Performance bill to expand agency reporting

Thursday - 12/30/2010, 10:28am EST

Jon Desenberg, Policy Director, The Performance Institute

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

A new agency performance bill is on its way to becoming law. But what will the provisions in the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 mean for how agencies disclose performance goals?

Jon Desenberg, Policy Director at think tank the Performance Institute, told the Federal Drive, that the bill aims to increase communication between agencies and Congress.

"We've got to start having a dialogue around these measures. It's just not enough to hand in a big tome every year to Congress," Desenberg said. "Some of these reports were hundreds of pages long and practically no one ever really looked at the stuff."

The bill calls for quarterly updates on performance and creates a dashboard with "more dynamic measurement, more regular monitoring, more updates," Desenberg said. Agencies must also tell Congress not only what they are measuring but also why they are measuring it.

The new reporting will force some agencies out of a comfort zone where they have only had to report "things that look good," Desenberg said.

"Honestly, measurement is best used to identify things that aren't looking so good and things you want to improve," he said.

He added, "It's not supposed to be a gotcha game."

The law will not take effect until after the next presidential election. Within a year of that election, agencies will have to submit a strategic plan that accounts for measurable goals. Some agencies have relied on milestone measures or activity measures, not output measures, Desenberg said. The performance bill changes that.

"I think that's been a weakness we've seen in some strategic plans, that they're very vague, they're very general and honestly they're just not measurable," Desenberg said.

Agencies will face loss of funding if they do not comply with the law, said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), one of the bill's sponsors, in an interview with Federal News Radio. Cuellar said that the legislation puts in place "stringent enforcement."

Desenberg said the "big test" of the legislation's impact is whether or not the Appropriations Committees will cut programs and projects "that they may have a special affinity for" if those measures are not being met, Desenberg said.

"I think the jury's still out on that," he said.