GAO: Agencies not using performance data to decide policy, budget changes

In its new report, the Government Accountability Office found that agency managers aren't using performance data to objectively determine the success of program...

In a government-wide survey of performance improvement officers, the Government Accountability Office found that agency managers aren’t using performance data as well as they should be.

In an report to congressional leaders, GAO said agencies aren’t living up to the standards of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Reform Act of 2010.

“The federal government faces a number of significant fiscal, financial management and performance management challenges in responding to the diverse and increasingly complex issues it seeks to address,” GAO said in its letter to Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), ranking member of the committee, and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Congress passed GPRA in 1993 in order to provide itself and the White House with more objective data on the effectiveness and efficiency of federal programs and spending. However, GAO’s report found that federal managers reported limited use of performance data for decision making.

The findings of GAO’s report were based on government-wide survey results from agencies’ performance improvement officers. Based on the responses of 24 PIOs, GAO arrived at the following conclusions:


  • 11 agencies reported establishing a central office tasked with evaluating agency programs. Of those, only seven said they had stable funding for the central office.



  • 7 agencies reported having a high-level official in charge of the oversight for program evaluations



  • 25 percent of the agencies reported having guidance that addressed key issues in response to program evaluations — including a critical look at the study design, evaluator’s objectivity, the report’s transparency and steps to actually implement the findings of a program evaluation.



  • Two-thirds of respondents said their agencies fell short of their performance goals for program evaluations. More than one third reported using evaluations to a moderate-to-great extent when it came to making a decision about policy or budget changes.



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