Getting the results you seek

Katherine Gugulis says good data is the key to the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Web system for analyzing performance.

Henrik G. de Gyor

It's been more than 10 years since the Government Performance and Results Act set the legal requirements for performance management and accountability within agencies.

But agencies are still struggling to make the transition to a GPRA world.

'Most people would say that the promise of GPRA has not been realized,' said Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Meeting GPRA requirements'focusing on outcomes and measuring results'is still largely seen as a paperwork exercise, Johnson said.

'We think that needs to change,' he said.

The congressional watchdogs at the General Accounting Office agree.

'We are now moving into a more difficult but more important phase of GPRA implementation'that is, using results-oriented performance information as a part of agencies' day-to-day management and congressional and executive-branch decision-making,' comptroller general David Walker told the House Government Reform Committee last September.

'However, much work remains before this framework is effectively implemented across the government,' he said.

Among the hurdles: developing meaningful, outcome-oriented performance goals and measures, and collecting useful performance data.

In the President's Management Agenda, the latest manifestation of the GPRA vision, the Bush administration is beating the drums for its own version of results-based government. And at some agencies, its message is getting through.

'The PMA is a very big driver at the Small Business Administration in measuring performance and sticking to it,' Jennifer Main, SBA's deputy chief financial officer, said at a recent conference in Washington on performance measurement sponsored by the Advanced Learning Institute of Chicago.

'PMA is a terrific organizing principle,' said Main, a former budget analyst for OMB. 'It helps people focus on a lot of good things.'

At SBA, for example, all managers' and supervisors' performance appraisals are tied to results as defined by GPRA, PMA and office-specific goals, Main said.

Tying results to the budgeting process, another PMA mandate, is also a huge challenge for agencies and Congress.

'It took a couple of years for the executive branch to reach a comfort level with measuring performance, and it's going to take a couple of years for Congress to reach the same comfort level,' Johnson said. 'Congress must develop new processes, new habits and new ways of spending their time if they are to focus on results.'

Some agencies are plunging ahead on efforts to meet PMA goals.

At the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service, for example, the budget and performance integration mandate in the PMA 'took us to another level in this area of performance management,' said Katherine Gugulis, deputy chief of strategic planning and accountability.

Gugulis' agency'with field workers all over the country'has gone a step further by building a Web system that carefully tracks and analyzes performance data, which is critical to measuring results.

Getting performance measures right is a big part of playing the GPRA-PMA game. This issue of GCN Management will give you insights and pointers on getting the results your agency seeks.
But performance measures aren't just a mere instrument for results management.

'What you measure,' said Thomas Wegener, who manages the New York State Workers' Compensation Board's Performance Measures Project, 'communicates the values of your organization.'

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