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Agency Goals Continue to Evolve Under the Federal Performance Framework

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By J. Woody Stanley
October 3, 2020

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and an economic downturn, federal agencies continue to deploy programs behind the scenes to obtain results for all Americans. In July, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released progress reports describing efforts underway to achieve 79 Agency Priority Goals (APGs) and 14 Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goals in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020-21.

Reducing homelessness is an example of an APG in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). During President Obama’s second term, HUD programs contributed to a 47% reduction in homelessness among veterans. Under President Trump, the APG has evolved to address the need for more housing among all homeless population groups. Nationwide the average length of time individuals experience homelessness was estimated to be 167 days in 2019. A continued focus is needed on homelessness, which is potentially being exacerbated by an increase in the number of unemployed Americans.

Modernizing the Infrastructure Permitting Process is a CAP goal that involves coordination among an interagency council of 14 federal agencies, the Council on Environmental Quality, and OMB. A key aspect of the goal is to reduce the time for the federal Government’s processing of environmental reviews and authorization decisions for new major infrastructure projects to an average of two years. Agencies now undertaking 43 new major infrastructure projects are coordinating environmental reviews. Faster starts on new construction projects will help to alleviate unemployment, upgrade our nation’s infrastructure and spur economic recovery.

The APGs and CAP goals are elements of the Federal Performance Framework, introduced in 2011 by OMB to implement the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Modernization Act (P.L. 111-352, January 2011), also referred to as the Modernization Act. During President Obama’s second term, the largest federal departments and agencies began taking steps to comply with key provisions in the law. In 2012, 21 large departments and agencies updated their existing strategic plans. For the first time, all of the agencies wrote strategic plans on the same 4-year time horizon. At the beginning of the Trump administration, rather than start anew, OMB encouraged departments and agencies to update existing strategic plans using the same framework.

The largest departments and agencies adopted 97 strategic goals and 343 strategic objectives in strategic plans that were released in 2013-2014 under President Obama. At the beginning of the Trump administration, agencies reviewed their existing strategic goals and objectives as part of an update to strategic plans released in early 2018. Altogether the departments and agencies, excluding the Departments of Defense and Energy, adopted 86 strategic goals and 280 strategic objectives, a decrease in the total when compared to 2013-14.

Large departments and agencies began adopting APGs on a two-year planning cycle in 2012. The total number of APGs among all agencies peaked at 103 in the FY 2014-15 cycle and declined each cycle to 79 in FY 2020-21. Six of the original APGs adopted in FY 2012-13, including the goal to reduce homelessness, have been retained during all five planning cycles; while 13 were retained in four or more cycles. Under the framework, large departments and agencies are encouraged to align APG statements with long-term strategic goals and objectives to ensure a continued focus on results.

In 2014, OMB released an initial list of CAP Goals for FY 2014-2017. With funding from Congress, OMB increased its focus on CAP goals when the goals were updated in 2017 to support President Trump’s Management Agenda. At least 10 of the 15 FY 2014 CAP goals, including streamlining infrastructure projects, were carried over under President Trump. Implementing the CAP goals requires coordination across the largest departments and agencies, as well as several independent federal agencies, and internal federal agency steering committees and councils including some that predate the Modernization Act.

Federal departments and agencies are already looking ahead to next year when they will update their strategic plans, as required under current law during the first year of the next presidential administration. Agencies anticipate they will update their strategic goals and objectives based on their mission and the priorities of the next president, develop APGs for the FY 2022-23 cycle, engage with OMB to update the CAP goals; and, at the same time, continue implementing their FY 2021 performance plans that were submitted to Congress earlier this year. While policies may differ from one presidential administration to the next, adherence to the Federal Performance Framework instills familiarity and confidence in the planning processes among agency employees and stakeholders and can lead to improvements in the quality of life for all Americans.


DISCLAIMER: The ideas and opinions expressed in this paper are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Author: J. Woody Stanley, DPA retired in September from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). He spent his 25-year federal government career implementing strategic planning and performance measurement practices at DOT. His last position was Senior Advisor for Strategic Management at the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. He can be reached at [email protected]

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