Agency performance becoming an issue on Capitol Hill

Most members of Congress still don't pay much attention to the performance of federal agencies, but the situation is changing, according to a scholar at the Heritage Foundation.

In a recent report, Virginia Thomas, a senior fellow at Heritage, criticized Congress for failing to enforce the Government Performance and Results Act, the 1993 law that requires agencies to set performance goals each year and then report on whether they have met the goals.

Save for a few Congressional watchdogs who keep an eye on agency management- Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio and Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., for example- most members of Congress are focused more on passing laws than overseeing them, Thomas wrote in the paper.

But in an interview, she said there is hope that things are changing for the better on Capitol Hill.

"You can see some improvement in congressional debate on performance and accountability, but you still don't see a lot-just little blurbs of floor or committee discussion on the Results Act," Thomas said.

Lawmakers aren't basing their annual appropriations votes on federal agencies' performance reports yet, but there are glimmers of hope that Results Act is having an effect on the budgeting process, Thomas said.

For example, she noted, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education last year rewarded the Education Department with increased funding for the effective measures and solid performance of its adult education program.

While it may be too late for this Congress to truly use the Results Act, there are signs that the next administration-whether Republican or Democratic- will, Thomas said.

"The Bush and Gore people seem more interested in it than the Clinton folks or the current congressional leadership," Thomas said. "Better news is on the way."

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