New performance bill adds consequences for missed goals

Monday - 1/10/2011, 5:36pm EST

John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for the Business of Government

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

The agency performance bill passed by Congress in September requires better goal-setting and tracking. But what changes are in the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 compared to the original law passed in 1993?

John Kamensky is a senior fellow with the IBM Center for The Business of Government and and former deputy director of Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review.

Kamensky told In Depth with Francis Rose that the updated legislation adds three key requirements for agencies:

  1. Quarterly performance updates and consequences for not meeting goals
    The original legislation required annual performance reports, Kamensky said. Under the new law, agencies will have to report on performance updates at least on a quarterly basis, he said.

    An agency that does not meet performance goals in the first year must submit a plan to the Office of Management Budget to explain how that agency plans to comply in the following year. If the agency does not meet goals for a second year, it must then submit a plan to OMB and to Congress. If goals are not met for a third year in a row, the agency must submit recommendations to Congress within 60 days of the end of the year stating which statutes must be changed and the executive actions to be taken, including firing people, Kamensky said.

    Overall, the updated act adds consequences. "Those consequences were never part of the original GPRA," Kamensky said. Consequences add a layer of accountability but could also lead to agencies setting "timid targets," Kamensky said. This balance between setting high targets that can realistically be met is a "new dynamic agencies will be facing," he said.

  2. Governmentwide performance plan
    The GPRA of 2010 mandates that OMB develop a governmentwide performance plan that will be submitted to Congress. OMB will also consult with Congress as the plan is being developed, a notion that Kamensky said was "unheard of."

    This requirement changes how Congress will operate. The government "can't have dozens and dozens of committees working without talking to each other ... Congress has to begin integrating among themselves in a way they've never had to do before," Kamensky said.

    The governmentwide performance plan must be completed within the first year of a presidency and before agencies can develop their plans, drawing from the overall plan and creating a structure of "nested commitments," Kamensky said.

  3. Quarterly reviews of high-priority goals
    The reviews will happen at two levels -- agency and government-wide, Kamensky said.

The updated legislation also tweaks requirements in the original law. Under the 1993 GPRA, agencies were required to create a strategic plan every five years. The new law aligns the plan creation with a new presidency, with a deadline of the February of the year after the president takes office.

Kamensky said, "The question that becomes practical around it is, When a president takes office, oftentimes his or her team won't be there in 9 months ... so are you letting the career civil servant or a small cadre of people new to the government" develop the plan?

The updated legislation also strengthens requirements -- every two years -- for consultation with Congress, he said. Congress, therefore, must decide how to institutionalize this requirement and "be responsive to the law that itself wrote," Kamensky said.

Another update is to the use of a central website -- performance.gov -- to track 125 key priorities defined by agencies, some of which are also interagency goals, Kamensky said. The site has not yet been released to the public, he added. The Bush administration had a website called results.gov that tracked thousands of goals. The Obama administration's site is similar but doing it "across a much smaller set where they can really focus time and attention," Kamensky said.

Read Kamensky's blog about GPRA.