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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Today's guest: Clay Johnson, Deputy Director for Management at OMB

Clay Johnson
Clay Johnson
Deputy Director for Management at OMB
July 22, 2003

Clay Johnson
Good morning. All our agencies are in the process of becoming more results oriented. It's an exciting time to be working on management issues. I look forward to answering your questions about any or all of it.

Jill, from DC writes:
Competitive sourcing costs people jobs. Why does this administration have it out for government employees?

Clay Johnson
This administration does not have it out for federal employees. In fact, just the opposite. We have what many describe as a human capital crisis, where many valuable employees are eligible for retirement in the next few years. We are developing programs to more effectively train, develop and retain good workers.

The competitive sourcing initiative is about doing the right thing for the taxpayer. Employee groups "win" a majority of the time. And the experience to date is that very few employees have been separated involuntarily because of competitive sourcing activities.

James, from Youngstown writes:
What exactly is your job?

Clay Johnson
My job is to improve the way federal agencies and programs are managed. About 60 people work directly with me at OMB to identify strategies to be more results oriented, which we in turn work with department and agency leadership to implement. We ensure the strategies are sound, that it is very clear what we are trying to do, and that one qualified, senior person is responsible for leading each effort. The importance of clarity and responsibility or accountability can not be understated: we ensure it exists.

Polly, from Austin, Texas writes:
How many agencies or employees do you manage? Will you try to deregulate government?

Clay Johnson
I don't manage any of them. We work directly with 26 agencies to implement the President's Management Agenda: we help them be more successful at implementing the Agenda.

Mark, from Bethesda, MD writes:
The Administration says that it is big on accountability and maintains a scorecard to track its progress, but how can the grades onthe scorecard be credible when the Administration is grading itself?

Clay Johnson
We have to be careful about this. To protect against any bias on our part, we try to be very, very specific about what it takes to be yellow or green. Very specific. Then the grade is a point of fact: has the agency accomplished what it takes to be yellow....or green? Can it be verified that they have accomplished this? Again, it is very important that we be clear about what we want to accomplish; so agencies can attempt to do specifically what is expected of them and it can be verified, if need be.

Beth, from Los Angeles writes:
What is the penalty for an agency if they get a low score?

Clay Johnson
Public shame and humiliation and the opportunity to be questioned about it by the President.

Lost, from in Space writes:
To me the federal government is a giant, out-of-control, million-tentacled blind octopus. How can you EVER get a handle on the spending, waste, ineffective programs? Do you ever feel like the Captain on the Titanic?

Clay Johnson
We are in the process of evaluating each of the major 1500 or so federal programs where most of the money is spent. Over a five year period (20% of the programs each year) we are asking what the program is supposed to do, how we measure success, is the program successful, is the program efficient, is the program well managed......and if not to any of these, what do we need to do differently. It sounds pretty basic, and it is. But it's not happening now. The President is known for asking his senior people the very same questions. It's all about focusing on results: having a clear definition of the intended result, a way to measure progress and performance, and a clear definition of who's being held accountable. Regarding the Titanic, we ask ourselves all the time whether we're really accomplishing something or just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We're determined not to be the latter.

Linda, from Fort Worth writes:
Dear Mr. Johnson, I thought it was a stroke of genius to institute a Chief Operations Officer position in the agencies to implement the President's Management Agenda. Any thoughts on how this position is changing things?

Clay Johnson
The position only exists in a few agencies; so it's too early to tell. Janet Hale, the top management person at the Department of Homeland Security, is doing a great job tackling the management issues there, as was intended when her position was created.

Henry, from Fairbanks, Alaska writes:
How long has the Competitive Sourcing Initiative been around? Why is it just being talked about now, towards the end of Bush's term?

Clay Johnson
It's been around since 1950. It has been used a lot at the Defense Department but not much at civilian agencies. We've worked to improve the process, to address the concerns that employee groups and Congress have had. We've also worked with the agencies to develop the expertise to oversee the process most professionally. The result is that we have the tools and infrastructure necessary for broad based use.

Blair, from Los Angeles, CA writes:
I have heard people talk about the PART. What is it? Will it mean that some programs will be cut?

Clay Johnson
PART is a process by which we ask the purpose of each federal program, how success is measured, whether the program is successful and efficient, whether it is well managed, and if not, what we should do about it. A low score, or negative answer to these questions, does not automatically result in anything. The answers or scores prompt us to ask more questions about how we can improve the situation and deal with the program's deficiencies. Maybe we need a new management approach, maybe more or less funding, maybe some legislative changes, etc. The key is that OMB, the agencies and Congress pay attention to whether a program is doing what was originally intended for it to do, and if not, what to do about it.

Isabelle, from Miami, Florida writes:
If an Agency gets a low score, will their budget be cut?

Clay Johnson

Candy, from Bakersfield, CA writes:
Why should I care about the President's Management Agenda?

Clay Johnson
The President's Management Agenda helps the government be more results oriented; so taxpayers get more for their money.

Linda, from Fort Worth writes:
Dear Mr. Johnson, Earlier this year, the President indicated his desire to see more privatization of some government functions/services. I'd like to follow the progress and am wondering if there is a document that outlines the plans? Thank you and best wishes to you in your new position. Linda

Clay Johnson
I refer everyone to the Results.Gov website, where we keep the career and political employees informed about the President's Management Agenda.

Clay Johnson
Thanks for some good, challenging questions. Everybody wants federal agencies to be successful. Congress, taxpayers, citizens, the President, AND federal employees. The President's Management Agenda helps agencies and their employees be more successful: to better account for the taxpayers' money, to determine why important programs aren't working as they should and do something about them, to deliver information and services to the people more effectively and efficiently, and the like. Again, I refer you to the Results.Gov website for more information and updates on all that is being done to better manage the federal government. Thanks again.