Managing For Results:

Observations on Agencies' Strategic Plans

T-GGD-98-66: Published: Feb 12, 1998. Publicly Released: Feb 12, 1998.

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GAO discussed its assessment of the strategic plans that executive agencies produced last September under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 and the current stage of the Results Act's implementation, annual performance planning and measurement, focusing on: (1) the extent to which agencies' strategic plans met statutory requirements; (2) critical planning challenges that remain to be addressed; and (3) a discussion of how GAO's recent congressional guide for agencies' annual performance plans can facilitate congressional use of those plans and thereby advance the implementation of the Results Act.

GAO noted that: (1) the Results Act requires that strategic plans include six broad elements-mission statements, general goals and objectives, approaches (or strategies) for achieving goals, a description of the relationship between general goals and annual performance goals, key external factors, and a description of the actual use and planned use of program evaluations; (2) although all of the strategic plans that GAO reviewed contained at least some discussion of each element required by the Results Act, GAO found that critical planning challenges remain; (3) the strategic plans often lacked clear articulation of the agencies' strategic direction, a sense of what they were trying to achieve, and how they would achieve it; (4) a focus on results, as envisioned by the Results Act, implies that federal programs that contribute to the same or similar results should be closely coordinated to ensure that goals are consistent and, as appropriate, program efforts are mutually reinforcing; (5) uncoordinated program efforts can waste scarce funds, confuse and frustrate program customers, and limit the overall effectiveness of the federal effort; (6) this suggests that federal agencies are to look beyond their organizational boundaries and coordinate with other agencies to ensure that their efforts are aligned and complementary; (7) GAO's previous work has shown that for agencies to set realistic goals, they need to have reliable data during their planning efforts; (8) they also need reliable data, later, as they gauge the progress they are making toward achieving those goals; (9) GAO found serious shortcomings in agencies' ability to generate reliable and timely data to measure their progress in achieving goals and to provide the analytic capacity to use those data; (10) GAO developed a guide to assist the congressional consultations on the development of agencies' strategic plans; (11) the guide is organized around three core questions that correspond to the Act's requirements for performance plans; (12) the answers to the questions are intended to facilitate a complete assessment of agencies' performance plans and address concerns that are likely to be common across a variety of congressional users; and (13) although agencies have generally met the statutory requirements of the Results Act in their first cycle of strategic planning, federal strategic planning; and Results Act's implementation in general-is still very much a work in progress.

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