Managing for Results: Building on Agencies' Strategic Plans to Improve Federal Management

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-10-30.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                       United States General Accounting Office

GAO                    Testimony
                       Before the Committee on Government Reform and
                       House of Representatives

Not to Be Released
Before 2:00 p.m. EST
                       MANAGING FOR RESULTS
October 30, 1997

                       Building on Agencies’
                       Strategic Plans to Improve
                       Federal Management
                       Statement for the Record by James F. Hinchman
                       Acting Comptroller General of the United States


Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
Strategic Plans to Improve Federal
               Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

               I am pleased to be here today to discuss the strategic plans that agencies
               submitted to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in
               September and how Congress and the agencies can build on those plans to
               more effectively implement the Government Performance and Results Act,
               which is known as the Results Act or GPRA.

               In recent years, governments around the world, including ours, have faced
               a citizenry that is demanding that government become at once more
               effective and less costly.1 These twin demands are the broad forces behind
               the move to a performance-based approach to management in public
               sector organizations—the most important effort to improve government
               management in over a generation.

               In my appearance before this Committee last February, I discussed the
               statutory framework that Congress has established as part of the federal
               government’s response to the public’s demands for improved federal
               management.2 That framework, which was enacted under the leadership
               of this Committee and the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs,
               includes as its essential elements the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act;
               information technology reform legislation, including the Paperwork
               Reduction Act of 1995 and the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996; and the Results
               Act. If effectively implemented, this statutory framework promises to
               bring a more disciplined approach to federal management and to provide
               Congress and agency decisionmakers with vital information to better
               assess the performance and costs of federal programs.

               I said in February that the agency strategic planning and congressional
               consultation process, which was just beginning at that point, provided an
               important opportunity to establish the foundation for making the needed
               improvements in federal management. Over the last several months, as
               agencies were developing their strategic plans, Congress and agencies
               have taken advantage of the consultation process to work together.
               Congress clearly underscored its commitment to the Results Act in the
               correspondence between the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leaders

                See, for example, Managing for Results: Experiences Abroad Suggest Insights for Federal
               Management Reform (GAO/GGD-95-120, May 2, 1995); Managing for Results: State Experiences
               Provide Insights for Federal Management Reforms (GAO/GGD-95-22, Dec. 21, 1994); and Government
               Reform: Goal-Setting and Performance (GAO/AIMD/GGD-95-130R, Mar. 27, 1995).
                Managing for Results: Using GPRA to Assist Congressional and Executive Branch Decisionmaking
               (GAO/T-GGD-97-43, Feb. 12, 1997).

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Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
Strategic Plans to Improve Federal

of the Senate and House, and other senior Members of Congress and the
Director of OMB on the Majority’s expectations for consultation.

In addition to the many consultations and the feedback provided to
agencies, congressional committees, particularly in the House, conducted
numerous oversight hearings on agencies’ progress in developing strategic
plans. Signalling their commitment to improving federal management and
implementing the Results Act, the Appropriations Committees have clearly
indicated their intention to support and extend the use of agency goals and
performance measures during the appropriations process. This should
allow the Appropriations Committees to reap the byproducts of better
management and better data for guiding budget decisions.

The active bipartisan engagement of Members and congressional staff
unquestionably contributed to the progress that agencies have made in
developing strategic plans. On the whole, these plans should prove useful
to Congress in undertaking the full range of its appropriation, budget,
authorization, and oversight responsibilities and to agencies in setting a
general direction for their efforts. Nonetheless, agencies’ strategic
planning efforts, and more generally the implementation of the Results
Act, are still very much a work in progress. The strategic plans that
agencies recently provided to Congress and OMB are only the starting
points for the broad transformation that is needed to successfully
implement performance-based management, and, as expected, difficult
implementation issues remain to be addressed.

