Results-Oriented Government:

GPRA Has Established a Solid Foundation for Achieving Greater Results

GAO-04-38: Published: Mar 10, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 10, 2004.

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Now that the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) has been in effect for 10 years, GAO was asked to address (1) the effect of GPRA in creating a governmentwide focus on results and the government's ability to deliver results to the American public, (2) the challenges agencies face in measuring performance and using performance information in management decisions, and (3) how the federal government can continue to shift toward a more results-oriented focus.

GPRA's requirements have established a solid foundation of results-oriented performance planning, measurement, and reporting in the federal government. Federal managers surveyed by GAO reported having significantly more of the types of performance measures called for by GPRA. GPRA has also begun to facilitate the linking of resources to results, although much remains to be done in this area to increase the use of performance information to make decisions about resources. We also found agency strategic and annual performance plans and reports we reviewed have improved over initial efforts. Although a foundation has been established, numerous significant challenges to GPRA implementation still exist. Inconsistent top leadership commitment to achieving results within agencies and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) can hinder the development of results-oriented cultures in agencies. Furthermore, in certain areas, federal managers continue to have difficulty setting outcome-oriented goals, collecting useful data on results, and linking institutional, program, unit, and individual performance measurement and reward systems. Finally, there is an inadequate focus on addressing issues that cut across federal agencies. OMB, as the focal point for management in the federal government, is responsible for overall leadership and direction in addressing these challenges. OMB has clearly placed greater emphasis on management issues during the past several years. However, it has showed less commitment to GPRA implementation in its guidance to agencies and in using the governmentwide performance plan requirement of GPRA to develop an integrated approach to crosscutting issues. In our view, governmentwide strategic planning could better facilitate the integration of federal activities to achieve national goals.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: To ensure that agency strategic plans more closely align with changes in the federal government leadership, Congress may wish to consider amending GPRA to require that updates to agency strategic plans be submitted at least once every 4 years, 12-18 months after a new administration begins its term. Additionally, consultations with congressional stakeholders should be held at least once every new Congress and interim updates made to strategic and performance plans as warranted. Congress may wish to consider using these consultations along with its traditional oversight role and legislation as opportunities to clarify its performance expectations for agencies. This process may provide an opportunity for Congress to develop a more structured oversight agenda.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (Pub. L. No. 111-352), enacted on January 4, 2011, amends GPRA in several ways. The Act requires agencies to update their strategic plans at least once every 4 years, approximately 12 months after a new administration begins its term. In addition, the Act also requires agencies to consult with Congress, including obtaining majority and minority views from the appropriate committees, at least once every 2 years. According to the committee report accompanying the Act (S. Rept. 111-372), these changes are intended to (1) align the schedule for agencies to update their strategic plans with presidential terms, and (2) ensure that each Congress has input on agencies' goals, objectives, strategies, and performance measures, respectively.

    Matter: To provide a framework to identify long-term goals and strategies to address issues that cut across federal agencies, Congress may wish to consider amending GPRA to require the President to develop a governmentwide strategic plan.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (Pub. L. No. 111-352), enacted on January 4, 2011, emphasizes the importance of providing a broader perspective and more cohesive picture of the federal government's goals and strategies. The Act requires the Director of OMB to develop long-term, crosscutting goals for the federal government and provide strategies for achieving those goals in an annual governmentwide performance plan. According to the committee report accompanying the Act (S. Rept. 111-372), taken together these requirements effectively function as a governmentwide strategic plan.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To facilitate the transformation of agencies' management cultures to be more results oriented, the Director of OMB should work with agencies to ensure they are making adequate investments in training on performance planning and measurement, with a particular emphasis on how to use performance information to improve program performance.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In April 2013, GAO reported on efforts undertaken by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that could address this issue and made a new recommendation regarding agency training on performance planning and measurement. The Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA), Pub. L. No. 111-352, enacted on January 4, 2011, assigned responsibilities to OPM related to agency performance management. By January 2012, the agency was to identify skills and competencies needed by government personnel for setting goals, evaluating programs, and analyzing and using performance information for improving government efficiency and effectiveness. GPRAMA also directed OPM, by January 2013, to incorporate these competencies into relevant position classifications and to work with each agency to incorporate the skills and competencies into employee training. In the April 2013 report, GAO found that OPM had completed its work on its first two responsibilities, and was working to support agency training. However, those efforts were broad-based and not informed by specific assessments of agency training needs. GAO recommended that OPM, in coordination with other federal entities, (1) identify competency areas needing improvement within agencies, (2) identify agency training that focuses on needed performance management competencies, and (3) share information about available agency training on competency areas needing improvement. OPM agreed with these recommendations and reported that it would take actions to implement them. For additional information, including updates on the status of the recommendation to OPM, please see GAO, Managing for Results: Agencies Have Elevated Performance Management Leadership Roles, but Additional Training Is Needed, GAO-13-356 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 16, 2013).

