Congress attacks OMB for lax GPRA oversight

Last month, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Science Committee,
voiced his concerns about OMB oversight of GPRA implementation. He chastised OMB for not
reviewing agencies' strategic plans carefully.


Earlier this year, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) threatened to halt funding for agencies
that did not meet the Sept. 30 deadline for submitting the long-term strategy reports
mandated by the 1993 law [GCN, June 30, Page 1].


"I have found some of the recent actions of the OMB very disappointing,"
Sensenbrenner said at a committee hearing on how much six science and technology agencies
had accomplished in meeting GPRA requirements.


Sensenbrenner said OMB is not making sure agencies are including all the information
needed in the reports. He said that the lack of oversight will result in Congress not
receiving the information it needs to set budget priorities.


"For instance, my staff informed me that an OMB examiner said that one of the
strategic plans was 'good enough,' even though it did not address all the requirements of
the act," he said.


A preliminary review by congressional staff members and the General Accounting Office
of strategic reports found shortcomings in the initial GPRA reports done by the agencies.


The draft reports from the Commerce, Energy and Transportation departments, and the
Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation and NASA have not
fulfilled the GPRA requirements, GAO officials said.


Although final reports are not due until the close of the fiscal year, agencies have
filed draft reports and are getting advice from OMB before completing the final reports.


GAO officials said at the hearing that the draft reports by the six agencies showed
some progress toward meeting Congress' intent under GPRA.


Only the Transportation Department, however, included all six elements required in the
reports, said Susan Kladiva, associate director for energy, resources and science issues
in GAO's Resources, Community and Economic Development Division.


In many cases, agencies did not provide full information on the topics they covered in
their reports, she said. The law requires that the agencies' reports include:


For example, Kladiva said, most agencies described results-oriented goals and
objectives but failed to say how they plan to measure their work.


Kladiva said the agencies also showed a poor record of coordinating interagency
projects that have similar goals. She said that coordination is vital, given that 20
agencies spent $60 billion in 1996 on science and technology projects.


For their part, the agencies acknowledged they are lagging behind but said they will
meet the September deadline.


Energy listed 21 science and technology programs that it planned to finish before the
end of 2000. The report said the department also will be able to measure progress in each
project.


Energy, however, acknowledged that it still might have to collect and analyze
additional data before it can implement GPRA fully.


Alan M. Ladwig, NASA's associate administrator for policy and plans, said efforts to
comply with GPRA requirements have led to significant management improvements throughout
the agency, even though the space agency still has not filed a final strategic plan.


Sensenbrenner said OMB also is not coordinating agencies' cross-cutting functions
adequately. "I had hoped OMB would realize that it has a responsibility to the
agencies, the science committee and the American people to testify before this committee
on its role," he said.


Sensenbrenner's comments came only weeks after two other members of Congress, Reps.
Steven Horn (R-Calif.) and Constance Morella (R-Md.), said OMB should do a better job
overseeing agencies' work on GPRA and year 2000 date code programs.


Last month, Horn and Morella, along with Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Bart
Gordon (D-Tenn.), wrote a letter to President Clinton, asking him to appoint a year 2000
czar [GCN, July 21, Page 1].


The White House has sent Congress a letter saying it is studying the request but did
not say when it might make a decision.


Horn, chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government
Management, Information and Technology, has said OMB should pay more attention to
management issues. Horn said the agency has become too politicized and focuses too heavily
on budgetary issues at the expense of management within agencies.


OMB officials have not commented on the House call for a year 2000 czar but have said
the agency does not have the staff or the expertise to set up independent mechanisms to
verify the information that agencies provide the administration in reports such as the
year 2000 status reports and the GPRA plans.


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