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Friday, July 25, 2008

Agencies urged to make better use of performance measures

The number of federal managers who measure program performance has increased over the past decade, but managers are not using the results to inform their decisions any more than they have in the past, a Government Accountability Office official told lawmakers on Thursday.

GAO credited agencies and the Office of Management and Budget with making program planning and measurement "slowly, yet increasingly" part of the government's culture. Bernice Steinhardt, GAO director of strategic issues, told members of a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee that she has observed a transformation in the government's ability to manage for results.

This progress provides a solid foundation for improving government programs, Steinhardt said, but she added that the value of measures in and of themselves is limited.

"Unless federal managers use performance data to make management decisions and to inform policy-makers, the benefit of collecting performance information cannot be realized and real improvement in management and program results are less likely to be achieved," Steinhardt stated in her report (GAO-08-1026T).

A number of witnesses shared best practices for the use of performance information. Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md., touted the CitiStat and StateStat programs, which identify problems such as crime spots and Chesapeake Bay pollution and target resources toward addressing them. The success of these programs, O'Malley said, has hinged on four tenets: timely, accurate information shared by all; rapid deployment of resources; effective tactics and strategies; and relentless follow-up and assessment.

Representatives from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NASA and the Veterans Affairs Department also spoke about their relative success in using performance measures.

Steinhardt said GAO will issue a second report stemming from the survey of managers. It will examine which agencies are putting performance information to the best use and how certain agencies could improve.

-Elizabeth Newell, GovExec.com

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