Federal leaders share Results Act lessons

klunney@govexec.com

The first phase of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) has taught agencies some valuable lessons: learn from mistakes, embrace criticism and set realistic, but challenging, goals.

Federal managers from the departments of Energy, Transportation and Veterans Affairs shared their insights on the performance measurement process Tuesday at the Excellence in Government 2000 conference.

The first annual performance reports under GPRA were due to Congress on March 31. The reports assess how well agencies met the goals outlined in their fiscal 1999 performance plans. GPRA, passed in 1993, requires agencies to write strategic plans and prepare annual performance plans and performance reports.

Sam Neill, a Coast Guard commander who led the development of the Transportation Department's 1999 and 2000 GPRA performance plans, offered advice for future administrations, listing three important characteristics of successful performance reporting:

  • Basic integrity in reporting:
    Agencies must make sure data is timely and performance measures are a valid reflection of that data, said Neill. Agencies need to be able to admit mistakes, correct them and, most importantly, understand why errors occurred.
  • Communication:
    The entire organization needs to be involved in sharing ideas and critiquing the process. An ongoing dialogue with employees and other stakeholders in performance measurement keeps everyone informed and opens the door for different perspectives. Giving employees access to performance measure data via an intranet, for example, will spark enthusiasm and fresh ideas, Neill said.
  • Openness to ideas and criticism:
    Welcoming new approaches, making changes to performance measures when necessary, and opening yourself up to outside scrutiny is essential to success, Neill noted.
Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, has praised DOT for its success in implementing GPRA.

Each speaker emphasized the importance of including employees and other stakeholders in the GPRA process. Jay Hakes, former administrator of the Energy Information Administration at the Energy Department, said that performance measures need to be developed in partnership with the whole organization. Employees need to buy in to the performance measure system, he said.

"Performance measures should not be used to play 'gotcha!," said Hakes.

Hakes said GPRA reports on entire Cabinet departments tend to be too broad. More planning and more thorough analysis can be accomplished at the bureau level, where the focus is more specific, he said.

The Excellence in Government conference continues through Thursday at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington.

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