At the request of this Committee and others in Congress, we have
produced a large body of work in recent years that assessed agencies’
efforts in beginning to implement the Results Act and highlighted the
major implementation challenges that need to be addressed.3 Most
recently, Mr. Chairman, you and others in the Majority Leadership asked
us to review agencies’ draft strategic plans as well as their September
submissions to Congress and OMB. In July and August, we issued separate
reports on the draft plans that 27 agencies provided to Congress as part of
the consultation process. We then issued a report summarizing our
reviews of the draft plans, which highlighted the key planning issues that
were most in need of sustained attention.4 Not surprisingly, many of the
key planning issues that emerged, such as the need to coordinate

 See, for example, The Government Performance And Results Act: 1997 Governmentwide
Implementation Will Be Uneven (GAO/GGD-97-109, June 2, 1997).
 Managing for Results: Critical Issues for Improving Federal Agencies’ Strategic Plans
(GAO/GGD-97-180, Sept. 16, 1997).

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                     Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
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                     crosscutting program efforts and ensure that data are sufficiently accurate
                     and reliable, are consistent with the Results Act implementation
                     challenges that we had been reporting on for some time. Our reviews of
                     the September plans found that, while some progress had been made in
                     addressing these issues, they likely will continue to challenge agencies’
                     further efforts to implement the Results Act.

                     The Results Act requires that strategic plans include six broad
September Plans      elements—mission statements, general goals and objectives, strategies for
Generally Included   achieving goals, a description of the relationship between general goals
Required Elements    and annual performance goals, key external factors, and a description of
                     the actual use and planned use of program evaluations. When we reviewed
                     the draft plans that 27 agencies provided to Congress for consultation, we
                     found that all but six of the plans were missing at least one required
                     element and that about a third were missing two of the six required
                     elements. In addition, just over a fourth of the plans failed to cover at least
                     three of the required elements. Moreover, we found that many of the
                     elements that the plans included contained weaknesses—some that were
                     more significant than others. We noted in our September report that
                     complete strategic plans were crucial if they were to serve as a basis for
                     guiding agencies’ operations and help congressional and other
                     policymakers make decisions about activities and programs.5

                     On the basis of our preliminary reviews of major agencies’ September
                     plans, it appears that, on the whole, the agencies made a concerted effort
                     during August and September to improve their plans. For example, all of
                     the September plans we reviewed contained at least some discussion of
                     each element required by the Act. And, in many cases, those elements that
                     had been included in the draft plans for consultation were substantially
                     improved. This improvement is in large part a reflection of the dialogue
                     that occurred between the agencies and Congress and is therefore also a
                     reflection of the value of the Results Act requirement for such
                     consultations. These plans appear to provide a workable foundation for
                     the next phase of the Results Act’s implementation—annual performance
                     planning and measurement.

                      GAO/GGD-97-180, Sept. 16, 1997.

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                           Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
                           Strategic Plans to Improve Federal

                           As Congress and agencies build on the strategic planning and other
Critical                   Results Act efforts undertaken thus far, our work suggests that several
Implementation             critical issues will have to be addressed if the Results Act is to succeed in
Issues Remain to Be        improving the management of federal agencies. Among these critical
                           issues are the need to (1) clearly establish a strategic direction for
Addressed as Efforts       agencies by improving goal-setting and performance measurement;
Under the Results Act      (2) improve the management of crosscutting program efforts by ensuring
                           that those programs are appropriately coordinated; and (3) ensure that
Proceed                    agencies have the data systems and analytic capacity in place to better
                           assess program results and costs, improve management and performance,
                           and establish accountability. The forthcoming annual performance
                           planning and measurement and performance-reporting phases of the
                           Results Act provide important opportunities to address these
                           long-standing management issues.

Clarify a Strategic        It appears that agencies generally have taken the first steps toward
Direction to Guide Daily   establishing a strategic direction in their September plans, which should
Operations                 be useful to agencies as they move to the next phase of performance-based
                           management—that is, performance planning and measurement. However,
                           the strategic plans are still very much works in progress, and agencies will
                           likely need to revisit their strategic planning efforts as they develop the
                           forthcoming annual performance plans. As agencies develop those plans,
                           they will need to ensure that goals and strategies are appropriate given the
                           current fiscal environment and that goal-setting and performance
                           measurement efforts form the basis for managing program products,
                           services, and daily activities.

