Gearing up for GPRA

By partnering with employers and labor unions to boost workplace safety and health conditions, a reinventing OSHA is making friends in some unlikely places.


or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "New OSHA" reinvention activities couldn't have come at a better time. The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), which requires agencies to measure yearly progress toward set goals, was signed into law in 1993. That same year, former OSHA Administrator Joseph Dear took over the agency and began laying the groundwork for results-oriented reinvention reforms.

Though Dear wasn't thinking of GPRA when he started his reinvention effort, the two are based on similar concepts, notes David Zeigler, chief of OSHA's Directorate of Administrative Programs. "GPRA forces you to sit down, look at your whole strategy mission [and] your vision for the agency," he says. Then agencies must decide how best to measure whether they are fulfilling their objectives.

The new OSHA takes the same approach. In the past, OSHA relied on output counts, such as the total number of inspections conducted in a year, as primary performance measures. Now the agency is trying to gauge actual impact on safety and health rates by collecting and studying relevant data. OSHA's mission, after all, is to reduce accident rates.

"We see [inspection numbers] as very important indicators but they are not outcomes," Zeigler says. OSHA plans to use injury and illness data reported by employers directly to the agency, as well as information collected in the annual Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of workplace injuries and illnesses, to help evaluate the impact of inspections and other interventions.

Under GPRA, agencies must prepare a six-year strategic plan, annual performance plans and annual progress reports, beginning with fiscal year 1999. Strategic plans are due in September. "The strategic plan is really supposed to be a big picture kind of document," Zeigler says, adding that the annual performance plans will fill in details.

Zeigler wouldn't discuss specifics of OSHA's strategic plan, but said it would reflect major agency activities such as setting standards, enforcement, collecting statistics and technical support. To help design the plan , OSHA is drawing upon the results of its 1995 "priority planning process," in which stakeholders helped OSHA identify five issues for priority regulatory action and 13 for nonregulatory attention. OSHA also is discussing the evolving plan with stakeholders, as required by law.

As a GPRA pilot agency during fiscal years 1994 to 1996, OSHA had a chance to experiment with planning and evaluation methods. "The pilot years have educated us about what it's all about," Zeigler notes. "We don't have it perfected. . . . [But] we understand what we have to do."