Performance and Accountability

To magnify government’s impact, we need to create a culture where agencies are accountable for their performance.

Performance and Accountability

Since the 2010 passage of the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, federal agencies have enhanced how they measure performance to improve program results. Many have taken concrete steps to designate agency and cross-agency priority goals, create strategic plans, meet quarterly for performance reviews, and appoint chief operating officers and performance improvement officers.

All of these initiatives have resulted in better outcomes—but evidence shows that there’s still room to improve. According to surveys conducted for our reports on agency performance, most staff graded their agencies’ performance culture as a “C,” and 13.3% gave failing marks. In addition, only 48.3% of respondents claimed their departments’ top leadership uses performance data to drive decision-making to a “great” or “very great” extent.

There’s a strong perception that department-level leaders make decisions without considering analytics. To truly enhance performance, it’s not enough to pay lip service to the importance of accountability—agencies need to do more to embed these data-driven measures into the organizational culture.

Our Role

We’re committed to further helping agencies enhance performance and accountability. We regularly convene the chief operating officers and public information officers who oversee these initiatives and survey the federal employees who help implement them. We track best practices and disseminate those findings across government, helping agency leaders learn from the successful efforts of their peers.


Connect program activities to agency priorities

Programs produce better outcomes when employees understand how their performance connects to larger agency priorities. Many agencies that have successfully built a performance culture use strategic planning documents to clearly articulate organization-wide priorities.

To further align program activities with key priorities, agencies should:

  • Clearly communicate agency priority goals through strategic planning documents.
  • Develop simpler strategic planning documents to show staff how their individual responsibilities map to the accomplishment of organizational goals.
  • Solicit input, suggestions and feedback from staff who are familiar with programs when creating strategic planning documents.

Get the analytical talent you need

Agencies need data analysts with diverse skills—employees who not only gather vital performance information, but also present that information in a way that’s insightful and usable.

To ensure they have the right staff on board to track performance, agencies need to:

  • Think creatively about the skill sets the organization needs to assess its performance and lead continuous improvement efforts.
  • Recruit for analysts with diverse skills, such as communications, team-building or graphic design.
  • Train staff to both analyze and clearly present data to various audiences.

Build meaningful relationships

Performance staff members are often too removed from field offices where agency programs are organized and implemented; they need to cultivate better working relationships to make more informed decisions.

To help performance staff build meaningful relationships with program staff in field offices, agencies should:

  • Bring together performance and program staff to learn and work together.
  • Facilitate conversations between headquarters and subcomponent performance staff to discuss the context behind the data they analyze.
  • Foster trust with program staff in the field by working with them to discuss and resolve performance challenges.

Move from data to information

Agencies should make it a priority to turn data into usable information. However, many subcomponent performance staff feel they lack the necessary resources to move beyond merely collecting performance statistics.

To convert raw data into usable information, agencies must:

  • Standardize data collection across regions or offices to make it easier to aggregate data across subcomponents.
  • Eliminate outdated data collection requirements where possible.
  • Reach out to other organizations that collect data that could inform or complement the information currently available to agency staff.

Demonstrate return on investment

Performance staff often aim to demonstrate programmatic return on investment by rigorously evaluating program cost and performance. Yet agencies have not widely integrated program evaluation into overall performance initiatives.

To more effectively measure the value of programs, agencies need to:

  • Break down organizational barriers and connect staff who have performance management, program evaluation and budget expertise throughout the organization.
  • Work with budget staff to obtain accurate cost information.
  • Establish a common definition of program evaluation throughout the organization to standardize staff efforts to demonstrate return on investment.


Putting Together the Performance Pieces: A Practical Guide for Federal Agencies

June 23, 2015

Publication Type: Research and Publications

Publication Topic: Modernize Management Systems

Putting Together the Performance Pieces: A Practical Guide for Federal Agencies

For the past five years, agencies have been implementing the GPRA Modernization Act, aimed at reinvigorating agency efforts to improve program results by boosting performance. What progress have agencies made since 2010? Which performance practices have been the most successful and how can they be expanded throughout government? The Partnership for Public Service and Grant…

Walking the Line: Inspectors General Balancing Independence and Impact

September 7, 2016

Publication Type: Research and Publications

Publication Topic: Develop Strong Leaders,Federal workforce

Walking the Line: Inspectors General Balancing Independence and Impact

The inspectors general serve as the canary in the coal mine, warning federal leaders of agency risks and vulnerabilities. They also have a unique, long-term perspective on their organizations since they typically remain in place through changes in leadership. In this report, “Walking the Line: Inspectors General Balancing Independence and Impact,” the Partnership for Public…

Mission Possible: How chief operating officers can make government more effective

June 1, 2017

Publication Type: Research and Publications

Publication Topic: Build Networks of Support,Develop Strong Leaders,Modernize Management Systems

Mission Possible: How chief operating officers can make government more effective

The Trump administration has prioritized improving the management of government. Chief operating officers, the senior officials most accountable for agency results, will have a big job ahead of them in implementing the president’s management changes. Their efforts will make or break the ability of agencies, and the government as a whole, to achieve the administration’s…