Performance and Accountability

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

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 of agency performance staff, most graded their agencies’ performance culture as a “C,” and 13.3% of respondents 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 are making decisions without considering the analytical work. 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 helping agencies further the progress they’ve already made in enhancing performance and accountability. We regularly convene the COOs and PIOs responsible for overseeing these initiatives and survey the federal employees who have a hand in implementing 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 have used 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. Not only must agencies find talent capable of gathering vital performance information, but they need employees who can 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, which could include experience in communications, team-building or graphic design.
  • Train staff to analyze data and clearly present and communicate insights from the analysis.

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 who serve diverse roles in the organization 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

The practice of turning data into information has not become a widespread reality, but agencies should make this a goal and strive to accomplish it. The issue is that 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 stress the importance of demonstrating programmatic return on investment by rigorously evaluating the cost and performance of programs. Yet program evaluation has not been widely integrated 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

The Partnership and Grant Thornton explored these questions in this guide, which builds on five years’ worth of interviews with agency performance staff.

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Taking Measure: Moving from Process to Practice in Performance Management

How has performance management been impacted by the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010? Where have advances been made and what challenges remain? That's what the Partnership and Grant Thornton set out to understand in this report.

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Walking the Line: Inspectors General Balancing Independence and Impact

In this report, the Partnership and Grant Thornton Public Sector set out to identify ways incoming agency leaders and Congress can form constructive relationships with the IG community.

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Mission Possible: How Chief Operating Officers Can Make Government More Effective

This report by the Partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton is a blueprint for COOs as they work to make our government more responsive, effective and accountable to the American people.

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Bridging Mission and Management: A Survey of Government Chief Operating Officers

What role do chief operating officers play in agencies? What are their top priorities and challenges? What is the state of management in federal agencies? Those are the questions the Partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton set out to understand in this report.

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From Data to Decisions: The Power of Analytics

The Partnership, in collaboration with IBM’s Public Sector Business Analytics & Optimization practice, set out to study federal agencies’ use of analytics and how it helped them achieve better program results. We focused on identifying leading practices that illustrate how data informs decisions and drives meaningful and positive program changes.

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