Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Government Performance Measurement and DATA Act Implementation Need to be Coordinated

Government Performance Measurement and DATA Act Implementation Need to be Coordinated

By Dennis D. McDonald

At a May 22 meeting concerning federal government performance measurement at the Pew Research Center in Washington DC, Amy Edwards (Senate Budget Committee) and Chris Mihm (GAO’s Managing Director for Strategic Issues) spoke about trends in government performance management brought about by the GPRA (Government Performance and Results Act).

When I last wrote about this topic my focus was on managing web-based access to performance data and not necessarily on the policies and practices that drive performance reporting. Both Edwards and Mihm commented on the distinction that needs to be made between (1) generating and reporting the data and (2) actually using the data as part of an ongoing strategic planning and management process.

Encouraging use of performance data is one of the reasons was developed. One focus of the performance goals and measure reported on website is the tracking of “cross agency priority goals” established by the 2010 GPRA. The idea is to enhance the management of government efforts which are large and serious enough to be addressed by multiple agencies and programs.

One example of a cross agency priority goal reported in is “job creating investment” which is summarized like this:

“Improve federal investment tools and resources, while also increasing interagency coordination, to encourage foreign direct investment, spurring job growth.”

If you jump to the “learn more” link you see that three goal leaders have been assigned (from the National Economic Council, Department of Commerce, and Department of State) and that multiple agencies will be involved in planning and managing to this goal (Commerce, SBA, Agriculture, State, Homeland Security, and the Export-Import Bank of the U.S.)

Other cross agency goals are described in a similar fashion with the stated plan of having OMB (Office of Management and Budget) oversee quarterly reporting.

This all makes a great deal of sense: managing to goals, defining accountability, coordinating the reporting of impacts of progress distributed across multiple agencies, and promoting the reporting of impacts not just outputs.

Eventually we’ll get to a point where tracking cross agency goals helps maximize government effectiveness while minimizing duplication and overlap.

It seems logical to me that this performance tracking needs to be coordinated in some fashion with how the new DATA Act is being implemented. Failing to coordinate the two efforts would undermine both since a rational management process requires the comparison of costs with benefits. The standardization of federal budget expenditure data envisioned by the DATA Act, for example, should eventually enable to help answer two important questions:

  1. How successful were these government programs?

  2. How much did they cost in the process?

I assume that cross agency goals measurement will require comparable cost data to the aggregated from multiple program sources. These sources may not currently be using the same underlying cost data definitions and standards. DATA Act implementation should help overcome this by promoting better cost data standards on both the budget side and the expenditure side.

During the Q&A session I asked Edwards and Mihm this question: “What do you think the relationship should be between the performance measurement we’ve been talking about here and the recently passed DATA Act?” Neither responded with specifics but did express “hope” that the two will be coordinated.

Hopefully a coordinated data management strategy is something that Treasury, OMB, GAO, and the White House are already working on. At the end of the day it would be ironic if we know how well or poorly cross government programs are performing but we can’t say exactly how much this performance is costing because good cost data aren’t available. Perhaps Senator Warner, instrumental in both GPRA and the DATA Act, can help orchestrate the necessary coordination.

Copyright © 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald

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