President-elect Obama is reportedly going to appoint a “chief performance officer” for the federal government, a new position intended to work on the federal budget and reform government.
His choice for the job is Nancy Killefer, a senior director with McKinsey & Company and a former assistant secretary of the treasury.
Will this do any good? More specifically, will it help to make the federal government lean?
The first issue is whether this position will have any real authority or top-level support to drive change in the administration. That cannot be predicted at this point.
The second issue is whether Killefer is the right person for the job.
On the one hand, Killefer seems to have some relevant credentials. She has experience in working with the public sector to improve productivity, which has been the focus of her career.
On the other hand, in what I’ve read about Killefer, there is no mention of lean principles or strategy. And despite the size and prominence of McKinsey, the consulting firm is not known as a bastion of lean thinking.
I did come across an article Killefer co-authored for Business Week in 2006 discussing the need to make government more productive. She argued that what is missing from government is competitive pressure. She and her co-author made several proposals:
We think a radical new approach to transparency of how government programs are performing is required. Only this will push Congress to exert performance pressure on government agencies. First, government should measure public productivity again and set national targets for productivity growth against which everyone can be held accountable. Next, political leaders should create a body we call "Gov-Star," modeled after fund-rating agency Morningstar Inc. to provide completely independent measurement of government program performance; to develop comparable program data over time -- between programs, between governments, and with the private sector; and to make the data and their implications clear to appropriators and citizens.
But in government, pressure without support can yield demoralization and underperformance. So we also need to adopt key transformation initiatives: incentives that allow agencies to reinvest savings to the top line of programs; the introduction of chief operating officers at public agencies, to be appointed based on management experience in government or leading corporations; and a SWAT team of management experts at the Office of Management & Budget to help lagging agencies.
I have no problem with those proposals, though knowledge of how to implement improvements is just as important as the forces driving improvement.
If Killefer actually does have knowledge of lean, or is at least open-minded enough to listen to people who do, this appointment may have some value. I certainly hope so.