Managing for Results

Using GPRA to Assist Congressional and Executive Branch Decisionmaking Gao ID: T-GGD-97-43 February 12, 1997

Broad agreement exists that part of the solution to the government's fiscal problems lies in better management of its programs and activities. At the same time, the American people are rightly demanding that their government operate in a more efficient and businesslike manner. Faced with growing federal management problems, Congress put in place several reforms designed to give managers better information and improve decision making. One of these reforms--the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA)--offers the promise of shifting the focus of federal management from a preoccupation with the number of tasks completed to actual results. This testimony by the Acting Comptroller General discusses how Congress can use GPRA to cut costs and boost performance in the federal government. The Acting Comptroller General provides an overview of the major management challenges facing federal agencies, discusses how GPRA can be used to address those challenges and better ensure that agencies become focused and results-driven, and makes suggestions that Congress could consider in deciding how it can use GPRA to enhance congressional oversight and decisionmaking.

GAO noted that: (1) efforts to build an effective and efficient organization must begin with a clearly defined mission, a concrete sense of why the organization exists and what it is to accomplish; (2) over the years, GAO's work has identified instances where an agency's effectiveness was hampered by the lack of a clearly defined mission; (3) while progress is needed in better defining the missions of individual agencies, it is equally important to manage and coordinate federal program efforts that cut across several agencies; (4) GAO's work has shown that many program areas suffer from fragmented and overlapping initiatives; (5) such unfocused efforts waste scarce funds, confuse and frustrate program customers, and limit the overall effectiveness of the federal effort; (6) as Congress provides input to agencies' strategic plans, it can insist that agencies show how their programs are aligned with related efforts in other agencies; (7) Congress can also use the planning process to seek opportunities to streamline government by comparing the effectiveness of similar program efforts carried out by different agencies; (8) as successful organizations define their missions, they also establish results-oriented performance goals that can be used to assess whether they are fulfilling their missions; (9) many agencies have a difficult time moving from measuring program activities to establishing results-oriented goals and managing to achieve those results; (10) the fundamental reason that establishing results-oriented goals is so difficult is that, to set such goals, agencies must move beyond what they control, that is, their activities, to focus on what they merely influence, their results; (11) GAO's work has shown that many agencies are struggling to develop coherent strategies for restructuring their organizations, workforces, and operations to meet results-oriented goals and that agencies need to do a better job of designing mission-based strategies to improve efficiency and reduce costs; (12) taken together, the key steps and practices drawn from the organizations GAO studied provide a useful framework to assist Congress and the executive branch as they work to implement GPRA; (13) although each of the leading organizations GAO studied set its agenda for management reform according to its own environment, needs, and capabilities, they all commonly took three key steps; (14) these steps were to define mission and desired outcomes or results, measure performance to gauge progress, and use performance information as a basis for decisionmaking; and (15) GPRA, the Chief Financial Officer's Act, and the information technology reform legislation can be extremely valuable tools to help Congress and agencies address long-standing managerial problems.

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