May 27, 2010

Ten Years of Results from the Results Act

Key materials

The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993 directed U.S. federal agencies to produce strategic plans with outcome-oriented objectives, annual performance plans with performance goals, and annual performance reports that measure progress toward those goals. The legislation sought to improve internal management of programs and congressional decision making by making better information available about the effectiveness and efficiency of federal programs and spending. How well has GPRA accomplished those goals?

This paper summarizes lessons learned from a ten-year research project that evaluated the quality of annual performance reports produced under GPRA by the 24 U.S. federal agencies that account for more than 95 percent of all federal spending. The Mercatus Performance Report Scorecard evaluated agency reports based on 12 principal criteria found in GPRA. GPRA has significantly improved the quality of performance information. On average, the quality of agency performance reports improved by about 75 percent between fiscal year 1999 and fiscal year 2008. There is still substantial variation in quality, with only a few reports each year employing best practices on each of the Scorecard evaluation criteria. Factors like agency size, program structure, and ideology have little or no correlation with the quality of agency performance reports. A focused strategic plan with outcome-oriented goals and measures is one necessary condition for a high-quality GPRA performance report.

GPRA has improved the availability and use of performance information in agencies. The quality of agency GPRA initiatives is positively correlated with surveys of federal managers on the availability and use of performance measures.

Finally, there is little evidence that GPRA has altered congressional budget decisions. Linkage of results to costs is the weakest aspect of agency performance reports. Results information affected some presidential budget proposals, but Congress has shown little interest in using results information to make budget decisions.