                           We found that agencies need to continue to make progress in refining
                           goals and objectives to better specify the results that they intend to
                           achieve. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services has
                           made progress over the last few months in developing objectives that, for
                           the most part, are results-oriented and measurable. However, ensuring that
                           goals are as results-oriented as they can be and are expressed in a manner
                           that enables a subsequent assessment of whether the goals were achieved
                           is a continuing challenge for agencies and Congress.6 As an agency
                           develops its performance plan, which is to contain the annual goals it will
                           use to track progress toward its longer term strategic goals, it likely will
                           identify opportunities to revise and clarify those strategic goals in order to
                           provide a better grounding for the direction of the agency.

                            GAO/GGD-97-180, Sept. 16, 1997.

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Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
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In addition, as an agency seeks to further refine its goals, it also will need
to ensure that it can articulate linkages between strategies, programs, and
initiatives to achieve those goals.7 We noted some improvements in the
September plans; however, we found that those plans did not always
establish clear linkages between goals, objectives, and strategies. The
annual performance plans represent the next chance for agencies to
establish such linkages so that agency managers and Congress will be
better able to judge whether an agency is making annual progress toward
achieving strategic goals.

Thus, as agencies and Congress begin to implement annual performance
planning, it will be particularly important to reinforce linkages among
goals and activities. Specifically, our work has shown that the successful
implementation of performance-based management as envisioned by the
Results Act will require agencies to link the goals and performance
measures of each organizational level to successive levels and ultimately
to the strategic plan’s long-term goals so that the strategic goals and
objectives drive the agencies’ day-to-day activities.8 Therefore, agencies’
annual performance plans will be most useful if the annual goals contained
in those plans show clear and direct relationships in two directions—to
the goals in the strategic plans and to operations and activities within the

Concerning the plans’ discussions of agencies’ operations and activities, in
some cases, the September strategic plans improved on the draft plans and
now provide a better basis for understanding how the agency plans to
accomplish many of its goals. For example, the plan for the Department of
Energy (DOE) contains a section on resource requirements that provides a
helpful discussion of the money, staff, workforce skills, and facilities that
the agency plans to employ to meet its goals. The plan explains that DOE’s
strategies for its goal of supporting national security are to include
changes in the skills of its workforce and in the construction of new
experimental test facilities. On the whole, however, agencies’
consideration of the resources necessary to achieve goals is one particular
area where continuing improvement efforts are needed. The annual
performance planning process offers an opportunity for substantial
progress in this area.

 See Executive Guide: Effectively Implementing the Government Performance and Results Act
(GAO/GGD-96-118, June 1996); Agencies’ Strategic Plans Under GPRA: Key Questions to Facilitate
Congressional Review (GAO/GGD-10.1.16, May 1997); as well as our reports on agencies’ draft
strategic plans.
 GAO/GGD-96-118, June 1996.

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Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
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While some of the plans we reviewed contain separate sections on
resources, including financial and human resources, the sections
sometimes lack a discussion of information, capital, and other resources
that are critical to achieving goals. For example, few plans discuss
physical capital resources, such as facilities and equipment. Although
many agencies may not rely heavily on physical capital resources, some of
those that do, such as the General Services Administration (GSA) and the
National Park Service, a component of the Department of the Interior,
appear to provide relatively little focused discussion on their capital needs
and usage.

Another area that is critical to agencies striving to improve operations is
information technology. The government’s track record in employing
information technology to improve operations and address mission-critical
problems is poor, and the strategic plans we reviewed often contain only
limited discussions of technology issues. For example, GSA’s plan does not
explicitly discuss major management problems or identify which problems
could have an adverse impact on the agency’s meeting its goals and
objectives. The plan does not address, for instance, how GSA plans to
ensure that its information systems meet computer security requirements.
The lack of such a discussion in the GSA and other plans is of particular
concern because without it agencies cannot be certain that they are
(1) addressing the federal government’s information technology problems
and (2) better ensuring that technology acquisition and use are targeted
squarely on program results.

