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Building Back Better: Making the Case for Performance Management in the Wake of a Pandemic

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Patrick Orecki
July 23, 2020

For months, New Yorkers and people all over the nation watched as Governor Andrew Cuomo provided daily data updates on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on New York and explained how the data guided the state’s response to the pandemic and reopening the economy. The Governor likened the approach to carefully controlling valves based on gauges of progress (or to a more visually appealing 1967 Corvette dashboard). While the pandemic presented unique, monumental challenges, the use of timely, complete data to inform decisionmaking and adjust governmental operations is not a novel concept; it is exactly what we mean by performance measurement and management.

In the Governor’s metaphor the gauges represent performance measurement data. Progress is monitored with data that is complete, consistent, useful, feasible, timely, valid and public. Based on these measurements, the metaphorical valves are opened and closed. The valves represent performance management, with constant adjustments made in order to reach the government’s goals. The process of goal-setting, planning, implementation, review and evaluation is constant and repeated in performance management.

The Governor’s data-first presentations in the pandemic have been both useful and popular, but this approach should also be applied more broadly to state government.

New York implemented a partial system in the 1980’s, but it was shuttered shortly after it began. Today many of the State’s agencies perform goal-setting and performance measurement to some degree, but the system is not public and is lacking in some best practices for public performance management.

Other state governments are leaders in using performance management strategies to guide operations and inform budgeting. Colorado, Maryland, Virginia and Washington have each had at least five years’ experience with performance management, and reviews of their systems yield four lessons for implementing a statewide performance management system:

Lesson #1–Performance management systems often emerge from political change. In Maryland, Virginia and Washington, performance management systems were launched at the beginning of new gubernatorial administrations. In Colorado, the system was enacted to help inform legislators and agencies in the wake of the 2008 recession. That system was improved and implemented with a gubernatorial change in 2011. Just as new political circumstances can kick start or improve performance management systems, they can also lead to a system’s diminution. For this reason, it is important for performance management systems to be clearly codified in law.

Lesson #2–Systems are characterized by central responsibility and links to budgeting. Systems in Maryland and Virginia are administered primarily by executive budget offices. Washington’s system is administered by a distinct executive performance management office. Colorado’s system is administered by the operations office under the lieutenant governor. It is valuable to have performance management oversight be defined within a central office because of interrelated public goals and strategies. Tying administration of the performance management system to budgeting functions is useful because budget offices conduct cyclical work on annual or bi-annual budgets, and budget offices can link inputs (i.e., funding and workforce) to processes, outputs and outcomes.

Lesson #3–Measurement must be actively linked with management to yield improvement. Performance management is a cyclical process, meaning that performance measurement informs evaluations of governmental functions and evaluations inform continuous improvement efforts. Evaluations and improvements also have to permeate throughout the governmental hierarchy, including agency heads, managers and line staff. There is little value in measuring performance without using those data to inform improvement.

Lesson #4–Implementation of performance management requires investment. A performance management system is a governmental infrastructure project. It requires initial investment to develop infrastructure for collecting, organizing and reporting data. Agency heads, managers and line staff should all be trained in how the system operates. The system will also have regular operational costs of maintaining infrastructure and staff time to complete performance reviews.

The benefits of public performance management are broad. Taxpayers benefit from transparency of government performance. Executive and legislative decisionmakers benefit from sound bases for budget and policy decisionmaking. Agency heads, managers and employees can benefit from clarity in programmatic performance and goals.

The concepts and practices of state performance management systems are not new, but there is new impetus for implementing such a system in New York and other states. Using data to guide difficult public policy decisions is even more critical during these times of adverse economic, fiscal, social and health disruption.

Author: Patrick Orecki is a Senior Research Associate at the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic research organization covering New York City and New York State governments. CBC recently released a report, “It’s Time for New York State to Heed SAGE Advice on Performance Management,” recommending implementation of a performance measurement and management system in New York. 

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