Strategic Planning in the Public Sector

February 4th

Senator Mark Warner (D, VA) calls a new law for which he can claim some responsibility, the “biggest little bill that nobody has ever of.” With relatively little fanfare the GPRA (Government Performance and Results Act) Modernization Act of 2010 was signed into law in early January. Senator Warner (who was there to vote for health reform and financial services reform) believes that GPRA Modernization may be the most significant act of the 111th Congress.

The first GPRA (the law that’s being modernized) has a unique history. A Republican Administration (George H. W. Bush) worked with a Democratic Congress to pass a law that would require every federal agency to develop a strategic plan and annual performance plans. But there are laws and then there are laws. It was when Democrats took the White House (Bill Clinton) and launched a National Performance Review to create, as Al Gore used to say, “a government that works better and costs less,” that the performance reporting began to pick up steam. But in one of Washington’s ironies, it was when a Republican Congress seized upon the law to drive change in the (now Democratic) Executive Branch that the law took on meaning.

But that was then. Time has eroded the first enthusiasms, given the second Bush Administration (George W. Bush) the chance to create a performance scorecard and program evaluation system, and introduced new technology. The new technology in particular and the social media offer the government new opportunities to manage performance and drive innovation. So there is value in modernizing the planning and management process.

Sen. Warner believes that what will be most critical to making the new law work will be to improve the government’s collaboration skills. The new law needs to be implemented in a manner that will encourage government managers to adopt the best practices of others who have found ways to improve performance

The modernized law makes a number of changes that have long been needed (or at least codifies the directive to make the chances). Duplicative reports are to be eliminated for example. And the law directs agencies to do some things that most people would think were so logical that they would have expected that the government be already required to do them already. Strategic Plans, for example, must be aligned with the Annual Performance Plans and plans must be aligned with the Administration in charge.

What is perhaps even more significant, the modernized GPRA will create a number of mechanisms that are likely to dramatically encourage the practice of performance management. Each Agency will (1) have a Chief Performance Officer, (2) reports will explain why performance goals haven’t been met if there are shortfalls and there will have to be a performance improvement plan. In cases where goals are not met two years in a row, there must be a report to Congress. (3) There will be public web sites that are likely to dramatically expand the scope of the review and (4) a government-wide performance report will designate a small number of high level goals. Creating accountability, a governance process, public access and focus may still not be enough to dramatically change the practice of strategic planning and execution. But there’s no disputing the fact that these are all moves in the right direction, or as they might say in Washington “they’re directionally correct.”

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