Government Performance and Results Act

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5 U.S.C. § 306; 31 U.S.C. §§ 1105(a)(29), 1115–1119, 3515(a), 9703–9704; 39 U.S.C. §§ 2801–2805; enacted by Pub. L. No. 103-62, 107 Stat. 286, Aug. 3, 1993. Added 31 U.S.C. §§ 1120-1125, as amended by Pub. L. No. 111-352, 124 Stat. 3866, Jan. 4, 2011.

Lead Agencies:

Office of Management and Budget

U.S. Government Accountability Office, General Government Division

Overview

Background

Concerns with government efficiency and shrinking dollars are stimulating federal agencies to improve the performance of their programs. The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) provides a pathway for addressing these challenges and is intended to bring about a fundamental transformation in the way government programs and operations are managed and administered. GPRA places greater emphasis within the government on what programs are actually accomplishing and how well the accomplishments match programs’ objectives.

The law requires federal agencies to develop strategic plans describing their overall goals and objectives, annual performance plans containing quantifiable measures of their progress, and performance reports describing their success in meeting those standards and measures. Enacted during the first year of the Clinton Administration, GPRA could loosely be viewed as part of the Administration’s larger “Reinventing Government” initiative.

In January 2011, President Obama signed the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA), a substantial modification to the 1993 law. Among other things, GPRAMA revised several existing GPRA mechanisms and codified creations and ideas of both the Bush and Obama Administrations. The law also created new agency positions and methods of cross-agency collaboration with the hopes of constructing a more synergistic structure to better effect the goals of GPRA.

Coverage

Within the federal government, GPRA applies to all federal entities defined by 5 U.S.C. § 105 as being an “agency,” with few exceptions. It covers 14 Cabinet departments, virtually all independent establishments (agencies), and all government corporations. The U.S. Postal Service is covered by the GPRA under a special provision designed to recognize its special status. Certain provisions in GPRAMA, however, only apply to the 24 so-called CFO Agencies, i.e., those with Chief Financial Officers.

Main Features

GPRA’s features, as amended by GPRAMA, include:

  • A requirement for federal departments and agencies to prepare agency strategic plans which operate on a four- (fiscal) year basis, beginning with the President’s budget proposal in fiscal year 2015.
  • A requirement that federal departments and agencies prepare annual performance plans setting out specific performance goals for each fiscal year.
  • A requirement that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prepare annual federal government performance plans based on the agency annual performance plans, develop federal government priority goals, and establish a single, performance-related website. The governmentwide performance plan is to be a part of the President’s budget and transmitted to Congress. In the agency and governmentwide performance plans, the levels of program performance to be achieved is to correspond with the program-funding level in the budget.
  • A requirement that OMB determine whether agencies have met their performance goals and recommend that Congress take certain corrective measures if agencies fail to meet goals for three consecutive years.
  • A requirement that federal departments and agencies submit an Agency Performance Update (APU) to the President and Congress which compares actual performance with the goal levels that were set in the annual performance plan. The annual report is due 150 days after the end of a fiscal year.
  • A requirement that certain federal agencies establish high-priority, near-term objectives every two years, otherwise known as “agency priority goals,” and establish a goal leader to attain such goals.
  • A requirement for agencies to provide Congress annually with a list of all plans and reports mandated by statute or directed in congressional reports. From this list, the agency must identify a minimum percentage of the products as “outdated” or “duplicative.”
  • A requirement that agencies establish Chief Operating Officers to serve as overseers and managers of an agency’s strategy and goals.
  • A codification of the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) (established by Executive Order 13,450, Improving Government Program Performance), which is responsible for facilitating agency coordination, resolving any “crosscutting” performance issues, and advancing federal government priority goals.
  • Provisions giving managers greater flexibility in managing by allowing the waiver of various administrative controls and limitations. In return, managers are expected to be more accountable for the performance of their programs and operations.

