kindergarten entry” by September 30, 2013.

Collecting data doesn’t equal improved outcomes!!

More information, more context.  If you are interested in a specific goal (rather than scanning the entire landscape), the new goals are placed, for the first time, in the context of their overall strategic plans so you can see how they contribute to these broader goals.  For example, if you look at Treasury’s strategic goal to “Pursue Comprehensive Tax and Fiscal Reform,” there are three objectives, one of which is to improve voluntary tax compliance. There’s a description of why this priority goal is important, who are the leads, and which Treasury programs will contribute to the success of this goal.

So if you are a performance wonk, the visit will be a fascinating venture into what government agencies will focus on in the coming couple of years, but be prepared to play lots of hide and seek because the website’s functionality isn’t easy to navigate yet . . . . but there’s more information there than there’s been before, so it is a concrete improvement!

 

NOTE:  If you are interested in the federal government’s FY 2013 cross-agency goals, you can find the mission-focused goals here and the mission-support goals here.