GAO Gets Tough on Obama Implementation of Performance Act

Evan Vucci/AP

Though the Obama administration has made progress implementing the 2010 update to the central federal management performance law, agency managers continue to face obstacles in measuring improvements and the Office of Management and Budget has delayed issuing needed guidance, a new audit found.

The Government Accountability Office’s 83-page progress report on the 2010 Government Results and Performance Modernization Act gave agencies credit for pursuing cross-agency goals, establishing performance leadership objectives and maintaining the Performance.gov website, which provides quarterly updates on activity within and across agencies.

But “the executive branch needs to do more to fully implement and leverage the act’s provisions to address governance challenges,” the auditors said. “OMB and agencies have identified many programs and activities that contribute to goals, as required, but are missing additional opportunities to address crosscutting issues,” which are especially important in an era of budget austerity.

The chief example auditors gave is the need to identify tax expenditures, or tax code provisions that benefit taxpayers who meet specified criteria. Such provisions represented about $1 trillion in forgone revenue in fiscal 2012, “due to a lack of OMB guidance and oversight,” the auditors said.

Additionally, the survey of managers governmentwide found “too little improvement in managers’ reported use of performance information or practices that could help promote this use,” the report said. “There was a decline in the percentage of managers that agreed that their agencies’ top leadership demonstrates a strong commitment to achieving results.” And despite agency efforts to align daily operations with agency results, agencies continue to face long-standing issues with measuring performance across various programs and activities, an issue that should be addressed by the interagency Performance Improvement Council, the auditors recommended.

The report also suggested improved communication with stakeholders and stronger efforts to convert data into formats usable by lawmakers and their staff when they make decisions.

Executive branch responses to the report’s specific recommendations are pending.

The required report is based on agency manager surveys from August 2012 to June 2013, according to a letter from J. Christopher Mihm, GAO’s managing director of strategic issues, to Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Mark Warner, D-Va., leader of a special Senate Budget Committee performance task force, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

OMB’s performance functions are being handled on an acting basis by Dustin Brown, deputy assistant director for management. Jeffrey Zients, chief performance officer and acting budget director during Obama’s first term, left the White House in May, followed by Shelley Metzenbaum, OMB’s associate director for performance and personnel management, who is now directing a new government reform group led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

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