Agencies measure own performance

Federal agencies many for the first time have begun to measure how well their procurement offices perform and the results are expected to affect agency budget requests during the next two years.

The measurement effort is part of the government's plan to carry out the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) a 1993 law that demands agencies show what they accomplish with the money they spend. The Office of Management and Budget as well as Congress wants agencies to explain how acquisition contributes to their goals.

"Measurement is going to be part of life now " said David Litman the Transportation Department's director of acquisition and grant management and leader of a governmentwide task force on procurement performance.

Bob Welch a procurement executive with the Treasury Department compared the process of measuring agency performance to a medical physical. "You get your blood cholesterol [level] a snapshot of your relative state of health " he said.

As procurement officials gather and analyze purchasing data during the next few months to a year they will focus mainly on how to treat specific maladies they uncover in their internal operations. At a meeting last month of top government acquisition executives officials said they have yet to determine exactly how these cures will contribute to the overall health of their agencies.

"One of the things we discovered was that it's harder to do than we thought because there are different layers of goals and measures " Litman said. "I think it's going to be a learning process and it's probably going to be a dynamic thing. Each agency is going to adjust their performance measurement plan as...the procurement system continues to change."

Responding to Congress and the Public

Nevertheless acquisition "is a priority area" for agencies as GPRA takes effect during the next two years said John Mercer the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee aide who developed the law. "Procurement is an area that has long been sensitive to Congress and even to the general public because they're always hearing horror stories about the government paying a lot of money for something and not getting much for it."

Steven Kelman administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy said his office would be monitoring agencies' procurement performance as part of the budget process and in some cases working with agencies to set targets for improving their acquisition work. He said he also plans to look into how agencies might incorporate performance incentives into their operations to reward employees who excel in their work.

Contracting officials "should see the successful implementation of this system of performance measures as an important part of [their jobs] " Kelman said. "I think ultimately for it to work really well it will need to be tied into something like promotions and bonuses."

Agencies are required to offer performance incentives under the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 but no agency has done so yet.

Different agencies have developed a variety of performance measures that reflect specific activities of their procurement offices but those measures generally are based upon recommendations of the interagency task force which in turn took many of its ideas from a commercial approach advocated by Harvard University professors Robert Kaplan and David Norton.

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