Marko Okjan/Shutterstock.com

Must-Reads in 2014: Agency Strategic Plans

Don’t overlook this treasure trove of useful information about performance and cross-agency goals.

Set your New Year’s resolutions now. In early 2014, for the first time, federal agencies will simultaneously submit refreshed strategic plans to Congress, covering the next four years. You should put them on your “must read” list for the New Year.

Many agencies have been quietly posting their draft strategic plans online for public comment, such as the draft plan for the Veterans Affairs Department. But the full set of finalized agency plans soon will be available, along with their fiscal 2015 annual performance plans. These should be a treasure trove of useful information if you are interested in understanding federal priorities and how cross-agency collaboration could be improved in coming years.

In addition, the Office of Management and Budget will submit a governmentwide performance plan covering an updated set of multiyear cross-agency priority goals. This will be a first-time effort, required by the same law requiring updated agency strategic and annual performance plans.  The governmentwide plan -- and all the agency strategic and performance plans -- will be posted on Performance.gov.

Agency-specific strategic plans. Strategic plans at the agency level have been required for years under the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act. Updates to that law, however, have changed the timetable for preparing them. The 2010 GPRA Modernization Act requires all agencies to present revised strategic plans to Congress one year after a president is elected (or re-elected), and the plans need to cover at least a four-year period. So they all are required to submit plans under the new requirements for the first time in February 2014. The OMB guidance for how agencies are to prepare their plans is flexible in terms of format, as it has been traditionally, to allow agencies to develop a strategy that works best for their needs and for their stakeholders.

For the first time all agencies will provide an update of their strategic plans at the same time and are expected to use some of the same definitions for key terms, such as “strategic goals” and “strategic objectives.” The plans now will be made available through Performance.gov. According to OMB, the goals and objectives will be sortable electronically. This means you will have easy access to supporting information from other agency performance plans and reports.

Once these updated strategic plans are developed, agencies are required by OMB to begin conducting annual “strategic reviews" to determine progress against the plan. A May 2013 memo from OMB Director Sylvia Burwell noted that the results of these reviews would be used to “inform the formulation of the 2016 budget and efforts to improve the impact of agency programs.”

Governmentwide strategic planning. The new law also directs OMB to develop a set of cross-agency priority goals. OMB has designated 15 such goals on an interim basis and will designate a new round of goals along with the new agency strategic plans and the president’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal, targeted for release in early 2014. By law, OMB is required to designate goals for mission-support functions -- such as procurement, finance and information technology -- as well as for mission-related areas like the goal to double U.S. exports, which affects about 14 agencies and more than 40 programs. The new GPRA law requires agency strategic plans to reflect, where relevant, the cross-agency priority goals and explain their roles in contributing to these broader cross-agency goals.

The governmentwide performance plan for these cross-agency goals will need to include:

  • Performance goals for each cross-cutting federal priority.
  • An inventory of all contributing programs, policies, regulations and tax expenditures for each performance goal.
  • Designation of a lead government official for each federal priority goal.
  • Common indicators to measure progress toward shared goals.
  • Management challenges to achieving shared goals and plans to address them.

Once available online, you’ll be able to see the breadth and scope of what the federal government does from a strategic perspective for the first time -- and track its progress on a regular basis. The challenge, of course, is the scale and detail of it all.

(Image via Marko Okjan/Shutterstock.com)

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