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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate Government Affairs Committee Joint Hearing on the Implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA)

June 24, 1997

On June 24, 1997, the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Government Affairs Committee held a joint hearing on the implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). Franklin Raines, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and John Koskinen, Deputy Director of Management at the Office of Management and Budget, testified before the joint hearing. Although not present, James Hinchman, Acting U.S. Comptroller General, U.S. General Accounting Office, submitted written testimony suggesting ways Congress could use GPRA to help agencies become more effective and efficient.

Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, expressed reservations about Federal agencies' progress-to-date on their strategic plans, which are due to the Office of Management and Budget by September 30, 1997. Senator Stevens stated his intention to collaborate with the Government Affairs Committee to conduct an assessment of all agency strategic plans by mid-September so that the Appropriations Subcommittees could place any necessary conditions in the FY 1998 appropriations bills. Senator Thompson echoed the criticisms, specifically singling out the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)'s plan as inadequate and citing OMB's decision to defer the GPRA performance budgeting pilots as indicative of agencies' poor progress on improving their accounting systems.

At the hearing, the Committee on Government Affairs released to the public a chart entitled, "Assessment of Agency GPRA Strategic Plans" that separates agencies' plans into the following categories: Acceptable, Minimally Acceptable, Poor, Too Early to Tell, and Late. While NASA is the only agency listed with an acceptable plan, other agencies listed as having submitted their plans late, such as the National Science Foundation, have been consulting with other Congressional Committees for months. Nonetheless, the chart supports the Chairman's conviction that Federal agencies have significant work to complete before the end of September.

While Raines and Koskinen were more supportive of Federal agencies' progress-to-date than their Congressional colleagues, they agreed that most Federal agencies need to improve their strategic plans and will face even greater challenges in developing performance plans with their FY 1999 budget requests. They urged Congress both to provide feedback to agencies and to press them to finish their plans. In particular, Raines emphasized that, if the Appropriations Committee is engaged, agencies will be less likely to view GPRA as just another paper exercise. He further reiterated the importance of linking employee compensation to performance measures as one means to encourage agency to become more results-oriented.

On the other hand, Senator Glenn (D-OH) tried to counter-balance the criticisms of his colleagues. He pointed out that it will take time to implement GPRA because it is particularly difficult to link activity-based costing with performance goals. Agency goals, as outlined in strategic plans, may span several budget categories making the impact of investments difficult to track. He suggested that, although seven years after Congress passed the Chief Financial Officer Act, only a few agencies have clean audits, the Act has prompted significant progress by other agencies as well.

In sum, the hearing indicates that both the Office of Management and Budget and Congress are taking the Government Performance and Results Act seriously. Moreover, it provided insight into how the Appropriations Committee plans to use the Act to weigh the relative efficiency and effectiveness of agencies' programs. Particularly under currently tight budgetary constraints, appropriators can use GPRA as one more mechanism to determine which programs are worth funding and which appear to be ineffective and therefore can be cut.