Results Act: Using Agency Performance Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-03-25.

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

                           United States General Accounting Office

GAO                        Testimony
                           Before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government
                           Management, Restructuring, and the District of Columbia,
                           Committee on Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m.
Thursday, March 25, 1999
                           RESULTS ACT

                           Using Agency Performance
                           Plans to Oversee Early
                           Childhood Programs
                           Statement of Marnie S. Shaul, Associate Director
                           Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues
                           Health, Education, and Human Services Division

Results Act: Using Agency Performance
Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

              Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

              We are pleased to be here today to begin a series of discussions on how
              the Congress can use the Government Performance and Results Act of
              1993 (Results Act) to oversee the work of federal agencies and, in
              particular, how the performance plans required under the act can address
              the issue of multiple early childhood programs.

              Almost $14 billion dollars in federal funds was available to support early
              childhood activities in fiscal year 1997, yet the large number of programs
              through which such funds are made available creates the potential for
              inefficient service as well as difficulty for those trying to access the most
              appropriate services and funding sources.1 In fiscal years 1992 and 1993,
              11 federal agencies administered more than 90 programs that could fund
              early childhood services, and we determined that education or child care
              was key to the mission of 34 of the programs.2 A disadvantaged child could
              potentially have been eligible for as many as 13 programs, although many
              programs reported serving only a portion of their target populations and
              maintaining long waiting lists. We have reported that programs sometimes
              overlap in the services they provide, regardless of how their primary
              mission is described. For example, child care programs designed primarily
              to meet the needs of parents so that they can work or be trained for work
              may also have an educational component. At the same time, programs like
              Head Start that operate as part-day programs to serve the developmental
              needs of children also allow parents to work during the hours in which
              children are in the program.

              The Results Act is intended to improve the management of federal
              programs by shifting the focus of accountability for federal programs from
              a preoccupation with staffing and activity levels to outcomes. It can
              provide a new and structured framework for addressing multiple and
              overlapping programs. This should lead to new information on multiple
              programs, including those that cut across agency lines but share common

              My testimony today will focus on two main topics: (1) how the Results Act
              can assist in management and congressional oversight, especially in areas
              where there are multiple programs, and (2) how the Department of
              Education and the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS)

               Child Care: Federal Funding for Fiscal Year 1997 (GAO/HEHS-98-70R, Jan. 23, 1998).
              Early Childhood Programs: Multiple Programs and Overlapping Target Groups (GAO/HEHS-95-4FS,
              Oct. 31, 1994).

              Page 1                                                                         GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
             Results Act: Using Agency Performance
             Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

             Administration for Children and Families (ACF)—which together
             administer more than half of the federal early childhood program
             funds—addressed early childhood programs in their strategic and fiscal
             year 1999 and 2000 performance plans and the extent to which recent
             plans show progress in coordinating early childhood programs.

             In summary, the Congress can use the Results Act to improve its oversight
             of crosscutting issues because the act requires agencies to develop
             strategic and annual performance plans that clearly specify goals,
             objectives, and measures for their programs. The Office of Management
             and Budget (OMB) has issued guidance saying that for crosscutting issues,
             agencies should describe efforts to coordinate so that goals are consistent
             and program efforts are mutually reinforcing. When we looked at the plans
             of Education and ACF, we found that the plans are not, however, living up
             to their potential as expected from the Results Act. More specifically,
             while the fiscal year 1999 and 2000 plans to some extent addressed
             coordination, the departments have not yet described in detail how they
             will coordinate their efforts. Therefore, the potential for addressing
             fragmentation and duplication has not been realized, and we cannot assess
             whether the agencies are effectively working together on crosscutting

             Early childhood is a key period of development in a child’s life and an
Background   emphasized age group for which services are likely to have long-term
             benefits. Recent research has underscored the need to focus on this period
             to improve children’s intellectual development, language development,
             and school readiness.3

             Early childhood programs serve children from infancy through age 5.4 The
             range of services includes education and child development, child care,
             referral for health care or social services, and speech or hearing
             assessment as well as many other kinds of services or activities.

