Managing for Results

Challenges Agencies Face in Producing Credible Performance Information Gao ID: GGD-00-52 February 4, 2000

In the past, congressional policymaking, spending decisions, and oversight as well as agencies' decisionmaking have all been seriously handicapped by the lack of clear goals and sound performance information at federal agencies. To remedy that situation, the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 requires agencies to set multiyear strategic goals, measure progress toward achieving those goals, and report on their progress. Agencies' annual performance reports are intended to provide important information to agency managers, policymakers, and the public on what each agency accomplished with the resources it was given. This report identifies some of the challenges that agencies face in producing credible performance information and how those challenges may affect performance reporting-the next phase in implementing the Results Act. GAO (1) discusses whether the weaknesses it has identified in agencies' performance plans imply challenges for the performance reports, (2) illustrates some of the challenges agencies face in producing credible performance data, and (3) describes how performance reports can be used to address data credibility issues.

GAO noted that: (1) it appears unlikely that agencies consistently will have for their first performance reports the reliable performance information needed to assess whether performance goals are being met or specifically how performance can be improved; (2) over the past several years GAO has identified limitations in agencies' abilities to produce credible data and identify performance improvement opportunities; (3) these limitations are substantial, long-standing, and will not be quickly or easily resolved; (4) they are likely to be reflected in agencies' initial performance reports as they have been in the performance plans to date; (5) in administering programs that are a joint responsibility with state and local governments, Congress and the executive branch continually balance the competing objectives of collecting uniform program information to assess performance with giving states and localities the flexibility needed to effectively implement intergovernmental programs; (6) the relatively limited level of agencies' program evaluation capabilities suggests that many agencies are not well positioned to undertake necessary evaluations; (7) program evaluations are important to providing information on the extent to which an agency's efforts contributed to results and to highlight opportunities to improve those results; (8) long-standing weaknesses in agencies' financial management capabilities make it difficult for decisionmakers to effectively assess and improve many programs' financial performance; (9) in order to help agency managers select appropriate techniques for assessing, documenting, and improving the quality of their performance data, some agencies proposed or adopted reasonable approaches to verify and validate performance information; (10) these approaches include senior management actions, agencywide efforts, and specific program manager and technical staff activities, which could be used, where appropriate, to improve the quality, usefulness, and credibility of performance information; (11) performance reports provide agencies with an opportunity to show the progress made in addressing data credibility issues; (12) the Government Performance and Results Act requires agencies to describe in their annual performance plans how they will verify and validate the performance information that will be collected; and (13) including information in performance reports describing the quality of the reported performance data and the implications of missing data can be equally important and can provide key contextual information to Congress and other users of the performance reports.

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