Agencies Show No Progress in the Use of Performance Information for Decision Making

Published: September 13, 2018

Government PerformancePolicy and Legislation

A recently released GAO report showed that agencies’ use of performance information to make decisions has not improved since GAO’s last analysis of the practice in 2013.

In 1993, Congress passed the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) aimed at encouraging federal agencies to focus on performance by requiring them to develop and report on long-term and annual goals. Congress also enacted the subsequent GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA). However, benefits of performance information can only be achieved when the data is used to make decisions with the intent of improving results.

Congress asked GAO to review the extent to which agencies use performance information for decision making. Specifically, GAO looked at whether there had been any change in the use of data since the last review in 2013, leading practices for using performance information in decision making, and actions taken by the Executive Branch to increase use of information in decision making.

GAO used results from its 2017 survey of nearly 4,400 federal managers, and compared them to 2013 results. Its research found government-wide use of performance information for decision making showed a slight decrease since 2013, but a significant decrease relative to 2007.  The government-wide performance information index score was 3.46 in 2007, 3.41 in 2013, and 3.39 in 2017. The index is an average of responses from 11 GAO survey questions with answers ranging on a scale of 1 to 5. “1” reflects that managers reported that they and others in their agency engage to “no extent” in the use of performance information for various decision-making activities. “5” reflects to a “very great extent.”

USAID, GSA and the National Science Foundation scored highest for using performance information for decision making, while Homeland Security and Transportation scored lowest.

GAO also identified five leading practices that can promote the use of performance information for policy and program decisions.  These are

  • Demonstrating management commitment
  • Aligning agency-wide goals, objectives and measures
  • Improving the usefulness of performance information
  • Developing capacity to use performance information
  • Communicating performance information frequently and effectively

In addition, GAO identified four ways agency managers can use performance information to make program decisions aimed at improving results:

  • Identify problems and take corrective action
  • Develop strategy and allocate resources
  • Recognize and reward performance
  • Identify and share effective approaches

GAO recommends that OMB work with agency performance leaders to develop action plans for increasing and improving the use of data in decision making.  GAO also recommends that OMB work with the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) to share best practices and challenges among the agencies.

As agencies strive to make more decisions based on data and performance information, contractors may be required to provide more data in these areas, as well as be held accountable for their performance on contracts and programs, and their use of data for program decision making.