GAO seeks performance boost

"Results-Oriented Budget Practices in Federal Agencies"

The General Accounting Office is looking for agency-specific examples to supplement a draft guide on ways to integrate program performance information into budget decisions.

The guide is intended to help agencies that are trying to meet the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 as well as President Bush's management agenda, which names performance and budget integration as one of five priorities.

The draft is an "initial framework that describes the practices an agency could use to link performance information to the budget process," according to GAO.

The framework splits the entire integration process into four themes, with best practices under each. And while GAO has gathered comments from a panel of agency officials on the barriers to using such practices, the next step for the guide is to gather examples of agencies that have successfully applied any or all of the practices.

The first framework theme is fostering broad-scale use of performance information in forming budget requests for Congress and in using the resources acquired. Agency managers should work closely with program officials to determine priorities and provide guidance on changes in overall agency goals that could affect their programs, according to the draft.

The second and third framework themes focus on the more agency-specific uses of performance information in the daily management of programs. Under Theme 2, agency management must produce reliable estimates of a program's costs and resources, including considering how one program affects others. At the same time, under Theme 3, agency managers must be able to bring together performance, budget, spending and workforce information, such as accounting for both the direct and indirect costs of a program.

The fourth theme covers how an agency continuously improves its processes and performance, including exploring the possibility of identifying alternate sources of funding for a program, such as charging fees for a service.

Finding specific examples of how agencies are successfully applying these practices will help spread best practices, according to the guide.

But while the panel of agency officials felt all of the practices are good ones, there are many barriers to making them part of the budget and management cycle. This includes a history of agency management not requesting input from program officials, and financial systems that are not structured to accept performance information.

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