Officials want better use of GPRA

Congress should strengthen oversight to ensure the use of program performance information in managing and funding programs, officials said last week.

Ten years after the passage of the Government Performance and Results Act (GRPA), some progress has been made, but lawmakers should do more to see that performance results are taken seriously, said the General Accounting Office's comptroller general, David Walker, testifying last week before the House Government Reform Committee.

"We see very little evidence that Congress, other than this committee, is using this information," Walker said. "There has to be consequences, and to date, frankly, there haven't been."

Rather than pass legislation to ensure that results are tied to budget, lawmakers should pressure agencies and appropriators to consider performance information seriously, officials said.

"We're talking about a cultural change on Capitol Hill," Walker said. "Before you can have cultural change, you have to have affected parties realize we're on a burning platform, that the status quo is unacceptable."

Clay Johnson, the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management, called managing for results "a new way of thinking for the federal government." The government is beginning to embrace the act more and is looking at programs' effectiveness and how they can be improved.

The Program Assessment Rating Tool has helped with these assessments, Johnson said. The method, used by OMB in formulating the 2004 budget request, assigns programs a grade. Each year for five years, 20 percent of government programs are evaluated. Johnson was optimistic for the progress in the next five years.

"Executive branch leadership will be routinely asking whether the programs it administers are effective and efficient and doing what they were intended to do," he said, also testifying before the committee. "If they aren't, the executive branch will be looking for ways to improve working closely with Congress to do so."

Johnson said the responsibility initially lies with the executive branch to take the performance information into account when making budget recommendations. That responsibility is then passed to Congress.

"Congress has to be willing to pay attention to that," he said. "There is no automatic anything, but it is an indication and they need to be open to consider the performance information, and they aren't now."

Patricia McGinnis, president and chief executive officer for the Council for Excellence in Government, said GPRA's full potential has not been realized. "Unfortunately, I don't think it's been accompanied by strong enough leadership," she said, also testifying at the hearing.

McGinnis offered several suggestions for statutory and cultural changes to increase GPRA's effectiveness, such as:

* Consider shifting the strategic plan cycle from every three years to every four years, lining it up with presidential terms to ensure the plans are consistent with the administration's policies.

* Require that significant program authorizations and spending provisions specify the program's goals and the measures expected to judge progress.

* Require large program authorizations to include funding for long-term, rigorous evaluation of results in addition to measuring performance. This examination will help determine where the programs need more attention, McGinnis said.

"Congress can do, every year, more to effect to the well being of their children by effecting oversight rather than legislation," said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, testifying with the panel. "This committee has an opportunity to demonstrate to Congress that there are rewards and recognitions in effective oversight."

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