Grants Management: Enhancing Performance Accountability Provisions Could Lead to Better Results: GAO-06-1046

September 2006
GAO Reports;9/29/2006, p1
Government Documents
Maximizing the extent to which grants achieve their long-term performance goals is critical to successfully addressing the challenges of the 21st century. While performance accountability mechanisms are fairly new to federal grants, they have been used in contracts for some time and lessons learned have begun to inform federal grant design. Given this, GAO was asked to examine (1) challenges to performance accountability in federal grants, (2) mechanisms being used to improve grant performance, and (3) strategies the federal government can use to encourage the use of these mechanisms. GAO performed a content analysis of relevant literature and interviewed experts. To illustrate the mechanisms and strategies found in the literature, GAO used examples from the literature and selected additional case illustrations--two federal grant programs (vocational education and child support enforcement) and two nonfederal contracts--for further study. Accountability provisions in federal grants can vary widely. They can be financial (e.g., bonus payments) or nonfinancial (e.g., altered oversight or flexibility), and can be employed by various actors at different stages in the grant life cycle. Mechanisms need to be tailored to specific situations since there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution. Collectively, five key strategies appear to facilitate the effective design and implementation of performance accountability mechanisms. They are as follows: 1. ensure mechanisms are of sufficient value to motivate desired behaviors, 2. periodically renegotiate and revise mechanisms and measures, 3. ensure appropriate measurement selection, 4. ensure grantor and grantee technical capacity, and 5. allow for phased implementation. In addition to these strategies, collaboration, oversight, and feedback also appear critical to the success of performance accountability mechanisms. Opportunities exist to improve the design and implementation of federal grants. A results-focused design can enable and facilitate the use of accountability provisions. National program evaluation studies and demonstration grants can provide valuable information to support oversight of and knowledge about accountability mechanisms. Finally, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), agencies, and grantees can benefit from sharing good practices and lessons learned regarding performance accountability provisions. OMB recognized the value in sharing information on performance accountability mechanisms, but has not yet focused on this issue.



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