The idea behind Performance and Accountability Reports may be to enlighten the public on agency and program management, but a recent survey finds that few people outside of agencies read them and even federal managers find the reports cumbersome and confusing.
As a result of both the Chief Financial Officer Act and the Government Performance and Results Act, agencies have been required to produce two annual reports — one detailing financial performance and the other analyzing agency and program performance — since the early 1990s. The Reports Consolidation Act, approved in 2000, combined these documents into the comprehensive Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) agencies write today.
The purpose of the report is to share performance information with Congress, state and local governments, and taxpayers. While the report may be useful to oversight agencies like the Office of Management and Budget and Government Accountability Office, as well as other stakeholders, the general public gets little use out of it the survey found.
The Association of Government Accountants and PricewaterhouseCoopers asked 100 managers from 26 agencies and a smattering of private organizations about their experience with Performance and Accountability Reports. The results, published Oct. 20 in a report titled, “PAR: The report we hate to love,” found that 50 percent of the respondents use the report twice a year or less often and more than 80 percent use it only for reference.
“The irony is that the PAR is seen as a reference document and used by overseers such as OMB and GAO and by congressional members and staff, who already have much of the information included in the PAR,” according to the report. “In its current form, the PAR seems to have little, if any, value communicating to the public information about the government’s operating and financial performance.”
Virtually everyone surveyed said the report should be streamlined and published only in a “highlights” or “summary” version, but that the full report should be available online — “after some serious scrubbing,” one respondent suggested.
Other recommendations include: publishing reports in various styles and substance for different audiences; keeping the report succinct, simple and in “plain English”; and focusing on performance both operational and financial, rather than on the financial statements for a given agency.