             Education and ACF administer about 60 percent of the federal early
             childhood program funds. The biggest early childhood programs in fiscal
             year 1997 for these departments were Head Start (approximately

             “Brain Research Has Implications for Education” in the Education Commission of the States’ State
             Education Leader, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter 1997).
              At least half of the child care for infants and toddlers of working mothers is done through providers
             caring for children other than their own rather than through organized facilities such as a child care
             center. When we talk about early childhood programs, we are discussing only these organized

             Page 2                                                                            GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
                                       Results Act: Using Agency Performance
                                       Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

                                       $4 billion), administered by HHS, and Special Education programs
                                       (approximately $1 billion), administered by Education. Head Start
                                       provides education and developmental services to young children, and the
                                       Special Education-Preschool Grants and Infants and Families program
                                       provides preschool education and services to young children with
                                       disabilities. Although these programs target different populations, use
                                       different eligibility criteria, and provide a different mix of services to
                                       children and families, there are many similarities in the services they
                                       provide. Figure 1 illustrates the federal agencies responsible for federal
                                       early childhood funding.

Figure 1: Early Childhood Funding by
Federal Agency, 1997                                                                                   Appalachian Regional
                                                                                                       Less than 1% ($380,000)
                                                                                                       Less than 1% ($1.7 million)

                                                                                                      Military 2% ($302 million)

                                                                                                       ($1.2 billion)

                                                                                                       ($1.5 billion)

                                                                                                       ($3.5 billion)

                                                                                                      Health and Human Services
                                                                                                      ($7.2 billion)

                                       Note: The Department of the Treasury portion consists of the Child and Dependent Care Tax
                                       Credit and the Exclusion of Employer Provided Child Care. These represent estimates of revenue
                                       loss prepared by Treasury based upon tax law enacted as of December 31, 1996. The
                                       Department of Agriculture portion is the Child and Adult Food Care Program.

                                       Page 3                                                                       GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
                            Results Act: Using Agency Performance
                            Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

                            Early childhood programs were included in the list of more than 30
                            programs our governmentwide performance and accountability report
                            cited to illustrate the problem of fragmentation and program overlap.5
                            Virtually all the results that the government strives to achieve require the
                            concerted and coordinated efforts of two or more agencies. However,
                            mission fragmentation and program overlap are widespread, and programs
                            are not always well coordinated. This wastes scarce funds, frustrates
                            taxpayers, and limits overall program effectiveness.

                            The Results Act is intended to improve the management of federal
The Results Act Helps       programs by shifting the focus of decision-making and accountability from
the Congress and            the number of grants and inspection made to the results of federal
Agencies Oversee            programs. The act requires executive agencies, in consultation with the
                            Congress and other stakeholders, to prepare strategic plans that include
Programs and                mission statements and goals. Each strategic plan covers a period of at
Address Crosscutting        least 5 years forward from the fiscal year in which the plan is submitted. It
                            must include the following six key elements:
                        •   a comprehensive mission statement covering the major functions and
                            operations of the agency,
                        •   a description of general goals and objectives for the major functions and
                            operations of the agency,
                        •   a discussion of how these goals and objectives will be achieved and the
                            resources that will be needed,
                        •   a description of the relationship between performance goals in the annual
                            performance plan and general goals and objectives in the strategic plan,
                        •   a discussion of key factors external to the agency that could affect
                            significantly the achievement of the general goals and objectives, and
                        •   a description of program evaluations used to develop the plan and a
                            schedule for future evaluations.

                            Agencies must also prepare annual performance plans that establish the
                            connections between the long-term strategic goals outlined in the strategic
                            plans and the day-to-day activities of program managers and staff. While
                            the Results Act does not require a specific format for the annual
                            performance plans, it requires a plan to

                        •   identify annual goals and measures covering each of its program activities,
                        •   discuss the strategies and resources needed to achieve annual goals, and

                             Government Management: Addressing High Risks and Improving Performance and Accountability
                            (GAO/T-OCG-99-23, Feb. 10, 1999).

                            Page 4                                                                    GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
    Results Act: Using Agency Performance
    Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

•   describe the means the agency will use to verify and validate its
    performance data.

    The act also requires that each agency report annually on the extent to
    which it is meeting its annual performance goals and the actions needed to
    achieve or modify goals that have not been met. The first report, due by
    March 31, 2000, will describe the agencies’ fiscal year 1999 performance.

