Performance-based budgeting gets a kick in the pants for 2017 budget

As agencies ramp up their planning for the 2017 budget, program managers will be under even more pressure to make sure they are getting results for every dollar their agency spends.

A new provision in this year’s omnibus appropriations bill is advancing the requirements under the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act (GPRAM).

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) speaks on the House floor.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) speaks on the House floor.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a member of the Appropriations Committee and the author of the provision, is building on the 2010 law and language he inserted in the 2014 spending bill that directed agency secretaries to link performance plans with funding requests in the President’s budget.

“We are coming back this year to say basically, we are asking OMB to work with agencies to ensure that their agency funding requests in fiscal year 2017 are directly linked to agency performance plans,” Cuellar said in an interview with Federal News Radio. “Bottom line is we don’t want agencies to keep asking for money, money and money. We want to know we gave you some money, tell us what your performance is and that will give the members of Congress a better idea of what sort of bang they are getting for the dollars.”

Cuellar said he’s meeting with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the next week or so to further flesh out how they will meet the requirements.

The spending bill provision requires the White House to submit a report to the appropriations committees in the House and Senate within 180 days of the bill becoming law —so by June 18— on its progress in using performance measures to improve the executive branch’s budgeting progress.

“The committee remains supportive of the use of performance measures to gauge progress in the executive branch’s Cross Agency Priority (CAP) Goals in the areas of cybersecurity, climate change, insider threat and security clearance, job-creating investment, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, service members and veterans mental health,” lawmakers stated in the bill.

Cuellar said he also is meeting with members of the Texas State Legislature to learn more about what they are doing. Texas is leading a similar effort and is considered ahead of most others in the country in linking performance with budget.

“I think agencies are moving in this direction, but I think they can do better,” he said. “The reason I went from 2014 to this last year is to add more of a push to make sure they do what they are supposed to do under GPRA Modernization Act. That’s why I’m dealing directly with their budget is to say, ‘Hey, you have to do this, you have to do this,’ and what better way to get their attention but through their own budget process?”

Congress first passed GPRA in 1993. It updated the law in 2010. But over the last two decades the change has been slow.

One reason for GPRA’s lagging success is the lack of funding and skills to make real connections between performance and funding. Another reason is the lack of interest by Congress. Lawmakers passed the bill, but few pay any attention to the information agencies provide back as they are developing the budget.

In September 2015, the Government Accountability Office reported implementation of the GPRA Modernization Act has been uneven after two years.

“Agencies continue to face challenges linking individual and agency performance to results,” GAO said. “GAO has recommended that agencies strengthen some mechanisms that can promote this connection, such as through Senior Executive Service performance plans. Agencies also need to take additional actions to address GAO recommendations on measuring performance in a number of areas, such as customer service.”

And each annual report from GAO brings similar findings: In 2013, auditors said federal managers are not effectively using performance data to achieve CAP goals or make strategic decisions.

In 2014, GAO reported federal managers reported limited use of performance data for decision making.

Cuellar said he understands holding both agencies accountable and Congress to their word is difficult.

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He said the Texas legislature is looking at incentives or disincentives to ensure agencies tie performance to budget. But at the federal level, it’s more difficult to find the right incentives.

“Depending on what OMB tells me, we will talk about what are the next steps we will look at,” Cuellar said. “If I could press a little red button and get the budget bill the way I want it to, I’d actually look at what Texas has done where you actually have the performance measures, the mission, the goals and the strategies tied into money in the appropriations bill. If you look at Congress, it has a very antiquated appropriations bill. We just put a line item with moneys going in and then you add some rider instructions. But you don’t have performance measures in the same budget format. So what happens is there are certain reports that are sometimes are online and members of Congress don’t look at that, and yes, you have that situation where sometimes they are not useful because they are not provided to members of Congress. Agencies usually say, ‘Well they are online.’ If I had my way, I’d put everything in the same budget format so that way the members are looking at the performance measures, looking at the missions, looking at the mission strategies that are tied in and you can do that. If I was in charge that’s exactly the way I’d do it. Otherwise, you run the risk of a federal employee might say is, ‘We give you a report and do you really get to look at it? Is it put on file 13 or where is it put?’”

Cuellar said there hasn’t been this type of provision in the appropriations bill in the past, and he hopes by inserting the language, it will attract both lawmakers and agencies to do a better job of connecting performance and budget.