How to show Congress your program is working

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is among the lawmakers who requested the guidelines. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is among the lawmakers who requested the guidelines. Alex Brandon/AP
The Government Accountability Office on Friday sent Congress a set of guidelines for easing communication between agencies and congressional staff who evaluate program performance.


The guide fleshes out principles in the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, using case studies of programs to transform the processing of immigration benefits; to coordinate U.S. efforts to address the global HIV/AIDS pandemic; and to identify and address improper payments made by federal programs.

“As our annual reports on duplication, overlap and fragmentation in the federal government have recently highlighted,” GAO wrote, “there are a number of cross-cutting areas where performance information is limited or does not exist. Even in instances where agencies produce a great deal of performance information, our past work has shown that it does not always reach the interested parties in Congress, and when it does, the information may not be timely or presented in a manner that is useful for congressional decision-making.”

The guidelines were requested by Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia; Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the panel’s Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security; and Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee’s Task Force on Government Performance.

Under the updated performance act, agencies are required to work with the Office of Management and Budget to consult with congressional committees on cross-cutting priorities and goals. Agencies then adjust their strategic plans accordingly. Hurried congressional staff benefit from having performance information in formats conducive to incorporating it into decisions on reauthorizations, appropriations, budgets and oversight.

“As the case study on addressing improper payments shows,” auditors wrote following a six-month study, “when it is clear that agencies are not meeting performance expectations, Congress has provided agencies with additional authorities and required alternate approaches to achieve results.”

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