Implementing the New Federal Performance System

Published: October 16, 2013

Government PerformancePolicy and Legislation

Twenty years ago the first Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) was passed. Seventeen years later, significant changes and reporting requirements were added via the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010. Earlier this week the IBM Center for The Business of Government presented a report regarding implementation of the newest version of GPRA, "The New Federal Performance System: Implementing the GPRA Modernization Act," by Donald Moynihan, Professor of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The report profiles the development and implementation of the federal performance management system since the original legislation passed 20 years ago.  It also presents examples of recent performance improvement in two different federal pro­grams, and concludes with six implementation recommendations for agencies.

The idea for the report grew from a December 2012 forum sponsored by the IBM Center for The Business of Government and the National Academy of Public Administration on the future of the federal performance management system. Participants discussed their perspectives and insights on key components of the Modernization Act, including strategic plan­ning, program management, program evaluation, financial and performance reporting, and budgeting.  Many of the provisions of the most recent legislation are just now coming into place.   

The GPRA Modernization Act adds to the requirements of the existing 1993 GPRA and is increasing agency transparency and accountability, with the goal of reducing waste. 

  • Requirements of newest legislation include:
  • Requires each agency to designated a chief operating officers (COO)
  • Calls for the appointment of a performance improvement officers
  • Sets a goal of 10% reduction in the number of outdated or little-used agency reports mandated by past administrations or Congress
  • Requires OMB to develop a public website for agencies to post quarterly performance data (
  • Requires agencies to include information on strategic performance goals on their websites
  • Requires a mechanism for taking Congressional and public comments on the priorities and goals being reviewed
  • Calls for GAO evaluation
  • Requires consultation with Congress on agency performance plans, targeted priorities, and goals

Agencies are implementing requirements of the new GPRA legislation in a governance environment far different from that of 1993 when the first GRPA legislation took effect.  Moynihan’s report takes an in-depth look at the three most significant changes in the new performance system:

  • A stronger framework to encourage performance information use
  •  The requirement to improve performance through the use of networks
  • The need to use the performance system to make strategic choices 

The Modernization Act codifies some successful administrative practices that are already in place and makes them permanent, such as performance improvement officers and the Performance Improvement Council.  OMB has provided detailed guidance as to what the new requirements mean for agencies in a revised Circular A-11, Part 6. OMB has also developed a graphic summary of the new requirements, illustrat­ing how they are intended to connect to provide a coherent overall system. 

OMB has articulated four goals for the new performance system, as well as three strategies to achieve these goals:

  • Outcomes
  • Productivity
  • The quality of government interactions (with public, clients, customers, regulated parties, service delivery partners, and other stakeholders)
  • Democratic accountability 

The following three strategies were adapted to achieve the four goals listed above:

  • Use performance information to lead and learn to improve outcomes
  • Communicate performance coherently and concisely for better results and transparency
  • Strengthen problem-solving networks (OMB 2011) 

Moynihan’s report offers six implementation recommendations:

  • Connect the Performance System to Public Service Motivation
  • Build a Learning Culture
  • Balance Top-Down Targets with Bottom-Up Innovations
  • Integrate Program Evaluation into the Performance Management System
  • Ensure Leaders are Committed to Performance Management
  • Connect with Congress and Stakeholders

The GPRA Modernization Act attempts to position the federal government as more of an adaptive organization in handling management and policy issues.  The federal performance system has evolved over the last 20 years.  “The federal government has captured, stored, and disseminated lessons on how to upgrade the performance system, learning from past mistakes and experimenting with new approaches,” concludes Moynihan.