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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.

Clay Johnson
Deputy Director for Management,
Office of Management and Budget

October 16, 2006

Clay Johnson
Citizens and taxpayers should hold the Federal government, Congress and the Executive Branch, accountable for spending their money effectively.

The Federal government is developing the management skills it needs to be held accountable for delivering high levels of service. The “M” or Management part of OMB has been working aggressively to help agencies develop clearer performance targets for each program, and better people, financial, cost, and investment management skills with which to achieve those targets. So you should expect the government to be more effective.

Go to, to find candid assessments of where the government is performing (73% of the total) and where it’s not, and in all cases, what is being done to improve performance. Let your elected officials and department leadership know when you’re dissatisfied with how you’re being served, and hold them accountable to doing something about it. Agencies have abilities now to serve you better, and should be held accountable for doing so.

Jared, from Tallahassee writes:
What is the President's Management Agenda? Who serves on the council?

Clay Johnson
The President’s Management Agenda (PMA) is a clear and focused strategy for improving the effectiveness of the Federal government. The Agenda contains five government-wide and nine agency-specific initiatives to strengthen management practices, increase government transparency and accountability, and improve program performance.

To help programs succeed and get results the President formed the President's Management Council (PMC). The PMC is made up of the departmental and agency chief operating officers who work with initiative leads at OMB. The PMC is a way for the departments and agencies to support the President’s government-wide priorities and to work together to solve problems.

Last Friday, the President was briefed on the status of his management agenda by his council. They reported that we're working to leave government better than we found it by effectively establishing the management disciplines that will help us consistently improve performance and efficiency each year.

Sally, from North Carolina writes:
Mr. Johnson,What are you doing so that citizens can see how their taxpayer dollars are being spent? Many of us care how the government uses our money, but it's so difficult to see tangible results

Clay Johnson
The President recently signed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. This legislation calls for the creation of a web site that will allow the public to readily access information about grants and contracts provided by the Federal government. It is an important tool that shows the public where its tax dollars are being spent.

Government accountability and transparency are a priority for us. We have worked hard to implement other initiatives to make government more responsive to the American public. was established to show the public how well Federal programs are performing and what is being done to improve programs that are not performing well, and to date, we have evaluated nearly every Federal program. is another site that tracks government progress in meeting its goals. Agencies are held accountable for adopting better management practices under the PMA, and their efforts are made public through scorecards updated each quarter.

Daniel, from Lakeville, CT writes:
How do you determine whether a program is meeting a priority? Is there some type of metric for that? Thanks.

Clay Johnson
We use a method called the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) to assess the performance of all Federal programs. The PART helps us determine 1) if a program is meeting a priority and 2) whether it is doing so effectively and efficiently.

The PART includes about 25 questions about each program. Some of these questions relate to whether the program has a clear purpose and whether it addresses a specific problem, interest or need. The answers need to be supported by evidence and all that information is available to the public at That information helps us determine whether a program is a priority. For instance, if a program was created to address a specific problem, but that problem no longer exists, the program probably isn't meeting a priority.

The PART also includes data on how well a program achieves its intended outcomes and whether it is improving efficiency.

Deborah, from Willow Spring, NC writes:
Everyone is saying how great the economy is. Well it is great if you own a business and are making record profits or if you don't have to work and own stock. The rest of us are stuck. What about helping out the middle class? Business's are profit driven only and are financially encouraged to move jobs offshore. What is going to be done about these problems?

Clay Johnson
Tax relief has helped families across the country. Everyone who pays income taxes received a cut in their tax bill. 12 million single women with children saw a cut of $1,062 on average in their annual tax bill. And more than 5 million low-income individuals and couples are no longer on the tax rolls.

There is more to do to help families. Energy prices were high this summer. We’re glad that the price at the pump is down more than 70 cents since early August. But we have work ahead to ensure that energy prices remain low. The President wants to break our addiction to oil and develop new sources of reliable domestic energy. He talked about this in depth in a speech last week to the Reliable Energy Conference in St. Louis Missouri. He wants our policies to encourage alternatives like hydrogen, ethanol and biodiesel and the use of clean-coal technologies and safe nuclear power to help break our dependence on foreign oil.

We’re also focused on how we can give families better access and more affordable health care choices. We’ve helped give seniors affordable prescription drug coverage and we’re working to fund and expand community health centers to help vulnerable populations. We’re also advocating a Small Business Health Plan so small businesses can band together across state lines and buy insurance at the same discounts available to big companies. This is important since more than half of private sector jobs are provided by small businesses.

Phil, from Tempe, AZ writes:
Have you accomplished what yoyu set out to do? If not, can you achieve what's left in the next two years?

Clay Johnson
We have made progress in making government more effective. Through the implementation of the President's Management Agenda, Federal agencies have developed the management disciplines that will help them achieve results.

To learn more specifics about our improvements visit: /results/agenda/06_Results_Report.pdf and read the report we released on Friday "Giving the American People More for Their Money." For example, we have eliminated $7.8 billion in improper payments, and disposed of $3.5 billion in unneeded property, which means we can use this money to fund other national priorities. Our goal remains to leave the government better than we found it.

Charles, from Winter Park, FL writes:
From your experience and observations, does government tend to be more or less efficient when there is a divide between which party controls the legislative and executive branches of government? Thank you

Clay Johnson
We are committed to leaving government better than we found it. To be effective, the government needs to be held accountable to taxpayers for results. I don’t think it matters who is in control, but it is important that we institutionalize stronger management practices. Increased government accountability and transparency make agencies more responsive and provide better performing programs to the American public.