Purposes

According to GPRA’s proponents, it will help restore the public’s confidence in government; agency management will be able to articulate and communicate missions, goals, and accomplishments better; and the President and Congress will be better able to decide which government efforts are worth continuing, expanding, or both, and which are best left to state and local government of the private or nonprofit sectors. GPRA’s explicit goals are to:

  • Initiate program performance reform by:
    • requiring the creation of strategic plans with program goals,
    • measuring program performance against those goals, and
    • reporting publicly on progress.
  • Improve federal program effectiveness and public accountability:
    • by promoting a new focus on reporting publicly on progress,
    • helping federal managers improve service delivery by requiring the development of plans to meet program objectives,
    • providing information about program results and service quality, and
    • improving congressional decision making and internal management of the federal government by providing more objective information.

The desire to strengthen the American people’s confidence in government also propelled GPRAMA’s supporters. The driving justification of GPRAMA was concisely synopsized in H. Rep. No. 111-504 (2010):

Weaknesses in established management processes pertaining to the use of information about the performance of Federal agencies undermine the confidence of the American people in the Government and reduce the Federal Government’s ability to adequately address public needs. To restore the confidence of the American people in its Government and to increase the Federal Government’s ability to adequately address vital public needs, the Federal Government must continually seek to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability of Federal programs.

The same report also expressed the bill’s primary purposes:

  • identify clear priorities and set outcome-focused, measurable, ambitious targets for those priorities;
  • establish regular goal-focused, data-driven performance assessments to measure progress and adjust strategies;
  • set accountability expectations that encourage managers to innovate; and
  • deliver transparent, coherent, and candid communication of results.

The retooling of strategic plans, creation of agency and governmentwide priority goals, codification of the PIC, institutionalization of performance improvement officers, focus on synergizing agency and crosscutting goals and strategies, and the establishment of performance.gov became the principal means to realize these objectives.

Agency Strategic Plans (ASPs)

Agency strategic plans (ASPs) provide the foundation for carrying out all other GPRA requirements. The strategic plan states an agency purpose (i.e., why an agency and its programs exist, what will be accomplished and when), defines the long-range course of the agency with sufficient precision to guide the short-term actions of agency managers, and describes how any of the agency’s general goals and objectives will contribute governmentwide priority goals. GPRAMA adjusts the timing of an agency’s strategic plan to coincide with presidential terms and budget proposals. Thus, an ASP must be updated every four years and must cover four fiscal years. When working on an ASP, GPRAMA also requires agencies to confer with Congress “periodically,” including majority and minority members of “appropriate” committees. Agencies, however, only have to consult with nonfederal stakeholders once every four years when developing an ASP. Agencies also must confer with “appropriate” congressional committees every two years, irrespective of their work on an ASP.

Annual Performance Plans

Performance plans are to be released annually by agencies and posted on their public websites. They are tools that discuss comparisons of actual performance achieved with a performance level specified for each performance goal; explain why a goal was not met and future plans for achieving it; offer summary findings of any program evaluations done that fiscal year; identify “goal leaders” responsible for achievement of each performance goal (see immediately subsequent section); identify “low-priority program activities” and provide “evidence-based justification” for the low-priority designation; and explicate use of any waiver of administrative requirements and the effectiveness of these waivers in achieving performance goals.

Performance Goals

A fulcrum of annual performance plans is an agency’s performance goals. A performance goal is a target level of performance expressed as a quantifiable objective against which actual achievement can be compared. If the Director of OMB determines that an agency is unable to articulate a goal or goals quantitatively, the agency shall either provide a description of a minimally-effective program and a successful program or a description of goals with “sufficient precision” to make them amenable to independent and accurate assessment. Plans must also contain performance indicators or values that will be used in measuring outputs and outcomes; a description of the means to be used to verify and validate measured values; and a description of operational processes, skills and technology, and human capital, information, or other resources required to meet the performance goals.

