Results-Oriented Government: Using GPRA to Address 21st Century Challenges

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-09-18.

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,
                               House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT
Thursday, September 18, 2003
                               Using GPRA to Address
                               21st Century Challenges
                               Statement of David M. Walker
                               Comptroller General of the United States

                                                September 18 2003

                                                RESULTS-ORIENTED GOVERNMENT

                                                Using GPRA to Address 21st Century
Highlights of GAO-03-1166T, a testimony         Challenges
before the Committee on Government
Reform, House of Representatives

The Committee asked GAO to                      GPRA, which was enacted in 1993, provides a foundation for examining
discuss the Government                          agency missions, performance goals and objectives, and results. While this
Performance and Results Act’s                   building effort is far from complete, it has helped create a government-wide
(GPRA) success in shifting the                  focus on results by establishing a statutory framework for management and
focus of government operations                  accountability. This framework can improve the performance and
from process to results and to
evaluate the extent to which
                                                accountability of the executive branch and enhance executive branch and
agency managers have embraced                   congressional decisionmaking. In view of the broad trends and long-term
GPRA as a management tool.                      fiscal challenges facing the nation, there is a need to consider how the
Further, the Committee was                      Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and executive agencies can
interested in any recommendations               make better use of GPRA’s planning and accountability framework to
GAO may have to improve the                     maximize the performance of not only individual programs and agencies, but
effectiveness of GPRA.                          also of the federal government as whole in addressing these challenges.

GAO is conducting a                             The necessary infrastructure has been built to generate meaningful
comprehensive review of the                     performance information. For example, through the strategic planning
effectiveness of GPRA since its                 requirement, GPRA has required federal agencies to consult with the
enactment, including updating the
                                                Congress and key stakeholders to reassess their missions and long-term
results of our federal managers
survey. The results of this review              goals as well as the strategies and resources they will need to achieve their
will be available next month.                   goals. It also has required agencies to articulate goals for the upcoming
                                                fiscal year that are aligned with their long-term strategic goals. Finally,
                                                agencies are required to report annually on their progress in achieving their
                                                annual performance goals. Therefore, information is available about current
We did not make recommendations                 missions, goals, and results.
in this testimony. However, we
suggested a range of options that               We are now moving to a more difficult but more important phase of GPRA
the Congress could use to
strengthen GPRA as a tool to meet
                                                implementation, that is, using results-oriented performance information as a
the challenges the federal                      part of agencies’ day-to-day management, and congressional and executive
government faces at the beginning               branch decision-making. However, much work remains before this
of the 21st century. These options              framework is effectively implemented across the government, including (1)
include simplifying and                         transforming agencies’ organizational cultures to improve decisionmaking
streamlining agency performance                 and strengthen performance and accountability, (2) developing meaningful,
information, developing                         outcome-oriented performance goals and measures and collecting useful
governmentwide strategic and                    performance data, and (3) addressing widespread mission fragmentation and
annual performance plans,                       overlap. Furthermore, linking planned performance with budget requests
enhancing congressional oversight,              and financial reports is an essential step in building a culture of performance
and establishing chief operating                management. Such an alignment can help to infuse performance concerns
officers in selected agencies.
                                                into budgetary deliberations. However, credible outcome-based
                                                performance information is critical to foster the kind of debate that is


To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Patricia Dalton
at (202) 512-6737 or daltonp@gao.gov.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

Now that the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) has
reached its 10th anniversary, I appreciate the opportunity to address the
progress made in creating a government-wide focus on results and how the
federal government could make better use of GPRA in meeting the
significant, emerging challenges we face as a nation while, at the same
time, becoming more economical, effective, and efficient in doing
government business. We are currently performing a comprehensive
review of the effectiveness of GPRA since its enactment in 1993—including
updating the results of our federal managers survey—for this and other
congressional committees. Those results will be available later next
month. Therefore, my statement today draws primarily from our many
previous reports assessing GPRA’s implementation.

