Transparency and Accountability through Performance-Based Engagement

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Ryan McCullough

Ryan McCullough

The world of Federal Government IT has been buzzing about the concepts of Performance Based Acquisition (PBA) for the last several years.  The concept began nearly 20 years ago and it was almost a decade ago when OMB issued a mandate that agencies begin to issue a minimum percentage of their service contracting dollars utilizing performance based techniques.  Yet, after all of that, PBA has still not gained quite the momentum that it can or should.  A significant challenge behind all of this has been the education and culture shift that is required on the part of both the industry and government.  This is a vast break from the traditional approach of prescriptive solicitations that seemingly allow the government to tell the contractor what to do and hold them accountable to those actions. 

The dirty little secret is that the contractor is held accountable only to activities in this scenario.  The results (or lack thereof) that those activities create are all on the government since they “prescribed” the activities.  These are the things that result in costly contract modifications, very public failures of key programs and significant government expenditures with relatively mediocre results.  If industry and government can begin to embrace PBA more consistently, there will be clear definitions of success that define the outcomes the nation requires.  Furthermore, industry and government can begin to work more substantively in partnership toward a mutually defined set of results (as opposed to actions).

Performance Based Acquisition will be more prevalent now than ever before if only to align with the Obama Administration’s goals associated with transparency and accountability in government and contractor performance.  PBA provides the tools and mechanisms to track and outline the results that industry and government achieve on programs.  The beauty of performance based engagement is that the result is always the ultimate measure of success.  The criteria with which milestones are established can be flexible as new information becomes available and the landscape changes.  This ensures that measurement criteria never become outdated or irrelevant. 

The Obama Administration has established the Performance Dashboard at www.usaspending.gov.  This dashboard outlines the performance metrics associated with each program.  The true measure of the adoption of performance based principles will be in how this dashboard allows for the evolution of metrics and measurement criteria as the programs evolve.    If we are not measuring our ability to attain the outcomes that define success, then why measure at all?  Tracking tasks and completion of tasks along with the associated costs gives us data, but no clear picture of what we have accomplished… and, frankly, it just costs more money.  I applaud the goals of the Administration in driving toward visibility and accountability of the government (and the contractor community) to the people.  My fervent hope is that industry and government will work diligently to put performance based engagements in place to ensure that what we can see is actually meaningful.

Ryan McCullough 

Govplace Vice President Federal Division

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Ryan McCullough joined Govplace in May of 2007 as the Vice President of the Federal Division. Mr. McCullough has spent 12 years in the Federal IT industry and was recently awarded 1105 Media’s Rising Star Award. The Rising Star Awards program honors up-and-coming men and women who have made an early -- and substantive -- mark in the government IT world.

2 Responses to “Transparency and Accountability through Performance-Based Engagement”

  1. Mark Forman says:

    I wonder whether the IT Dashboard can gain any credibility. If you look at the data, it appears that the federal government is doing an amzing job at managing IT projects (7% red/failing and 66% green; versus industry benchmark of only 25% success rate). I admire that the Administration hasn’t clained rapid success (Vivek’s initial post lambasted federal IT projects as failures). I worry that Roger Baker’s honest report makes him and the VA Dept look like the only failure in govt IT mgmt, which I don’t think is right.

    The key here is that the confluence of a couple good mgmt principles: action has to match rhetoric and the rhetoric has to match the data. Otherwise, I fear the IT Dashboard is a wasted opportunity to leverage transparency.

  2. John Marke says:

    And while you’re at it, Forman….

    I went to look at the dashboard. Great colors! Stop action! But in the end, kinda dumb, eh? I mean, what did we learn?

    A bunch of soft metrics? What stands behind them? Subjectivity? The irony is “money spend to highlight the waste of money is, itself, a waste of money!” Gotta love it, eh?

    Now, before any of you knee jerk to this one…go look at the dashboard and ask some serious questions:

    – What exactly is measured and how? Can you answer that? Think: criteria and scale…

    – Why are we doing this? What is it being used for? Would you seriously use this device to make a decision for which YOU would be held responsible?

    (Ah, but dashboards simply decision making! Silly me! Of course, we need to simply complex things, right? Cause that makes them less complex, and helps us make better decisions! No?)

    – How do we know if it is working correctly?…..well, everything breaks now and then, right? How can we tell it this is working correctly, i.e. measuring anything, let alone what it is “supposed” to measure

    Bonus questions: (100 points) each:

    – How is reliability assured?

    – How is validity assured?

    – Why are the above important?

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