Under GPRAMA, the plans now cover the forthcoming fiscal year and the current year in which the plan is submitted. Fiscal year 2013 was the first year agencies were required to establish priority goals.

Agency Priority Goals (APGs)

Modeled after the Obama Administration’s high-priority performance goals released with the President’s FY2011 budget proposal, agency priority goals are a small, discrete subgroup of agency performance goals that should represent an agency’s “highest priorities” within a two-year time frame. In other words, agency priority goals (APGs) are salient near-term objectives that further the longer-term, outcome-oriented strategic goals in an agency’s strategic plan. Annual performance plans must contain one or more priority goals for each of the major programs and operations covered in the strategic plan.

Setting APGs is not a responsibility of every agency, however. GPRAMA requires that APGs be produced only by the 24 CFO agencies, and any additional agencies OMB may select. Those agencies that are required to establish APGs must designate an agency official as a “goal leader” who is charged with accomplishing the APGs. The agency head is tasked with determining what will be an agency’s “highest priorities” based on its consultations concerning its strategic plan and OMB-developed federal priority goals.

Finally, under GPRAMA, an agency head and deputy head must conduct quarterly priority progress reviews. While agencies must post some information contained in these reviews on OMB’s website, GPRAMA does not mandate that the agencies make the reviews themselves accessible or transparent to the public.

Annual Performance Updates (APUs)

Annual performance updates (APUs) should contain a comparison of the actual performance achieved, with the performance levels specified for each performance goal and performance indicator in the agency performance plan. If a performance goal was not met, it must have an explanation of why the goal was not met, along with either the plans and schedules for achieving the performance goal in the future or a statement that the performance goal as established is impractical or infeasible, and expressing the agency’s intention to modify or discontinue the goal. Agencies are to submit updates no later than 150 days after the end of each fiscal year. Under GPRAMA, an agency also must provide, with greater frequency, “updates of actual performance on indicators that provide data of significant value to the Government, Congress, or program partners at a reasonable level of administrative burden.” Performance updates are supposed to cover the same duration of agency activity as the performance plan.

Chief Operating Officer

GPRAMA designates the deputy head of each agency, or its equivalent, as the Chief Operating Officer (COO). The COO is responsible for (1) improving the agency’s management and performance and (2) providing systematic organization management to enhance performance and further the agency’s mission and goals through the use of strategic and performance planning, measurement, analysis, regular assessment of progress, and use of performance information to improve results.

OMB Agency Oversight

Under GPRAMA, OMB must submit an annual report on “unmet goals” to every agency, two congressional committees, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). If OMB finds that an agency has failed to meet its performance goals for one fiscal year, that agency must submit a performance improvement plan to OMB. If such failure persists for two consecutive fiscal years, the “Administration” is required to provide Congress with a prescription for improvement. In cases of failure for three consecutive fiscal years, the GPRAMA requires OMB to submit to Congress its recommendations for punitive or corrective action, including budget reduction and statutory restructuring.

Performance Improvement Council

An interagency council originally established by President Bush’s Executive Order 13,450, Improving Government Program Performance, in 2007, PIC was officially codified by GPRAMA and mainly comprises performance improvement officers: career or politically appointed senior executives at an agency who largely serve as advisers within a given agency and report directly to an agency’s COO. PIC is designed to harmonize any crosscutting performance issues and assist OMB in achieving federal government priority goals. GPRAMA also authorizes OMB to create a cadre of performance-monitoring personnel by hiring up to two people for each CFO agency to serve at the direction of OMB’s Deputy Director for Management. OMB’s Deputy Director for Management also chairs PIC, determines its agenda, and directs its work. PIC is primarily tasked with assisting the Director of OMB in achieving federal government priority goals. There appears to be nothing in the new legislation that expressly requires PIC’s activities to be publicly or even congressionally transparent.

