Report on GPRA Panel from May 27, 1997 American Association for Budget and Program Analysis Spring Symposium

These notes from a session on GPRA were supplied by Brad Leonard, an NPR alumnus now enjoying retirement. He says the views and any misstatements are his own.

GPRA: Ready, Set, and...

A panel at the May 27th American Association for Budget and Program Analysis Spring Symposium delved into progress and problems in the implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act. Mike Curro from GAO moderated the panel, which included Walter Groszyk from OMB, Chris Mihm from GAO, and Ginni Thomas from the Office of the Majority Leader, US House of Representatives. Mike noted that only 3 months remained until agency draft strategic plans were due in OMB, with submission to the Congress by September 30th. Agency annual performance plans are due to OMB in September and to the Congress in early February 1998.

OMB's assessment of progress in implementing the Results Act was sent to the Hill last week (it will shortly be available on NPR's Managing for Results page The GAO assessment is due June 2nd and will be available from GAO's home page

Both reports will probably appear on the Congressional Institute's Results Act page

Walter noted that reviews of some strategic plans by OMB had been going on since 1995, but still there was a sense of anxiety as many more tumbled in the door. He enumerated the problems with strategic plans as:

He noted that a new Part 2 to OMB Circular A-11 was to be issued later this week (watch for it on the OMB web site that would give guidance on annual performance plans. These annual performance plans will go through three iterations: first to OMB in September, later revised to be consistent with budget decisions and submitted to the Congress in February, optionally revised in September-October to incorporate Congressional action by the authorizing and appropriation committees to become the annual operating plan.

OMB is tasked with developing a governmentwide performance operating plan,in effect summarizing agency performance plans. The design and content is now being worked on, but it is likely to be by budget function and subfunction and to require crosswalking by agency.

Chris Mihm stated that GAO is going to give a more optimistic review of progress. Although progress to date is highly uneven, the basic model of setting goals and performance measures works. There are lots of examples across the Federal government, pockets of improved effectiveness due to the process. He addressed the same five problem areas identified by Walter.

  1. the disconnect: the greatest challenge to implementation, because agencies have difficulty expressing how day-to-day operations affect outcomes. To illustrate why this is difficult, he gave K thru 12 education as an example. The Federal government supplies about 6% of the national K-12 education budget. Research has shown the three variables that most affect a child's progress are:

      1. the number of hours the TV is on (an inverse relationship),
      2. the number of times a family eats dinner together, and
      3. the number of hours each evening a child spends reading or is read to. None of these are direct outputs of Department of Education programs.

  2. the lack of coordination: Chris counted some 25 interagency groups meeting, but all but 1 or 2 focused on process rather than substance. There is lots of overlap and duplication among agency programs, much of it intentional in legislation, and this presents a difficult policy challenge.

  3. The late start in consultations: a problem for many reasons. Many agencies should be addressing competing goals in their strategic plans, again frequently intentional in legislation, and many members of Congress want to see how they are being balanced in the strategic plans. As an example of competing goals in an agency, he mentioned the Forest Service: timber harvesting, environmental protection, recreation.

  4. Lack of senior leadership attention: much of the attention appears to be "lip service," saying all the right things, but the decisions being made are not related to goals and performance.

  5. Unrealistic goals: to be expected. The Australians warned us that many agencies would put forward "ending world hunger" goals that couldn't be met in this budget climate in this millenium. Also, many agencies lack baseline and trend data and can't construct convincing rationales for their goals and performance objectives.

Ginni Thomas mentioned the need for idealism, optimism, and hope, rather than the cynicism for which Washington is famous, in implementing the Results Act. She posed the question: If the era of big government is really over, what's the smart way to decide which federal programs continue? There are 35 food safety programs in 12 different agencies, 163 job training programs in 15 different agencies. The Results Act provides a mechanism for sorting, considering, and deciding.

The majority party is making an effort to make this a bipartisan effort, opening doors to participation by the minority party. The House has 25 team leaders, with one point person for each agency to make it easier for agencies to approach the tangled jurisdictions of committees on the Hill.

The Senate is doing the same. Many members of Congress feel that Congress needs to be involved beyond passing a law and believing that a problem is solved. How the additional information provided by Results Act implementation will be used and affect legislative and appropriation outcomes remains to be seen, but the dynamics relating to the use of the information extends beyond Congress to outside interests and the taxpayers themselves.

She also noted that Congress was not pleased with consultation to date.

