GPRA not a cure-all for federal problems

Comptroller General of the United States Charles A. Bowsher recently testified before Congress on the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). For those of you who are not familiar with it, GPRA requires agencies to set strategic goals, measure performance against those goals and report progr

Comptroller General of the United States Charles A. Bowsher recently testified before Congress on the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA).

For those of you who are not familiar with it, GPRA requires agencies to set strategic goals, measure performance against those goals and report progress (or lack thereof) to the president and Congress.

According to Bowsher, GPRA can contribute to better congressional and executive-branch decision making, particularly at a time when the need to reduce the federal budget deficit underscores the need to manage the federal government better.

The problem, Bowsher said, is that agencies are often faced with unclear, results-oriented goals and with a lack of reliable, accurate and timely program and financial information. So far, Bowsher is singing the same old song he's been singing since he was appointed.

Bowsher believes GPRA shifts the focus of federal management from a preoccupation with staffing and activity levels to a focus on "outcomes." In the private sector there is indeed a focus on outcomes—for example, the bottom line. Bowsher would like GPRA to force government managers to keep their eye on their own bottom line.

Bowsher cited the Coast Guard's revamped Marine Safety Program as exemplifying this bottom-line approach.

When the Coast Guard began focusing on what it was trying to achieve—fewer injuries and fatalities—it shifted its program efforts. Bowsher said the Coast Guard had been concentrating on inspections, but as a result of the shift in focus, there was a significant decline in the towing industry fatality rate. The Coast Guard achieved a reduction from 91 fatalities per 100,000 industry employees in 1990 to 36 fatalities per 100,000 employees in 1994.

Bowsher conceded that such a shift in programmatic emphasis does not come quickly or easily in the federal government because outcomes are very difficult to define and measure. That should come as no surprise to anyone who's been working for the federal government for any period of time.

Bowsher advocates strong and sustained congressional attention to GPRA. Is he kidding? How is Congress going to be able to make a positive contribution to the implementation of GPRA? It can't even pass the 1996 budget.

I think Bowsher is trying to butter up his bosses, plain and simple.

Bowsher recited a litany of problems facing government agencies—namely, unclear missions and accumulated responsibilities and roles that evolved over the years.

He also cited unclear legislative mandates (be careful now, Chuck) and disagreements between the legislative and executive branches.

To illustrate, Bowsher cited the Environmental Protection Agency. He said the EPA hasn't been able to target its resources efficiently because it didn't have an "overarching legislative mission," and its environmental responsibilities had not been integrated. Heck, if it was up to Congress, they'd abolish the EPA. No wonder the EPA has a problem focusing on its priorities. I hate to tell you this, Chuck, but GPRA isn't going to solve this problem.

Bowsher goes on to say that the situation at the EPA is not unique. Here he and I are in complete agreement. Where we disagree is that there are many programs that were legislated into existence because certain members of Congress were persuaded by the program's constituents.

Once the programs were enacted into law, however, conflicting views within Congress brought about lots of legislative gridlock. None of this is going to be resolved by GPRA, I'm afraid. I wish it would, because the taxpayers deserve better.

Agency missions and goals that are unclear, that overlap and that are fragmented, I'm afraid, are intentionally so.

That's the way the political process works. Give each interest group a little bit of what it wants in return for votes. No matter that the taxpayer gets the short end of the stick. We'll worry about that later. That's the attitude that Congress has taken in the past and, unfortunately, that it will continue to take in the future.

I wish Chuck Bowsher and the General Accounting Office would get out of the public relations arena and stop touting these ill-conceived remedies for problems that are essentially political. GAO is an audit agency. That's all it is, and that's all it ever will be. As an audit agency, it serves a useful purpose. To think it can be anything but is to believe in the Tooth Fairy.

**

Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who is a regular contributor to Federal Computer Week and the author of Bureaucratus Moneyline, a personal finance newsletter for federal employees, available by subscription on FCW's Web page at http://www.fcw.com. For more information, contact Bureaucratus at bureaucratus@fcw.com.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.