Making Headway

Government Performance Reform Now in the House’s Hands

The Senate yesterday unanimously passed a bill that would require each U.S. government agency to set out clearly what they will achieve for the American people. This rare bipartisan effort is a promising step toward transforming the way government monitors performance. It is exactly what the American people want. In a recent poll by the Center for American Progress, 83 percent said that requiring every agency to set clear goals would make government work better.

The legislation, titled the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010, revises a landmark government performance law signed 17 years ago. The new bill requires all departments and agencies to set high-priority goals, develop a plan to accomplish each priority goal, and regularly adjust the plan as they go along so that the goals are more likely to be met. This closely follows an approach that the Center called for recently to help policymakers build confidence in government.

The bill was piloted through the Senate by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) who recently said that "it’s time to move beyond the debate over ‘big’ versus ‘smaller’ government to focus instead on real action we can take now to provide a much more efficient and effective government." Both Sen. Warner and Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), who led efforts in the House on the bill, deserve to be congratulated.

It’s important to remember this bill is bipartisan. The Senate bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Thomas Carper (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), George Voinovich (R-OH), and Daniel Akaka (D-HI). And the House version was sponsored by 55 congressmen from both parties.

Both the Senate and the House have passed versions of the bill unanimously. They are slightly different in their approach, and all that remains before the bill can reach President Barack Obama’s desk is for both chambers to adopt the same language.

While there is a great deal else that is occupying the minds of Congress right now, it would be a good investment to make a small amount of time to ensure that this bill goes through. Its potential to transform government performance is immense. Setting agency goals that target real-world results for the American people will force leaders to prioritize initiatives that are the most effective at achieving these results. And in a time of fiscal austerity, the need for this reform is particularly acute.

Jitinder Kohli is a Senior Fellow with the Doing What Works project at the Center for American Progress. John Griffith is a Research Associate with the project.