Agencies tighten the link between budget and performance

Nearly 30 federal agencies were able to show a direct link between budget requests and performance plans in fiscal 2002, according to a General Accounting Office report released Thursday. The 1993 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) requires agencies to develop performance-based goals and strategic plans to help them fulfill their missions. GPRA also calls for a more direct connection between budget requests and anticipated performance results. But in the years since its implementation, agencies have struggled to make the connection, amid much criticism from Congress. Most agencies link budget requests to expenses, such as salaries, travel and equipment, rather than to performance results. In its report, "Managing for Results: Agency Progress in Linking Performance Plans with Budgets and Financial Statements" (GAO-02-236), GAO reviewed the progress of 35 agencies in achieving a closer connection among performance planning, budgeting and financial reporting. The study found that almost 75 percent of the agencies made the connection in fiscal 2002, compared with 40 percent in fiscal 1999. "After years of asking agencies to provide more information on what results the American people are getting for their investment in the federal government, GAO is reporting that agencies are improving," said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., who requested the report. "We should keep up the pressure so that eventually we can tell the American people what level of performance to expect from the programs we choose to fund." Agencies used different methods to achieve the goal, GAO found. The Environmental Protection Agency assigned program goals, such as reducing acid rain, to specific budget accounts. The Department of Housing and Urban Development linked its budget requests to each of its five general goals, such as ensuring equal opportunity in housing. Despite the improvement, GAO found that most agencies focused on general goals and did not get as specific as needed to help Congress make informed budget decisions and to help federal managers figure out how best to meet their missions. The Office of Management and Budget declined to comment on the report, but OMB is requiring agencies to submit performance-based budgets for selected programs with their fiscal 2003 budget requests. In a letter to OMB Director Mitch Daniels, Thompson asked for a progress report on agency compliance. "If we are to achieve the benefits of performance budgeting--the ability to communicate what results we are getting from government--we must insist that agencies do better," Thompson wrote.
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