Agencies’ performance reports fall short of expectations

The most recent round of performance reports by federal agencies still don't provide an adequate picture of how the government is performing, according to Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn, ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Earlier this year, Thompson asked that the General Accounting Office assess agencies' fiscal 2000 performance reports and determine how well the agencies are achieving key goals. The GAO has recently begun releasing its assessments. "Obviously, the [1993 Government Performance and] Results Act hasn't come close to reaching its potential as a tool to improve government performance," Thompson said at a June hearing about the reports. Under the act, federal agencies are required to craft five-year strategic plans, along with annual performance reports and performance plans. Last year, Thompson gave a resounding thumbs down to fiscal 1999 performance reports because most agencies didn't explain how well they were accomplishing their missions. His assessment of the fiscal 2000 performance reports was just as critical. "I think both rounds of performance reports suffer from major shortcomings that prevent them from being nearly as informative and useful as they need to be," Thompson said. Based on the GAO's reviews, Thompson found that fiscal 2000 performance reports suffered from four problems: inability to assess an agency's performance, the inability to compare programs across government, poor or inadequate data on performance, and an unwillingness among agencies to set goals to resolve long-standing problems, such as information technology weaknesses. "All this sounds like basic common sense, and it is," Thompson said, but "moving the federal government in this direction has been a real struggle." According to Thompson, while agencies put in a great deal of time preparing strategic plans, performance plans and performance reports, the documents have yet to yield information that Congress can use to help guide them during the appropriations process. "We might as well go on with business as usual in Washington, where expectations of the federal government are so low that we simply accept high levels of waste, fraud and inefficiency as normal costs of operations," Thompson said. Still, Thompson said he was hopeful the Bush administration would set higher standards for agencies. "Using the Results Act to actually make decisions is a top priority for the [Bush] administration. We can't afford to let this opportunity pass us by," Thompson said.
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