Sen. Mark Warner: Making government more transparent and accountable

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I want to let you know about the recent progress of legislation I have introduced that will make government work better and save taxpayer money.  

The Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010, which Im proud to say is co-sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats, requires each federal agency to set clear performance goals goals that can be accurately measured and then publicly reported to taxpayers. We also direct agencies to identify their highest and lowest priority programs. 

These steps will help us identify overlapping federal programs as we work to find taxpayer savings.  

Finally, our bill requires the federal budget office to examine the current reporting mandates imposed on each agency, determine which of those reports are no longer relevant or necessary and reduces the overall number of annual written reports by at least 10 percent. 

I expect our bill to be taken-up by the full Senate once Congress returns to work next month. 

TOO MANY STOVEPIPES

Most of you probably know that Ive spent more time in the business world than in government service. Thats why I have always tried to apply common-sense business practices to the core functions of government, both as Virginias Governor and now as a U.S. senator. 

As Chairman of the Senate Budget Committees Task Force on Government Performance over the past year, I have worked with a bipartisan group of senators to examine how the federal government uses data to improve its operations. 

The answer, as you might expect, is not very well: The federal government is not consistent in the data it collects. We do not use the best tools and technology to analyze outcomes. And we rarely follow-up and put the necessary accountability in place so that we can accurately track performance. 

It might surprise you to learn that taxpayers fund 44 separate programs in nine different federal departments that support workforce training.  We also pay for 17 separate initiatives across seven federal departments that deal with food safety policies. 

We need a better system a system that allows us to review the results of each program and evaluate its impact in addressing overall policy goals, whether its the important work of retraining people whove lost their jobs or ensuring the safety of the food your family eats. 

DATA OVERLOAD

Many states, including Virginia, already are national leaders in efforts to clearly identify these policy goals. I encourage you to check out the Virginia Performs website for a great example of how Virginia tracks and reports on its program outcomes. 

This priority focus on performance management is one reason why Virginia has been repeatedly designated as one of the countrys best-managed states in recent years. 

In Washington, federal agencies produce thousands of pages of data every year but we dont use it. There are bookshelves all over this town that are literally sagging from the weight of these unread reports. 

We rarely compare results among competing programs, and Im not sure we ever actually analyze the data to see if these programs actually are achieving their specific policy goals.  

WHAT THE BILL DOES

Our Government Performance and Results Modernization Act tackles many of these challenges in a smart and responsible way. 

First, it requires agencies to produce real-time data on results. Federal agencies typically file a mountain of required performance reports but only once each year. Thats not good enough. Our bill requires agencies to post results each quarter so well have access to more timely information about whats working and what isnt. 

Second, the bill requires agencies to post this information on a single public website. This will allow taxpayers, agency managers and members of Congress to evaluate and compare outcomes and results information that is critical in making informed judgments about how we are performing when it comes to national priorities such as education, health and safety. 

This shift to real-time data, publicly reported on a single website, has another clear benefit: It will look across the government stovepipes and help us easily identify underperforming, overlapping and outdated federal programs. It also will help highlight additional opportunities to save taxpayer dollars by better coordinating the back office functions of federal programs with similar goals and activities.     

Third, we require each agency to designate a Chief Operating Officer who will be held accountable for reporting program results. The COO also will be responsible for aggressively pursuing potential cost-savings by clearly identifying program overlap and unnecessary duplication.

Finally, our bill requires the federal budget office to examine the reporting mandates currently imposed on each agency, determine which is no longer relevant or necessary, and reduce the number of annual written reports by 10 percent. 

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The writer, an Alexandrian and U.S. senator, is a cofounder of Nextel and a former Virginia governor who now serves on the U.S. Senates Banking, Budget and Commerce committees.

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