The report outlined various areas where more work needs to be done, including a better understanding and usage of performance data, and analyzing the effectiveness of tax expenditures. “Here we are in 2013 and still no progress,” Robert Shea, a principal at Grant Thornton and a former performance executive at the Office of Management and Budget, told In Depth with Francis Rose in response to the report’s findings. “I think there’s an opportunity for folks to take a deep breath, maybe facilitated by Congress, and rethink what we’re doing and ways we might do it better.”
GAO made four recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), three of which concerned the contributions made by tax expenditures toward achieving CAP (cross-agency priority) goals and APGs (agency priority goals). The fourth called on OMB to work with the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) to help agencies better measure and use performance data.
According to the report, federal managers are not effectively using performance data to achieve CAP goals or make strategic decisions.
A GAO survey of federal managers indicated that only 33 percent are somewhat familiar or very familiar with the quarterly performance reviews their agencies issue about progress made toward agency priority goals. And 40 percent of managers said they were not familiar with one or more of the administration’s cross-agency priority goals. Shea said this makes implementing performance strategies nearly impossible.
“If you’re not aware that cross-cutting goals exist, you’re certainly not going to be able to use those in better coordination of those programs,” Shea said. “It’s pretty devastating.”
Areas where agencies saw difficulty in measuring performance included contracts, direct services, grants, regulations, research and development, and tax expenditures. The report did note progress in developing performance measures, specifically at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Railroad Administration.
The report also noted that much of the performance data that is available is not helpful to people outside agencies, such as Congress and government customers. Shea said that while there has been a significant investment in communicating the fact that such data exists, agencies have not regularly asked outside parties what format would be most useful for them.
“The impact of these weaknesses is far reaching as well. These agencies are responsible for performing functions that affect every aspect of Americans’ lives, from education, healthcare and housing to national security and illicit drug use,” the report stated.
GAO also recommended that OMB create a framework for reviewing tax expenditure performance. GPRAMA requires that OMB identify tax expenditures that contribute to CAP goals because the expenditures represent a substantial federal investment.
“In some areas, forgone revenue due to tax expenditures is nearly equal to or greater than spending for federal outlay programs,” the report said. “Since 1994, we have recommended OMB take this action, and the act puts into place explicit requirements for the CAP goals that OMB identify related tax expenditures and measure their contributions to broader federal outcomes.”
Improving the way GPRAMA is implemented is up to federal managers, Shea said. Managers need to methodically review cross-cutting goals and ensure that quarterly performance reviews are thorough and effective.
“There’s a pretty clear path forward as far as I’m concerned,” Shea said. “Leadership — somebody needs to shake these leaders by the lapels and say, ‘This is important. You manage a large organization. We know policy is sexy but operations is equally as important and it deserves your attention.’ That’s, I think, the first thing we can do.”
Cogan Schneier is an intern for Federal News Radio.
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.