The House leadership has a conference call with John Koskinen in OMB every two weeks or so to discuss progress and recruit OMB assistance. There is an agency trouble list, watch list, and "good guy" list. Which agencies are on which list changes frequently, but as of a week ago, some of the agencies on the trouble list included DoD, Energy, EPA, Interior, OPM, and HUD. Most of this is process-driven rather than substantive at this point -- which agencies have been up to consult and which have not.

A number of questions were asked of the panel. Here is a summary of the questions and answers on topics of general interest:

When asked for success stories in performance planning, Chris mentioned experience in states, several foreign countries, and the US pilots in the Veterans Health Administration, the Coast Guard, and the Social Security Administration. Ginni added New York City on crime reduction and federal efforts among the foreign policy agencies. Walter noted that what the Federal government has done up to now surpasses by a wide margin what other countries have done, a fact later emphasized by Chris.

Someone asked whether pressure on spending helped or hindered the implementation of the Results Act. The panel was unanimous in answering that it was a positive assistance, that others who had had success had done so under fiscal pressure, and that the fiscal pressure encouraged a need to know what was working and what wasn't.

Whether tax expenditures as an alternative to direct program spending would come under scrutiny also was asked. Walter noted that it was a requirement in Results Act report language and that the first three analyses of tax expenditures would be included in the 1999 budget. He also noted that the third leg of the stool -- regulation -- would also come under scrutiny.

Ginni noted that if Rep. Armey's flat tax proposal were adopted, issues over tax expenditures wouldn't arise.

How annual audited financial statements would fit into the GPRA framework was raised. Walter responded that the first of these reports would be due March 31, 2000, and that he had been told that there was a 97% probability that these will be meshed into the accountability reports required by GMRA.

OMB is still developing guidance on these reports. Chris added that GPRA implementation won't be successful unless there is a linkage, that Congress set the March 31st submission date for a reason to fit in with their review schedule, and that Congress needed to know what performance was achieved at what cost.

DoD is apparently using its long-established five year planning process for meeting its GPRA strategic planning requirement. I didn't fully understand the interplay on this question, but I gather that DoD has focused on its force structure planning rather than GPRA implementation and there is now a DoD internal memorandum that has prompted some components to start developing complimentary strategic plans to meet the full GPRA requirement.

Several questions related to how to tell whether the Results Act was really having an impact on decisionmaking. Chris suggested looking at the hearing schedule for evidence, particularly as the annual performance plans come out. Ginni mentioned that recent efforts to saturate the Hill with an understanding of the Results Act was beginning to show real signs of progress, as with the new housing bill and the State Department reorganization bill.

Several points I picked up in various personal conversations with attendees and in poking around with what's happening with GPRA implementation in the agencies:

Postscript June 6th: The OMB Report, the GAO Report, and OMB Circular A-11 with instructions concerning GPRA strategic plans and annual performance plans have all been issued in hard copy. The OMB report is available electronically on the NPR site, and the GAO report will be shortly.

The GAO report is available on the GAO site, but you have to dig to find it.

OMB Circular A-11 is not yet available on the web, but should be posted on OMB's home page in a week to 10 days. The problem there is converting some of the graphics to html. As a matter of policy, OMB does not put up documents in pdf format until there is also a version in html for viewers who don't have pdf.

Some have asked about OMB Memorandum 97-3 which talks about consulting with the Congress. OMB as a matter of policy does not put its Memoranda on the web, but you can get a copy through fax on demand on 202-395-9068 and playing with your fax machine, so I'm told. And only some OMB bulletins are posted, their choice on which. They have a very formal decision process on what gets posted. It may aid communication and understanding for you to know what rules their staff must abide by. OMB is very much into the information age and does have an informative and useful intranet site for staff use, but it's behind an impregnable firewall none of us will ever breach.

Some of you have asked about examples of annual performance plans.

Given that important guidance is just coming out and given the nature of the executive budget review (that is, basically handled as privileged information until the President's budget is released in February), it's very possible you won't see any openly available on the Internet until February 1998 or later. The annual performance plans and specific performance targets are considered by OMB to be privileged during the fall budget development, not part of consultation with the Hill, although illustrative or typical examples of measures may come up in discussions of strategic plans. What happens within the Executive Branch is not exactly clear, but agencies traditionally don't talk a lot with one another during budget formulation and review. Some might wonder whether this could lead to some rather interesting situations this year, since agencies will be pursuing some related or perhaps even common outcome goals and interrelated performance targets.

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