Reforms to measuring agency performance

Wednesday - 9/29/2010, 7:49pm EDT

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del)

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John Kamensky,Senior Fellow and Associate Partner, IBM Center for The Business of Government

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Agencies around the government are currently focusing on accountability and cost-savings, whether they want to or not. First mandated to do so by the White House, agencies will now have regulation to go along with it.

The Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRMA) is proposed to be an update of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993, and passed the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's mark up.

"What we really want agencies to do is to first try to set clear goals," Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del), one of the sponsors of the bill, said. "Goals that they can measure the progress toward, and we'd like for them to publicly report on their findings."

GPRA currently mandates that agencies disclose data annually on their projects and progression. GPRMA is looking to make that information to use. It's a reform, John M. Kamensky, Senior Fellow and Associate Partner at the IBM Center for The Business of Government said, that is much-needed after 17 years.

Agencies have tried to comply with GPRA, but Carper's not sure that the data agencies provide is being read or acted on effectively. Kamensky agreed. GPRA was good for supply of measures; it supplied information, Kamensky said, but had no sense of use for the information supplied.

It seems to defeat the point of the exercise, Kamensky said, which the new bill corrects.

"That's really the purpose of doing this, is to have useful information that's used," Kamensky said.

The bill would require agencies to provide information on an at least quarterly basis so that the public can understand how they're progressing toward goals that they've set.

Also, by getting data out, it increases information-sharing between agencies with similar goals. Carper cited welfare as a example of a goal that would directly benefit. No single agency is responsible; the overall goal is to get people off welfare. So by breaking down the stovepipes that agencies working on various elements within welfare might currently be operating in, they can ensure communication and reporting on how they're addressing making progress toward the common goal.

The idea is not to micro-manage, Carper said. The bill addresses the issue on a much broader scope. More importantly, it makes the information directly accessible by the public, which has been successful in the past, Kamensky said, citing the use of Recovery.gov.

"Clearly the public is very interested in understanding how well their government is using their money, it's a matter of how you format it and do it," Kamensky said. "That's what this bill does. It says, don't focus on annual performance report, focus on regular reporting to the public.

For Carper, this is another step in increasing government accountability.

"I like to quote Vince Lombardi, he used to say 'If you're not keeping score, you're just practicing,' and we've been practicing long enough," Carper said. "We need to keep score."