Performance.gov

Finalized in February of 2014 and concurrent with the President’s 2015 budget, Performance.gov is the OMB-run website that consolidates and publishes “readily accessible” information on cross-agency priority goals, agency priority goals, agency strategic plans, annual performance plans, and annual performance updates (31 U.S.C. § 1122(b); OMB Circular A-11 (2018)). The site’s URL and infrastructure predated GPRAMA’s effectuation date. The Obama Administration launched it on August 25, 2011, in part, to “provide a window” into the Administration’s own executive improvement plan—the Accountable Government Initiative.

Federal Government Performance Plan (FGPP) and Priority Goals (FGPGs)

Under the direction of OMB, federal government performance plans (FGPP) determine performance goals for the next fiscal year and update federal government priority goals (FGPGs) for the current fiscal year. Previously unspecified under GPRA, GPRAMA requires the content of FGPPs to include executive-wide goals themselves and “common” federal government performance indicators that gauge progress across agencies toward shared goals. GPRAMA mandates that OMB submit FGPPs to Congress with the President’s budget proposal, beginning with fiscal year 2013 and continuing each year thereafter.

Under GPRAMA, OMB must develop and update federal government priority goals at least every four years and make them available during the President’s budget proposal at the beginning of the second year of a President’s term. Interim FGPGs were required to be submitted beginning with the President’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2013. Required to be long-term in scope, the goals are of two types: (1) outcome-centric goals that are designed to be crosscutting in nature and cover certain policy areas (these are also referred to as mission-oriented or cross-agency priority goals (CAP goals)), and (2) goals for management improvement in areas such as financial management and procurement (mission-support goals). In crafting these goals, OMB must consult with specific committees listed in GPRA and any other committees “as determined appropriate.” Like agency-level performance goals, each federal government goal is required to have a goal leader and is subject to “quarterly priority progress reviews” each fiscal year.

Waivers to Promote Management Flexibility

In addition to strategic planning and performance measurement, GPRA is intended to promote greater flexibility for managers in return for greater accountability for results. This flexibility is introduced by permitting waiver of selected non-statutory requirements and controls in return for achieving greater program results than would otherwise occur. These administrative and procedural requirements are prescribed by agency rules and directives, or are imposed across the government by an agency that has a central management role, and cover areas such as financial management, personnel, supply, and buildings.

Pilot Projects

Pilot projects have been employed under GPRA to demonstrate whether agencies can prepare annual performance plans that meet GPRA requirements and to identify any difficulties agencies are encountering in plan preparation. Pilot projects were officially designated in all 15 Cabinet departments and an equivalent number of other agencies. The pilot projects range from the very large—the entirety of the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service—to the very small.

Legislative History

GPRA’s antecedents can be traced back over 30 years; most of its predecessors largely failed to take root. The first was the Program, Planning, and Budgeting System (PPBS), which was introduced in the 1960s and sought to extend the program management and budgeting scheme then being used by the Department of Defense to the government-at-large. PPBS was succeeded in the 1970s by Management by Objective (MBO) and then by Zero-Base Budgeting (ZBB). Within the federal government, both MBO and ZBB soon became artifacts, although an evolved form of PPBS continues to be used in the Department of Defense. During the 1980s, several initiatives—including productivity improvement, quality management, and a short-lived resurrection of MBO—were featured.

GPRA, by comparison, was created as a law, unlike its predecessors, which were presidential directives. Its origin can primarily be traced to two separately conceived proposals. One proposal was described in the Management Report (Jan. 1989) of President Reagan; his report contained a chapter, prepared by OMB staff, titled “Government of the Future,” which outlined the basic structure of what would become GPRA four years later. Another proposal came from Senator William Roth, who in 1990 first introduced the legislation that would eventually become the GPRA. In addition, the Chief Financial Officers Act (Pub. L. No. 101-576) became law in 1990. Several features of the Chief Financial Officers Act also helped lay a foundation for GPRA.

