AIMD-97-46, Performance Budgeting: Past Initiatives Offer Insights for GPRA Implementation



Since 1950, the federal government has attempted several governmentwide initiatives designed to better align spending decisions with expected performance--commonly known as "performance budgeting." Congress enacted the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) in 1993 to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability of federal programs by having agencies focus on program results. In this way, GPRA can be viewed as the most recent effort to closely link resources to performance expectations. This report compares and contrasts the key design elements and approaches of GPRA with those of past initiatives to identify ways in which past lessons are incorporated into GPRA and which issues remain to pose significant challenges to successful implementation.

GAO noted that: (1) in its overall structure, focus, and approach, GPRA incorporates critical lessons learned from previous efforts, but many of the same issues encountered in previous initiatives remain and will likely pose significant challenges if GPRA is to achieve its aim of better linking resource decisions to performance levels; (2) where past efforts failed to link executive branch performance planning and measurement with congressional resource allocation processes, GPRA requires explicit consultation between the executive and legislative branches on agency strategic plans; (3) past initiatives' experiences suggest that efforts to link resources with results must begin in the planning phase with some fundamental understanding about program goals; (4) where past initiatives devised unique performance information formats often unconnected to the structures used in congressional budget presentations, GPRA requires agencies to plan and measure performance using the "program activities" listed in their budget submissions; (5) where past initiatives were generally unprepared for the difficulties associated with measuring the outcomes of federal programs and often retreated to simple output or workload measures, GPRA states a preference for outcome measurement while recognizing the need to develop a range of measures; (6) GAO's discussions with selected legislative staff and agency officials revealed fundamental differences in perspectives and expectations that are often a necessary consequence of the system of separated powers; (7) past initiatives often foundered because no mechanism existed to reconcile or even to address these legitimate, but at times competing, views; (8) GPRA, through required consultations and formal, public documents, is intended to encourage an explicit and periodic exchange of views between the branches; (9) GPRA differs from prior initiatives in two important respects; (10) past performance budgeting initiatives were typically implemented governmentwide within a single annual budget cycle; (11) GPRA, in contrast, defines a multiyear and iterative governmentwide implementation process that incorporates pilot tests and formal evaluations of key concepts; (12) GPRA will face an operating environment unknown to its predecessors: persistent efforts to constrain spending; (13) past initiatives demonstrate that performance budgeting is an evolving concept that cannot be viewed in simple mechanistic terms; and (14) ultimately this goal of linking resources with results implies both risks and rewards.