Over the last decade, the Congress, the Office of Management and Budget
(OMB), and other executive agencies have worked to implement a
statutory framework to improve the performance and accountability of the
executive branch and to enhance executive branch and congressional
decision making.1 The core elements of this framework include financial
management and information technology reforms as well as results-
oriented management legislation, particularly GPRA. As a result of this
framework, there has been substantial progress in the last few years in
establishing the basic infrastructure needed to create high-performing
federal organizations.

For example, in contrast to pre-GPRA planning and performance
measurement, agencies are now producing more results-oriented goals and
performance information. They have also begun to identify their plans to
coordinate with other federal agencies on program areas that cut across
agency boundaries. Finally, all of this information is much more
transparent to the Congress, OMB, and the public in the form of published
plans and reports, which were not generally available prior to GPRA.

However, moving beyond the realm of individual agency performance, we
now have both an opportunity and an obligation to take a look across the
federal government at what it should be doing and how it should go about

  U.S. General Accounting Office, Managing for Results: The Statutory Framework for
Performance-Based Management and Accountability, GAO/GGD/AIMD-98-52 (Washington,
D.C.: Jan. 28, 1998).

Page 1                                                                GAO-03-1166T
doing its work. GPRA, with its focus on strategic planning, the
development of long-term goals, and accountability for results, provides a
framework the Congress and the executive branch can use to consider the
appropriate mix of long-term strategic goals and strategies needed to
address the challenges we face, given the significant resource constraints
that will exist long into the future.

As I discussed in my speech before the National Press Club on
September 17,2 the federal government is in a period of profound transition
and faces an array of challenges and opportunities to enhance
performance, ensure accountability, and position the nation for the future.
A number of overarching trends, such as diffuse security threats and
homeland security needs, increasing global interdependency, the shift to a
knowledge-based economy, and the looming fiscal challenges facing our
nation drive the need to reconsider the role of the federal government in
the 21st century, how the government should do business (including how it
should be structured), and in some instances, who should do the
government’s business.

GAO has sought to assist the Congress and the executive branch in
considering the actions needed to support the transition to a more high
performing, results-oriented, and accountable federal government. We
believe that it is crucial for both the Congress and the executive branch to
work together constructively and on a bipartisan basis in addressing a
range of “good government” issues.

My statement today will focus on four points:

• the impact of current trends and increasing fiscal challenges;

• the foundation for results-oriented management created in response to

• the need to make better use of GPRA as a tool to address the trends and
  challenges; and

• options for strengthening congressional oversight.

  David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, Truth and Transparency: The
Federal Government’s Financial Condition and Fiscal Outlook, speech delivered before
the National Press Club, September 17, 2003.

Page 2                                                                    GAO-03-1166T
                     My statement is based on our large body of work in recent years assessing
                     GPRA implementation as well as other management and budget issues. We
                     conducted our work in accordance with generally accepted government
                     auditing standards.

Impact of Emerging   With the 21st century challenges we are facing, it is more vital than ever to
                     maximize the performance of federal agencies in achieving their long-term
Trends and Fiscal    goals. The federal government must address and adapt to major trends in
Challenges           our country and around the world. At the same time, our nation faces
                     serious long-term fiscal challenges. Increased pressure also comes from
                     world events: both from the recognition that we cannot consider ourselves
                     “safe” between two oceans—which has increased demands for spending on
                     homeland security—and from the U.S. role in combating terrorism in an
                     increasingly interdependent world. To be able to assess federal agency
                     performance and hold agency managers accountable for achieving their
                     long-term goals, we need to know what the level of performance is. GPRA
                     planning and reporting requirements can provide this essential

                     Our country’s transition into the 21st century is characterized by a number
                     of key trends, including

                     • the national and global response to terrorism and other threats to our
                       personal and national security;

                     • the increasing interdependence of enterprises, economies, markets, civil
                       societies, and national governments, commonly referred to as

                     • the shift to market-oriented, knowledge-based economies;

                     • an aging and more diverse U.S. population;

                     • rapid advances in science and technology and the opportunities and
                       challenges created by these changes;

                     • challenges and opportunities to maintain and improve the quality of life
                       for the nation, communities, families, and individuals; and

                     • the changing and increasingly diverse nature of governance structures
                       and tools.

