Government Reform Act Unites, Divides Parties
Government Reform Act Unites, Divides Parties By Neil Munro
Cautious cooperation and guarded agreement between Democrats and Republicans are boosting prospects for a significant reform of government operations, say reform advocates from both parties.
By Sept. 30, the White House's Office of Management and Budget is scheduled to give Congress copies of agencies' new strategic plans and reform goals, as required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress.
The act requires the agencies to set goals so the White House and Congress can gauge their performance and technical progress during budget debates.
The agencies' draft GPRA plans are being rewritten following criticism in August by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said Bob Stone, director of the National Performance Review, established by Vice President Al Gore to promote government reform.
Since its creation in March 1993, the NPR has helped reform numerous government agencies, including the Department of Agriculture which has closed 1,200 field offices and cut 10,000 staff positions to help save $4.1 billion by 1999, according to a NPR statement.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas
Armey said Sept. 4 that most of the agency reports were too vague for Congress to properly rate the agencies' performance.
The likely result of the bipartisan reform effort will be extra spending on productivity-boosting information technology, more outsourcing contracts and fewer failed programs, predicted Renny DiPentima, president of the federal systems unit of SRA International, Arlington, Va.
But the GPRA may be used by Republicans as a weapon in the long-running battle between Democrats and Republicans over the size and scope of government. For example, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, said at a Sept. 4 press conference that the GPRA would help identify at least $350 billion per year in "fraud, waste and abuse" in the $1.6 trillion federal budget for 1996.
But others played down GPRA's possible role as a partisan tool. "The working relationship between Congress and OMB has been exemplary. ... We don't see this as an adversarial thing," said Armey.
Although "there are a lot of different [reform] goals" pushed by Democrats and Republicans, policy disagreements can be kept separate from the performance-measurement plans required by GPRA strategic plans, said Stone.
But policy differences will undermine reform, said Bert Concklin, president of the Vienna, Va.-based Professional Services Council. For example, the outsourcing of government operations to private companies in Texas has been hindered by the White House's support for unions that oppose outsourcing, he said.
The Republican-backed GPRA is more ambitious than Gore's NPR, reflecting the Republicans' greater determination to cut government, said one Republican congressional staffer.
However, NPR director Stone argued that Gore is making government reform his top priority for the next three years, and will soon release an updated NPR agenda. According to Stone, Gore recently told an assembly of agency chiefs that "this is the most important task that he is doing. ... We have to deliver on the promise to reinvent entire agencies."
For example, the next stage of the NPR hopes to help shift $14 billion in defense spending from overhead to new procurement, and help customs officials at airports reduce the time taken to check overseas visitors' visas and luggage to only 30 minutes, he said.
With press conferences, hearings and speeches, Republican leaders are trying to boost the significance of the GPRA. At the press conference, Armey released a review of 24 agencies' draft reports for the quality of their data and analysis. Top rating of 62 percent went to the Social Security Administration and the lowest rating of 6.5 percent went to the Department of Labor. The average rating was 29.9 percent, with the Pentagon scoring 25 percent, the Small Business Administration scoring 21 percent and the General Services Administration scoring 35 percent, according to Armey's ranking.
Agencies "had better get enthusiastic [about GPRA] ... otherwise we'll hold so many hearings they won't know what hit them," said Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the information technology panel of the House government Reform and Oversight Committee.