GAO gives Congress a hand for using data to make decisions

Tuesday - 6/19/2012, 8:37pm EDT

By Taeja Smith
Special for Federal News Radio

The Government Accountability office sent Congress a 34-page guideline Friday detailing how Congress can use performance data to make better choices.

The updated instruction under the Government Performance Results Modernization Act (GPRMA) of 2010 provides Congress with a how-to guide to make better use of the information agencies give them from their performance reports.

The guideline lists a set of rules to communicate easily between agencies and congressional staff who evaluate program performance.

There are a number of cross-cutting areas where performance information is limited or does not exist, according to the GAO document. In order for agencies to get useful information to decisionmakers, the law provides departments with new requirements, including completeness, accuracy, validity, timeliness and ease of use.

"Agencies often lack information on the effectiveness of programs; such information could help decision makers prioritize resources among programs," GAO stated in the guidance. "The crosscutting planning and reporting requirements could lead to the development of performance information in areas that are currently incomplete."

Additionally, GAO said agencies should disclose more information more often to Congress.

Under the updated performance act, Congress required agencies to work with the Office of Management and Budget on cross-cutting strategies, goals and priorities. The guideline stated this consultation provides Congress and the executive branch with an opportunity to ensure agencies meet funding expectations.

Several agency officials told the GAO that having congressional staff overseeing their goals and strategies helped them understand Capitol Hill priorities.

The guide details how agencies used GPRMA protocols to help transform the immigration process, coordinate U.S. efforts to address the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and to identify and address improper payments made by federal programs.

After identifying issues, Congress established levels of performance for each agency and program as well as regular reporting on results, according to the guidance.

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