                     Page 3                                                           GAO-03-1166T
As the nation and government policymakers grapple with the challenges
presented by these evolving trends, they do so in the context of rapidly
building fiscal pressures. GAO’s long-range budget simulations show that
this nation faces a large and growing structural deficit due primarily to
known demographic trends and rising health care costs. The fiscal
pressures created by the retirement of the baby boom generation and rising
health costs threaten to overwhelm the nation’s fiscal future. As figure 1
shows, by 2040, absent reform or other major tax or spending policy
changes, projected federal revenues will likely be insufficient to pay much
beyond interest on publicly held debt. Further, our recent shift from
surpluses to deficits means the nation is moving into the future in a weaker
fiscal position.

Figure 1: Composition of Spending as a Share of GDP Assuming Discretionary
Spending Grows with GDP after 2003 and All Expiring Tax Provisions Are Extended
 50 Percentage of GDP





              2003                     2015              2030                   2040
      Fiscal year

               Net interest

               Social Security

               Medicare and Medicaid

               All other spending

Source: GAO.

Notes: Although all expiring tax cuts are extended, revenue as a share of gross domestic product
(GDP) increases through 2013 due to (1) real bracket creep, (2) more taxpayers becoming subject to
the Alternative Minimum Tax, and (3) increased revenue from tax-deferred retirement accounts. After
2013, revenue as a share of GDP is held constant. This simulation assumes that currently scheduled
Social Security benefits are paid in full throughout the simulation period.

Page 4                                                                             GAO-03-1166T
                   The United States has had a long-range budget deficit problem for a
                   number of years, even during recent years when we had significant annual
                   budget surpluses. Unfortunately, the days of surpluses are gone, and our
                   current and projected budget situation has worsened significantly. The
                   bottom line is that our projected budget deficits are not manageable
                   without significant changes in “status quo” programs, policies, processes,
                   and operations.

                   Doing nothing is simply not an option, nor will marginal efforts be enough.
                   Difficult choices will have to be made. Clearly, the federal government
                   must start to exercise more fiscal discipline on both the spending side and
                   the tax side. While many spending increases and tax cuts may be popular,
                   they may not all be prudent. However, there is not a single solution to the
                   problems we face; a number of solutions are needed. It will take the
                   combined efforts of many parties over an extended period for these efforts
                   to succeed.

GPRA Provides a    GPRA, which was enacted 10 years ago, provides a foundation for
                   examining agency missions, performance goals and objectives, and results.
Foundation for     While this building effort is far from complete, it has helped create a
Results-Oriented   governmentwide focus on results by establishing a statutory framework for
                   performance management and accountability. The necessary
Management         infrastructure has been built to generate meaningful performance

                   For example, through the strategic planning requirement, GPRA has
                   required federal agencies to consult with the Congress and key
                   stakeholders to reassess their missions and long-term goals as well as the
                   strategies and resources they will need to achieve their goals. It also has
                   required agencies to articulate goals for the upcoming fiscal year that are
                   aligned with their long-term strategic goals. Finally, agencies are required
                   to report annually on their progress in achieving their annual performance
                   goals. Therefore, information is available about current missions, goals,
                   and results.

                   Our prior assessments of the quality of agency planning and reporting
                   documents indicate that significant progress has been made in meeting the
                   basic requirements of GPRA. For example, we found improvements in
                   agencies’ strategic plans, such as clearer mission statements and long-term

                   Page 5                                                          GAO-03-1166T
                          goals.3 Also, after we found many weaknesses in agencies’ first annual
                          performance plans, subsequent plans showed improvements, such as the
                          frequent use of results-oriented goals and quantifiable measures to address

                          Finally, a high and increasing percentage of federal managers we surveyed
                          in 1997 and 2000 reported that there were performance measures for the
                          programs with which they were involved.5 Those managers who reported
                          having performance measures also increasingly reported having outcome,
                          output, and efficiency measures. We will be updating our analysis of the
                          quality of agency planning and reporting efforts and our survey of federal
                          managers as part of our 10-year retrospective review of GPRA. The report
                          will be available next month.