    The Results Act provides a valuable tool to address mission fragmentation
    and program overlap. The act’s emphasis on results implies that federal
    programs contributing to the same or similar outcomes are expected to be
    closely coordinated, consolidated, or streamlined, as appropriate, to
    ensure that goals are consistent and that program efforts are mutually
    reinforcing.6 As noted in OMB guidance and in our recent reports on the act,
    agencies should identify multiple programs within or outside the agency
    that contribute to the same or similar goals and describe their efforts to
    coordinate. Just as importantly, the Results Act’s requirement that
    agencies define their mission and desired outcomes, measure
    performance, and use performance information provides multiple
    opportunities for the Congress to intervene in ways that could address
    mission fragmentation.

•   As missions and desired outcomes are determined, instances of
    fragmentation and overlap can be identified and appropriate responses
    can be defined. For example, by emphasizing the intended outcomes of
    related federal programs, the plans might allow identification of legislative
    changes needed to clarify congressional intent and expectations or to
    address changing conditions.
•   As performance measures are developed, the extent to which agency goals
    are complementary and the need for common performance measures to
    allow for crossagency evaluations can be considered. For example,
    common measures of outcomes from job training programs could permit
    comparisons of programs’ results and the tools used to achieve those
•   As continued budget pressures prompt decisionmakers to weigh trade-offs
    inherent in resource allocation and restructuring decisions, the Results
    Act can provide the framework to integrate and compare the performance
    of related programs to better inform choices among competing budgetary

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

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                                Results Act: Using Agency Performance
                                Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

                                The outcome of using the Results Act in these ways might be consolidation
                                that would reduce the number of multiple programs, but it might also be a
                                streamlining of program delivery or improved coordination among existing
                                programs. Where multiple programs remain, coordination and
                                streamlining would be especially important. Multiple programs might be
                                appropriate because a certain amount of redundancy in providing services
                                and targeting recipients is understandable and can be beneficial if it
                                occurs by design as part of a management strategy. Such a strategy might
                                be chosen, for example, because it fosters competition, provides better
                                service delivery to customer groups, or provides emergency backup.

                                Education and HHS’s ACF—the two agencies that are responsible for the
Two Agencies’ Plans             majority of early childhood program funds—addressed early childhood
Address Early                   programs in their strategic and 1999 performance plans. Although both
Childhood Programs              agencies’ plans generally addressed the required elements for strategic and
                                performance plans, Education’s plans provided more detailed information
but Lack Important              about performance measures and coordination strategies. The agencies in
Detail on                       their 2000 plans similarly addressed the required elements for
                                performance plans. However, strategies and activities that relate to
Coordination                    coordination were not well defined. Although agencies state that some
                                coordination occurs, they have not yet fully described how they will
                                coordinate their efforts. The Education plan provided a more detailed
                                description of coordination strategies and activities for early childhood
                                programs than the ACF plan, including some performance measures that
                                may cut across programs. The ACF plan described in general terms the
                                agency’s plans to coordinate with external and internal programs dealing
                                with early childhood goals. Yet the information presented in the plans did
                                not provide the level of detail, definition, and identification of
                                complementary measures that would facilitate comparisons of early
                                childhood programs.

Department of Education’s       Education’s strategic plan for 1998-2002 highlighted early childhood
Plans                           programs as a major area of departmental concern. In establishing the
                                importance of early childhood education, the strategic plan said that

                            •   the extent of early learning opportunities for children has consequences
                                for long-term success;

                                Page 6                                                     GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
                                         Results Act: Using Agency Performance
                                         Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

                                     •   research on early brain development reveals that if some learning
                                         experiences are not introduced to children at an early age, the children
                                         will find learning more difficult later;
                                     •   children who enter school ready to learn are more likely to achieve high
                                         standards than children who are inadequately prepared; and
                                     •   high-quality preschool and child care are integral in preparing children
                                         adequately for school.

                                         Early childhood issues were discussed in the plan’s goal to “build a solid
                                         foundation for learning for all children” and in one objective and two
                                         performance indicators (see table 1).

