Agencies quietly submit annual performance reports to Congress

With virtually no fanfare, federal agencies submitted their annual performance reports to Congress last Friday.

Required under the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), the reports provide a snapshot of how well agencies are serving the public by discussing whether various performance targets were met during the past fiscal year. For example, the Transportation Department had some success at reducing fatalities on the nation's highways, but missed its target for convincing more Americans to wear seat belts in fiscal 2001.

By law, the reports were due last Friday, but the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is accepting reports that arrive after the deadline because of delays in receiving mail, according to a spokeswoman.

Through Wednesday, eight of the 24 agencies covered by the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act had posted the reports on their Web sites: the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Labor and Commerce, as well as the National Science Foundation, NASA, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Social Security Administration.

The release of the reports caused little stir across government. No agency held a press conference announcing its report, and only the Veterans Affairs department issued a press release.

As in previous years, agencies took different approaches in presenting their performance information. The departments of Veterans Affairs and Transportation organized their reports by strategic goals, while the Commerce Department report summarizes the accomplishments of individual Commerce bureaus. In certain cases, VA compared its performance to that of other managed health care organizations, while Transportation included budget data to show how its strategic missions have been funded over the years.

Agencies also outlined steps they are taking to comply with the Bush administration's management agenda. Both the VA and Transportation departments are restructuring some budget accounts to incorporate performance information, a Bush priority. The Transportation Department also pledged to let private firms compete for the jobs of 1,500 agency employees by the end of fiscal 2003, which would fulfill an Office of Management and Budget target for competitive sourcing.

Most performance reports are assembled by a handful of employees who coordinate the work of dozens of employees across an agency. Transportation has two employees that work full-time on performance reports and plans, but another 50 employees have a hand in the effort, said Jim McEntire, director of performance planning at the department. By fiscal 2003, Transportation intends to churn out performance reports on a quarterly or monthly basis to help managers improve operations, he said.

"GPRA is not about writing reports," said McEntire. "It's about improving performance on a day-to-day basis."

Performance planners will have less time to compile next year's performance reports. The deadline for fiscal 2002 reports and financial audits is Feb. 1, 2003, according to a Sept. 25 bulletin from OMB. Reports and audits will be submitted together, and OMB has directed agencies to include financial data that shows the cost of performance in the fiscal 2002 reports.

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., will release its annual evaluation of performance reports on May 15, according to a spokesman.

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