Managing for Results:

Opportunities for Congress to Address Government Performance Issues

GAO-12-215R: Published: Dec 9, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 9, 2011.

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J. Christopher Mihm
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Office of Public Affairs
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Many federal program efforts, such as those related to ensuring food safety, providing homeland security, monitoring incidence of infectious diseases, or improving response to natural disasters, generally require the effective collaboration of more than one agency. As we have recently testified before each of Congressional subcommittees and the task force, the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) calls for a more coordinated and crosscutting approach to achieve meaningful results. Indeed, we have noted for many years the central role that GPRA could play in identifying and fostering improved coordination across related federal program efforts. Effective GPRAMA implementation provides opportunities to identify the various agencies and federal activities--including spending programs, regulations, and tax expenditures--that contribute to crosscutting programs and to ensure that coordination mechanisms are in place. Our recent report on potential duplication, overlap, and fragmentation highlights a number of areas where a more crosscutting approach is needed--both across agencies and within a specific agency. GPRAMA provides a powerful opportunity for agencies to collect and report more timely and useful performance information on crosscutting programs. This performance information can play an important role in existing congressional decision making. Recognizing this, Congress requested that we undertake work to support congressional use of performance information. As a first step, we developed briefing materials focused on how Congress can use such information to address challenges facing the federal government. This report formally transmits the information shared during a briefing we gave on September 8, 2011, to congressional staff. The objectives of the briefing were to (1) describe provisions of GPRAMA that provide Congress with opportunities for involvement in agency performance planning and (2) illustrate instances of Congress's use of agency performance information in its decision making.

GPRAMA provides Congress with opportunities for involvement in agency performance planning by significantly enhancing requirements for agencies to consult with Congress when establishing or adjusting governmentwide and agency goals. These consultations provide an important opportunity for Congress to provide input on what results agencies should seek to achieve; how those results will be achieved, including how an agency's efforts are aligned and coordinated with other related efforts; how to measure progress given the complexity of federal programs; and how to report on results. They also provide an opportunity for Congress to better understand challenges confronting particular programs and the broader context of how agency performance, budget, and financial information fit together. Beyond providing input to the agencies and OMB during the consultations to shape their performance goals, Congress can foster results-oriented cultures in the federal government by using performance information in its decision-making processes. For example, Congress can use agency performance information to inform its various legislative responsibilities, including when authorizing or reauthorizing federal programs, and other activities; amending the tax code; appropriating funds; and developing budget resolutions. Congress can also focus agency attention on addressing performance issues through myriad oversight activities, such as oversight agendas, hearings, letters to agencies, and formal and informal meetings with agency officials. The three case studies we selected demonstrate how Congress has used performance information in its legislative and oversight activities to focus agency attention on improving performance. For example, in the DOD personnel security clearance program, which we placed on our high-risk list in 2005, congressional activities included (1) passing two pieces of legislation that collectively established a goal related to the timeliness of issuance of personnel security clearances, specified performance measures, and required annual reports to Congress; (2) holding over 14 oversight hearings; and (3) requesting that agencies work with us to identify performance measures for investigative quality. Sustained congressional attention helped the agencies reduce the amount of time security clearances took from an average of over 300 days following the terrorist attacks of 2001 to almost 60 days on average in fiscal year 2010 for industry personnel. As a result of the progress that was made, we removed the DOD personnel security clearance program from our high-risk list in February 2011.

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