Brett, from Livermore, CA writes:
Mr. Johnson, could you explain briefly what the President is doing to assure better,more effective management of disaster response activities that are carried out by FEMA, DHS,and other agencies to hopefully,prevent or at least mitigate the effects of another Katrina? Thank you.

Clay Johnson
After 9/11, we had to rethink how our government was organized. We had a major transformation with the addition of the Department of Homeland Security and the streamlining of our intelligence capabilities.

Similarly, after Katrina, we recognized the need to review what worked and what didn't.

We're working to ensure the nation is prepared for future disasters.

The federal disaster response capability has greatly advanced. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is dramatically increasing the Nation's stockpiles of relief supplies, retooling FEMA, updating disaster plans, supporting State and local partners, and emphasizing individual and community preparedness.

DHS has four times the emergency meals and ice, and 2.5 times the water available this year than were available prior to Hurricane Katrina. These supplies have the capacity to sustain 1 million people for one week.

The National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration continue to strengthen weather forecasting and warning capabilities.

On February 23, 2006, the Administration released Its "Lessons Learned" Review of the Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina. The Report identifies deficiencies in the Federal government's response and lays the groundwork for better preparation for and response to future natural disasters.

Wally, from San Francisco, CA writes:
Clay, what are the biggest challenges you face day-to-day in trying to institutionalize the President's Management Agenda? Thank you for answering questions.

Clay Johnson
In general I spend most of my time ensuring every program and agency has clear goals and that management accepts responsibility for their accomplishment. With clear goals and accountability, made possible with a lot of transparency, we can have results.

Ben, from Washington, DC writes:
Clay, I'm a huge fan of yours and what you have done with the PMA. I hear you have a "rules for results" that you encourage others to use. Is that something you can share in this venue? Keep up the great work you do leading the President's team to get RESULTS

Clay Johnson
Ben (Bernanke), so good to hear from you. I'm a big fan of yours, too. I would have thought you were too busy running the Federal Reserve to inquire about management truth, but I'm glad you've asked. I say that you can't have results without accountability, and you can't have accountability without a lot of transparency and candor about what we're trying to accomplish and how we're performing relative to our goals.

Dee, from Neskowin, Oregon writes:
Dear Clay, Putting all joking aside, my question is How do you have a stronger economy when your administration is shorting education?

Clay Johnson
I believe the record shows that we are spending more on education now than ever before, and at the same time we are doing more to hold educational institutions accountable for spending the money effectively, to really educate our children.

Michele, from Huntington Station, New York writes:
What measures is the Bush administration taking to ensure that all government programs are being run efficiently and that every employee in these programs are accountable. Thank you.

Clay Johnson
We hold agencies accountable for having clear performance and efficiency goals for each program. Senior Executives' performance evaluation and part of their raise are tied to their programs' performance relative to their goals.

We can't do this with all employees, however: the current civil service rules don't allow it. For instance, an employee rated less than satisfactory is eligible for the same raise as our highest rated employee. Doesn't sound right, does it?

We want to work with Congress to change these rules, and to make sure our managers' assessments of their employees' performance are objective and fair. In this way employees get good feedback about their performance relative to clear goals, and every employee will receive greater reward and recognition than those who perform at a lower level.

Scott, from Atlanta writes:
Deputy Director Johnson,Many news outlets are saying the President can't meet his goal of cutting the deficit in half over five years, even though the newest deficit number is down to $250 billion It seems like we're making real progress, but the news says that reaching the deficit goal is impossible because of baby boomers and mandatory spending. What's the real story?

Clay Johnson
The President's deficit reduction goal was reached in this past fiscal year, three years ahead of schedule, in spite of all the spending that has been necessary to respond to the worst natural disaster in our history and to wage the war on terror.

Scott, from Amarillo, TX writes:
Is it true that people, and entities like corporations, with larger incomes are taxed less than those who have smaller incomes? Although I'm not well educated in this subject, I believe that the people with larger incomes, who are benefiting the most from living in America, should also contribute a greater percentage of their income to the benefit of America. Why has the current administration chosen to tax the public with the methods in place today? Also, what evidence is there that trickle-down theory is better for the majority than other taxing methods?

Clay Johnson
It may seem counterintuitive, but the President’s tax cuts have actually resulted in more revenue coming into the Treasury. Last year, we had the largest growth of tax receipts ever. Also, as a result of the President’s tax relief program, our tax code is more progressive – meaning the highest earners are paying an even greater share of the taxes. According to data released by the Joint Committee on Taxation in September 2006, the top one percent of tax filers paid more than 36% of all 2004 income taxes and the top 10 percent accounted for over two-thirds of these taxes. In fact, the top half of taxpayers paid 96.7% of all taxes in 2004. This is more than in 1949 – 86%, 1959 - 89% or 1969 - 90%.

Clay Johnson
A lot of people in Washington focus on the size of the Federal budget and the need for new programs. There is not enough attention to how well the government works, to how effectively we are spending the taxpayers’ money to serve them. It is critical that citizens and taxpayers demand high levels of service from their government and let their elected officials know that it should be a priority. If you, the citizens, think it is important, then your elected officials will make it a priority, and government effectiveness will improve.

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