Senator threatens to withhold funds for noncompliance

The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee last week threatened to cut off funds to agencies that do not submit by the Sept. 30 deadline strategic plans for complying with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA).

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) at the first-ever joint hearing of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee chastised every federal agency but NASA for submitting incomplete draft plans or no draft plans at all.

The plans are mandated by the 4-year-old GPRA which requires agencies to identify their missions and how they plan to measure their performance in meeting them. Congress will use the plans which would include how information technology contributes to an agency's performance as a foundation for appropriations.

At the hearing Stevens told Franklin Raines director of the Office of Management and Budget that he is considering legislation that would prohibit agencies that do not comply with GPRA from spending fiscal 1998 funds."I think [this situation] calls for some kind of a hammer " Stevens told Raines. "It will be my intention to do that unless we get some progress on these reports."

Raines apparently somewhat surprised by Stevens' remarks said he had not considered the possibility that Congress might place spending restrictions on agencies that did not comply with GPRA. But he added that the suggestion of the possibility at a public hearing was certain to grab the attention of managers in those agencies.

Pilot Tests Postponed

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee expressed concern that inefficient financial management systems are a root cause of the problems agencies are experiencing. He pointed out that a recent OMB decision to postpone pilot tests in agencies that would link information on programs with information on funding was based on a determination that agencies' accounting systems are inadequate.

"Agencies still cannot tell us how they are spending taxpayer dollars " Thompson said. "They need to develop accurate computer and accounting systems to support GPRA otherwise the information they use to measure how they are doing will be flawed and of little use."

Raines acknowledged that agencies are still in the process of upgrading their financial management systems to conform to standards developed in response to GPRA and the Chief Financial Officers Act. He said pilot tests would begin in fiscal 1999 and extend through fiscal 2000.

"This is a very difficult process particularly for agencies that have never done anything like this " Raines said. "Our ability to link our spendings to outcomes is not very good."

John Koskinen OMB's deputy director for management added that the postponement of pilot tests is due partially to the problems agencies are having developing their strategic plans. He said OMB does not want to divert agencies' attention away from the plans by imposing additional requirements for conducting pilot tests.

A source on Thompson's staff said the committee is "not ready to legislate" further on GPRA. "We just want to make sure agencies comply with the existing law " he said.

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