The Government Performance and Results Act: Why wait?

Arguably the most important piece of legislation enacted by Congress during the 20th century, the Government Performance and Results Act hopes to revolutionize federal management by requiring agencies to track accomplishments. In short, GPRA shifts the focus of budgets and appropriations from inputs (dollars) to results measured by outputs and outcomes of specific programs. But there is a disquieting lack of reference in the current budget debate to this potentially powerful guide that could lead us out of the financial wilderness.

The trouble is that the first submissions of departments and agencies under GPRA, also known as Public Law 103-62—the strategic plans—are not due until September 1997. There is no apparent reason for this delay, especially because more than 70 GPRA pilot projects are under way, and many government organizations already publish strategic plans.

GPRA requires the submission of five-year strategic plans by the beginning of fiscal 1998 that explicitly document mission statements, goals and quantifiable performance measures for departments and agencies. In fiscal 1999 annual performance plans are due that contain program performance goals, resource summaries aligned with the budget and explanations of methods used to verify and measure the values of program outcomes. By March 31, 2000, each agency will prepare and submit to the president and Congress a report on program performance the previous year. This report will compare actual program output and outcome results with the goals submitted for the previous year.

Focus on Results, Not Input

The traditional financial measures in the government are budgets, appropriations and obligations. The personnel measures include head count, full-time equivalents or staffing ceilings. Although important, these units of measurement are related to input and do not focus on the results obtained by the programs that consume these dollars and the energy of more than 2 million employees. Some GPRA language concisely frames the problem: "Congressional policy making, spending decisions and program oversight are seriously handicapped by insufficient attention to program performance and results." GPRA will help Congress deal with the frustration by requiring agencies to develop output measures (the quantitative or qualitative tabulation, calculation or recording of activity or effort) and outcome measures (an assessment of program activity results compared with their intended purpose). Selecting the appropriate measures, linking the measures to outcomes and establishing realistic outcome goals is a task that should begin promptly if it is not already under way.

We need to recognize a hidden problem associated with GPRA implementation. Unless the organization of departments and agencies is based on processes, instead of programs or function, it will be difficult to comply with the intent of GPRA. It is troublesome to understand how we can talk about outputs and outcomes without describing the process that produces these results. Most departments and agencies are vertically organized by function, not by the horizontal processes that involve all the functions, and there lies the root cause of our government's fiscal mess.

The General Accounting Office recently prepared an interesting analysis of the fiscal 1994 budget to illustrate the performance of the same activity by multiple government departments and agencies. GAO concluded that "agency functions are duplicative, conflicting and overlapping in 15 out of 18 categories." When processes are well-defined, it is then easier to appoint process owners and hold these owners accountable for results.

How do we move from our "as is" world of overlapping vertical organizations with multiple hierarchical layers to a "no fat," customer-oriented, process-based operation? The answer requires the consistent application of business process re-engineering.

The early 1990s produced some significant BPR-based success stories but also a number of failed BPR efforts. It is time to use the BPR experience from the last few years (Phase I) and adjust the application of BPR in the next few years (Phase II) to accelerate the GPRA implementation schedule. Effective application of BPR can help Congress and the executive branch use GPRA as the foundation for meeting the massive change management challenge facing our elected and appointed officials.

Many, if not most, government organ-izations already publish mission statements covering existing major functions and operations. To comply with GPRA, they need to add outcome-related goals and objectives. There are other specific reporting requirements that merge nicely with GPRA requirements—specifically, the Government Management and Reform Act that requires audited financial statements for fiscal 1996. We don't need to wait until fiscal 1998 to tie these initiatives together.

Tough-minded congressional committee chairmen could insist on preliminary GPRA documents now during their oversight hearings of government agencies. This would stimulate process-based organization communication between the executive and legislative branches of government. Specification of expected results would add a rigorous dimension to the debate over the transfer of programs to the states, privatization or outsourcing. At a minimum, Congress should formally advance the timetable for GPRA implementation to Sept. 30, 1996.

Gardner is president of The Geoff Gardner Group Inc., a business process re-engineering consulting firm. He can be reached at (703) 237-5110 or by e-mail at geoffgroup@aol.com.

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