On October 3, 1990, Senator Roth introduced S. 3154, the Federal Program Performance Standards and Goals Act of 1990, which was referred that same day to the Committee on Governmental Affairs. No hearings were held on the bill, but it was discussed by Senator Roth and witnesses at October 3 and 11 hearings on OMB’s Response to Government Management Failures held by the Committee on Governmental Affairs.

On January 14, 1991, Senator Roth introduced S. 20, the Federal Program Performance Standards and Goals Act of 1991, which was referred that day to the Committee on Governmental Affairs. The legislation differed from the version introduced in October 1990 only by the addition of a Findings and Purposes section.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs held hearings on S. 20 on May 23, 1991, and May 5, 1992. The Committee considered S. 20 on August 5, 1992. It adopted by voice vote an amendment in nature of a substitute offered by Senators Roth, John Glenn, and William Cohen, retitling the bill the Government Performance and Results Act of 1992, providing for initiation of implementation with a set of three-year pilot projects before government-wide application, and making other changes, and voted to report the bill favorably by voice vote. The Committee on Governmental Affairs reported S. 20 as amended on September 29, 1992. S. Rep. No. 102-429 (1992). The Senate passed the bill on October 1, 1992, under unanimous consent, but the House of Representatives took no action during that Congress.

On January 21, 1993, Senator Roth (with Senators Glenn, Bob Graham, Howard Metzenbaum, John McCain, Daniel Akaka, Charles Robb, and Richard Lugar as cosponsors) reintroduced the bill as S. 20, the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. That same day, it was referred to the Committee on Governmental Affairs. The legislation was very similar to the version passed by the Senate the preceding year. In early 1993, President Clinton gave early and strong support for the proposed legislation. The Administration expressly endorsed S. 20 at a hearing on March 11, 1993, before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. On March 24, 1993, the Committee voted to report S. 20 as amended.

GPRA was subsequently passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives without objection and was promoted and supported by members of both political parties.

Eighteen years later, Congress substantially overhauled GPRA when it passed the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA). The GPRMA’s passage was largely due to the efforts of Representative Henry Cuellar and Senators Tom Carper and Mark Warner. GAO’s 2004 report on the state of GPRA, however, was the legislation’s genesis. In that report, the GAO identified structural shortcomings undermining GPRA’s intended effect, including “mission fragmentation” that inhibited intra- and interagency goals and strategies. In response, Representative Todd Platts introduced the Program Assessment and Results Act (H.R. 3826 and H.R. 185) in the 108th and 109th Congresses. Neither bill went anywhere after being reported out of committee.

Nevertheless, building off Representative Platts’s legislative foundation, in April of 2009, Representative Cuellar introduced the Government Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Performance Improvement Act of 2010 (H.R. 2142), which was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and then to the Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement. On June 14, 2010, the Committee reported H.R. 2142 as amended. H. Rep. No. 111-504 (2010). It was placed on the union calendar that same day. Two days later, on a motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill, the House agreed by voice vote. The next day, the Senate received the bill and referred it to the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. On December 7, 2010, Senator Lieberman reported the bill with an amendment. S. Rep. No. 111-372 (2010). On December 16, the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent. The following day, the House’s attempt to suspend the rules and agree to the Senate amendment failed to secure the requisite two thirds majority (212-131). Following a series of parliamentary actions, the House finally agreed to the Senate amendment on December 21, 2010.

By the time H.R. 2142 passed both houses, it had undergone a significant evolution. The original version was relatively skeletal in scope and content. In essence, as introduced, Representative Cuellar’s bill required each agency head to conduct performance reviews of each agency program in conjunction with the Director of OMB, required the Director to provide Congress annually with corresponding information and a performance improvement plan, and codified agency performance improvement officers and PIC. After it had been reported from committee and by the time it passed the House, the bill, among other things, mandated that each agency head develop near- and long-term “priority goals,” detailed the duties of the new performance improvement officers, and instructed OMB to construct a mechanism for interested persons to comment on agency goals. It was not until the Senate committee report that the bill resembled its current iteration, providing for a much more expanded supervisory role for OMB, designating the deputy head of each agency as the COO, and requiring the creation of a new website (that would become Performance.gov) and the development of a federal government performance plan and crosscutting priority goals. Senator Tom Coburn also added the amendment that assigned a punitive function to OMB (recommendations for budget reduction or elimination) vis-à-vis agencies that have failed to meet goals for three consecutive years. Finally, the Senate also reduced the legislation’s authorizing funds by half, from $150 million to $75 million.

