Managing for Results:

Opportunities for Continued Improvements in Agencies' Performance Plans

GGD/AIMD-99-215: Published: Jul 20, 1999. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the fiscal year (FY) 2000 performance plans of the 24 agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act, focusing on the: (1) extent to which the agencies' plans include the three key elements of informative performance plans: (a) clear pictures of intended performance; (b) specific discussions of strategies and resources; and (c) confidence that performance information will be credible; and (2) degree of improvement the FY 2000 performance plans represent over the FY 1999 plans.

GAO noted that: (1) on the whole, agencies' FY 2000 performance plans show moderate improvements over the FY 1999 plans and contain better information and perspective; (2) however, key weaknesses remain, and important opportunities exist to improve future plans; (3) the plans provide general pictures of intended performance across the agencies suggesting that important opportunities for continued improvements still remain to be addressed; (4) while all the plans include baseline and trend data for at least some of their goals and measures, inconsistent attention is given to resolving mission-critical management challenges and program risks; (5) these management challenges and program risks continue to seriously undermine the federal government's performance and to leave it vulnerable to billions of dollars in waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement; (6) agencies could also provide clearer pictures of intended performance by providing greater attention to crosscutting program issues; (7) coordinating crosscutting programs is important because mission fragmentation and program overlap are widespread across the federal government; (8) most agencies' plans show some improvement in their recognition of crosscutting program efforts; (9) however, few plans attempt the more challenging tasks of discussing planned strategies for coordination and establishing complementary performance goals and common or complementary performance measures; (10) continued progress on this issue is important because GAO has found that unfocused and uncoordinated crosscutting programs waste scarce funds, confuse and frustrate program customers, and limit overall program effectiveness; (11) crosscutting programs involve more than one agency, and coordination therefore requires the ability to look across agencies and ensure that the appropriate coordination is taking place; (12) agencies' discussions of how resources and strategies will be used to achieve results show mixed progress; (13) some agencies show progress in making useful linkages between their budget requests and performance goals, while other agencies are not showing the necessary progress; (14) the continuing lack of confidence that performance information will be credible is also a source of major concern; (15) many agencies offer only limited indications that performance data will be credible; and (16) the inattention to ensuring that performance data will be sufficiently timely, complete, accurate, useful, and consistent is an important weakness in the performance plans.

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

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Continued improvements in agencies' plans should help Congress in building on its recent and ongoing use of performance plans to help inform its own decisionmaking. Congressional committees of jurisdiction may wish to consider holding augmented oversight hearings on each of the major agencies at least once each Congress and preferably on an annual basis. Information on missions, goals, strategies, resources, and results could provide a consistent starting point for each of these hearings. Such hearings also will further underscore for agencies the importance that Congress places on creating high-performing executive organizations. Performance planning under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 should allow for more informed discussions about issues such as: (1) whether the agency is pursuing the right goals and making progress toward achieving them; (2) whether the federal government is effectively coordinating its responses to pressing national needs; (3) whether the federal government is achieving an unexpected level of performance for the budgetary and other resource commitments that have been provided; (4) the degree to which the agency has the best mix of programs, initiatives, and other strategies to achieve results; (5) the progress the agency is making in addressing mission-critical management challenges and program risks; (6) the efforts underway to ensure that the agency's human capital strategies are linked to strategic and programmatic planning and accountability mechanisms; and (7) the status of the agency's efforts to use information technology to achieve results.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress is demonstrating the importance it places in creating high-performing executive organizations by using the Act to inform its activities. In January, a CRS study was issued that demonstrated extensive use of the Act during the 105th Congress: eight House committees either enacted Results Act related provisions or included them in committee report language; 37 public laws were enacted that contained, or whose accompanying reports contained, relevant performance-related provisions. In August, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson sent letters to the heads of federal agencies asking them to, among other things, improve their performance plans based on recommendations included in GAO's reviews of agencies' FY2000 performance plans. As another example, for the confirmation hearing for OMB's Deputy Director for Management, specific questions were asked on management practices, the Results Act, and major management problems.

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Director, Office Management and Budget ensure that executive agencies make continued progress in improving the usefulness of performance planning for congressional and executive branch decisionmaking. In GAO's assessment of the FY 1999 performance plans, GAO suggested five key improvement opportunities that provide an ongoing agenda for improving the usefullness of agencies performance plans. In assessing the FY 2000 plans, GAO identified important opportunities for continuing improvements in agencies' plans in each of those five areas: (1) better articulating a results orientation, with particular attention to ensuring that performance plans show how mission-critical management challenges and program risks will be addressed; (2) coordinating crosscutting programs, with particular attention to demonstrating that crosscutting programs are taking advantage of opportunities to employ complementary performance goals, mutually reinforcing strategies, and common or complementary performance measures, as appropriate; (3) showing the performance consequences of budget and other resource decisions; (4) clearly showing how strategies will be used to achieve results, with particular attention to integrating human capital and program performance planning; and (5) building the capacity within agencies to gather and use performance information, with particular attention to ensuring that agencies provide confidence that performance information will be credible.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB has taken action to ensure that agencies are making progress in implementing the provisions of GPRA, including improving the usefulness of performance planning, and expanding the use of performance information into the decisionmaking process. For example, concerning management challenges, the Director of OMB noted in congressional testimony in April 2000 that implementing GPRA is a top management objective, and OMB is working with agencies to achieve significant improvements in dealing with the government's biggest management challenges. The Director also testified that for the fiscal year 2001 budget process, agencies were expected to focus attention on the extent to which current programs are achieving the results intended, and new program initiatives are structured to provide for clear definition of results and the accountability mechanisms for achieving them. Concerning crosscutting programs, the Director of OMB stated in a November 1999 letter to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, that OMB will continue to work with agencies to enhance the coverage of crosscutting efforts in performance plans, but OMB expects the process of developing goals for these programs to take several years. Concerning budget resources, the July 2000 revision of OMB guidance to agencies on the preparation and submission of strategic and performance plans and performance reports notes that budget resources should align with performance goals. The guidance states that by identifying in the performance plan how much an agency will spend to achieve its performance goals, the plan forms the integral link between budget and program results. Concerning human capital, the guidance underscores the increasing emphasis on using workforce planning and other specific strategies that align human capital with the fulfillment of an agency's mission and objectives. Concerning the quality of performance information collected and reported, the guidance states that an agency may address issues or problems associated with the process and systems used to obtain performance information in its report for the fiscal year covered.

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