American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Congress Expands Control Over The Executive Branch

The following "Government Affairs Report" column by GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti is reprinted from the April 1997 issue of The Professional Geologist, a publication of the American Institute of Professional Geologists. It is reprinted with permission. Additional information on GPRA can be found from the House Science Committee and AGI web site.

Early in the 103rd Congress, the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 was passed and subsequently signed into law by the President. The proposed Act was introduced in the Senate as S. 20 on January 21, 1993, the first day of the session, by Sen. William Roth (Republican, Delaware), ranking member of the Government Affairs Committee, and committee chairman Sen. John Glenn (Democrat, Ohio). The purpose of the bill was "to provide for the establishment, testing, and evaluation of strategic planning and performance measurement in the Federal Government, and for other purposes." The companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on February 4, 1993 by Rep. William Clinger (Republican, Pennsylvania) ranking member of the Government Operations Committee, and committee chairman Rep. John Conyers (Democrat, Michigan).

The Act passed with little fanfare or notice, as did the approval by President Clinton on August 3, 1993. The legislation's allure to Congress, where it is referred to as "the Results Act," centered upon the desire to reduce and better control the federal government. Its charm to the Administration leadership, who have elected to expand their acronym base to include "GPRA," was its neat fit into Vice President Gore's reinventing government conception. Another very attractive feature to those advancing the Act was that its effective date was somewhere off in the future. Well! That future has arrived, for the curtain falls during 1997.

The Act requires an extensive array of reporting requirements encompassed within four themes: strategic plans, annual performance plans, government-wide performance plans, and annual performance reports. Every federal agency is to submit strategic plans to Congress and to the executive branch's budgetary watchdog agency, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), by September 1997. The strategic plan is to include a mission statement and specific goals for all major programs and operations for a five year period. What constitutes a major program is most likely going to be the subject of considerable negotiation. Also due in September 1997, is the initial annual performance plan outlining definitive accomplishments to be achieved during fiscal year (FY) 1999.

OMB itself does not escape the reporting criteria, for it is commanded to submit an annual government-wide performance plan beginning early in 1988. This plan is to be presented as part of the President's FY 1999 budget request and will presumably represent a composite of the federal agencies' plans received by OMB. Finally, each federal agency is to prepare an annual performance report to be tendered beginning on March 31, 2000 and every year thereafter to Congress and the White House measuring agency performance against the goals established for the prior year.

In November 1996, to prepare federal organizations for compliance with the Act, OMB issued a memorandum advising all agencies to meet with their congressional oversight committees and to institute effective consultations. Although the Act mandates agency discussions with Congress, it does not define the scope of the legislated consultations. While OMB recommended consultative meetings with Congress, it also dictated that all substantive documents concerning strategic planning must be furnished to OMB beforehand. This last factor created some nervousness among the congressional leadership.

The Act certainly represents the greatest intrusion by Congress into federal agency program implementation in history. And the present Congress has made it clear that it intends to exercise its new power, and play a pivotal role in the strategic planning effort to improve federal government effectiveness and efficiency. In early March, Republican congressional leaders responded to the OMB memorandum. They sent a letter to OMB Director Franklin Raines describing what they believed agency strategic plans should contain and instructed federal agencies to confer with the appropriate congressional committees prior to the August congressional recess and the September compliance date. The letter also warned OMB not to install a rigorous clearance process that might interfere with strategic planning dialogue between the agencies and Congress. Among the signatories were a veritable "who's who" of the present Congress. Included were Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, House Majority Leader Richard Armey of Texas, and the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations, Budget, and Government Operations committees.

It seems apparent that the principles of the Paperwork Reduction Act enacted by Congress some years ago does not apply to the executive branch in the case of this Act. But despite the seemingly onerous reporting burden on federal agencies and the lack of definitions concerning consultation and major programs, this cloud may have an unanticipated silver lining beyond the obvious possibility that it might actually improve government performance. Congressional leadership has agreed to coordinate the complex jurisdictional morass of overlapping congressional committees, and to reduce the duplication the present system produces. In addition, there is the opportunity to bring together appropriation and oversight committees to match spending plans with strategic goals. And if we are to fantasize, the Act may set in motion a congressional initiative to pass no authorization bill without an associated appropriation. And to think the unthinkable; in requiring accountability of the executive branch, Congress might parenthetically bring the same fate down upon itself.

The Government Affairs Column is a bimonthly feature written by John Dragonetti. John Dragonetti is the Senior Advisor the American Geological Institute's Government Affairs Program.

This article is reprinted with permission from The Professional Geologist, published by the American Institute of Professional Geologists. AGI gratefully acknowledges that permission.

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

Contributed by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs.

Last updated April 14, 1997

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