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House Leader Flunks Agencies' Strategic Plans for Improvement

By Stephen Barr
The Washington Post

House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey, R-Tex., has handed out failing grades to the top federal agencies for inadequately meeting the requirements of a new law aimed at measuring the performance of government programs.

Draft "strategic plans" prepared by federal agencies for the Government Performance and Results Act left out required elements and did not address major management problems, Armey said in a letter explaining his report card.

The Results Act, signed by President Clinton in 1993 as a building block for his "reinventing government" initiative, gave the agencies time to prepare the five-year strategic plans, which are supposed to be published next month. In theory, the law will force agencies to explain their goals for major programs, measure their progress and demonstrate what the public gets for its tax dollars.

But, as Armey said in his Aug. 7 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin D. Raines, the report card illustrates "rather starkly how far agencies are from the ideal." Under the congressional assessment, the Social Security Administration had the dubious distinction of finishing first with the highest score, 62 out of a possible 105 points.

The Labor Department was awarded the lowest score, at 6.5 points. The average score was 29.9, Armey said.

Armey faulted the agencies for failing to provide statutorily required information, such as mission statements and strategies to achieve goals; for paying scant attention to program duplication inside their agencies and across the government; and for remaining silent on management problems previously identified by the General Accounting Office and inspectors general.

However, Armey acknowledged that his comments were based on draft versions of the strategic plans, and he praised agencies for previous consultations with Congress. He told Raines he hoped the report card would be useful as agencies rewrote their drafts for the Sept. 30 deadline.

Armey's report card gives equal weight to 10 evaluation factors, even though some of the standards are not directly addressed by the Results Act.

His scoring method also awarded bonus points to agencies that best explained their performance measurement systems.

His letter drew heavily on GAO reviews of the agency strategic plans, but the agency rankings were drawn up primarily by Republican-led congressional teams.

GAO, for example, faulted the Commerce Department's draft strategic plan for failing to link long-term program goals to annual performance goals and for not discussing how program evaluations were used to establish departmental goals.

Commerce programs overlap those at other agencies, but the department did not adequately discuss its shared responsibilities, GAO said. For instance, Commerce's environmental programs cross over programs at the Agriculture, Defense, Interior, State and Transportation departments as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

Commerce also failed to address its management challenges, such as the design of the 2000 census, computer modernization at the National Weather Service and escalating costs for an upgrade of labs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.