Agencies earn failing grades for draft plans

Three congressional Republican leaders last week slapped a failing grade on agencies' draft reports that detail ways agency managers plan to measure how their business practices including information technology help them meet mission goals.

The drafts are agencies' first crack at complying with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) which require agencies to define their mission goals and how they will measure their performance in meeting those goals. IT is expected to play a key role in the plans which Congress is expected to use to justify cuts or additions to IT budgets for fiscal 1999.

But House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) House Government Reform and Oversight Committee chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee gave agencies an average score of two out of a possible 10 on "data capacity " a measurement of an agency's ability to produce reliable data for measuring performance. The Social Security Administration had the highest score at 8.5. Several agencies - including the Defense and Agriculture departments - were given a zero.

"We have found ourselves almost bitterly bitterly disappointed " said Armey whom along with Burton and others the House GOP picked to oversee how agencies were complying with GPRA.

Congressional members and staff said IT will be more fleshed out in the final plans which are due Sept. 30 with IT having a role in almost every section of agencies' reports. "A lot of these major management problems [outlined in the report] are probably IT-related...or IT can be a solution to those problems " said Bill Greenwalt a staff member on the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs who attended last week's event but was not a part of the grading. Greenwalt who called IT "critical" to GPRA was one of the architects of the Information Technology Management Reform Act which was later folded into the Clinger-Cohen Act.

Armey Burton and Craig did not elaborate on how agencies included IT in measuring performance. In the score card report the congressmen wrote: "It is important that data and systems problems be highlighted now since they are often complex and require considerable time to correct. Yet the agency plans paid scant attention to these problems."

Armey deferred to the General Accounting Office for comments on how IT should figure into agency's GPRA plans. In a report released in June GAO concluded "We have noted that the sound application and management of information technology to support strategic program goals must be an important part of any serious attempt to improve agency mission performance cut costs and enhance responsiveness to the public."

Craig said if agencies have IT deficiencies that will keep them from complying with GPRA then they need to make those deficiencies known to decision-makers in Congress and at the Office of Management and Budget. But OMB defended agency efforts to comply with GPRA. "We took [the scoring] as kind of the test you might get the first day of school " said G. Edward DeSeve acting deputy director for management at OMB. Many agencies last month submitted new drafts to OMB which DeSeve said show improvement.

Carolyn Shearin-Jones director of strategic management at SSA said IT issues weave through much of the agency's draft plan including disseminating benefits information to taxpayers online. But she cautioned that readers of the agency's strategic plan will not be overwhelmed with IT details. "We take the view in our strategic plan that it is exactly that: It is our broad direction for the future " she said.

Many agencies are still trying to connect IT to mission goals. "I know deep in my heart and soul that IT is a very important part [of implementing GPRA] " said David Cristy director of information resources management policy and management at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But he could not provide examples of how IT initiatives are linked to agency goals in HUD's GPRA strategic plan.

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