Thursday, January 8, 2009

Chief Performance Officer redux

It was inevitable, I suppose.  After Obama announced he had created and filled the Chief Performance Officer position for his administration, analysts and cynics asked why we need another layer of management in an already huge government machine.  There is the "What's the GAO (Government Accounting Office), swiss cheese?" commentary, and of course there is the IG (Inspector General) position that is supposed to be, well, generally inspecting the very same things.

This analysis, while having technical merit, is not placing enough emphasis on the political nature of the creation of the position.   There are two specific political reasons why this is an important role and post for Obama:
  • From the populist politic perspective, most Americans do not know about the GAO or the Inspector General, so creating a new C-level position does mean there will be political gravity around the success of this role that existing roles and departments simply do not have. 
  • From the change perspective, the IG and GAO roles existed throughout the last 8 years, which innately indicates that these roles clearly don't have the teeth required to ensure financial responsibility.
David Greising, chief business correspondent for the Chicago Tribune seems to agree, when he says "In fact, cutting waste is a political exercise as much as a managerial one."


There is, of course, waste in US government IT spending, but it is not because of spending on the wrong things. It is because IT managers in many agencies have neither any idea what they are doing, nor any effective management guidance and oversight. I have in mind disasters such as air traffic control software and Social Security.

I hope that the new Chief Performance Officer can do something about this. But even if not, the CPO has the duty to see that every agency gets its information out on the Net where the public can find it, see it, use it, and comment on it.

I hope also that the CPO will talk to Google and other sources of expertise on how everything the government has to offer can be effectively searched.

And perhaps the CPO can talk to the Secretary of Education about what our children need to learn in order to make effective use of these capabilities, and to contribute to their continuous improvement.


It seems as though Obama has made friends with Schmidt from Google, so there is a distinct possibility of knowledge sharing across organizations. This would be an interesting experiment, as an innovative tech firm is organizationally quite different than a government bureaucracy.

The fact that the CPO is a McKinsian is both good and bad. McKinsey clearly has a strong brand in organizational consulting and strategy, but they also have a strict and thick methodology that, again, might not translate effectively to a government administration.

Like most things Obama, time will tell.