Linking performance goals to the federal government’s budget and
appropriations processes is another area where establishing clear linkages
will be especially important as agencies and Congress move to
implementation of the annual performance planning and measurement
phase of the Results Act. Unlike previous federal initiatives, the Results
Act requires agencies to plan and measure performance using the same
structures that form the basis for their budget requests.9 This critical
design element is meant to ensure a simple, straightforward link among
plans, budgets, and performance information and the related
congressional oversight and resource allocation processes. However, the
extent to which existing budget structures are suitable for Results Act
purposes will likely vary widely and therefore will require coordinated and
recurring attention by Congress and the agencies.

Performance Budgeting: Past Initiatives Offer Insights for GPRA Implementation (GAO/AIMD-97-46,
Mar. 27, 1997).

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                          Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
                          Strategic Plans to Improve Federal

Coordinate Crosscutting   A focus on results, as envisioned by the Results Act, implies that federal
Program Efforts           programs that contribute to the same or similar results should be closely
                          coordinated to ensure that goals are consistent and, as appropriate,
                          program efforts are mutually reinforcing.10 This suggests that federal
                          agencies are to look beyond their organizational boundaries and
                          coordinate with other agencies to ensure that their efforts are aligned. We
                          have found that uncoordinated program efforts can waste scarce funds,
                          confuse and frustrate program customers, and limit the overall
                          effectiveness of the federal effort.11

                          During the summer of 1996, in reviewing early strategic planning efforts,
                          OMB alerted agencies that augmented interagency coordination was needed
                          at that time to ensure consistency among goals in crosscutting programs
                          areas. It appears that the agencies did not consistently follow OMB’s advice
                          because the draft strategic plans we reviewed this summer often lacked
                          evidence that agencies in crosscutting program areas had worked with
                          other agencies to ensure goals were consistent, strategies coordinated,
                          and, as appropriate, performance measures similar.

                          Since then, however, the agencies appear to have begun the necessary
                          coordination. Some September plans, for example, often contained
                          references to other agencies that shared responsibilities in a crosscutting
                          program area or discussed the need to coordinate their programs with
                          other agencies. For example, the September plan of the Environmental
                          Protection Agency (EPA) contains an appendix that lists the federal
                          agencies with which EPA coordinated. This appendix describes the major
                          steps in the coordination process and lists by strategic goal the agencies
                          with which greater integration and review of efforts will be needed.
                          Similarly, the Department of Transportation’s plan contains a table that
                          shows the contributions of other federal agencies to each of its major
                          mission areas.

                          Presentations such as EPA’s and Transportation’s could be especially
                          helpful to Congress in identifying program areas to monitor for overlap
                          and duplication. These presentations, and similar ones in other agencies’
                          September plans that identify agencies with crosscutting program
                          responsibilities, provide a foundation for the much more difficult work
                          that lies ahead. That work involves moving agencies that share
                          crosscutting program responsibilities to undertake substantive

                           Managing for Results: Using the Results Act to Address Mission Fragmentation and Program Overlap
                          (GAO/AIMD-97-146, Aug. 29, 1997).
                            GAO/GGD-97-109, June 2, 1997.

                          Page 7                                                                 GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-98-29
                           Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
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                           coordination to ensure that those responsibilities are being effectively

                           The next phases of the Results Act implementation continue to offer a
                           structured framework to address crosscutting issues. For example, the
                           Act’s emphasis on results-based performance measures as part of the
                           annual performance planning process should lead to more explicit
                           discussions concerning the contributions and accomplishments of
                           crosscutting programs and encourage related programs to develop
                           common performance measures. As agencies work with OMB to develop
                           their annual performance plans, they can consider the extent to which
                           agency goals are complementary and the need for common performance
                           measures to allow for cross-agency evaluations. The Results Act’s
                           requirement that OMB prepare a governmentwide performance plan that is
                           based on the agencies’ annual performance plans also can be used to
                           facilitate the identification of program overlap, duplication, and

                           If agencies and OMB use the annual planning process to highlight
                           crosscutting program issues, the individual agency performance plans and
                           the governmentwide performance plan should provide Congress with the
                           information needed to identify agencies and programs addressing similar
                           missions. Once these programs are identified, Congress can consider the
                           associated policy, management, and performance implications of
                           crosscutting program issues. This information should also help identify the
                           performance and cost consequences of program fragmentation and the
                           implications of alternative policy and service delivery options. These
                           options, in turn, can lead to decisions concerning department and agency
                           missions and the allocation of resources among those missions.

