National Park Service:

Efforts to Link Resources to Results Suggest Insights for Other Agencies

AIMD-98-113: Published: Apr 10, 1998. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 1998.

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Paul L. Posner
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) how the Government Performance and Results Act has influenced planning and budgeting at the National Park Service (NPS); (2) the extent to which strategic and annual planning and budgeting processes have become linked and the challenges in achieving such a linkage; and (3) any insight that NPS's experiences with results-oriented management and budgeting suggest for other agencies implementing the Results Act.

GAO noted that: (1) NPS implemented the Results Act by instituting a results-oriented planning process that has introduced for the first time servicewide goals to be achieved by park managers; (2) at the same time, NPS addressed the diversity and decentralized nature of the park system by requiring parks to develop strategic plans to address both applicable servicewide goals as well as goals specific to their unique legislative and operating environments; (3) both NPS and individual parks and programs have prepared strategic and annual performance plans with measurable outcome-oriented goals; (4) to link these plans to their budget, NPS designed an information system to report park estimates of spending according to goals; (5) although NPS has made some progress in connecting performance plans with budgets, significant issues remain to be resolved; (6) NPS's efforts to track actual spending according to performance goals have been hampered by the incompatibility between its activity-oriented budget and accounting systems and its goal-oriented strategic plan; (7) the most frequently cited challenges involved performance measurement and information systems; (8) performance measurement is complicated by the difficulty of defining outcome-oriented performance measures; (9) park staff also identified as a challenge the absence of information systems that link spending information to goals; (10) despite limited experience with managing for results, parks reported some benefits from their initial efforts; (11) benefits included better information about how park resources were being spent on desired park outcomes and increased communication and resource sharing across division lines; (12) although NPS is still in the early stages of implementing the Results Act, the progress it has made and the challenges that remain provide valuable insights that could prove useful to other agencies as they implement the act; (13) NPS has demonstrated how to develop an agencywide strategic planning process in a decentralized operating environment; (14) NPS officials recognized that strong field-level involvement in developing the servicewide plan and the field-oriented approach to implementing the Results Act resulted in greater ownership by the field staff charged with achieving the results; and (15) however, changes to these systems will require extensive consultations and consensus among the agency, the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress.

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