Using GPRA as a Tool      As we move further into the 21st century, it becomes increasingly important
                          for the Congress, OMB, and other executive agencies to consider how the
to Address 21st Century   federal government can maximize performance and results, given the
Trends and Challenges     significant fiscal limitations I have described. GPRA can help address this
                          question by linking the results that the federal government seeks to achieve
                          to the program approaches and resources that are necessary to achieve
                          those results. The performance information produced by GPRA’s planning
                          and reporting infrastructure can help build a government that is better
                          equipped to deliver economical, efficient, and effective programs that can
                          help address the challenges facing the federal government.

                          Clearly, federal agencies have made strides in laying the foundation of
                          planning and performance information that will be needed to address our

                           U.S. General Accounting Office, Managing for Results: Observations on Agencies'
                          Strategic Plans, GAO/T-GGD-98-66 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 12, 1998).
                           U.S. General Accounting Office, Managing for Results: Opportunities for Continued
                          Improvements in Agencies' Performance Plans, GGD/AIMD-99-215 (Washington, D.C.: July
                          20, 1999).
                           For additional details on our two previous governmentwide surveys, see U.S. General
                          Accounting Office, Managing for Results: Federal Managers’ Views on Key Management
                          Issues Vary Widely Across Agencies, GAO-01-592 (Washington, D.C.: May 25, 2001),
                          Managing for Results: Federal Managers’ Views Show Need for Ensuring Top Leadership
                          Skills, GAO-01-127 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 20, 2000), and The Government Performance
                          and Results Act: 1997 Governmentwide Implementation Will Be Uneven, GAO/GGD-97-
                          109, Washington, D.C.: June 2, 1997).

                          Page 6                                                                    GAO-03-1166T
                              21st century challenges. We are now moving to a more difficult but more
                              important phase of GPRA implementation, that is, using results-oriented
                              performance information as a routine part of agencies’ day-to-day
                              management, and congressional and executive branch decision making.

                              To achieve a greater focus on results and maximize performance, federal
                              agencies will need to make greater use of GPRA documents, such as
                              strategic plans, to guide how they do business every day—both internally,
                              in terms of guiding individual employee efforts, as well as externally, in
                              terms of coordinating activities and interacting with key stakeholders.

                              However, much work remains before this framework is effectively
                              implemented across the government, including (1) transforming agencies’
                              organizational cultures to improve decision making and strengthen
                              performance and accountability, (2) developing meaningful, outcome-
                              oriented performance goals and measures and collecting useful
                              performance data, (3) addressing widespread mission fragmentation and
                              overlap, and (4) using performance information in allocating resources.

Uneven Progress in Building   The cornerstone of federal efforts to successfully meet current and
Results-Oriented              emerging public demands is to adopt a results orientation, that is, to
                              develop a clear sense of the results an agency wants to achieve as opposed
Organizational Cultures       to the products and services (outputs) an agency produces and the
                              processes used to produce them. Adopting a results orientation requires
                              transforming organizational cultures to improve decision making,
                              maximize performance, and ensure accountability—it entails new ways of
                              thinking and doing business. This transformation is not an easy one and
                              requires investments of time and resources as well as sustained leadership
                              commitment and attention.

                              Our prior work on GPRA implementation has found that many agencies
                              face significant challenges in establishing an agency-wide results-
                              orientation.6 Federal managers we surveyed have reported that agency
                              leaders do not consistently demonstrate a strong commitment to achieving
                              results. Furthermore, these managers believed that agencies do not always
                              positively recognize employees for helping the agency accomplish its
                              strategic goals.

                               GAO-01-592, GAO-01-127, and GAO/GGD-97-109.

                              Page 7                                                         GAO-03-1166T
In addition, we have reported that high-performing organizations seek to
shift the focus of management and accountability from activities and
processes to contributions and achieving results. However, although many
federal managers in our survey reported that they were held accountable
for the results of their programs, only a few reported that they had the
decision making authority they needed to help the agencies accomplish
their strategic goals.

