Fed reports miss mark

The first reports detailing how agencies' programs are performing do not provide a clear enough picture of program results, and information technology may be part of the problem, according to an independent study released last week. And without a clear picture, agency programs — including IT — could miss out on funding.

Most of the performance reports do not describe the results-oriented goals and program measurements required by law, according to the study. And at least two agencies — NASA and the National Science Foundation — were unable to offer any background data on its programs.

More than 180 agencies turned in a performance report to the Office of Management and Budget. The study, conducted by George Mason University's Mercatus Center, looked at the performance reports of the 24 largest agencies.

The poor quality of the reports, required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, may have been caused by outdated or inadequately developed IT systems, which make collecting GPRA-related information difficult.

But even the best technology does not guarantee a good report. The agency may have been collecting and analyzing huge amounts of data — just not the right kind. "A number of organizations got bad marks for their reports because they don't have the ability to collect the right information," said Maurice McTigue, director of the Public Sector Leadership program at the Mercatus Center. "They've never had to address the issue of, "Are we succeeding in our goal with this program?'"

Congress plans to use the reports to make funding decisions. Senate and House committees, the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Research Service plan to submit analyses of the reports to the appropriations committees by the beginning of June.

"If we don't integrate this into the budget process, it's all meaningless," said Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

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