Leading Transformation: Views on the President's Agenda: What Key Presenters Had to Say about Current Federal Management Directions at the Association of Government Accountants' Annual Leadership Conference. (Mini-Forum: Government Leadership)

Article excerpt

On January 24-22, 2002, the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) held its 13th Annual Federal Leadership Conference. The AGA, long known for its involvement in government finance and accounting, has continued to expand its focus as federal chief financial officers are being asked to take on a broader scope of management issues. Thus, the leadership conference, under the theme of leading transformation, addressed a wide spectrum of government reform efforts that have been emphasized by the Bush administration.

The President's Management Agenda

An array of administration officials, intermixed with other government leaders and analysts, shared their perspectives on the President's Management Agenda, first laid out in August 2001. The agenda consists of five initiatives:

* Strategic Human Capital Planning;

* Competitive Sourcing;

* Improved Financial Management;

* Expanded E-Government; and

* Budget and Performance Integration.

They are intended to transform agencies into being more responsive, citizen-centered, and accountable.

Although most professional federal managers would agree that these are essential elements of good management, the agenda has provoked some controversy because agencies are being rated on their progress in each area through an Office of Management and Budget (OMB)-devised scorecard. In addition, OMB has set annual quotas on the percentage of full-time equivalents agencies must compete against the private sector. This usually requires going through the lengthy and expensive process known as A-76, after an OMB circular of that name. Finally, OMB has drastically shortened the timeframe for agencies to close their books and complete financial audits at the end of each fiscal year.

Administration officials in a position to know are adamant that the agenda commands the personal attention of President Bush, who cares deeply about heifer federal management. Thus, the AGA conference offered a rare opportunity to hear first hand from those charged with making the president's vision a reality, as well as from those with unique perspectives on federal management.

The summaries that follow cover the substance of four presentations. They highlight the challenges practitioners face when they are asked to substantially change the way work is accomplished while demonstrating that this has improved primary mission accomplishment.

Agenda Specifics

The series leads off with an article by Mark Everson, controller of the Office of Management and Budget, who discusses each element of President Bush's Management Agenda. According to Everson, the purpose of the agenda is to address the most apparent management deficiencies in areas where the ability to improve performance is the greatest. Thus, for example, we see a competitive sourcing initiative. Everson points out that one way of making the government more effective is by making it more competitive, because competition improves business processes and reduces costs. The administration believes that nearly half of federal employees perform tasks that are readily available in the private sector, which would create a lot of opportunity for agencies to become more efficient.

Everson also points out that the government needs more timely and accurate financial information to measure program performance and find costly errors such as erroneous payments. OMB is therefore accelerating the end-of-year reporting deadline from the current February 27 date to 45 days after the fiscal year ends--mid-November. Everson acknowledged during the question period that this deadline was going to be extremely difficult for agencies to meet. However, he felt that it was worth the effort and expense because agencies would be forced to keep current books throughout the year to meet these deadlines.

In addition, Everson covered the OMB-created task force that identified opportunities to expand e-government, the need for full-cost accounting to link budget and performance integration, the push to thin management ranks in order to make government more accessible to American citizens, and the government's pending crisis in human capital to be addressed through strategic workforce planning. …