Finally, although managers we surveyed increasingly reported having
results-oriented performance measures for their programs, the extent to
which these managers reported using performance information for any of
the key management activities we asked about mostly declined from earlier
survey levels.7

To be positioned to address the array of challenges we face, federal
agencies will need to transform their organizational cultures so that they
are more results-oriented, customer-focused, and collaborative. Leading
public organizations here in the United States and abroad have found that
strategic human capital management must be the centerpiece of any
serious change management initiative and efforts to transform the cultures
of government agencies. Performance management systems are integral to
strategic human capital management. Such systems can be key tools to
maximizing performance by aligning institutional performance measures
with individual performance and creating a “line of sight” between
individual and organizational goals. Leading organizations use their
performance management systems as a key tool for aligning institutional,
unit, and employee performance; achieving results; accelerating change;
managing the organization day to day; and facilitating communication
throughout the year so that discussions about individual and organizational
performance are integrated and ongoing.8

 We asked about five key management activities: setting program priorities, allocating
resources, adopting new program approaches or changing work processes, coordinating
program efforts with other organizations, and setting individual job expectations.
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Human Capital: Key Principles From Nine Private
Sector Organizations, GAO/GGD-00-28 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 31, 2000).

Page 8                                                                     GAO-03-1166T
Developing Meaningful,   Another key challenge to achieving a governmentwide focus on results is
Outcome-Oriented         that of developing meaningful, outcome-oriented performance goals and
                         collecting performance data that can be used to assess results.
Performance Goals and    Performance measurement under GPRA is the ongoing monitoring and
Collecting Useful        reporting of program accomplishments, particularly progress toward
Performance Data         preestablished goals. It tends to focus on regularly collected data on the
                         level and type of program activities, the direct products and services
                         delivered by the program, and the results of those activities. For programs
                         that have readily observable results or outcomes, performance
                         measurement may provide sufficient information to demonstrate program
                         results. In some programs, however, outcomes are not quickly achieved or
                         readily observed, or their relationship to the program is uncertain. In such
                         cases, more in-depth program evaluations may be needed, in addition to
                         performance measurement, to examine the extent to which a program is
                         achieving its objectives.

                         However, our work has raised concerns about the capacity of federal
                         agencies to produce evaluations of program effectiveness.9 Few of the
                         agencies we reviewed deployed the rigorous research methods required to
                         attribute changes underlying outcomes to program activities. Yet we have
                         also seen how some agencies have profitably drawn on systematic program
                         evaluations to improve their measurement of program performance or
                         understanding of performance and how it might be improved.10 For
                         example, to improve performance measurement, two agencies we
                         reviewed used the findings of effectiveness evaluations to provide data on
                         program results that were otherwise unavailable.

                         Our work has also identified substantial, long-standing limitations in
                         agencies’ abilities to produce credible data and identify performance
                         improvement opportunities that will not be quickly or easily resolved.11
                         For example, policy decisions made when designing federal programs,

                           U.S. General Accounting Office, Program Evaluation: Agencies Challenged by New
                         Demand for Information on Program Results, GAO/GGD-98-53 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 24,
                          U.S. General Accounting Office, Program Evaluation: Studies Helped Agencies Measure
                         or Explain Program Performance, GAO/GGD-00-204 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 29, 2000).
                          U.S. General Accounting Office, Managing for Results: Challenges Agencies Face in
                         Producing Credible Performance Information, GAO/GGD-00-52 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 4,

                         Page 9                                                                 GAO-03-1166T
                            particularly intergovernmental programs, may make it difficult to collect
                            timely and consistent national data. In administering programs that are the
                            joint responsibility of state and local governments, the Congress and the
                            executive branch continually balance the competing objectives of
                            collecting uniform program information to assess performance with giving
                            states and localities the flexibility needed to effectively implement
                            intergovernmental programs.

