Frequently Asked Questions about Managing for Results and the Government Performance and Results Act

Q 1. For Real? We've been through this alphabet soup of management fads before - PPBS, MBO, ZBB, TQM, you name it. What's different about GPRA aka the Results Act or "managing for results?"

A There are important differences with this effort:

If you'd like to see how the Congress is thinking about its options under this law, please pay a visit to the Congressional Institute's GPRA Briefing

Q 2. Related Mandates: But there are lots of new laws, organizations, and initiatives running around -- the Chief Financial Officers Act, the Information Management Technology Reform Act (ITMRA), the National Performance Review (NPR), customer service, benchmarking… How do they all relate?

A All of them overlap and are results-oriented. The CFO Act recognizes the need for performance measures. ITMRA requires measuring and analyzing performance. NPR and customer service are about improving performance.

The Results Act as many now call it, is unusual -- revolutionary -- not only for its brevity, but also because the Act does not create and annoint a new bureaucracy or earmark dollars within agencies to carry it out. Its focus is on performance -- setting goals for results and achieving them -- not the bureaucratics of how that performance is to be achieved. To paraphrase a private sector slogan, managing for results is Job One. It is Job One for the whole organization, not just some specialized unit within the organization.

If the organization cannot set goals and achieve results, and if the subunits within the organization cannot show how they contribute to the achievement of those results, the organization is calling into question the basic reasons for its existence and the quality of its management.

As Yogi Berra put it, "If you don't know where you're going, you might wind up somewhere else."

Q 3. But We're Only Complying with the Law: All that results stuff is well and good, but my job is to carry out a particular law, and that law doesn't say anything about results. Why can't I just ignore the Results Act?

AVirtually all laws are about results. They include purposes and goals. And they donít expect you to carry out only one law to the exclusion of all others. Government has always had to implement a broad array of laws simultaneously.

If some particular law is hampering the achievement of your agencyís mission, goals, and results, it may be in need of reform. Many of NPRís initial recommendations were focused on reforms, and many have been proposed by the President and enacted into law by the Congress. Example: purchasing and procurement.

Q 4. Other Agencies: What have other agencies further along in implementing the Results Act learned about it?

A They've learned that doing it is initially hard work. There's a lot of confusion at first, and it's hard to get consensus over missions and goals and expected results, timetables, and measures. But the effort turns out to be useful to management, employees, stakeholders, customers, and citizens as desired achievements are clarified and efforts to reach them better focused.

Example: The Marine Safety Programs of the Coast Guard, using a GPRA-style process, met and exceeded their goals, sharpened their focus, and saved 500,000 work hours. Instead of managing by outputs -- how many ship inspections each employee did -- they focused on outcomes -- reducing the marine casualty rate by 20%. They then worked with the maritime industry (a stakeholder) to see where the casualties occurred, found that they were on fishing vessels and towboats, and focused their efforts there. Instead of inspecting cruise ships, they worked on educating employees on fishing vessels and towboats, thereby saving lives and meeting their outcome goal.

For more examples, please read through some of the case studies conducted by some of the GPRA pilot agencies, particularly the sections on "lessons learned."

Remember every agency is starting from a different place, faces different problems, and will achieve results a different way. There is no "single path to results" here.

Q 5. Benefits? So what are the benefits from this new law?

Answer: The Publicís confidence in government will be restored. Agency management will be able to articulate and communicate missions, goals., and accomplishments better. The President and Congress will be better able to decide which government efforts are worth continuing and/or expanding and which are best left to state and local government of the private or nonprofit sectors.

AYou personally will have a better understanding of how your work contributes to your agency's success in meeting its mission and goals and what you can do to "make the best better." You'll be able to describe to your friends how your work makes America better and experience a sense of accomplishment. You'll be proud to be a citizen participating in public service.

The Results Act creates a management environment that:

You're all familiar with the old saying, "if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." The same is true of results: if you don't know what you're trying to achieve, it doesn't much matter what you do…

Q 6. Outputs and Outcomes: We're having trouble in our agency finding common terms to communicate with one another. What we've been calling goals in our office, the next office calls objectives. Another office is using our outputs as their inputs in their plan. None of us agree on what's an outcome. Can you help with our language problems?

A A lot of organizations are having this difficulty. It's not easy to change the way you've traditionally referred to things. Anybody who "does" GPRA has mixed up outputs and outcomes at some point and certainly gotten into some arguments with peers. Outputs are the immediate result of what we do, usually measurable in some fashion, from writing memos to fixing computers, from processing applications to preparing testimony, from cleaning restrooms to fighting fires. These activities produce products and services. Outcomes involve an assessment of the impact of the products and services on their intended purposes and goals, usually in terms of the broader impact on the American public, like reducing death rates through improved safety programs.

A good starting point on general definitions is the Results Act Another more detailed description with plenty of examples is the OMB Primer on Performance Measurement.

Q 7. Customers and Stakeholders: How much do we have to involve people outside our agency in doing GPRA?

A A lot more than you ever have in the past. The Results Act states that "when developing a strategic plan, the agency shall consult with the Congress, and shall solicit and consider the views and suggestions of those entitities potentially affected by or interested in such a plan." That means a lot of people outside the agency: the Congress, other Federal agencies, OMB, public interest groups and associations, perhaps state and local governments, clients or customers of the agency's services, partners in providing the services.

While extensive public meetings and such are not required by the Act, having public input is both appropriate and a good idea. Those who include customers, clients, partners, and stakeholders find it helps clarify what's important and builds support. One good way to reach out to the public is for agencies to post strategic plans and annual performance plans on the web so that they are accessible to a wide variety of people and groups.

Don't expect it to be easy. You may have customers-clients-partners-stakeholders with divergent views on missions, desirable results, and some issues, as do the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service with such public interest groups as the Farm Bureau and the Sierra Club, for example. It's not always easy to include customers-clients-partners-stakeholders in discussions and to achieve a consensus. Sometimes the Federal Advisory Committee Act makes things even more complex. But if we're going to have a results-oriented government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," we've got to seek out this dialog and learn from it.

Q 8. Too Much: This is too complicated; there's too much workload; we've been downsized; everyone's on our case; management's all mixed up; our job descriptions don't fit; it's not on the GSA schedule; we don't have the resources: we can't worry about results too; it's too stressful. Why can't we just go back to the way things used to be?

AThe best reasons are given in earlier answers: restoring public confidence in government, contributing to better decisions about what government should do, improving management within government, serving our citizens, customers, clients and communities better.

You chose to work for government, for the common good of all us citizens. If you are like many of us, you chose it because you care about it and feel you have something to contribute. It is one of the most challenging, demanding jobs in society right now. You're up to it because you want to do it. Besides, things weren't really easier in "the good old days" -- memory has a way of glossing over the frustrations, the pains, the inefficiencies, the imperfections of earlier times. Participating in government, whether as an elected official, an appointee, career employee, or a volunteer has almost always been challenging and demanding, and it's even more so right now.

Please be open to change, to continuous learning, to contributing your talents to team work and accomplishment. Yes, change is difficult, sometimes painful, but there's no other choice. You will survive, and you can do it! We need your talent!

A tip of the hat and thanks to the National Park Service, who provided the kernel around which we built these FAQ's!

NPR Home Page Search the NPR Site NPR Initiatives Site Index Calendar Comments Awards Links Tools Frequently Asked Questions Speeches News Releases Library Navigation Bar For NPR site