Feds' strategic plans lack specifics on technology

Strategic plans recently created to comply with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) fall short in showing how agencies plan to manage information to better assess program results and costs a top General Accounting Office official reported last week to a House committee. In a report submitted to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee on Oct. 30 James Hinchman acting GAO comptroller general wrote that several critical information technology issues need to be addressed if GPRA is to succeed in improving the management of federal agencies.

"The government's track record in employing information technology to improve operations and address mission-critical problems is poor and the strategic plans we reviewed often contain only limited discussions of technology issues " Hinchman wrote. "For example [the General Services Administration's] plan does not explicitly discuss major management problems or identify which problems could have an adverse impact on the agency's meeting its goals and objectives. The plan does not address for instance how GSA plans to ensure that its information systems meet computer security requirements."

IT will be key to collecting processing and analyzing data that agencies will use to quantify the costs and benefits of programs and to show the Office of Management and Budget and Congress how agencies plan to comply with GPRA which requires them to show how they will measure performance goals.

House Majority Leader Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) who testified before the committee agreed. "Most agencies...face massive data capacity problems that threaten their ability to produce and provide decision-makers with reliable performance information " he said. "Even the best strategic or performance plan will be only a paper exercise unless the agency can back it up with good data."

In September congressional leaders released an unflattering report card on the draft strategic plans agencies had put together for GPRA giving them an average score of two out of a possible 10 for data capacity. This week Armey plans to release a new GPRA report card.

But G. Edward DeSeve acting deputy director for management at OMB said the agencies' strategic plans which will be updated every three years are not the place to detail how they will use IT to meet their goals. Agencies' annual performance plans are a more appropriate place to describe the specific actions agencies will take to achieve program goals DeSeve said. "That's where the statutes said it would be."

Moreover DeSeve said OMB's oversight of how agencies use some computer systems - those that are not "mission-critical" - falls under the Clinger-Cohen Act not GPRA.

Still awareness of GPRA's IT implications is greater than it was a few months ago in Congress and at the White House said Bill Greenwalt a professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and one of the architects of the Clinger-Cohen Act.

Greenwalt said IT is a key element of GPRA it is not just a means to provide data. "It's systems. It's financial management. It's IT systems that pull that [data] together " he said. "They're realizing that the real nuts and bolts of this thing is going to be on data.... The fact that we're getting high-level interest in it is a very positive development.... I think you'll see more and more of that as the year goes by."

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