Using GPRA to Address       While progress has been made by federal agencies in laying a foundation of
Mission Fragmentation and   performance information for existing program activities and structures, the
                            federal government has not realized the full potential of GPRA to address
                            program areas that cut across federal agency boundaries. The government
                            has made strides in this area in recent years. For example, in reviewing
                            agencies’ crosscutting plans in the area of wildland fire management, we
                            found that both the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service,
                            within the Department of Agriculture, discussed their joint participation in
                            developing plans and strategies to address the growing threats to our
                            forests and nearby communities from catastrophic wild fires.12 The
                            Congress could make greater use of agency performance information to
                            identify potential fragmentation, overlap, and duplication among federal

                            Virtually all of the results that the federal government strives to achieve
                            require the concerted and coordinated efforts of two or more agencies.
                            Our work has shown that mission fragmentation and program overlap are
                            widespread, and that crosscutting federal program efforts are not well
                            coordinated.13 For example, we have reported that seven federal agencies
                            administer 16 programs that serve the homeless population, with the
                            Department of Housing and Urban Development responsible for most of
                            the funds. We have also frequently commented on the fragmented nature
                            of our food safety system, with responsibility split between the Food Safety
                            and Inspection Service within the Department of Agriculture, the Food and

                             U.S. General Accounting Office, Results-Oriented Management: Agency Crosscutting
                            Actions and Plans in Border Control, Flood Mitigation and Insurance, Wetlands, and
                            Wildland Fire Management, GAO-03-321 (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 20, 2002).
                             U.S. General Accounting Office, Managing for Results: Barriers to Interagency
                            Coordination, GAO/GGD-00-106 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 29, 2000), and Managing for
                            Results: Using the Results Act to Address Mission Fragmentation and Program Overlap,
                            GAO/AIMD-97-146 (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 29, 1997).

                            Page 10                                                                 GAO-03-1166T
                            Drug Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services,
                            and 10 other federal agencies.

                            Crosscutting program areas that are not effectively coordinated waste
                            scarce funds, confuse and frustrate program customers, and undercut the
                            overall effectiveness of the federal effort. GPRA offers a structured and
                            governmentwide means for rationalizing these crosscutting efforts. The
                            strategic, annual, and governmentwide performance planning processes
                            under GPRA provide opportunities for each agency to ensure that its goals
                            for crosscutting programs complement those of other agencies; program
                            strategies are mutually reinforcing; and, as appropriate, common
                            performance measures are used. If GPRA is effectively implemented, the
                            governmentwide performance plan and the agencies’ annual performance
                            plans and reports should provide the Congress with information on
                            agencies and programs addressing similar results. Once these programs
                            are identified, the Congress can consider the associated policy,
                            management, and performance implications of crosscutting programs as
                            part of its oversight of the executive branch.

Using Performance           A key objective of GPRA is to help the Congress, OMB, and other executive
Information to Inform the   agencies develop a clearer understanding of what is being achieved in
                            relation to what is being spent. Linking planned performance with budget
Allocation of Resources     requests and financial reports is an essential step in building a culture of
                            performance management. Such an alignment infuses performance
                            concerns into budgetary deliberations, prompting agencies to reassess
                            their performance goals and strategies and to more clearly understand the
                            cost of performance. For the fiscal year 2005 budget process, OMB called
                            for agencies to prepare a performance budget that can be used for the
                            annual performance plan required by GPRA.

                            Credible outcome-based performance information is absolutely critical to
                            fostering the kind of debate that is needed. Linking performance
                            information to budgeting carries great potential to improve the budget
                            debate by changing the kinds of questions and information available to
                            decision makers. However, performance information will not provide
                            mechanistic answers for budget decisions, nor can performance data
                            eliminate the need for considered judgment and political choice. If budget
                            decisions are to be based in part on performance data, the integrity,
                            credibility, and quality of these data and related analyses become more
                            important. Moreover, in seeking to link resources to results, it will be

                            Page 11                                                         GAO-03-1166T
                           necessary to improve the government’s capacity to account for and
                           measure the total costs of federal programs and activities.

                           GPRA expanded the supply of performance information generated by
                           federal agencies. OMB’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) proposes
                           to build on GPRA by improving the demand for results-oriented
                           information in the budget. It has the potential to promote a more explicit
                           discussion and debate between OMB, the agencies, and the Congress about
                           the performance of selected programs. Presumably, PART will identify
                           expectation gaps, questions, and areas where further inquiry and analysis
                           would be most useful.

