American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

NAS Workshop on Research and GPRA: Evaluation of Agency Strategic and Performance Plans (4-24-98)

In addition to proposing the first balanced budget in 30 years, the President's Fiscal Year 1999 budget request is also the first to include agency performance plans as required by the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). Signed into Public Law 103-62 on August 3, 1993, GPRA gives Congress more oversight of federal agencies and embodies Vice President Gore's "reinventing government" strategy to make the federal government more efficient. Although heartily supported by the Administration at it s inception, GPRA is proving to be a major challenge for the federal agencies - particularly scientific agencies -- that must comply with its requirements. More information on GPRA is available on the AGI website

The National Academy of Sciences' Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) is conducting an evaluation of scientific agencies' strategic and performance plans. In a workshop help on April 16, COSEPUP members heard from agency representatives about their first experiences working with GPRA. A common theme was that agencies are still learning how best to work within the GPRA framework, and many were optimistic that future plans would achieve more of the goals of GPRA, especially increasing inter-agency cooperation and communication. Many representatives also expressed their frustration in trying to measure the results of science. Some agencies with broader missions "bury" science in their plans, in an effort to avoid quantifying results.

NASA's strategic plan is broken down into four main "enterprises": Space science; Earth Science; Human exploration and development of space; and Aeronautics and space transportation technology. Examples of goals set for the Space Science Enterprise are:

Alan Ladwig of NASA expressed his hope that GPRA will result in better science for NASA but also his concern that Congress use GPRA to "beat up on the Administration's policies." He stated that this year has been a learning experience and believes NASA will have a great plan next year.

The National Science Foundation has several Outcome Goals listed in its performance plan:

Judy Sunley of NSF identified several challenges NSF faced in creating its plan: the open-ended mission of NSF, the long time frame needed to see results, and the lack of predictability of results of research. She stated that GPRA has been helpful in getting NSF to analyze the outcomes of its programs, not just the outcome of the awards. NSF will use both internal (program officers and NSF management) and external (committees of visitors, advisory committees) review in assessing the results of projects .

Both the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s strategic plan are incorporated into the Department of Commerce's (DO C) plan. The DOC has three strategic themes: Economic Infrastructure, Science/Technology/Information, and Resources and Asset Management and Stewardship. Paul Doremus of NIST commented that NIST "is low on the totem pole" and not well represented in the plan. NOAA, however, has been involved in strategic planning for years and has its own plan in addition to its role in the DOC. NOAA's seven main goals are: Advance short-term warning and forecasting services; implement seasonal to interannual climate fore casts; predict and assess decadal to centennial change, promote safe navigation, build sustainable fisheries, recover protected species, and sustain healthy coasts. Curt Marshall, NOAA, thought GPRA would be helpful in getting agencies to discuss cross-cutting issues. He also cautioned that it may take up to a decade to fully realize the potential of GPRA. New Zealand and Australia have examined issues like GPRA and found that it generally takes between 8-10 years to implement a new system.

The Environmental Protection Agency plan lays out ten goals:

In addition to the broad EPA plan, EPA's Office of Research and Development has created its own strategic plan. Kevin Teichman, EPA, spoke about assessing the value-added from research as the utility of the research as well as the degree the public "appreciates" the science underlying credible EPA decisions. He then noted that all of EPA's research is peer reviewed both inside and outside EPA.

COSEPUP will hold its next workshop on June 8 in Washington DC to discuss two of the proposed methods for evaluating research outcomes: merit review and bibliometric analysis. The report is scheduled to be completed by December 1998.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Prepared by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Posted April 24, 1998

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