'98 funds tied to GPRA

Congress mandated that agencies begin setting distinct milestones for all programs in
the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act. GPRA requires agencies to develop annual
strategies with detailed performance measurements. The first reports are due to Congress
and OMB Sept. 30.


But Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the
reports are only trickling in.


He said this month that he would have no qualms about denying funding to agencies that
fail to meet the September deadline for the GPRA plans.


"You ought to be on notice that we are going to condition expenditures until the
plans are completed and in a satisfactory fashion," Stevens told Office of Management
and Budget director Franklin Raines at a GPRA hearing.


"I don't see a reason why we should pass laws, then sit up here and say, 'We have
not been able to get them done and maybe we'll get them done next year.' We expect to see
some results out of these plans," he said at the joint hearing of the Senate
Appropriations and Governmental Affairs committees.


A basic element of the GPRA reports is developing performance measurements and plans
for systems use.


But in recent weeks, the General Accounting Office has cautioned that chronic strategic
computing weaknesses are threatening the government's ability to build systems as well as
devise methods to measure agency program performance.


OMB has been prepping agenciesfor the annual performance measurement drill by
overseeing 70 pilot projects and reviewing strategic plans and performance goals. But GAO
officials said their GPRA readiness assessment shows that many agencies have not yet
devised the functional yardsticks or collected the data needed to gauge the program's
effectiveness.


"There's a major disconnect in the interpretation of results and outcomes. There's
a tendency to regard outputs and compliance measures as outcomes themselves," said L.
Nye Stevens, director of federal management and work force issues in GAO's General
Government Division.


"Some of the obstacles go back to poor cost accounting systems because agencies
really don't know what their true costs are, and that makes it difficult to say whether a
new or alternative program would be better. There also are problems with incompatible
systems," he said.


GAO's Stevens presented the report, The Government Performance and Results Act: 1997
Governmentwide Implementation Will Be Uneven, at a recent hearing of the House Government
Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology.


GPRA requires agencies to submit a six-year strategic plan to OMB and Congress after
consulting with House and Senate appropriation and oversight committees.


Committee members recently have complained that many agencies still have not met with
them, Sen. Stevens said.


A House and Senate review showed that 13 agencies had not filed their strategic reports
as of June 1. Three agencies had filed minimally acceptable reports and only NASA had
submitted an acceptable strategic plan, the review found.


Raines said OMB recently has stepped up its GPRA meetings with agencies. He said all
agencies will file their reports before the deadline. Raines also said agencies that have
filed unsatisfactory reports will modify them within the next few weeks.


OMB did not tailor any of its test categories to examine IT initiatives alone. But
federal systems managers should be among the best prepared, because the 1996 IT Management
Reform Act specifically ordered agency chief information officers to develop capital
budgets and strategic systems plans based on mission and program service goals. The CIO
Council has spent much of its inaugural year discussing capital planning and IT
performance issues.


The General Services Administration's contribution is an online service to help
agencies deal with the pending performance mandates. The Performance Pathways World Wide
Web site, posted by GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy, provides agencies with
electronic versions of all GPRA documents, governmentwide directives, regulations, a set
of guidance documents and links to other performance Web sites. The Office of
Governmentwide Policy also has issued a handbook on developing specific IT performance
measures.


"Often I hear that it is difficult to get agency program officials involved. For
IT, some agencies relegate performance plans to IT planners," Pat Plunkett, GSA's
program manager for performance measures, said at the House hearing. "This may be an
indication that the program offices are too busy, don't take measurement seriously or
both."


At the Senate hearing, Raines tried to fend off Sen. Stevens' threat, saying his staff
will work with the Appropriations Committee to "see if we can come up with an
approach that would provide a sufficient incentive for the agencies while at the same time
not creating operational problems."


Raines and Sen. Stevens agreed that officials from OMB, GAO and the Senate
Appropriations and Government Affairs committees will meet in September to review
agencies' plans before the Senate approves the budget.


Meanwhile, in written testimony to the Senate, GAO acting comptroller general James
Hinchman called on Congress to take steps to ensure GPRA's success.


He said lawmakers should encourage closer cooperation and coordination among agencies
with related responsibilities and give the agencies a clearer sense of direction. Many
agencies have diverse statutory responsibilities and are facing difficulties in trying to
identify a coherent mission statement, Hinchman said.


Even so, Congress should persist in demanding realistic agency strategies by the
deadline, he said.


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