Managing for Results:

Views on Ensuring the Usefulness of Agency Performance Information to Congress

GGD-00-35: Published: Jan 26, 2000. Publicly Released: Jan 26, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed three agencies' annual performance plans to determine whether the plans met congressional requirements, focusing on: (1) which aspects of congressional information needs were met by the agency's annual performance plan or some other source; (2) where those needs were not met, and what accounted for the discrepancies or gaps in the information provided; and (3) what options agencies could use to practically and efficiently provide the desired performance information.

GAO noted that: (1) the congressional staff GAO interviewed identified a great diversity of information they would like to have to address key questions about program performance; (2) the agencies GAO studied met some, but not all, of these recurring and ad hoc congressional information needs through both formal and informal means; (3) the congressional staffs were looking for recurring information on spending priorities within programs, the quality, quantity, and efficiency of program operations, the populations served or regulated, as well as the program's progress in meeting its objectives; (4) some of these recurring needs were met through formal agency documents, such as annual budget request justification materials, annual performance plans, or other recurring reports; (5) other congressional information needs were ad hoc, requiring more detailed information or analysis as issues arose for congressional consideration; (6) information needs that the congressional staffs reported as unmet were similar in content to, but often more specific or detailed than, those that were met; (7) several factors accounted for the gaps in meeting congressional information needs; (8) some information the agencies provided did not fully meet the congressional staffs' needs because the presentation was not clear, directly relevant, or sufficiently detailed; (9) other information was not readily available to the congressional staffs; (10) in some cases, the agencies said they did not have the information because it was either too soon or too difficult to obtain it; (11) improved communication between congressional staff and agency officials might help ensure that congressional information needs are understood, and that arrangements are made to meet them; (12) greater consultation on how best to distribute agency documents might improve congressional access to existing reports; (13) posting publications on Internet sites can increase congressional staffs' access to agency information without their having to specifically request it, but staff still need to learn that the information exists and where to look for it; and (14) agencies' annual Government Performance and Results Act performance plans and other reports might be more useful to congressional committees if they addressed the issues congressional staff said they wanted addressed on a recurring bases, and if agency staff consulted with the committees on their choice of performance measures.

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