Table 1: Department of Education’s
Strategic Plan Framework for Early       Goal                           Objective and performance indicators
Childhood Programs                       Build a solid foundation for   All children enter school ready to learn.
                                         learning for all children.
                                                                        —The disparity in preschool participation rates between
                                                                        children of high-income families and children of
                                                                        low-income families will become increasingly smaller.

                                                                        —The percentage of 3-to-5-year-olds whose parents read
                                                                        to them or tell them stories regularly will continuously

                                         The 1999 performance plan, Education’s first performance plan, followed
                                         from the strategic plan. It clearly identified programs contributing to
                                         Education’s early childhood objective and set individual performance
                                         goals for each of its programs. Paralleling the strategic plan, the
                                         performance plan specified the core strategies Education intended to use
                                         to achieve its early childhood goal and objective. Among these were
                                         interagency coordination, particularly with HHS’s Head Start program.
                                         According to Education’s strategic plan, this coordination was intended to
                                         ensure that children’s needs are met and that the burden on families and
                                         schools working with multiple providers is reduced. The performance plan
                                         also said that Education would work with HHS and other organizations to
                                         incorporate some common indicators of young children’s school readiness
                                         into their programs. It would also work with HHS more closely to align
                                         indicators of progress and quality between HHS’s Head Start program and
                                         its Even Start Family Literacy program—which has as part of its goal the
                                         integration of early childhood education, adult literacy or adult basic
                                         education, and parenting education.

                                         In our examination of Education’s 1999 performance plan, we reported
                                         that one of the plan’s strengths was its recognition that coordination with

                                         Page 7                                                               GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
                 Results Act: Using Agency Performance
                 Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

                 other federal agencies enables it to better serve program participants and
                 reduce inefficiencies in service delivery.7 We said that although this first
                 plan included a great deal of valuable information, it did not provide
                 sufficient details, such as

             •   a more complete picture of intended performance across the department,
             •   a fuller portrayal of how its strategies and resources would help achieve
                 the plan’s performance goals, and
             •   better identification of significant data limitations and their implications
                 for assessing the achievement of performance goals.

                 These observations apply to the early childhood programs as well. Without
                 this additional detail, policymakers are limited in their ability to make
                 decisions about programs and resource allocation within the department
                 and across agencies. Education’s 2000 performance plan continues to
                 demonstrate the department’s commitment to the coordination of its early
                 childhood programs. Like the 1999 performance plan, the sections on early
                 childhood programs clearly identified programs contributing to its
                 childhood program objectives. It also contained new material highlighting
                 the importance of the coordination of early childhood programs as a
                 crosscutting issue, particularly with HHS. To facilitate collaboration, the
                 department added a strategy to work with the states to encourage
                 interagency agreements at the state level. It also added using the Federal
                 Interagency Coordinating Council to coordinate strategies for children
                 with disabilities and their families. At the same time, the department still
                 needs to better define its objectives and performance measures for
                 crosscutting issues. Unless the purpose of coordination activities is clearly
                 defined and results in measurable outcomes, it will be difficult to make
                 progress in the coordination of programs across agencies.

ACF’s Plan       In its revised 1999 performance plan, ACF recognized the importance of
                 investment in sound growth and development for children, particularly
                 those in low-income families.8 It said that programs such as Early Head
                 Start, Head Start, and quality child care programs are essential to good
                 health, early development, and school readiness. The ACF plan reflected
                 early childhood programs in two strategic goals—“increase economic
                 independence and productivity for families” and “improve healthy

                  The Results Act: Observations on the Department of Education’s Fiscal Year 1999 Annual
                 Performance Plan (GAO/HEHS-98-172R, June 8, 1998).
                  ACF has its own performance plan, which is referred to in the HHS performance plan.

                 Page 8                                                                         GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
                                   Results Act: Using Agency Performance
                                   Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

                                   development, safety, and well-being of children and youth”—and three
                                   objectives (see table 2).

