Managing for Results:

An Agenda To Improve the Usefulness of Agencies' Annual Performance Plans

GGD/AIMD-98-228: Published: Sep 8, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 8, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO summarized its reviews of individual federal agency performance plans, focusing on opportunities to improve the usefulness of future performance plans for decisionmakers.

GAO noted that: (1) the agencies' first annual performance plans showed the potential for doing performance planning and measurement as envisioned by the Government Performance and Results Act to provide decisionmakers with valuable perspective and useful information for improving program performance; (2) however, overall, substantial further development is needed for these plans to be useful in a significant way to congressional and other decisionmakers; (3) most of the plans that GAO reviewed contained major weaknesses that undermined their usefulness in that they: (a) did not consistently provide clear pictures of agencies' intended performance, (b) generally did not relate strategies and resources to performance; and (c) provided limited confidence that agencies' performance data will be sufficiently credible; (4) GAO believes that Congress, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the agencies need to build on the experiences of the first round of annual performance planning by working together and targeting key performance issues that will help to make future plans more useful; (5) most of the performance plans had at least some objective, quantifiable, and measurable goals, but few plans consistently included a comprehensive set of goals that focused on the results that programs were intended to achieve; (6) the plans generally did not go further to describe how agencies expected to coordinate their efforts with those of other agencies; (7) most agencies' performance plans did not provide clear strategies that described how performance goals would be achieved; (8) the performance plans generally provided listings of the agencies' current array of programs and initiatives but provided limited perspective on how these programs and initiatives were necessary or helpful for achieving results; (9) most of the plans did not adequately describe the resources needed to achieve their agencies' performance goals; (10) most annual performance plans provided only superficial descriptions of procedures that agencies intended to use to verify and validate performance data; and (11) the absence of program evaluation capacity is a major concern, because a federal environment that focuses on results depends on program evaluation to provide vital information about the contribution of the federal effort.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO has closed this recommendation, updating it in a subsequent report (GGD/AIMD-99-215). That report recognizes that the FY2000 plans showed moderate improvements over the FY1999 plans, but still contained key weaknesses. Actions an OMB official says the agency has taken are considering the views of Congress and GAO in updating its guidance for these plans, building up the guidance in areas that GAO said needed more attention; noting the FY2000 performance plans generally had better goals, thus better articulating a results orientation than the FY1999 plans; noting that some of the FY2000 plans better presented the means and strategies to be used in achieving goals; and that beginning to revive its efforts to identify and initiate performance budgeting pilots, which was one area discussed in the report where OMB could take advantage of in relationship to "showing performance consequences of budget decisions"--part of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To fully implement OMB's commitment to evaluate its and agencies' experience in developing the fiscal year 1999 performance plans and to improve agencies' performance plans for the future, the Director, OMB, should implement a concrete agenda aimed at substantially enhancing the usefulness of agencies' performance plans for congressional and executive branch decisionmaking. The five key opportunities for improvement that GAO identified--better articulating a results orientation; coordinating crosscutting programs; clearly showing how strategies will be used to achieve goals; showing performance consequences of budget decisions; and building capacity within agencies to gather and use performance information, including program evaluation--can serve as core elements of the improvement effort.

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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB has gone beyond the formal requirements of GPRA in an effort to build a base of experience for how performance-based management can be used to improve results. For example, OMB provides leadership and serves as a catalyst for interagency groups, such as the President's Management Council, the Chief Financial Officers Council, the Chief Information Officers Council, and the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency. Through these groups, OMB draws together operational, financial, procurement, integrity, labor relations, and systems technology experts from across the government to establish governmentwide goals and marshal the resources within agencies to improve government performance. Also, OMB has worked with GAO in strengthening the area of capital decisionmaking and management to ensure that the purchase of new assets and infrastructure will have the highest and most efficient returns to the taxpayer and to the government and that existing assets will be adequately repaired and maintained.

    Recommendation: To go beyond the formal requirements of the Results Act to issue annual performance plans and performance reports, and to build a base of experience for how the performance-based approach to management envisioned under the Results Act can be used to improve program results and support congressional and executive branch decisionmaking, the Director, OMB, should work with Congress and the agencies to identify specific program areas that can be used as best practices.

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


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