Government performance data: Let's make it open, machine-readable and permanent
Performance.gov might be abandoned by the next president, but agencies have the tools (and responsibility) to publish open and machine-readable performance plans themselves.
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:
- Work together to link their performance goals to key stakeholder groups, including citizens, businesses and other governments
- Adopt open standards enabling the organization and categorizationof government information in a way that is searchable electronically and interoperably across agencies.
After the Bush administration left office and the ExpectMore.gov site was taken down, the Obama administration developed the Performance.gov site to meet GPRAMA’s requirement for a centralized portal. If history repeats itself, the Performance.gov 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.
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