Senators unveil bill to shape up agency performance

A bipartisan group of senators followed in House lawmakers' footsteps Tuesday, introducing legislation to dramatically reform the federal government's efforts to track and improve agency performance.

The 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act would require agencies to designate senior officials to serve as chief operating and performance improvement officers. The COO likely would be an agency deputy secretary while the performance improvement officer would be a senior executive, the bill states.

These two officials would be responsible for finding significant cost savings through the elimination of redundant programs, and for better coordinating common administrative functions such as purchasing.

As the first major revision to the landmark 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, the new legislation also mandates that agencies post quarterly performance updates on a single government website instead of submitting them to Congress annually.

"It's time to move beyond the debate over 'big' versus 'smaller' government to focus instead on real action we can take now to provide a much more efficient and effective government," said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., one of the bill's lead sponsors. "This proposal will require federal agencies to set clear goals, measure their results and publicly report on their findings. Our citizens -- our customers -- deserve to have regular reports about how their government is performing."

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee plans to vote on the bill on Wednesday morning. It will be considered as a substitute to similar legislation the House passed in June. Reps. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, spearheaded that effort.

The other sponsors of the Senate bill are Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del.; Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; Susan Collins, R-Maine; George Voinovich, R-Ohio; and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

The original Government Performance and Results Act for the first time required agencies to develop strategic plans for defining the long-term objectives of their programs. Agencies also had to draft annual plans to measure the performance of their budgeted programs and to report the actual results of each performance goal.

But, critics argue GPRA reporting requirements have become unnecessarily onerous. In the first year of its implementation, the new bill sets a goal for every agency to eliminate 10 percent of the outdated or duplicative reports previous presidential administrations or Congresses have mandated. In subsequent years, the Office of Management and Budget director will set a goal for cutting even more reports.

"Producing information does not by itself improve performance and experts from both sides of the aisle agree that the solutions developed in 1993 have not worked," Carper said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "The American people deserve -- and our fiscal challenges demand -- better results."

Lawmakers argue GRPA has created a wealth of performance data, but agencies rarely use that information to improve results.

"I hope to refocus agencies' efforts away from just producing performance measures and toward obtaining real results from those measurements," Lieberman said. "In providing the tools to determine which programs work and which don't, this legislation will help agencies achieve greater efficiency, transparency and accountability."

The bill builds on many of the transparency and accountability initiatives of the Obama administration. But the measure also has its roots in the George W. Bush administration's performance-based initiative. President Bush created the agency performance improvement officer position and their cooperative performance improvement council, in a November 2007 executive order. The House and Senate bills statutorily mandate the two positions.

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