One of the goals of performance partnerships is to focus greater attention on the environmental and human health results that are being achieved - at least in part - through the protection efforts of environmental agencies.
To set the stage for effective strategic planning, EPA and states need performance measures that can be used to assess progress in improving environmental and human health conditions and how well protection efforts are working.
Traditionally, EPA and states have relied primarily on output (or activity) measures to assess environmental programs. Activity measures - such as counting the number of permits issued or inspections conducted — are important for showing progress in implementing environmental programs.
However, such measures do not show the results of these actions. Outcome measures are needed to show changes in environmental conditions and to indicate where protection efforts are working and where additional attention is needed.
Environmental professionals have been working to improve environmental indicators and performance measures for many years. With the advent of performance partnerships - as well as new laws and policies requiring government agencies to assess the results of their programs - EPA and states began focusing even more attention on measures development.
While there has been significant progress, developing and implementing appropriate environmental performance measures remains a major technical, policy, and resource challenge.
Government Performance and Results Act
Since the early 1990s, there has been increasing focus in government management circles on "managing for results." The 1993 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) - and similar laws and executive policies in many states - hold agencies accountable for using resources wisely and achieving program results.
Under GPRA, EPA must set out strategic goals and objectives and the measures that will be used to assess progress towards meeting them. EPA's budget and accounting systems are also tied to the GPRA goals and objectives.
Since EPA awards a large percentage of its budget to states in grants, EPA is accountable for ensuring that the grants support the achievement of EPA's goals and objectives.
EPA's goals, objectives, and strategic targets for each can be found in EPA's five-year Strategic Plan. Each program's three-year National Program Guidance contains more detailed plans for meeting these goals and objectives, including the measures that will be used to assess progress. Since states are responsible for implementing many environmental programs, the national goals, objectives, and targets are translated into specific annual performance commitments during the grant work plan negotiation process.
Measures in Partnership Agreements
All states have the same accountability for meeting commitments and results - whether or not the state has a Performance Partnership Agreement (PPA), Performance Partnership Grant (PPG), a PPA that also serves as a grant work plan, or traditional environmental program grants.
Performance measures for evaluating environmental progress are considered an essential element of an effective PPA. However, since PPAs are voluntary, there are no specific requirements for what they must contain. Whether and how individual PPAs incorporate performance measures varies.
By regulation, all grant work plans must contain performance measures (outputs and outcomes). Therefore, any PPA that also serve as a grant work plan for a PPG or other grants contains performance measures.
In practice, performance measures may be included in the PPA, in the grant work plans that support implementation of the PPA, or in both places.
Therefore, it may be necessary to review both the PPA and any associated grant work plans to gain a full picture what performance measures are in place for a particular EPA-state partnership.
Improving Performance Measures
Improving performance measures is an ongoing process. In 1998, in one of the first successes in the performance partnership effort, EPA and state leaders developed a set of core performance measures.
A joint policy statement (PDF) (3 pp, 16K, About PDF) explained that the measures were intended to help paint a national picture of environmental progress and provide a tool for increasing accountability.
Everyone involved recognized the need to improve the measures and increase the use of outcome measures over time. The measures were revised several times; the FY 2000 Core Performance Measures was the last revised set.
The concept of having a core set of measures to assess progress in environmental protection is still valid. By 2004, however, the core performance measures themselves had largely been superseded. The Environmental Council of the States (ECOS, an organization representing state environmental commissioners) allowed a resolution adopting the core performance measures to expire.
However, some EPA regions and states still use the core performance measures as a starting point for negotiating performance measures and reporting requirements.
The core performance measures effort highlighted the information challenges associated with building a results-oriented management system. For the first time, senior state and EPA leaders worked together with technical and scientific staffs, bringing high-level attention to the policy and technical issues involved. It set the stage for the indicators work, data management improvements, and reporting reduction efforts that have gone on since.
This work goes on between EPA and states in many, many venues - in the program offices, in research and technical staffs, and in the extraordinary efforts underway to improve the value of data systems and the ability to share information between EPA and states and with the public.
Of particular importance is the work underway to:
- Refine and link measures and reporting requirements to strategic goals and objectives,
- Implement a state grant measures template to collect consistent information about the results of state grants,
- Publish the national Report on the Environment, and
- Implement the Environmental Information Exchange Network