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Managing for Results: A Guide for Using the GPRA Modernization Act to Help Inform Congressional Decision Making

GAO-12-621SP Published: Jun 15, 2012. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 2012.
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What GAO Found

GPRAMA requires OMB and agencies to consult with relevant committees, obtaining majority and minority views, about proposed goals at least once every 2 years. Specifically, OMB is required to consult with relevant committees with broad jurisdiction on crosscutting priority goals. Agencies are to consult with their relevant appropriations, authorization, and oversight committees when developing or making adjustments to their strategic plans and agency priority goals. The act also requires OMB, on a governmentwide website, and agencies, in their strategic plans, to describe how input provided during consultations was incorporated into the crosscutting priority goals and agency goals, respectively.

According to the Senate report accompanying the act, consultations are intended to strengthen collaboration between Congress and federal agencies to improve government performance. Successful strategic planning requires the involvement of key stakeholders, which can help build consensus. As the committee report notes, the consultation process was established so agencies could take congressional views into account as appropriate. If an agency waits to consult with relevant congressional stakeholders until a strategic plan has been substantially drafted and fully vetted within the executive branch, it foregoes important opportunities to learn about and address early on specific concerns that will be critical to successful implementation. The committee, therefore, emphasized that consultations should take place during the development of a strategic plan, not after. In addition, the requirement for consultations at least once every 2 years is intended to ensure that each Congress has input on agency goals, objectives, strategies, and performance measures. Consultations also provide agencies with opportunities to share information on their performance and confirm that various committees are getting the types of performance information they need.

Performance information can be used to inform congressional decisions about authorizing or reauthorizing federal programs, provisions in the tax code, and other activities; appropriating funds; and developing budget resolutions.

After identifying issues, Congress has established expectations for the level of performance to be achieved by federal agencies and programs, and regular reporting on results. As highlighted in our case study on efforts to address the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, setting clear goals—with target levels of performance and timeframes for achieving them—and expectations for periodic progress reports helped Congress sustain attention on improving results over the course of several years.

Finally, Members of Congress, congressional committees, and staff can assess whether existing strategies are the most efficient and effective means for agencies to meet their goals. Analyzing existing performance information can help identify new strategies that could lead to improved results. As the case study on addressing improper payments shows, when it is clear that agencies are not meeting performance expectations, Congress has provided agencies with additional authorities and required alternate approaches to achieve results.

Why GAO Did This Study

Many of the meaningful results that the federal government seeks to achieve, such as those related to protecting food and agriculture, providing homeland security, and ensuring a well-trained and educated workforce, require the coordinated efforts of more than one federal agency. As Congress creates, modifies, and funds federal programs and activities, it needs pertinent and reliable information to adequately assess agencies’ progress in meeting established performance goals, ensure accountability for results, and understand how individual programs and activities fit within a broader portfolio of federal efforts.

However, as our annual reports on duplication, overlap, and fragmentation in the federal government have recently highlighted, there are a number of crosscutting areas where performance information is limited or does not exist. Even in instances where agencies produce a great deal of performance information, our past work has shown that it does not always reach the interested parties in Congress, and when it does, the information may not be timely or presented in a manner that is useful for congressional decision making.

To help ensure that executive branch performance information is useful to Congress for its decision making, congressional involvement on what to measure and how to present this information is critical. Recognizing this, Congress updated the statutory framework for performance management in the federal government, the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), with the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA), which significantly enhances the requirements for agencies to consult with Congress when establishing or adjusting governmentwide and agency goals. Specifically, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is required to consult with relevant committees with broad jurisdiction on crosscutting priority goals. Agencies are to consult with their relevant appropriations, authorization, and oversight committees when developing or making adjustments to their strategic plans and agency priority goals.

This guide, prepared at Congressional request, is intended to assist Members of Congress and their staffs in (1) ensuring the consultations required under GPRAMA are useful to the Congress and (2) using performance information produced by executive branch agencies in carrying out various congressional decision-making responsibilities, such as authorizing programs or provisions in the tax code, making appropriations, developing budgets, and providing oversight.

For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202) 512-6806 or

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Decision makingImproper paymentsAIDSAppropriationsCongressional employeesManaging for resultsHomeland securityFederal assistance programsStrategic planFinancial management