Oversight Is Critical to   Fifty years of past efforts to link resources with results has shown that any
Achieving Results          successful effort must involve the Congress as a partner. In fact, the
                           administration acknowledged that performance and accountability are
                           shared responsibilities that must involve the Congress. It will only be
                           through the continued attention of the Congress, the administration, and
                           federal agencies that progress can be sustained and, more important,
                           accelerated. Ultimately, the success of GPRA will be reflected in whether
                           and how the Congress uses agency performance information in the
                           congressional budget, appropriations, authorization, and oversight
                           processes. As a key user of performance information, the Congress also
                           needs to be considered a partner in shaping agency goals at the outset.

                           More generally, effective congressional oversight can help improve federal
                           performance by examining the program structures agencies use to deliver
                           products and services to ensure that the best, most cost-effective mix of
                           strategies is in place to meet agency and national goals. As part of this
                           oversight, the Congress should consider the associated policy,
                           management, and policy implications of crosscutting programs.

Options for                Information produced in response to GPRA can be useful for congressional
                           oversight as well as program management. As I have testified before, there
Strengthening GPRA         are several ways that GPRA could be enhanced to provide better
                           governmentwide information.

                           First, there are many users of agencies’ performance information—the
                           Congress, the public, and the agency itself. One size does not fit all. To
                           improve the prospect that agency performance information will be useful

                           Page 12                                                          GAO-03-1166T
to and used by these different users, agencies need to consider the different
information needs and how to best tailor their performance information to
meet those needs. This might entail the preparation of simplified and
streamlined plans and reports for the Congress and other external users.

Second, we have previously reported that GPRA could provide a tool to
reexamine federal government roles and structures governmentwide.
GPRA requires the President to include in his annual budget submission a
federal government performance plan. The Congress intended that this
plan provide a “single cohesive picture of the annual performance goals for
the fiscal year.” The governmentwide performance plan could help the
Congress and the executive branch address critical federal performance
and management issues, including redundancy and other inefficiencies in
how we do business. It could also provide a framework for any
restructuring efforts. Unfortunately, this provision has not been fully

If the governmentwide performance plan were fully implemented, it could
also provide a framework for congressional oversight. For example, in
recent years, OMB has begun to develop common measures for similar
programs, such as job training. By focusing on broad goals and objectives,
oversight could more effectively cut across organization, program, and
other traditional boundaries. Such oversight might also cut across existing
committee boundaries, which suggests that the Congress may benefit from
using specialized mechanisms to perform oversight (i.e., joint hearings and
special committees).

Third, a strategic plan for the federal government, along with key national
indicators to assess the government’s performance, could provide an
additional tool for governmentwide reexamination of existing programs, as
well as proposals for new programs. If fully developed, a governmentwide
strategic plan can potentially provide a cohesive perspective on the long-
term goals of the federal government and provide a much needed basis for
fully integrating, rather than merely coordinating, a wide array of federal
activities. Successful strategic planning requires the involvement of key
stakeholders. Thus, it could serve as a mechanism for building consensus.
Further, it could provide a vehicle for the President to articulate long-term
goals and a road map for achieving them. In addition, a strategic plan can
provide a more comprehensive framework for considering organizational
changes and making resource decisions. In addition to the annual budget
resolution on funds, the Congress could also have a performance
resolution that specifies performance expectations.

Page 13                                                          GAO-03-1166T
Developing a strategic plan for the federal government would be an
important first step in articulating the role, goals, and objectives of the
federal government. It could help provide critical horizontal and vertical
linkages. Horizontally, it could integrate and foster synergies among
components of the federal government as well as help to clarify the role of
the federal government vis-a-vis other sectors of our society. Vertically, it
could provide a framework of federal missions and goals within which
individual federal agencies could align their own missions and goals that
would cascade down to individual employees. It also could link to a set of
key national performance indicators.

