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It has historically been difficult to measure an agency’s performance against the dollars allocated to that agency. Agencies were often organized and aligned with major projects, while budgets were measured by staffing levels, equipment and materials. Matching the short-term expenditures with the long-term projects was a complex and difficult task. The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) was written and passed to address these issues.
GPRA, which was passed in 1993, requires all government agencies to become accountable for their own performance. Agencies must define their mission, establish long-term strategic goals to meet this mission and report annually on their performance to Congress and the American public. Within this report, agencies must directly relate performance to line items in their current operating budget.
GPRA requires that each stated goal in an agency’s plan must align directly with a line item in that agency’s operating budget. Some of the challenges that agencies face include how to align their resources, how to complete their agency’s mission and how to adhere to the provisions of GPRA. Meeting these challenges requires that an agency develop a goal and results-oriented approach.
- An agency must become goal and results-focused. The agency’s organizational structure must reflect this focus. Each of the agency’s departments and divisions must directly align with one of the goals identified in the agency’s plan. This alignment should result in performance reports that can be easily connected to the stated goals.
- Each goal must be clearly defined, and a set of measurement (metrics) identified. These metrics will measure an agency’s success or failure in meeting both its short-term and long-term goals.
- Agencies must identify the resources needed to accomplish these goals. Most importantly, the stated resources must be funded.
- Agencies must communicate these goals agency-wide. Each employee should be aware of the agency’s mission and their part in meeting the agency’s goals. Each employee should be made aware of their individual progress, as well as the agency’s progress as a whole.
- There should be designated checkpoints where progress toward stated goals can be reviewed. Agencies report annually, but checkpoints must occur periodically so problems can be identified early, allowing an agency to take corrective action. Milestones should be created to verify progress.
- At each checkpoint, the agency must monitor and make adjustments to ensure positive progress toward the stated goals. These progress reports should be published, and the results communicated agency-wide so all employees are aware of the progress.
- At the end of each one-year performance period, checkpoints and/or metrics should be adjusted to reflect the agency’s changing needs. The collected metrics should be used to communicate the agency’s performance to Congress and the public.
- Each one-year performance period serves as a step in the overall five-year plan.
Aligning an agency’s structure and organization with the stated goals and mission will pave the way for a smooth implementation of GPRA.
Gathering the data needed to begin this process can be daunting. Data exists everywhere; corralling this data and delivering it in a usable format can be a complex task. Fortunately, there are ways that organizations can use technology to assist in this process.
Before implementing any solution an organization must develop a plan and strategy. The organization must address these basic questions:
- What are our goals? Will we only address GPRA, or do we have broader goals?
- What will we measure? How will we use this information to satisfy GPRA?
- What inputs will we need? Where and how will we get the inputs?
What are our outputs? Where and how should we deliver the output? Who needs to know?
- What will the results tell us? What questions will the results answer? How do the results relate to our budget line items?
- How will we measure our progress? How will we make adjustments?
A plan and strategy should be developed based on the answers to these questions. Only after these questions are answered can an organization begin investigating how technology and/or automation can help accomplish these tasks.
Using Automation to Assist with Implementation of GPRA
Several software solutions exist that can assist an organization in this process. These business intelligence (BI) solutions offer data capture, analytics and reporting. Many government and commercial organizations are already benefiting from business intelligence implementations. Some of the most popular packages are available from Business Objects, Cognos, MicroStrategy and others.
In general, these packages:
- Capture data from a variety of sources, including the most widely used database and office formats.
- Perform analytics and produce metrics. The information and/or metrics that are captured can include both financial and non-financial information. Financial items may include tracking funds allocated, funds received and funds spent. Metrics can provide a snapshot or track trends over time. Non-financial metrics can include real-time feedback from employees, legislators or the public as well as progress toward stated goals.
- Report, publish and deliver the information in a variety of report formats.
- Deliver results to the users’ desktops. Most packages offer a Web-based user interface.
- Deliver results that are consistent and timely.
In summary, GPRA is a mandatory act that allows agencies to better communicate their mission and performance to legislators and the public.
The following steps provide a guide for the successful implementation of GPRA:
- Become goal and results-focused
- Develop a plan and strategy
- Establish measurements
- Communicate the plan agency-wide
- Establish milestones and checkpoints
- Incorporate business intelligence technology
- Publish results
- Gather feedback
- Make adjustments
For current information on how agencies are performing under the plan, visit GAO Reports on Agencies' Fiscal Year 2000 Performance Reports and Fiscal Year 2002 Performance Plans.
To read more detailed information on implementing GPRA, the following resources are available:
Executive Guide: Effectively Implementing the Government Performance and Results Act (GAO/GGD-96-118 June 1996)
Measuring Performance: Strengths and Limitations of Research Indicators (GAO/RCED-97-91, March 1997)
Performance Budgeting: Past Initiatives Offer Insights for GPRA Implementation (GAO/AIMD-97-46, March 1997)
Managing for Results: Achieving GPRA’s Objectives Requires Strong Congressional Role (GAO/T-GGD-96-79, March 6, 1996)
Managing for Results: Status of the Government Performance and Results Act (GAO/T-GGD-95-193, June 27, 1995)
Managing for Results: Critical Actions for Measuring Performance (GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-95-187, June 20, 1995)
Managing for Results: Steps for Strengthening Federal Management (GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-95-158, May 9, 1995)
Government Reform: Goal-Setting and Performance (GAO/AIMD/GGD-95-130R, March 27, 1995)