Table 2: ACF Framework for Early
Childhood Programs                 Goal                          Objectives and selected performance indicators
                                   Increase economic             Increase affordable child care.
                                   independence and              —Increase the number of children receiving subsidized
                                   productivity for families.    child care from the 1997 baseline average of 1.25 million
                                                                 served per month.
                                   Improve healthy               Increase the quality of child care to promote
                                   development, safety, and      childhood development.
                                   well-being of children and    —Children demonstrate emergent literacy, numeracy,
                                   youth.                        and language skills.
                                                                 —Children demonstrate improved general cognitive skills.
                                                                 —Children demonstrate improved gross and fine motor

                                                                 Improve the health status of children.
                                                                 —Increase from 75% to 81% the percentage of Head
                                                                 Start children who receive necessary treatment for
                                                                 emotional or behavioral problems after being identified as
                                                                 needing such treatment.

                                   The ACF plan, however, did not always give a clear picture of intended
                                   performance of its programs and often failed to identify the strategies the
                                   agency would use to achieve its performance goals. ACF programs that
                                   contribute to each early childhood objective were identified, and several
                                   of these programs had individual performance goals. However, without a
                                   clear picture of intended program goals and performance measures for
                                   crosscutting early childhood programs, it will be difficult to compare
                                   programs across agencies and assess the federal government’s overall
                                   efficacy in fostering early childhood development.

                                   In our preliminary review of ACF’s plan for fiscal year 2000, we found some
                                   mention of the need to encourage collaboration in addressing ACF’s
                                   crosscutting program goals. The plan also acknowledged and discussed
                                   the key roles of states and localities in administering ACF’s programs and
                                   achieving performance goals. However, internal and external coordination
                                   issues as they relate to early childhood programs were not fully addressed.
                                   ACF’s discussion of coordination, consultation, and partnerships primarily
                                   remained a general description of what has happened in the past. For
                                   example, the plan stated as one of its strategic objectives to “increase the
                                   quality of childcare to promote childhood development.” To support this
                                   objective, ACF identified the need to coordinate with the Department of
                                   Education concerning the Head Start program along with other internal

                                   Page 9                                                               GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
Results Act: Using Agency Performance
Plans to Oversee Early Childhood Programs

and external stakeholders in this area. However, it did not define how this
coordination will be accomplished or the means by which the crosscutting
results will be measured.

Agency officials are able to describe numerous activities that demonstrate
collaboration within the agency and with Education. The absence of that
discussion in the plan, however, limits the value the Results Act could
have to both improving agency management and assisting the Congress in
its oversight role.

Progress in coordinating crosscutting programs is still in its infancy,
although agencies are recognizing its importance. Agency performance
plans provide the building blocks for recognizing crosscutting efforts.
Because of the iterative nature of performance-based management,
however, more than one cycle of performance plans will probably be
required in the difficult process of resolving program fragmentation and

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. We would be happy
to answer any questions that you or Members of the Subcommittee may

Page 10                                                    GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
Page 11   GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
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              Government Management: Addressing High Risks and Improving
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              Head Start: Challenges Faced in Demonstrating Program Results and
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              The Results Act: Observations on the Department of Education’s Fiscal
              Year 1999 Annual Performance Plan (GAO/HEHS-98-172R, June 8, 1998).

              The Results Act: An Evaluator’s Guide to Assessing Agency Annual
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              Managing for Results: Observations on Agencies’ Strategic Plans
              (GAO/T-GGD-98-66, Feb. 12, 1998).

              Managing for Results: Agencies’ Annual Performance Plans Can Help
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              Child Care: Federal Funding for Fiscal Year 1997 (GAO/HEHS-98-70R, Jan. 23,

              Federal Education Funding: Multiple Programs and Lack of Data Raise
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              At-Risk and Delinquent Youth: Multiple Programs Lack Coordinated
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              Managing for Results: Using the Results Act to Address Mission
              Fragmentation and Program Overlap (GAO/AIMD-97-146, Aug. 29, 1997).

              The Results Act: Observations on the Department of Education’s
              June 1997 Draft Strategic Plan (GAO/HEHS-97-176R, July 18, 1997).

              The Government Performance and Results Act: 1997 Governmentwide
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              Early Childhood Programs: Multiple Programs and Overlapping Target
              Groups (GAO/HEHS-95-4FS, Oct. 31, 1994).

(104969)      Page 12                                                     GAO/T-HEHS-99-93
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