Managing for Results

Regulatory Agencies Identified Significant Barriers to Focusing on Results Gao ID: GGD-97-83 June 24, 1997

The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) seeks to boost the performance of federal agencies by focusing on program performance and measuring results. Because establishing results-oriented goals and performance measures will not be easy, GPRA provides for a phased implementation period. Beginning in fiscal year 1994 and extending over several years, agencies are to develop strategic goals, identify performance measures, and by fiscal year 1999 implement annual results-oriented performance reports linked to budget requests. The President has directed regulatory agencies to change the way they measure their performance and to focus on results. This report focuses on the efforts of five agencies to focus on results: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency. GAO describes the (1) five agencies' strategic goals and related program performance measures as well as employee performance standards as of January 1997; (2) extent to which agency officials and GAO believe that these goals, program performance measures, and employee performance standards focus on results; and (3) aids and barriers that agency officials said that they faced in trying to focus on results. GAO summarized this report in testimony before Congress; see: Managing for Results: Prospects for Effective Implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act, by L. Nye Stevens, Director of Federal Management and Workforce Issues, before the Subcommittee on Management, Information, and Technology, House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight. GAO/T-GGD-97-113, June 3 (19 pages).

GAO noted that: (1) as would be expected in the early stages of implementing a new and difficult initiative, GAO observed that some of the five regulatory agencies were further along in the development of strategic goals, program performance measures, and employee performance standards than others; (2) the agencies also varied in the degree to which their goals, associated sets of program performance measures, and employee performance standards that were in use as of January 1, 1997, focused on results as judged by both agency officials and GAO; (3) in this regard, it is important to note that although GPRA was intended to encourage agencies to focus their goals and measures on results, the Act does not require that all of an agency's goals or performance measures be explicitly results-oriented; (4) similarly, the President's directive to orient frontline regulators' performance standards toward results does not appear to require that every standard be results-oriented; (5) there were differences in the extent to which agency officials characterized their goals, program performance measures, and employee performance standards as "results-oriented" and the extent to which GAO did; (6) in general, agencies frequently concluded that their goals, measures, and standards were more results-oriented than GAO did; (7) at the broader and more conceptual level of strategic goals, there were relatively few differences between agency officials' assessments of the extent of results-orientation and GAO's; (8) in enacting GPRA, Congress realized that the transition to results-oriented management would not be easy; (9) for that reason, the Act provided for a phased approach to implementation, during which time agencies have been able to identify the obstacles that need to be overcome and some factors they found helpful; (10) the factor that agency officials most commonly said aided the establishment of a results-orientation in the agencies was the enactment of GPRA; (11) although agency officials identified some aids to focusing their agencies on results, they cited numerous barriers to their efforts to establish results oriented goals and measures; (12) these barriers included significant problems in identifying and collecting the data they needed to demonstrate their agencies' results; (13) agencies also cited as a barrier the fact that the diverse and complex factors affect agencies' results, and their lack of control or influence over those factors; and (14) these barriers suggest that the implementation of GPRA in a regulatory environment may prove extremely difficult in some cases.

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