A set of key national indicators could also help to assess the overall
position and progress of our nation in key areas, frame strategic issues,
support public choices, and enhance accountability. Developing a key
national indicator system goes beyond any one sector (e.g., public, private,
or nonprofit). It requires designing and executing a process whereby
diverse elements of society can participate in formulating key questions
and choosing indicators in a way that increases consensus over time. Such
a system will take time to develop. The federal government is an important
and vital player in establishing such indicators.14

Fourth, the traditional oversight that the Congress provides to individual
organizations, programs, and activities has an important role in eliminating
redundancy and inefficiencies. Important benefits can be achieved
through focused oversight if the right questions are asked about
performance and management. Six key questions for program oversight
are as follows:

• Does the program make sense given 21st century trends and challenges,
  including whether it is appropriate as an initiative of the federal

• Are there clear performance goals, measures, and data with which to
  track progress? Is the program achieving its goals? If not, why not?

• Does the program duplicate or even work at cross purposes with related
  programs and tools?

 U.S. General Accounting Office, Forum on Key National Indicators: Assessing the
Nation's Position and Progress, GAO-03-672SP (Washington, D.C.: May 1, 2003).

Page 14                                                                  GAO-03-1166T
• Is the program targeted properly?

• Is the program financially sustainable and are there opportunities for
  instituting appropriate cost-sharing and recovery mechanisms?

• Can the program be made more efficient through reengineering or
  streamlining processes or restructuring organizational roles and

Fifth, creating the results-oriented cultures needed to make GPRA a useful
management tool depends on committed, top-level leadership and
sustained attention to management issues. A chief operating officer (COO)
could provide the sustained management attention essential for addressing
key infrastructure and stewardship issues and could facilitate the
transformation process. Establishing a COO position in selected federal
agencies could provide a number of benefits. A COO would be the focal
point for elevating attention on management issues and transformational
change, integrating various key management and transformation efforts,
and instituting accountability for addressing management issues and
leading transformational change. A COO would provide a single
organizational position for key management functions, such as human
capital, financial management, information technology, acquisition
management, and performance management as well as for
transformational change initiatives. To be successful, in many cases, a COO
will need to be among an agency’s top leadership (e.g., deputy secretary or
under secretary). However, consistent with the desire to integrate
responsibilities, the creation of a senior management position needs to be
considered with careful regard to existing positions and responsibilities so
that it does not result in unnecessary “layering” at an agency. Consideration
also should be given to providing a term appointment, such as a 5—7 year
term. A term appointment would provide sustained leadership. No matter
how the positions are structured, it is critical that the people appointed to
these positions have proven track records in similar positions and be
vested with sufficient authority to achieve results. To further clarify
expectations and responsibilities, the COO should be subject to a clearly
defined, results-oriented performance contract with appropriate
incentives, rewards, and accountability mechanisms. For selected
agencies, a COO should be subject to a Senate confirmation. In creating
such a position, the Congress might consider making certain subordinate
positions, such as the chief financial officer, not subject to Senate

Page 15                                                          GAO-03-1166T
Concluding Remarks   In view of the broad trends and long-term fiscal challenges facing the
                     nation, there is a need to consider how the Congress, OMB, and executive
                     agencies can make better use of GPRA’s planning and accountability
                     framework to maximize the performance of not only individual programs
                     and agencies but also the federal government as whole in addressing these
                     challenges. The Congress can play a vital role in increasing the demand for
                     such performance information by monitoring agencies’ performance
                     results, asking critical questions about goals not achieved, and considering
                     whether adjustments are needed to maximize performance in the future.
                     The large and growing fiscal gap means that tough, difficult choices will
                     have to be made. Doing nothing is not an option. The Congress and the
                     administration will need to use every tool at their disposal to address these
                     challenges. In addressing these challenges, it will be important to set clear
                     goals, involve all key players, and establish viable processes that will lead
                     to positive results. Credible, timely, results-oriented performance
                     information will be vital to this decisionmaking.

                     Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. We in GAO take our
                     responsibility to assist in these crucial efforts very seriously. I would be
                     pleased to respond to any questions that you or other Members of the
                     Committee may have.

(450270)             Page 16                                                          GAO-03-1166T
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