Despite the strong bipartisan support for GPRAMA, Representative Darrell Issa remained a forceful opponent of the bill. Representative Issa primarily objected to it on the grounds that it was duplicative and wasteful, arguing that it cost taxpayers $75 million to codify much of what the President already intended to do through executive order.

President Obama did not share Representative Issa’s concerns and backed the bill because, in part, (1) it shifted away from a controversial metric system implemented by the Bush Administration (Performance Assessment Rating Tools) and (2) it meshed well with his Accountable Government Initiative, which aimed to reduce government waste, increase transparency, and create “open government plans.”

On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed H.R. 2412, which became Pub. L. No. 111-352.

Source Note

Several executive and legislative agency documents lay out requirements for most federal agencies’ activities to fulfill the GPRA’s provisions. These include OMB Circular A-11, Preparation, Submission, and Execution of the Budget (2018), and Cong. Research Serv., R42379, Changes to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA): Overview of the New Framework of Product and Processes (2012).

GAO has had a longstanding interest in improving government management through the use of strategic planning and performance measurement. Since 1973, GAO also has produced over 70 reports on performance measures and currently has nearly a dozen ongoing efforts to assess measurement in specific agencies. GAO has published an executive guide on implementing GPRA and GPRAMA, as well as numerous reports discussing various aspects of agency implementation.

Optimizing government performance is also the defining mission of ACUS. Accordingly, ACUS has commissioned a report and issued Recommendation 2013-7 on improving GPRAMA’s implementation.

Several entities have regular commentary regarding GPRA, strategic planning, and performance evaluation, including the Center for Effective Government and the IBM Center for Improving Government Performance.

Bibliography

Legislative History and Congressional Documents

OMB/OIRA Documents

ACUS Recommendations

GAO Documents

Other Government Documents

  • Chief Fin. Officers Council, Streamlining Governmentwide Statutory Reports (1995).
  • Chief Fin. Officers Council, Implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (1995).
  • Chief Fin. Officers Council, Guiding Principles for Implementing GPRA (1995).
  • Congressional Consultations on the Implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (1996).
  • Cong. Research Serv., Performance Measure Provisions in the 105th Congress: Analysis of a Selected Compilation (1998).
  • Clinton T. Brass, Cong. Research Serv., R42379, Changes to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA): Overview of the New Framework of Product and Processes (2012).
  • U.S. Dep’t of Energy, Guidelines for Strategic Planning (1996).
  • U.S. Dep’t of Energy, Guidelines for Performance Measurement (1996).
  • U.S. Dep’t of the Navy, Archester Houston & Steven L. Dockstader, Total Quality Leadership Office, Total Quality Leadership: A Primer (1997).
  • Internal Revenue Serv., Office of Econ. Analysis, Best Practices: The IRS Research Project on Integrating Strategic Planning, Budgeting, Investment and Review (1996).
  • Nat’l Aeronautics and Space Admin., Strategic Planning and Strategic Management within NASA: A Case Study (1996).
  • Nat’l Aeronautics and Space Admin., NASA Strategic Management Handbook (2000).
  • Nat’l Highway Traffic Safety Admin., The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Case Study: Strategic Planning and Performance Measurement (1996).
  • Office of Pers. Mgmt., Government Performance & Results Act: A Multimedia Orientation & Toolkit (1997).

Books and Articles

Statutory Provisions

Government Performance and Results Act, Pub. L. No. 103-62.

U.S. Code