Results Act at a crossroads

Bush administration overview of budget-performance integration

Basing budget allocations on the performance of programs and employees is not a new idea, but federal agencies are only now making the cultural changes necessary to turn the concept into reality.

The process of tying budgets to results, which began with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993 and was boosted by the President's Management Agenda in 2001, requires much more than simply coming up with performance information, officials said.

That information must be integral to the budget process, unlike in the past. For instance, for several years at the Interior Department, performance data was tacked on to official reports to Congress or the Office of Management and Budget.

There, development of the budget and performance information for programs occurred in such separate environments that they were bound in the same report, but on different kinds of paper, said Scott Cameron, Interior's deputy assistant secretary for performance and management, speaking July 1 at the Excellence in Government conference in Washington, D.C.

The key, Cameron said, is to start with "a strategic plan with teeth." Before, each of Interior's eight bureaus developed their own strategic plans and the department simply pulled them together with a summary. Now, the department sets the overarching goals and the bureaus' plans fall within them, he said.

Overall, GPRA has been more successful than past performance initiatives, in part because it incorporated lessons from them, such as setting lower expectations and allowing agencies to learn which performance measures are helpful for their missions, said Paul Posner, managing director of federal budget and intergovernmental relations at the General Accounting Office.

With GPRA's 10th anniversary coming next month, Posner said that "where we are now is at a crossroads." Agencies have experience in planning and reporting on performance, but "what has not happened yet is the active application of those measures to the budget."

At the Energy Department, officials launched a massive education and marketing program for executives — by teaching them how to use performance measures to improve their own management and budget decisions — and for frontline personnel, said Janet Garber, director of DOE's Office of Performance Integration.

A key factor at each agency seems to be the almost daily involvement of the deputy secretary or another executive at that level. Officials governmentwide have often cited the President's Management Agenda and the red/yellow/green score card that the Bush administration uses to measure progress.

The administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) is also a major force, driving agencies and officials within the White House and Congress to think about whether they are asking the right questions about performance, said Mark Catlett, principal deputy assistant secretary for management at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The focus on appropriate performance metrics and the emphasis on outcomes (such as improved health of veterans) rather than outputs (such as the number of veterans in hospitals) are part of the reason why he feels PART is the "most aggressive, effective tool I have seen," he said.

Agencies' efforts to get buy-in and involvement at all levels shows that "everyone has realized that if you don't include your frontline managers, then you'll have them destroying the system from the inside," said Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

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Keys to integration

Steps to successfully integrating agencies' budget and performance information: * Officials must define realistic expectations for how performance information will influence budget decisions, particularly by clarifying that often no direct link exists between a program's performance and the amount of money it should receive.

* There must be clear alignment among budget accounts and performance plans and metrics, not the parallel presentation of information that usually occurs.

* Officials must get consensus on performance goals from all levels of the agency and overseers at the Office of Management and Budget and in Congress, because only then will everyone use the information.

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