Tracking Agency Performance Via the Web

WASHINGTON (07/24/2000) - For several years, agencies have struggled with how to use performance measures to improve the way they manage and budget their programs, including the ones driven by information technology systems.

One agency - the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency - decided to build its own system to help track the performance of its business centers, its employees and the impact of its work on the people it serves. The agency assists more than 2 million minority-owned businesses through a network of 40 business development centers.

The agency's performance reporting system is the first to measure em- ployee performance and service- delivery effectiveness on a real-time, daily basis on the World Wide Web, said Michael O'Hara Garcia, MBDA's chief information officer. IT also helps the agency comply with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA).

"When we built the system, we had GPRA hanging over our head," Garcia said.

Agencies submitted their first GPRA reports to Congress to mixed reviews earlier this year.

However, Garcia said the extranet-based performance reporting system has helped the agency comply with GPRA. By tracking the performance of about 300 employees who assist minority businesses across the country, the agency knows immediately how well it is meeting its performance goals. It can also provide detailed reports to Congress at the push of a button.

"We take our overall GPRA productivity measure and drive that down to the individual business centers," Garcia said. The system can even collect detailed information on employees, including how well they are meeting certain quotas, such as finding 10 new minority business resources a month.

"Managers can click on individual centers to [see] what percentage of annual or quarterly goals [they] accomplished that day to see how far ahead or behind [they] are in meeting those goals," Garcia said. With the performance reporting system, the MBDA has eliminated a huge amount of time and paperwork that was required to generate reports in the past. Data is entered directly into the system, and managers receive daily reports on their desktops.

Previously, the agency used a system that was only updated every three months, so mistakes made in the first month were not caught until the fourth month. And data was not easily accessed: The business development centers would file a report to a mainframe at the end of every quarter. "This did not lend itself to effective management," Garcia said.

Before building the new system, the agency had to put in place a strategic plan, get buy-in from top management, standardize its desktop environment and get more bandwidth than it needed to accommodate future growth. The MBDA designed the system three years ago, and it took about two years to get it up and running the way the agency wanted, Garcia said.

Robert Henderson, director of the MBDA Atlanta Regional Office, said he uses the system every day to check on the progress and performance of the business development centers. "Is it a good system? Yes. Do I get enough information to make fair decisions? Sure," he said, adding that he also uses the system to verify that the centers have done what they claimed to have done.

Washington, D.C.-based Q-Industries helped build the system and is upgrading the technology.

The company plans to add the ability to deliver reports wirelessly, said Frank Clark, chief executive officer of Q-Industries. A member of Congress, for example, who wants to know the value of loans awarded to minority businesses in his or her district could access that information via a wireless device, Clark said.

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