Congress' input wanted on ratings

To maximize the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, lawmakers should be more active in rating programs and linking performance to budgets, officials said this week.

GPRA established a statutory framework for agencies' performance plans and measurements, but the law's effectiveness hinges on how agencies use it, officials told Congress. Appropriators need to be more involved in the process, officials said, testifying this week before the House Government Reform Committee's Government Efficiency and Financial Management Subcommittee.

"Congress needs to get engaged," said Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute.

DeMaio proposed the creation of a Congressional Office of Program Performance (COPP) to review the ratings OMB officials give programs using the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) and conduct independent program reviews. The office would help lawmakers sort through the volumes of performance information and make better budget decisions, he said.

"A COPP office can be that filter by which Congress can review that performance information," DeMaio told lawmakers. "If Congress had a similar capacity [as OMB], you'd have that information being used on quite a regular basis. Your use is needed."

DeMaio suggested that the office be staffed by the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Budget Office and that a joint committee be created to select programs to review.

Patricia Dalton, GAO's director for strategic issues, agreed there should be more interaction from Congress but didn't support the notion of another level of program review. Instead, she said, the information should be made easier to understand.

"I think it's important to extract the information, form it and present it in a way that is easy to use," she told lawmakers at the hearing.

In a recent review of GPRA's effectiveness, GAO found that agency officials saw congressional reluctance to use the performance information as one of the major challenges to the law's implementation. GAO's review was based on prior examinations, in-depth focus group meetings and evaluations of six sample agencies.

"While there is concern regarding Congress' use of performance information, it is important to make sure the information is useful," Dalton said in written testimony. "In other words, the information presented and its presentation must meet the needs of the user."

Dalton said Congress needs to consult with agency officials about performance plans and goals from the outset.

"Congress must resist the temptation to ignore management reforms," subcommittee chairman Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) said in his opening statement. "Such efforts are not the most exciting issues, and they rarely make headlines. But in reality, there are few matters more important for Congress to focus on than ensuring that the federal government is well run and results oriented."

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