Score card would rate Congress on oversight

Lawmakers should receive grades on oversight of federal agencies, just as agencies receive quarterly scores on progress implementing President Bush's management agenda, an independent consultant said Wednesday.

The Office of Management and Budget's traffic-light-style management score card has "sure worked in getting agencies' attention," said John Mercer, a consultant who bills himself as the "father" of the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act. Mercer served as Republican counsel for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee for eight years. He has designed a score card that he hopes will receive similar attention from Congress.

The score card would allow observers to rate congressional hearings on a scale of 1 to 100, based on questions asked by lawmakers. Oversight committee members would earn points for inquiries about agencies' financial reports or audits, responses to General Accounting Office criticisms, performance goals, measures for evaluating progress, success at achieving goals, and integration of budget and performance information. Questions asked by the committee chairman would receive the most weight.

The numerical score from each hearing would later translate into a letter grade ranging from A to F. Mercer said he hopes that a think tank, watchdog group or academic institution will take on the task of regularly rating committee hearings and posting the evaluations.

The score card would not necessarily measure the quality of questions asked, Mercer said, but it would at least capture the extent to which lawmakers discuss federal management and attempt to hold agencies accountable for their performance.

For example, the ratings would show whether congressional committee members have reviewed agencies' strategic plans before hearings, Mercer noted. By asking even a couple of questions about these performance plans, lawmakers demonstrate that they "take this stuff seriously," he said. The inquiries send a message that agency mangers' "work isn't just paperwork," he added.

Appropriations committee members have been reluctant to use the Bush administration's management tools in budget decisions. In committee reports accompanying several of the fiscal 2004 spending bills, appropriators indicated that they were not prepared to see agencies submit performance-based budget documents, which are meant to help agencies link spending requests to performance goals, in lieu of traditional budget justifications.

Their reluctance is understandable, as appropriators are used to receiving information in a specific format that facilitates easy comparisons of annual changes in funding requests, Mercer said. Appropriators have to sort through large volumes of information over a relatively short time.

"Appropriators need to go back and look at program fundamentals," Mercer said. "As a practical matter, that's not easy. That's a good part of what they're reluctant about."

To help appropriators, Mercer recommended that authorizing committees, which set parameters for federal programs, take a lead role in the oversight process. Authorizers then could focus appropriators' attention on particular management problems.

Philip Joyce, associate professor of public policy and public administration at The George Washington University, has expressed similar views. If lawmakers spelled out performance standards in authorization bills, agencies would have an easier time prioritizing among strategic goals, he noted.

"[Authorizers] truly don't get into [performance] issues, and they should," Mercer said. The score card is aimed more at motivating authorizing committees to look at program management.

"Somebody could light a fire under [lawmakers'] seats by using a score card," Mercer said.

While spending is a major area of concern, score card grades would reflect lawmakers' attention to a host of other oversight responsibilities, Mercer emphasized.

Carl Metzger, director of the Springfield, Va.-based Government Results Center and a manager at Grant Thornton, said he is not yet familiar with Mercer's score card, but added that he approves of the idea in general. "It is helpful of course to have any attention to these things," he said.

If implemented, Mercer's grading system "couldn't hurt," Joyce said. Lawmakers might still lack adequate political motivation for doing "real" oversight rather than pointing fingers, he said, but "anything that creates incentives for agencies to look at programs comprehensively is a good thing."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.