    Recommendation: To help address agencies' performance meawsurement challenges, the Director of OMB should engage in a continuing dialogue with agencies about their performance measurement practices with a particular focus on grant-making, research and development, and regulatory functions to identify and replicate successful approaches agencies are using to measure and report on their outcomes, including the use of program evaluation tools. Additionally, the Director of OMB should work with executive branch agencies to identify the barriers to obtaining timely data to show progress against performance goals and the best ways to report information where there are unavoidable lags in data availability. Interagency councils, such as the President's Management Council and the Chief Financial Officers Council, may be effective vehicles for working on these issues.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB has taken a number of steps to address challenges associated with measuring performance in particular areas. For example, on October 14, 2005, OMB conducted a seminar on grants management for agency managers. The seminar focused on best practices for assessing the performance and accountability of grant programs. The seminar included presentations by an expert in grants management and managers of federal grant programs from several agencies. The topics included program design, performance measurement, using data to manage the program, incentives, and accountability. In addition, the Performance Improvement Council has established a workgroup tasked with developing best practices for improving performance in grant and R&D programs. OMB includes "R&D Investment Criteria" as an initiative on the President's Management Agenda and current OMB guidance requires agencies to justify their R&D program investments based in part on performance information. OMB has also been working with agencies to encourage more timely performance data by increasing to twice yearly the updates to performance information in PARTWEb and the publishing of actuals and updated targets on ExpectMore.gov.

    Recommendation: To improve the quality of agencies' strategic plans, annual performance plans, and performance reports and help agencies meet the requirements of GPRA, the Director of OMB should provide clearer and consistent guidance to executive branch agencies on how to implement GPRA. Such guidance should include standards for communicating key performance information in concise as well as longer formats to better meet the needs of external users who lack the time or expertise to analyze lengthy, detailed documents.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To assist agencies in implementing the expanded planning and reporting requirements of the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (Pub. L. No. 111-352), OMB provided guidance to agencies as part of its annual update of Circular A-11 as well as several memoranda. This guidance provides agencies with flexibility in how they present and communicate their performance information. For example, it encourages agencies to publish information online, in an interactive, open format where cost-effective, so that information can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, and searched by commonly used web search applications. The guidance also states that agencies should consider electronic file formats, such as a PDF, where more appropriate. The guidance notes that, in the future, the Act requires quarterly updates via a central, governmentwide website. Until that website has been established, agencies are to use their own websites to provide more frequent performance updates.

    Recommendation: To achieve the greatest benefit from both GPRA and PART, the Director of OMB should articulate and implement an integrated and complementary relationship between the two. GPRA is a broad legislative framework that was designed to be consultative with Congress and other stakeholders, and allows for varying uses of performance information. PART looks through a particular lens for a particular use--the executive budget formulation process.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since 2005, the PART guidance has contained language indicating that "OMB and agencies must agree on appropriate measures early to allow for review with relevant stakeholders, if needed", noting that GPRA requires stakeholders be consulted if strategic goals are revised. GAO's October 2005 report on PART recognized that OMB has taken some steps to further clarify the PART-GPRA relationship, but noted that many agencies still struggle to balance the differing needs of the budget and planning processes and their various stakeholders. To date, unresolved tensions between PART and GPRA appear to continue to contribute to a lack of consensus about what to measure and how to measure it. We are closing this recommendation as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To provide a broader perspective and more cohesive picture of the federal government's goals and strategies to address issues that cut across executive branch agencies, the Director of OMB should fully implement GPRA's requirement to develop a governmentwide performance plan.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When GAO made this recommendation in March 2004, the federal government performance plan required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), Pub. L. No. 103-62, was intended to present a single cohesive picture of the annual performance goals for the fiscal year, according to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs report that accompanied the act. OMB had discretion to determine the format and content of the plan. However, the focus of this plan was subsequently changed by the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA), Pub. L. No. 111-352. GPRAMA requires OMB to develop, in coordination with agencies, long-term federal government priority goals and the annual federal government plan is to provide details about how the goals will be achieved. OMB developed interim goals and an interim performance plan in February 2012 as required by GPRAMA; full implementation begins in February 2014. Although GAO is closing this recommendation as not implemented due to the change in the plan's focus, GAO is required to review implementation of GPRAMA over time and will have the opportunity to review OMB's implementation of the revised federal government performance plan requirements in future work.

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