Build the Capacity to      To efficiently and effectively operate, manage, and oversee programs and
Gather, Process, and       activities, agencies need reliable, timely program performance and cost
Analyze Performance and    information and the analytic capacity to use that information. For
                           example, agencies need to have reliable data during their planning efforts
Program Cost Information   to set realistic goals and later, as programs are being implemented, to
                           gauge their progress toward achieving those goals. In addition, in
                           combination with an agency’s performance measurement system, a strong
                           program evaluation capacity is needed to provide feedback on how well an
                           agency’s activities and programs contributed to achieving its goals.
                           Systematic evaluation of how a program was implemented can also

                           Page 8                                                  GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-98-29
Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
Strategic Plans to Improve Federal

provide important information about why the program did or did not
succeed as planned and suggest ways to improve it.

We have cited a 1994 survey that reported on the widespread absence of a
program evaluation capacity within the federal government.12 Therefore, it
is not surprising that agencies did not consistently discuss in their
September plans how they intended to use program evaluations to help
develop those plans. However, of greater concern, many agencies also did
not discuss how they planned to use evaluations in the future to assess
progress and did not offer a schedule for future evaluations as envisioned
by the Results Act. The National Science Foundation’s September plan
contains a noteworthy exception to this trend. The plan discusses how the
agency used evaluations to develop key investment strategies, action
plans, and its annual performance plan. It also discusses future evaluations
and provides a general schedule for their implementation.

The absence of sound program performance and cost data and the
capacity to use those data to improve performance are among the major
barriers to the effective implementation of the Results Act. Efforts under
the CFO Act have shown that most agencies are still years away from
generating reliable, useful, relevant, and timely financial information,
which is urgently needed to make our government fiscally responsible.
The widespread lack of available program performance information is
equally troubling. For example, we surveyed managers in the largest
federal agencies and found that fewer than one-third of those managers
reported that results-oriented performance measures existed to a great or
very great extent for their programs.13

Our work also suggests that even when performance information exists,
its reliability is frequently questionable. For example, the reliability of
performance data currently available to a number of agencies is suspect
because the agencies must rely on data collected by parties outside the
federal government. In a recent report, we noted that the fact that data
were largely collected by others was the most frequent explanation offered
by agency officials for why determining the accuracy and quality of
performance data was a challenge.14 In our June 1997 report on the
implementation of the Results Act, we also reported on the difficulties that

 Managing for Results: Analytic Challenges in Measuring Performance (GAO/HEHS/GGD-97-138,
May 30, 1997).
  GAO/GGD-97-109, June 2, 1997.
  GAO/HEHS/GGD-97-138, May 30, 1997.

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Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
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agencies were experiencing as a result of their reliance on outside parties
for performance information.15

Agencies are required under the Results Act to describe in their annual
performance plans how they will verify and validate the performance
information that will be collected. This section of the performance plan
can provide important contextual information for Congress and agencies.
For example, this section can provide an agency with the opportunity to
alert Congress to the problems the agency has had or anticipates having in
collecting needed results-oriented performance information and the cost
and data quality trade-offs associated with various collection strategies.
The discussion in this section can also provide Congress with a
mechanism for examining whether the agency currently has the data to
confidently set performance improvement targets and will later have the
ability to report on its performance.

