GAO: Agencies should better use results data

The next president should foster a performance culture in government and use results data throughout federal activities, an official of the Government Accountability Office has said.

Although some agency managers use data from the performance measures for the programs they lead to a greater extent than before, many still don’t, Bernice Steinhardt, GAO's director of strategic issues, also told a Senate subcommittee.

Based on the preliminary findings of a survey GAO conducted this year, agency executives  use performance information as a basis to reward employees, but fail to use performance information when making important decisions, Steinhardt said at a hearing July 24 of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee.

“For the collection of performance information to be considered more than meaningless paperwork exercises, it must be useful to and used by federal decision makers at all levels, including Congress,” Steinhardt testified.

GAO recommended the next administration promote leadership's commitment to results-oriented management throughout government; develop a clear linking of individual performance to organizational results and build agencies' capacity to collect and use performance information.

“If leaders don’t care, managers aren’t going to pay much attention," Steinhardt told the panel. "Those managers that reporting using measures also said their agency heads were committed to it."

However, during the past 15 years agencies have made substantial progress in shifting the focus from solely on activities to their outcomes, she said.

“Based on over a decade of work in this area, we can say that there has been a transformation in the capacity of the federal government to manage for results,” Steinhardt said.

What is lacking is progress to integrate information about program performance into managers’ decision making, which would ensure continued performance progress, she added. “It has not changed in 10 years,” she said.

Agencies also need to engage Congress more to identify measures of success for information they need for oversight, legislation and appropriations, she said.

OMB has taken steps to report agency performance information in a pilot program that uses a highlights report by agencies to summarize key measures from their annual Performance and Accountability Report. Congressional staff members also suggested that agencies create a “for Congress” online page on their Web sites for data that Congress requests or needs, she said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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