Two years after GPRA update, government still lacks clear metrics, information

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Editor’s note: Story has been updated to include a comment from Jitinder Kohli, director at Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Federal agencies still have ways to go in creating satisfactory performance metrics and making that information accessible and useful, a new report from the Government Accountability Office found.

Since President Barack Obama updated the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act in 2011, agencies have been making significant strides in monitoring metrics, setting goals and disseminating information. But the new GAO report discovered many agencies still struggling to identify tax expenditures, record their performance and provide useful information to Congress.

“The GPRA Modernization Act is beginning to change the culture of agencies,” said Jitinder Kohli, director at Deloitte Consulting LLP and leader of the Deloitte Federal Government Performance practice. “There is emerging a stronger focus on outcomes and how to achieve them. This is encouraging. But it’s the very early days and there is a lot more to do. In particular, as GAO notes, there is more to do in using and communicating performance information.”

The report lauded agencies for assigning monitoring responsibilities to specific managers. Agencies have gotten better developing agency priority goals with quarterly performance reviews, it found. Of the 24 agencies under the 1990 CFO Act — which created the chief financial officer at federal agencies — all have assigned senior-level officials to the positions of chief operating officer, public information officer and goal leader. Twenty-two of the agencies had also established a senior executive as deputy PIO. These new positions have advanced each agency’s ability to establish and track performance metrics.

But agencies have struggled to assess programs that cut across multiple agencies.

“Agencies have experienced common issues in measuring the performance of various other types of programs and have not made consistent progress in addressing them in the last 20 years,” the report reads. Particularly, due to a lack of “guidance and oversight” from the Office of Management and Budget, “agencies are missing important opportunities to more broadly identify how tax expenditures contribute to each agency’s overall performance.”

The report estimates tax expenditures accounted for $1 trillion in forgone tax revenue during the 2012 fiscal year.

“Therefore, the contributions made by tax expenditures toward broader federal outcomes are unknown,” it reads. “In some areas, forgone revenue due to tax expenditures is nearly equal to or greater than spending for federal outlay programs.”

The information agencies collect is increasingly available, though. The OMB-developed website, Performance.gov, provides quarterly updates on the governmentwide agency priority goals. Still, only 34 percent of federal managers surveyed reported performance information was accessible to agency employees to a “great or very great extent.” Only 17 percent said the public had similar “great or very great” access to this information. And many of the agency priority goals haven’t even been shared with agency employees, rendering the dissemination of the results useless.

GAO also worried about the usefulness of sharing the information with Congress. Part of the 2011 GPRA Modernization Act mandate was to provide Congress with information to assist the legislative process. Performance.gov must improve its design to meet the needs of members and committees of Congress, according to the report.

“Congressional support has played a critical role in sustaining interest in management improvement initiatives over time,” the report reads. “However, our work has found that the performance information that agencies provided to Congress was not always useful for congressional decision making because the information was not clear, directly relevant, or sufficiently detailed.”

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Agencies, Congress, Government Accountability Office (GAO), Government IT News, Management & Budget, Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
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