Congress digs in with GPRA

With the first reports required under the Government Performance and Results Act in
hand, lawmakers are working to take GPRA to the next step.


Their aim: Make sure agencies create clear business strategies, measurable goals and
annual performance reports.


"The leadership in Congress has made an extraordinary commitment to this effort.
All of us are serious about changing the quality of management in the federal
government," Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.) said. "Management needs to be much more
results-oriented."


Horn's Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Government Management,
Information and Technology began reviewing the first GPRA reports in September. It started
with the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration.


A subcommittee staff member said GPRA requires that most agencies have a set business
strategy. The law mandated that agencies file their strategic plans with OMB by Sept. 30.
But, the staff member said, "they're not all of high quality."


Beyond the reports, agencies need to use the plans to prioritize IT projects. Agencies
have not yet taken the step of ensuring that the plans define their systems needs, the
staff member said.


Having supervised dozens of reports to Congress on how agencies have been complying
with GPRA, OMB got a fair-but-needs-work grade for its report from the General Accounting
Office.


Testifying last month before the subcommittee, GAO officials said OMB's final strategic
plan shows improvement over a July draft but that the document still needs work.


Paul Posner, director of budget issues for GAO's Accounting and Information Management
Division, said OMB's latest report does not adequately address how the agency will achieve
its governmentwide management responsibilities. OMB's September report said it will work
closely with agencies to identify solutions to mission-critical problems.


"However, OMB does not describe specific problems it will seek to address in the
coming years or OMB's role and strategies for solving these issues," Posner said.


The OMB report also lacks clarity on information technology management issues because
it does not provide specific strategies for solving IT problems.


"OMB discusses the ability of the agencies' computer systems to accommodate dates
beyond 1999 as a potential performance measure and states how it will monitor agencies'
progress," Posner said. "However, the plan does not describe any specific
actions OMB will take to ensure this goal is met."


OMB's plan also lacks specificity when it comes to defining strategies and guidelines
for agencies' capital plans, the OMB official said.


In the area of programmatic crosscutting issues, questions dealing with mission and
program overlap are "discussed only generically as components of broader
objectives," Posner said.


On a positive note, OMB's latest report includes goals and objectives that show a
clearer results orientation, better defined strategies for achieving goals and a
recognition of crosscutting issues OMB must consider, GAO found.


GSA is seen to have a less formidable task because it no longer has policy oversight of
IT issues and programs. Its successes and failures can be measured in dollars and cents,
Horn said.


"If there is anywhere in the federal government where we should see typical
business goals, objectives and performance measures, GSA's strategic plan is it,"
Horn said.


GSA's plan includes a matrix linking general goals and objectives to performance goals
that Horn heralded as a model other agencies should follow. "We would recommend that
other agencies consider using this format because of its clarity," he said.


The GSA plan has four goals: promote responsible asset management, compete effectively
in the federal market, excel at customer service and anticipate work force needs.


GAO officials told the subcommittee that GSA's plan is better than an earlier version
but could be better still.


"The Sept. 30 plan continues to have general goals and objectives that seem to be
expressed in terms that may be challenging to translate into quantitative or measurable
analysis. This could make it difficult to determine whether they are actually being
achieved," said Bernard L. Ungar, director of government business operations for
GAO's General Government Division.


GSA chief financial officer Dennis J. Fischer agreed with GAO. "We know we still
have some things we need to focus on," he said.


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