Government performance data: Let


Government performance data: Let's make it open, machine-readable and permanent

Despite the differences on vivid display in this contentious political season, one point on which there should be broad, nonpartisan agreement is that critical, inherently governmental functions should be performed well and at the least practical cost to the taxpayers.  The news media reports on the failures of government nearly every day, while the Government Accountability Office and agency inspectors general periodically make recommendations for improvement.  But how can the performance of the vast enterprise comprising the people’s business be objectively evaluated on an ongoing basis?

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Congress passed the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) to help answer that question.  GPRA requires agencies to compile and maintain strategic plans and performance reports, and in 2010, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the GPRA Modernization Act (GPRAMA).  GPRAMA requires agencies to publish their plans and reports in machine-readable format so that value-added intermediaries can make agency performance data readily available to citizens, taxpayers and other stakeholders in terms that are meaningful to them.

Citizen-centric government was the top priority of President George W. Bush’s management agenda, and in the eGov Act of 2002, Congress directed agencies to:

After the Bush administration left office and the site was taken down, the Obama administration developed the site to meet GPRAMA’s requirement for a centralized portal.  If history repeats itself, the site may also be abandoned when Obama leaves office.  However, if agencies do as GPRAMA directs and publish their plans and report on their own websites in an open, standard, machine-readable format, those records can persist and continuity can be maintained despite the vagaries associated with the political and technological winds of change. 

Whereas software is transitory, malleable and fungible, government records should be persistent and free of proprietary software dependencies.  OMB Circular A-119 directs agencies to use voluntary consensus standards and OMB M-13-13 reiterates that policy with respect to data standards in particular. 

Strategy Markup Language (StratML) is an international voluntary consensus standard for strategic plans (ISO/ANSI/AIIM 17469-1).  StratML Part 2 is an American national standard for performance plans and reports (ANSI/AIIM 22:2011), and Part 3, an AIIM best practice, more explicitly addresses the government-unique data requirements implicit in GPRAMA. 

The vision of the StratML standard is highly expansive:  A worldwide web of intentions, stakeholders, and results.  However, more practically speaking, its usage will enable:

  • Sharing, referencing, indexing, discovery, linking, reuse and analyses of strategic plan information and performance data.
  • Discovery and engagement of potential performance partners.
  • Stakeholder feedback on strategic goals, objectives and performance indicators.
  • Updating and maintenance of strategic plans and performance reports.
  • Reduction of needless time, effort, inconsistencies and delays associated with maintaining data redundantly in myriad stovepipe systems rather than referencing the authoritative sources.
  • Realization of the concept of “strategic alignment” via literal linkages among goals, objectives and all other records created in the routine course of business processes.

The guidance set forth in GPRAMA is good practice -- not just for Uncle Sam, but for agencies at all levels of government, worldwide.  While the vision of the StratML standard will take time to realize, agencies can contribute to the cause of high-performing, citizen-centered governance by ensuring their IT product and service acquisitions comply with the applicable open, machine-readable data standards for interoperability.

About the Author

Owen Ambur co-founded and co-chaired the CIO Council’s governmentwide XML community of practice in 2000. In active retirement since 2007, he chairs AIIM’s StratML Committee.

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Reader Comments

Wed, May 4, 2016 Russell Ruggiero

The goal of this exploratory piece is to find a common thread between the Department of Commerce Public Safety Communications (Boulder Laboratories) report and prior and current work being done regarding the StratML effort. The team that crafted the Department of Commerce Public Safety Communications report must be commended in their presentation of visuals and text in a concise and easy to understand document. It far less stoic and far more contemporary in nature that most government reports of this type, and makes my job easier in finding common ground between the two technology-centric efforts. On a micro level, strategic agreements could be in place with numerous retail vendors to supply dishwashing liquid, paper towels, and rubber gloves to deal with cleaning wildlife such as birds. It would also make sense to have strategic agreements in place with suppliers of portable toilets because if people are sent to the shoreline to help clean-up the oil spill, then human waste is to be expected. In addition, strategic agreements with food vendors would also seem to make a great deal of sense because these people will need nourishment throughout the day to perform their designated tasks. This is where StratML may be leveraged in the sharing, indexing, referencing, discovery, reuse, and analysis of embedded elements within these plans, along with the names and descriptions of stakeholder groups. Again, it must be made clear that StratML is not meant to replace technologies and protocols already in place, but is meant to augment them to enable enhanced alignment between all parties involved.

Mon, Apr 25, 2016 Bulldog Drummond

Great insights at all levels. The GPRAMA principles apply to business (all levels) as well. All communications should be easily digestible and readily available to all stakeholders. With increased access to technology and information this is a common practice that is expected--from government to your local drug store.

Mon, Apr 25, 2016 Dan Strongin

Having worked extensively with agricultural and food manufacturing and food service clients, knowing which agency is responsible for what can be daunting. Add to that State and Local agencies! Leaving aside everything else and just talking of the recourses spent navigating to the wrong agency, or setting out the wrong argument, or just trying to figure which does what uses a lot of resources. With adherence to Strat-Ml much of that "waste" could be re-applied to productivity.

Sat, Apr 23, 2016 Matthew Harang

Great article. It seems that everything is partisan in this political climate, even those that shouldn't be. There should be issues surrounding technology, education, general well-being that are strictly non-partisan issues, supported by both sides. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. GPRAMA is an important step and StratML an important development. It will be interesting how the next administration handles these topics.

Tue, Apr 19, 2016 Russell Ruggiero

The excerpt below is taken from my report (Creating a more seamless and agnostic ecosystem) and relates to your article. It stands to reason that narrowing the amount of standards used and supported, along with data center consolidation will help to improve overall IT efficiency. However, it would also seem logical to foster data transparency in the improvement process to form a more cohesive IT ecosystem. Accountability can be had in the form of metrics, and it will be open, machine-readable solutions that will help reach the goals of important initiatives like the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). Case in point: Section 10 of the GPRA Modernization Act (GPRAMA), particularly now that Office of Management and Budget (OMB) M-13-13 has reiterated the direction previously set forth in Circular A-119 to use voluntary consensus standards whenever possible. To circle back, standards play a key role and adopting ones that help with data transparency will help to improve accountability of public sector entities, as mandated in GPRAMA.

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