Congress gets pointers on shaping agency performance information

The GAO has provided a guide for members of Congress on how to develop and use performance data to create better policy.

The federal government is getting a little help from the Government Accountability Office’s new report on how enhanced performance information produced by agencies can lead to overall better decision making.

Many of the objectives of the federal government require the concerted effort of several federal agencies. To create and fund government programs, Congress depends on reliable information to evaluate agencies’ progress in meeting performance goals. However, performance information is often lacking in many areas, according to GAO.

Even when agencies produce substantial amount of performance information, GAO noted it “doesn’t always reach the interested parties in Congress, and when it does, the information may not be timely or presented in a manner that is useful for congressional decision making.”

GAO’s guide is intended to help members of Congress and their staffs to ensure the consultations required under Government Performance and Results Act Modernization are useful to the Congress. Agencies are required to consult with relevant committees and get input about proposed goals at least once every two years. GAO found the most beneficial approach to consulting is when meetings take place while a strategic plan is being developed, not after. The requirement for consultations on an at least bi-yearly basis aims to ensure each new Congress has a chance to influence agency goals, objectives, strategies and performance measures.

GAO picked three examples in which Congress played an active role in contributing to and overseeing agency efforts to improve performance. Those federal efforts include overhauling the processing of immigration benefits, coordinating U.S. efforts to address the global HIV/AIDS pandemic; and identifying and address improper payments made by federal programs.

These case studies of U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and cutting improper payments showed how Congress can help agencies in developing and achieving performance goals. In many of these examples, Congress set clear expectations for agency performance, required routine reporting on progress, and provided consistent oversight.

In the event an agency didn’t meet its goals, Congress considered the possibility of additional authority to help the agency accomplish its objective, and, when needed, provided such authority. In one case study, Congress required an agency to develop and submit a strategic plan before receiving a portion of its appropriations.

 

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