GPRA's efforts 'not working'; Hill directive misguided

In a futile attempt to legislate good management and accountability Congress passed the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) in 1993. Not surprisingly the General Accounting Office reported this year that the law has not yet even begun to achieve its objectives.

The idea behind this legislation which was implemented in a pilot phase beginning in 1994 was to make federal managers more accountable for their performance by devising ways to measure performance. The law is based on the theory that managers would do a better job if they knew their performance was being measured and if they were given more flexibility.

Congress believes that if you hold federal managers accountable for their performance - implying they were not previously held accountable - they might perform almost as well as private-sector managers (such as the people who brought you the Edsel).

GAO recently submitted an evaluation of GPRA to Congress and guess what? The report concluded that the law is "not working as intended." Not exactly a shocking revelation.

According to GAO GPRA "requires federal agencies to develop no later than the end of fiscal year 1997 strategic plans that cover a period of at least five years and that include the agency's mission statement identify the agency's long-term strategic goals and describe how the agency intends to achieve those goals through its activities and through its human capital information and other resources." Quite a tall order isn't it?

GAO noted that GPRA strategic plans are "the starting point for agencies to set annual goals for programs and to measure the performance of the programs in achieving those goals. Also GPRA requires each agency to submit to the Office of Management and Budget beginning for fiscal year 1999 an annual performance plan."

The annual performance plan is supposed to provide the bridge between the goals outlined in the agency's strategic plan and what managers and employees will do on a day-to-day basis. In essence this plan is supposed to contain the annual performance goals the agency will use to gauge its prog-ress toward accomplishing its overall objectives and to identify the performance measures the agency will use to assess its progress.

For starters I'd like to know why legislation is required to make agencies develop strategic plans. How else can an organization pursue its goals? Can you imagine Intel Corp. or Microsoft Corp. operating without a strategic plan?

Perhaps because federal agencies are run by political appointees they don't know much about managing - just fund raising. Consequently they don't develop strategic plans. Apparently Congress believes that otherwise it wouldn't have passed GPRA.

As one avenue of providing managers with needed authority and flexibility "GPRA allows agencies to propose and OMB to approve waivers of certain nonstatutory administrative requirements and controls " GAO reported.

But although seven departments and one independent agency submitted a total of 61 waiver proposals OMB did not allow any of these agencies to serve as pilots for GPRA managerial accountability and flexibility tests GAO reported.

"For about three-quarters of the waiver proposals OMB determined that the waivers that agencies requested were not allowable for statutory or other reasons or that the requirement for which the waivers were proposed no longer existed " GAO said. "For the remaining proposals OMB approved waivers or developed compromises by using authorities that were already available independent of GPRA."

For taxpayers wanting to understand what went wrong GAO said "changes in federal management practices and laws that occurred after GPRA was enacted affected agencies' need for the GPRA process."

I hope that clears things up for the average taxpayer. As for myself I'm a bit confused. Why did government practices change so that GPRA wouldn't work? Aren't there congressional committees to oversee legislation and make sure it achieves the intended results?

Another cause for GPRA's failure according to GAO was that it "was not the only means by which federal agencies could receive waivers from administrative requirements and thereby obtain needed managerial flexibility." I don't understand this one either. Why would the fact that GPRA is not the only means to obtain a waiver undermine it?

GAO cited as a third reason for GPRA's failure that "OMB did not work actively with agencies that were seeking to take part in the managerial accountability and flexibility pilot."

Why not? Isn't that breaking the law? If you think much of what has been said so far is silly you're absolutely right. The very notion that managerial accountability can be legislated is silly. So are the "explanations" provided by GAO for GPRA's failure.

This is another "hall of shame" performance from GAO and its taskmasters the Congress of the United States of America. No wonder less than half of all eligible citizens vote.

-- Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who contributes regularly to Federal Computer Week.

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