House panel votes to require reviews of federal programs

The decade-old Government Performance and Results Act could be amended to include a requirement for program reviews, under legislation approved Wednesday by a House Government Reform subcommittee.

The Efficiency and Financial Management Subcommittee approved the measure (H.R. 3826) -- sponsored by Subcommittee Chairman Todd Platts of Pennsylvania -- on a voice vote.

GPRA "has laid a solid foundation for agencies working with Congress to set strategic goals and being able to utilize performance-based information," said Platts, who added that a recent General Accounting Office report however indicated program evaluation is ar area in which federal agencies "consistently come up short."

Platt's bill would amend GPRA with a provision requiring every program to be assessed at least once every five years.

"By requiring [the Office of Management and Budget] to be responsible for overseeing program assessment data, we will take a great step forward in realizing the reform envisioned by GPRA and make the federal government more efficient and results-oriented," Platts said.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Edolphus Towns of New York, however, said he is "extremely skeptical that this legislation is going to have any effect." Towns said attempts at performance-based budgeting over the past 10 years have had only a minimal positive impact on government performance.

According to the subcommittee, the legislation:

  • Requires the director of the Office of Management and Budget to review each program activity at least once every five fiscal years.
  • Calls for the OMB director, in conducting a review of a program activity, to coordinate with the relevant agency and to evaluate each program activity's purpose, design, strategic plan, management, results, and any other appropriate matters.
  • Orders the OMB director to develop criteria for deciding which programs to review each fiscal year, taking into account the advantages of reviewing program activities with similar functions or purposes during the same fiscal year.
  • Requires OMB to submit the results of the reviews for a fiscal year to Congress along with the president's next budget following the end of the fiscal year in which the reviews were conducted.
Platts offered a substitute amendment, spelling out more specific criteria to be used in evaluating programs. The amendment also would increase the level of coordination between OMB and the agency being examined. Finally, the provision would set a termination date for these assessments of September 30, 2013, after two of the 5-year assessment cycles have been completed. The panel accepted Platt's substitute by voice vote.

Towns offered an amendment requiring OMB to provide public notice at the start of each new fiscal year of which program to be assessed that year. After receiving public comments on the programs, OMB would have to publish performance goals, assessment criteria, and a summary of public comments for each program it plans to assess that year. The subcommittee approved Towns' amendment by voice vote.

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