More broadly, continuing efforts to implement the CFO Act also are central
for ensuring that agencies resolve their long-standing problems in
generating vital information for decisionmakers. In that regard, the
Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) has developed a
new set of accounting concepts and standards that underpin OMB’s
guidance to agencies on the form and content of their agencywide
financial statements.16 As part of that effort, FASAB developed managerial
cost accounting standards that were to be effective for fiscal year 1997.
However, because of serious agency shortfalls in cost accounting systems,
the CFO Council—an interagency council of the CFOs of the major
agencies—requested an additional 2 years before the standard would be
effective. FASAB recommended extending the date by 1 year, to fiscal year
1998, with a clear expectation that there would be no further delays.

The FASAB cost accounting standards promise to improve decisionmaking
if successfully implemented. These standards are to provide
decisionmakers with information on the costs of all resources used and
the costs of services provided by others to support activities or programs.
Such information would allow for comparisons of costs to various levels
of program performance.

  GAO/GGD-97-109, June 2, 1997.
 FASAB was created in October 1990 by the Secretary of the Treasury, the Director of OMB, and the
Comptroller General to consider and recommend accounting principles for the federal government. If
accepted by Treasury, OMB, and GAO, the standards are to be adopted and issued by OMB and GAO.

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Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
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Over the longer term, the program performance information that agencies
are to generate under the Results Act should be a valuable new resource
for Congress to use in its program authorization, oversight, budget, and
appropriation responsibilities. To be most useful in these various contexts,
that information needs to be consolidated with budget data and critical
financial and program cost data, which agencies are to produce and have
audited under the CFO Act.17 Accountability reports—building on CFO Act
requirements—are to bring together program performance information
with audited financial information to provide congressional and other
decisionmakers with a more complete picture of the results, operational
effectiveness, and costs of agencies’ operations. For the first time,
decisionmakers are to be provided with annual “report cards” on the costs,
management, and effectiveness of federal agencies.

In summary, Mr. Chairman, because of the progress that agencies have
made in developing their strategic plans over the last several months,
these plans generally should provide a workable foundation for the
agencies’ continuing efforts to move to a more performance-based form of
management. Much of this progress appears to have been the result of the
active participation of Members and congressional staff in consulting on
those plans. While difficult implementation challenges remain, by taking
advantage of the consultation process, Congress and the agencies
established the basis for continued progress in implementing the Results
Act and ensuring that efforts under the Act provide the information that
agency and congressional decisionmakers need to improve the
management of the federal government.

The Results Act establishes an iterative process for performance-based
management, with the foundation being the agency’s strategic plan. The
next step—the annual performance plans—offer the opportunity for
Congress and the agencies to continue to clarify goals and ensure that
proper strategies are in place to achieve those goals. Agencies’ annual
plans and the governmentwide performance plan prepared by the
President can form the basis for agency and congressional decisionmaking
about the best way to manage crosscutting program efforts. Finally, the
annual plans, and later accountability reports, provide mechanisms for
highlighting and addressing issues centering on the collection and analysis
of program performance and cost information.

 Financial Management: Continued Momentum Essential to Achieve CFO Act Goals
(GAO/T-AIMD-96-10, Dec. 14, 1995).

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           Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’
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           We look forward to continuing to support Congress’ efforts to improve the
           management of the federal government. Over the last few years, we have
           issued a number of products on the key steps and practices needed to
           improve the management of the federal government.18 These key steps and
           practices are based on best practices in private sector and public sector
           organizations. For example, last May we issued a guide for congressional
           staff to use as they assessed the strategic plans that agencies provided as
           part of the consultations required by the Results Act.19 In the coming
           months, we will issue a companion guide for reviewing annual
           performance plans. We also will continue to examine the effectiveness of
           agencies’ efforts under the Results Act and will program work on other
           issues associated with the implementation of the Act.

           This concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased to respond to
           any questions you or other Members of the Committee may have.

            See, for example, GAO/GGD-96-118, June 1996; Financial Management: Momentum Must Be
           Sustained to Achieve the Reform Goals of the Chief Financial Officers Act (GAO/T-AIMD-95-204, July
           25, 1995); and Executive Guide: Improving Mission Performance Through Strategic Information
           Management and Technology (GAO/AIMD-94-115, May 1994).
             GAO/GGD-10.1.16, May 1997.

(410222)   Page 12                                                                  GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-98-29
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