Dec 31 2009

The Bounce Effect

Learn how to improve your E-Gov PMA score and keep it green.

Photo: Gary Landsman
At SBA, CIO Christine Liu held a series of strategy sessions with folks across the agency to develop an IT road map that ultimately morphed into an EA.

Five years into the President’s Management Agenda, a new phenomenon is hitting more agencies — call it the PMA bounce. Agencies attain green one quarter only to drop to yellow or red in the next round and then pop back to green in a subsequent quarter. This bounce effect is particularly apparent in the E-Gov scores.

The Small Business Administration has a history of volatile scores in the E-Gov category. In December 2005, SBA was riding high as one of only six agencies that had achieved E-Gov green. But by the second quarter of 2006, its ranking fell to yellow and then to red in the third quarter. The latest reports show SBA rallying back to green.

Christine Liu, a former acting deputy CIO at the State Department, became SBA’s CIO last April, but she understands the bounce. Getting to green is hard, she says, “but maintaining green is even harder.” But it’s not impossible; there are ways to help keep the green momentum going. These management approaches essentially turn on inculcating the skills that helped an agency first achieve a high rating.

Tip 1: Focus on Mission First

Bar raisings and other challenges have brought volatility to the Transportation Department’s E-Gov scores, too. It bounced from yellow to red and finally to green for the last quarter. Daniel G. Mintz, who became CIO last May, says his plan for future PMA consistency is to encourage everyone on his staff to stop thinking of the mandates as just another round of paper exercises disconnected from the agency’s core mission.

Mintz took the unusual step of creating an internal PMA-like evaluation program to help people internalize goals. “The problem I saw when I came here was people who were too focused on just looking outside — at how to fulfill the Office of Management and Budget’s requirements,” he says.

Mintz’s new stoplight charts don’t map directly to PMA initiatives, but target agency touch points, such as meeting software certification milestones and fostering closer collaboration among operating administrators. Ultimately, success in these areas will translate into improved PMA scores, he says.

The internal charts track security initiatives and other important projects at each of Transportation’s operating administrations, such as the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Highway Administration. Each month, the administrations’ CIOs and their staffs gather to evaluate quantitative and subjective results and then distribute rankings in quarterly, departmentwide summaries. “Rather than hoping by the end of the year we’d get to some goal, we meet monthly to make sure we were hitting our targets” incrementally, Mintz says.

Tip 2: Get Everyone on the Same Page

A few weeks after Liu arrived at SBA, she initiated a series of strategic sessions around IT that included members of her staff and representatives of the agency’s business functions. “We held sessions over eight weeks to let program managers explain their business functions to everyone,” Liu says. “Then we worked together to align IT solutions to their business needs.”

The upshot was a strategic IT road map that addresses one of OMB’s central E-Gov mandates: “SBA’s business and IT staff worked together to outline the business enterprise architecture blueprint,” Liu says.

In an effort to stay green, she also works closely with her OMB examiner when new E-Gov milestones appear overly ambitious. “We’re a small agency with a small budget, and yet we still have all of the PMA issues and objectives that everyone else has to comply with,” Liu says. Sometimes her OMB examiner accepts a compromise, sometimes not, she concedes.

Tip 3: Convince Employees to Apply Self-Management

For E-Gov, Mintz says he will continue to hammer home to his staff the payoffs that meeting internal and OMB objectives bring to Transportation. It’s easier to get OMB budget approvals for programs and funding. But more important, meeting these goals can improve the quality of their own work, their ability to access data more easily or more quickly or to provide better services to taxpayers.

Mintz says he will know when he’s successful because “people will follow the initiative even when their managers aren’t in the room. They want to do it because it has value to them, and they understand that the value of what they are doing will be applicable to the department.”