The Results Act is dead; long live the Results Act

alaurent@govexec.com

I come here not to praise the Results Act, but to bury it. You can tell it's dead by the way the Clinton administration is handling it-at arm's length, like something that smells.

March 2000 should have been the capstone month for the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, as it's officially called. After all, this month the seven-year-old law finally comes to fruition: Agencies are to deliver their first-ever GPRA annual performance reports on the 31st. Given all the fuss about Results Act strategic and performance plans-grades from Congress, hearings, guides from the Office of Management and Budget and the General Accounting Office-you'd think all of Washington would be lining up for a glimpse at the real thing: Results Act results.

But no one in the Clinton Office of Management and Budget or the Gore National Partnership for Reinventing Government is planning to do anything special to mark the performance reports. No ceremony, no press event, not even a publication.

In December, the NPR exhorted agencies to use their performance reports as a "strategic opportunity" to tell their stories to Congress and the public. But in March, the NPR apparently won't be spinning any stories at all. Ironic, isn't it? Just as Mr. Reinvention, Al Gore, comes into his own as the Democratic nominee for 2000, he takes a pass on the first real report card on government performance during his vice presidency.

If the results of the Results Act aren't important enough to even stir the "works better, costs less" administration, then you needn't ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for GPRA. As a result of this remarkable lack of interest, almost no one knows that a few agencies already have released their 1999 performance reports.

For example, the Social Security Administration's report came out last November to no fanfare at all. The Defense Department's is an appendix to Defense Secretary William Cohen's annual report to Congress. The Health and Human Services Department's results are larded through the 2001 budget requests for all of its sub-agencies. So far, no one in the Clinton administration plans to aggregate the reports in any way. Those few benighted souls who actually care about government performance have a frustrating game of hide and seek ahead of them.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Just a year ago, NPR chief Morley Winograd was making noises about using the Results Act reports as a tool to boost Gore's campaign at a critical juncture. But in early March, Winograd was on leave drumming up Gore votes in California. Looks like he was too busy to plan a performance PR campaign.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-Texas, appears to have passed the title of Results Act knuckle-rapper to Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. Once GAO has ferreted out all the hidden performance reports for the committee, Thompson plans to use them to praise agencies that demonstrate results and criticize those that don't. Anyone want to make bets on how many praiseworthy agencies the committee turns up?

"For the first time, Congress will see what results taxpayer-funded programs are achieving," Thompson says. "For the Results Act to mean anything, it will be up to Congress to hold agencies accountable for those results." His committee recently co-hosted with George Mason University's Mercatus Center a seminar to prepare Hill staffers for the upcoming reports.

Mercatus Center Public Sector Leadership Director Maurice McTigue, a former New Zealand cabinet minister and member of the country's parliament, also plans to score the reports of the 24 departments covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act by May 1. His team will be looking at things like readability, how well agencies demonstrate that their outputs affect results people care about, and whether they identify management challenges and explain failures. Presumably, an agency could score well with mediocre performance if it hired a top-notch PR firm to write its report.

There's still time for the administration, Congress and the GPRA consulting world to wake up and do some Results Act PR. Making a fuss over GPRA results is the least they could do after torturing agencies with grades all through the planning process. Further, it would be a way to demonstrate to the folks running all those government programs that someone actually notices whether their efforts are making a difference or not.

And just for kicks, maybe someone could remember the point of the law: to bring back the public's trust in government by showing them what they're getting for their tax dollars. It's really quite a lot in most agencies, if anyone cared to notice.

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