GPRA and government business

The comptroller general of the United States recently addressed attendees at a National Academy of Public Administration conference and expressed his views on the Government Performance and Results Act. "How should the government do business in the 21st century?" he asked rhetorically. Guess what his reply was?

"GPRA can serve as a vehicle to address this important question by providing a means to link resources to results, a mechanism to report the related outcomes and a way of [ensuring] accountability relating thereto," David Walker said. "GPRA can also help us make progress in a range of areas that may not have been adequately focused on in the past."

It's not surprising for the comptroller general to offer this response, considering that GPRA is a creature of the General Accounting Office. But honestly, how many of you believe that GPRA is a useful mechanism for ensuring accountability or even measuring performance?

For example, even if you can accurately measure how many pounds of garbage are collected per dollar spent on garbage collection—and I seriously question whether you can—isn't the real issue this: Are the streets clean? How do you measure that? Certainly not by dividing pounds of garbage collected by dollars spent to collect garbage. Unfortunately, that's the simplistic approach inherent in GPRA. If I'm wrong on this, please let me hear from you.

Walker goes on to say this—still within the context of GPRA: "For example, just yesterday, the Commercial Activities Panel [a congressional investigative unit] heard from a variety of witnesses on their growing dissatisfaction with the government's current outsourcing strategy and A-76 process. Many believe that intelligent sourcing strategies should be driven by strategic planning considerations rather than detailed cost comparisons.

"The panel believes that our sourcing decisions should also be designed to balance the interests of the taxpayers, the government, its employees and private-sector contractors, including attracting and retaining an adequate number of government workers with the skills and knowledge to monitor and evaluate the cost, quality and performance of government contractors."

I don't see the connection between what Walker said and GPRA. If anything, GPRA is a quantitative-driven process, so the thought expressed by the panel that sourcing decisions shouldn't be based solely on cost comparisons seems to fly in the face of GPRA. Yet the comptroller general believes that somehow GPRA can help balance the interests of the tax.payers, the government, its employees and private-sector contractors. How? And if sourcing decisions are indeed going to migrate away from cost comparisons with the attempt to strike the balance Walker seeks, the outcome will certainly not please government employees. Nor will it facilitate attracting and retaining an adequate number of government workers with the skills and knowledge to monitor and evaluate the cost, quality and performance of government contractors.

How can you attract highly qualified people to work for the government — and remain—if sourcing decisions seem at times to be driven by the Bush administration's desire to reward particular contractors because they contributed substantially to the president's election? I really get upset when I hear public officials reciting such fairy tales. How do you feel about this?

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at miltzall@starpower.net.

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