Making Performance Matter

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, has pledged that the congressional leadership will make federal agencies stick to the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act during this year's budget process, forcing agencies to define their missions and goals and then find ways to measure how well they meet them.

Testifying yesterday at a hearing of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Armey said congressional commitment to implementing GPRA is the only way to ensure that agencies will develop performance measures that Congress can use to determine how effectively federal agencies are spending their money.

"We need the vital information on actual performance that the Results Act can provide," Armey said. "For the success of this new tool, each congressional committee and elected representative must devote more attention to each and every agency's major plans and objectives."

Armey also said representatives should be willing to scrutinize federal projects that provide dollars and jobs to their home districts.

"We all must show a new willingness to reexamine pet projects with an ear towards objective, credible information about the results of these programs," Armey said.

The Government Performance and Results Act, passed in 1993, gave the executive branch five years to figure out ways to measure agencies' performance by explaining how they are spending federal dollars to achieve their missions and goals. As John Koskinen, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, put it at yesterday's hearing, the basic question agencies must ask themselves is: "What are we getting for the money we are spending?"

In September, agencies must submit to Congress five-year strategic plans, which will include mission statements, sets of goals, and proposals for measuring the performance of the agencies' efforts. Specific performance plans will be required for the fiscal 1999 budget process.

The act requires agencies to include federal managers, employees, customers, and other stakeholders in the process of defining their goals. Armey said executive branch departments and their respective oversight committees in Congress should be discussing agency objectives, starting now.

And don't forget OMB. Koskinen said agencies are required to submit their proposals to OMB before officially turning them over to Congress to make sure they're in sync with the Administration's objectives.

Koskinen told the committee some agencies will have more difficulties than others meeting GPRA's requirements, because they have less tangible missions. Congress, hea said, should view the agencies' first year performance plans as the beginning of a process that will evolve over time.

"Preparing a good GPRA plan is not an easy task. Indeed, a plan easily prepared is likely to be a superficial plan. Therefore, no one should expect the first plans to be perfect," Koskinen said.

Armey said Congress would work cooperatively with agencies so that managers would not be put on the defensive.

'The Results Act should foster an atmosphere in federal service where employees better understand what they do and the results their agencies are trying to achieve," Armey said. "This law was enacted to ensure that every employee's work would be value-added to public service."

Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., said GPRA should be used to make the federal government accountable to taxpayers. "The results act is the key to reforming government now and into the future," Burton said.

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