Last week, Senator Tom Carper held an important hearing based on a key finding from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) released last year. GAO’s 2008 report summarized a survey it conducted of agency program managers on their use of performance information. It found wide differences between agencies and that, over time, some agencies increased their use and others infrequently used performance information that they collected.
Senator Carper had asked GAO to conduct a study “to better understand the barriers and opportunities for more widespread use.” It did this by evaluating what was being done differently in agencies that used performance information to make decisions vs. those agencies where managers said they did not use performance information.
GAO conducted case studies of four agencies’ use of performance information. Leaders from these agencies were also invited to testify:
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Department of Health and Human Services
- National Park Service, Department of the Interior
- Bureau of Reclamation, Department of the Interior
- Federal Emergency Management Administration, Department of Homeland Security
The testimony of CMS acting deputy director Michelle Snyder, was particularly inspiring. She described clearly how CMS uses performance information to not only implement its programs and improvement management, but also to monitor the delivery and quality of the overall healthcare system for CMS beneficiaries.
GAO’s Bernice Steinhardt testified that key management practices “can contribute to the use of performance information in management decision making.” These practices include:
- Demonstrating leadership commitment
- Communicating the importance of using performance information frequently and effectively
- Creating a clear “line of sight” linking individual performance with organizational results
- Improving the usefulness of performance information, and
- Developing the capacity to collect and use performance information
Deputy Director of Management at the Office of Management and Budget, Jeff Zeints, also testified and committed to greater use of performance information by federal agencies in coming years.
GAO has been monitoring agencies’ development and use of performance information for over a dozen years and, while the availability of measures has increased significantly, their use hasn’t. Hopefully, this new congressional, GAO, and OMB attention to performance information in agencies will jumpstart their use in decision making.