The President’s New Management Agenda: Data is a Key Driver of Government Reform


This week the White House endorsed a data-centric approach to modernizing and restoring trust in government. For data companies and data transparency, the newly-unveiled President’s Management Agenda (PMA) does not disappoint.

Where did this agenda come from?

A year ago the White House issued an Executive Order, the Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch, and a corresponding government-wide reform plan (see M-17-22). Our prior blog on the reform plan implored the Administration to make operational and material data a central focus in modernizing government management.

With the release of the PMA, that is what the White House has done.

The PMA’s Fourteen Goals: A Performance Agenda Grounded in Law

As a whole, the PMA should be read in concert with the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request and the corresponding agency 2018-2022 strategic plans. However, thanks to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Modernization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-352), which established Performance.gov, you do not need to laboriously parse out the individual goals from these reams of disconnected documents.

Instead, the PMA is broken down into fourteen discrete Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goals, representing the GPRA Modernization Act’s requirement for the executive branch to “identify major management challenges that are Governmentwide or crosscutting in nature and describe plans to address such challenges.”

The unique quality of these CAP Goals is that they are “long[-]term in nature.” In GPRA, Congress designed the concept of “agency priority goals” to span Presidential transitions. In the law, “cross-agency goals” are on a four year lifecycle with a requirement that they be established a full year after a new President takes office (see Sec. 5). We saw the benefits of this structure throughout 2017, as the previous Administration’s “Open Data” CAP Goal empowered agency leaders to keep pursuing data reforms through the first year of the new Administration’s transition (see the 2014-2018 goals archived here).

Each CAP Goal names specific leaders who will be accountable for pursuing it. This accountability helps motivate progress and insulate from politics.

Driving the PMA: “an integrated Data Strategy”

With the PMA, the White House is putting data and data standards at the center of federal management. This matches our Coalition’s prior recommendations, and is good news for data companies and data transparency.

The PMA identifies three overarching “drivers” of transformation: first, a focus on the government’s systems with IT Modernization (Goal 1: Modernize IT to Increase Productivity and Security); second, an integrated strategy around Data Accountability, and Transparency (Goal 2: Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset); and third, improved Workforce management (Goal 3: Developing a Workforce for the 21st Century).

These three drivers, and the three CAP goals that correspond to them, intersect with the PMA’s eleven other CAP goals (see image).

The White House’s decision to clearly separate IT systems from data (and data standards) is the right approach. The government’s data can be standardized and made more useful, and more transparent, without requiring major system changes.

Therefore, the Data Coalition applauds the PMA’s central focus on the government’s need for “a robust, integrated approach to using data to deliver on mission, serve customers, and steward resources”–a focus that will now guide this Administration.

Last July we made three recommendations for the PMA along these lines. We are pleased to see all three recommendations reflected in the final product.

First, we recommended that “OMB should adopt the DATA Act Information Model Schema (DAIMS) as the primary government-wide operational data format to align various agency business functions.” That’s exactly what Goal 2 of the PMA now does.

The “Access, Use, and Augmentation” strategy for Goal 2 “will build on work like the DATA Act Information Model Schema (DAIMS)” (see page 16 of the PMA) and “promote interoperability, data standardization, and use of consensus standards, specifications, metadata, and consistent formats” (page 8 of the action plan). This syncs with the Treasury Department’s recently-released Strategic Plan, which states that ”[the DAIMS] can be expanded to include other administrative data and link more domains across the federal enterprise…to support decision-making and provide metrics for evaluating program performance and outcomes” (see page 30). The budget request backs this up with potential increased funding for the Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service which would have resources for “continued operational support for execution of the [DATA Act]” (see pages 21-22).

Second, we recommended that the Administration leverage the work of the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) for data governance work and information exchange across the government. If you read the PMA’s Goal 2 together with the 2019 budget request, you will find this recommendation validated as well.

The “Enterprise Data Governance” strategy for Goal 2 calls for “develop[ing] a coordinated approach to managing communities of stakeholders in the Federal community and among external constituents” and better coordination of “existing governance bodies” (see page 7 of the action plan). Additionally, the 2019 budget request’s analytical perspective on “Building and Using Evidence to Improve Government Effectiveness” calls for the “development of interoperable data systems, which can communicate and exchange data with one another while maintaining the appropriate privacy and security protections” as “critical to realiz[ing] the full potential of shared administrative data.” The budget request goes on to praise NIEM as a model “data exchange at all levels of government across program areas…in partnership with private industry stakeholders and state/local partners” (see page 5 of the analytical perspective).

Third, we supported the continued implementation of the Technology Business Model (TBM), a private-sector framework that helps organizations standardize data classifying technology investments, and recommended alignment with the DATA Act’s DAIMS.

In the PMA, TBM is listed alongside the DAIMS in Goal 2 (see page 16 of the PMA) and names the DATA Act as a supporting program in Goal 10: Federal IT Spending Transparency (see page 10 of the action plan).  

The PMA’s Other Goals: Grants Accountability, Paperless Forms, and (Maybe) Guidance Documents Expressed as Data

Across the PMA’s other CAP Goals, we see a consistent data-centric approach and continued alignment with the Data Coalition’s Policy Agenda.

As we celebrated yesterday, Goal 8: Results-Oriented Accountability for Grants “recognizes that recipient burden (such as excessive compliance requirements) can be reduced if grant reporting data is standardized” (see page 5 of the action plan). This aligns with the objectives of the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act (H.R. 4887), that we are advocating for, and is making fast progress in Congress (see more).

Goal 4: Improving Customer Experience introduces a “Paperless Government Project,” led by the US Digital Service, which would help agencies reduce redundant and unnecessarily complex forms. The Data Coalition is pushing reforms across a number of fronts that would apply open data concepts to simplify complex regulatory reporting (for instance, Standard Business Reporting).

And Goal 6: Shifting From Low-Value to High-Value Work seeks to establish “regular processes to assess the burden [of OMB’s management guidance] on agencies and to rescind or modify requirements over time” (see page 5 of the action plan). The way to create such processes is for OMB to publish its guidance in integrated, machine-readable data formats instead of documents.3 Our work to pursue “open data for laws and mandates” provides a use case for exactly the same transformation, starting with Congressional laws, bills, and amendments.

Each of the CAP Goals identify the senior executives who will be accountable for delivering  These promised reforms. We commend the administration for explicitly recognizing both the executives accountable for these goals as well as the career staff who will be managing these efforts over the next four years.

The Road Ahead

As all this work takes shape, it will be important to remember the guiding statements which set the stage at the PMA’s launch event. Newly-appointed Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert called data “a foundational asset to driving economic growth in innovation.” Incoming US Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent echoed with a call for a “strategic view of data as one of our mission critical assets.” It will be up to these new leaders to turn the PMA’s vision into a reality.

The Data Coalition will continue to support data transparency and data standardization–which means we will work hard hold the Administration accountable to these well-stated goals.