Improving the Performance of Government Employees

A Manager's Guide

 Improving the Performance of Government Employees

Author: Stewart Liff
Pub Date: February 2011
Print Edition: $27.95
Print ISBN: 9780814416228
Page Count: 240
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814416235

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C H A P T E R 1


The Government Performance and

Results Act (GPRA)

In recognition of the growing concern regarding the performance

of the federal government, in 1993 Congress enacted the

Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA).1 This legislation

changed the way that the federal government managed

its performance by requiring federal agencies to become

results-oriented. ‘‘The Government Accountability Office

(GAO) has described GPRA as being ‘the centerpiece of a statutory

framework Congress put in place during the 1990s to address

long-standing weaknesses in federal operations, improve

federal management practices, and provide greater accountability

for achieving results.’ ’’2

Its goals were to:

‘‘(1) improve the confidence of the American people in the

capability of the Federal Government, by systematically

holding Federal agencies accountable for achieving

program results;

(2) initiate program performance reform with a series of

pilot projects in setting program goals, measuring

program performance against those goals, and reporting

publicly on their progress;

(3) improve Federal program effectiveness and public accountability

by promoting a new focus on results, service

quality, and customer satisfaction;

(4) help Federal managers improve service delivery, by requiring

that they plan for meeting program objectives

and by providing them with information about program

results and service quality;

(5) improve congressional decision-making by providing

more objective information on achieving statutory objectives,

and on the relative effectiveness and efficiency

of Federal programs and spending; and

(6) improve internal management of the Federal Government.’’3

The Act required agencies to develop long-term strategic

plans that identified outcome-related goals and objectives, explained

how the goals and objectives would be achieved, identified

the key external factors to the organization and beyond its

control that could hamper its achievement of the general goals

and objectives, and explained the program evaluations used in

developing or adjusting the general goals and objectives, with a

timetable for future program evaluations.

Each agency was further required to prepare an annual performance

plan for every program activity contained in its budget.

The plan had to establish performance goals defining the level of

performance to be achieved by an activity; list such goals in a

quantifiable and measurable form, if possible; describe what was

required to meet these goals; develop the appropriate perform-

ance indicators; and provide a way to compare program results

with the established performance goals.

The GPRA is important to this discussion because it

changed the focus of federal agencies from process/compliance

to outcomes. It let everyone know that, more than ever, they

would be accountable for achieving the desired results. This

important distinction placed that much more pressure on government

managers at all levels to deliver excellent performance.

Why Is It So Difficult to Manage

Performance in the Government?

The simple reason it is difficult to manage performance in government

is that there are a wide variety of factors and variables

at play, a number of which are extremely difficult to manage

and control. By the same token, it is important to recognize

that many of these factors and variables are not as tough to

handle as you might think and that the difficulties managers

face with them are often a function of inexperience, a lack of

will, or simply poor decision making.

If you look at many of the potential issues that managers

have to deal with, you will begin to appreciate the challenges

that every government manager faces on a daily basis. Let’s take

a look at some of them.

Budget Constraints and Difficulties

First of all, there is the government’s budget cycle, which often

takes one to two years from the time money is budgeted until

it is eventually allocated to an individual department, agency,

or administration. This built-in delay often means that by the

time government managers receive their budgets, they may not

be sufficient for the task at hand due to changing situations.

A good example of this was 9/11. Since no one anticipated

the unprecedented terrorist attacks on our nation, the resources

needed to respond to these attacks were not included in the

normal budget cycle. While Congress quickly allocated hundreds

of billions of dollars to ramp up the war effort and address

homeland security, it did not initially budget for

programs that were ancillary to these efforts, such as veterans’

health care, the processing of veterans’ benefits claims, and so

on. The net result was that performance in these areas deteriorated;

for example, VA hospitals were inundated with veterans

seeking services, and the backlog of claims to be adjudicated

grew to exceed a million cases.4

On a day-to-day basis, government managers deal with this

issue all the time, and, in most cases, the reasons for the disconnect

are far less dramatic. For example, it may be that the budget

distribution system is flawed, resulting in some organizations receiving

a disproportionately low amount of money relative to

their mission. It may be that this is a lean budget year due to a

national emphasis on deficit reduction or a local shortfall in tax

collections, resulting in everyone suffering from cutbacks. Or it

may simply be that the resources have remained stable but, due

to outside forces, the workload has dramatically increased, which

for all intents and purposes means that the budget is insufficient

to achieve the organization’s goals.

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