How does STRATEGIC PLANNING work?

The Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRA) requires agencies to prepare a strategic plan, make it available on the agency website, and notify the President and Congress of its availability. A strategic plan is not just an agency’s mission statement or a broad set of goals. It describes the goals the agency aims to achieve, what actions the agency will take to realize those goals, and how the agency will deal with any challenges and risks along the way. Strategic planning is also a chance for an agency to evaluate its capabilities, the environment that it operates in, and its current strategy. The strategic plan also explains why the agency chose these goals and strategies.more

Strategic plans cover 4 to 5 year periods, so agencies also have to include annual goals and performance goals to be able to stay on track. Agencies annually update these performance goals in Annual Performance Plans. Finally, An agency formulates its strategic plan with inputs from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Congress, the public, and the agency’s personnel, partners, and stakeholders and makes the plan easily accessible to all.

The strategic plan is not a binding document that would prevent an agency from learning from experiences and adapting their plans to changing circumstances.

The strategic plan also helps with running an agency. It is a valuable tool for communicating to agency managers, employees, delivery partners, suppliers, Congress, and the public a vision for the future. Above all, an agency’s strategic plan should be used to align resources and guide decision-making to accomplish priorities and improve outcomes. It helps the agency make decisions about the need for major new acquisitions, updating information technologies, hiring, skill development, and evaluations. Strategic plans can also help agencies invite ideas and stimulate innovation to advance agency goals.

What are the parts of an agency strategic plan?

There is no prescribed format for an agency strategic plan. But it must at least include certain things required by the GPRA including:

A Mission statement- A brief, easy-to-understand narrative, usually no more than two or three sentences long, that defines the basic purpose of the agency and is consistent with the agency’s core programs and activities expressed within the broad context of national problems, needs, or challenges. In addition to the mission statement, many agencies also include a vision statement to express how the agency intends to accomplish its mission in broad terms, especially when an agency has a diverse set of related missions, or numerous sets of strategic goals.

Strategic goals- These are the general, outcome-oriented, long-term goals for the major functions and operations of the agency. Agencies use strategic goals to articulate clear statements of what the agency wants to achieve relevant to its national problems, needs, or challenges, and how it expects to achieve the goals. These are the broadest goals in the agency’s strategic plan.

Strategy Descriptions- In discussing each strategic goal, the agency has to describe each of these items

  • Program or management strategies the agency is planning to take to further the achievement of its goals and the processes, workforce needs, technology, and other information needed to carry out its mission and achieve its goals. (A strategic plan is not a budget request, so the resources required for each strategy have to be within the agency’s anticipated resources.)
  • Evidence explaining why the agency thinks the strategies described are likely to work.
  • The roles and responsibilities of key agency programs, administrative activities, and external agency partners (e.g., other federal programs and grantees; state, local, tribal, and foreign governments; major long-term contractors, etc.).

Performance goals- For each strategic goal included in the strategic plan, the agency has to describe a limited number of performance goals. These are more specific and measurable than strategic goals. The agency can group or organize performance goals under other mid-level general goals or objectives that support the agency’s longer-term strategic goals.

External factors- The agency has to identify of key external factors that are beyond its control and could significantly affect the achievement of its goals. External factors are those that the agency did not create. External factors may be economic, demographic, social, or environmental.

How should an agency communicate or publish interim updates to the strategic plan?

Interim adjustments to the strategic plan, such as new Agency Priority Goals, generally do not require a new publication of the full strategic plan. These plans have to be made easily accessible to the public on the agency website with the most current strategic plan so that readers can understand the most current agency plans. Agencies are not required to ask for comments from the public, but they may choose to do so.close


How does EFFECTIVE COMMENTING work?

Providing comments to agencies engaged in planning is not like voting. Unlike members of Congress or the President, federal agencies aren’t allowed decide based on majority rule. Instead, they are supposed to use expertise and practical experience to come up with the overall best answer to the problems Congress has told them to solve. They must have good reasons, sound data, etc. for the decisions they make. So, the kind of public participation that really matters is when people explain not only what they think the agency should (or shouldn’t) do, but why. One person with some new information or a really good idea will have more impact than 1,000 people who just give an unsupported opinion. So, how do you make comments that count?more

Start by focusing on parts of the agency proposal or plan that will affect you directly, or that you have knowledge about or experience with. Express your concerns, suggestions, and recommendations clearly. Your points are more likely to get the agency’s attention, if you:

  • Give specific examples
  • Share a personal story or experience
  • Show that you’ve considered the pros, cons, and practicality of the idea
  • Provide data if you know about any, or at least identify the kinds of information that would be important to have
  • Link to online references and original source materials

Stay on topic, express thoughtful disagreement in civil terms, and stay away from ridicule, sarcasm, and personalized attack. The agency has to take account of all points of view; if you just attack or ignore people who take a different position than you, you aren’t helping the agency figure out why one position deserves to be adopted over the other.

Good comments avoid repeating what has already been said. Remember, the goal is quality, not quantity of comments. If you can add to what someone else has already said and make it better, reply to their comment and add your idea, reason or information. If you think someone has made a point as effectively as possible, and there’s really not anything you can add to improve it, you can “Endorse” their comment. That way your view can be part of the final summary sent to the agency, without adding a lot of repetition that can bury some really important points.

If you share a personal story or experience, it’s helpful for the agency to have details that helps them understand your viewpoint. Providing the basis for your knowledge is very helpful. For example, a disabled traveler commenting on automated check-in kiosks or a trucker with 20 years of experience commenting on the requirement to install electronic on-board recorders. Please be sure to connect your story or experience to your view of the proposal, connect your story or personal experience:

  • If you disagree with a proposal or see a contradiction
  • If you think the agency has missed a factor(s) that impacts the cost or effectiveness of the proposal
  • If you think there are consequences the agency doesn’t see and/or intended
  • If you believe there is another way the agency can look at the issues

Finally, remember that even though the federal government as a whole has a lot of power, individual federal agencies have only the power that Congress specifically gives them. Sometimes, important parts of a proposal or plan reflect what the agency’s statute requires or prohibits. Agencies can’t do much with comments that complain about things only Congress can change. The Planning Room Issue Posts try to give you information about significant statutory requirements or limits that affect what the agency may do. If you have a question about the agency’s legal authority, ask it. Some other user, or the moderator, may know the answer.

You’ll see that some comments are marked by the moderators as “Recommended” (the heart icon). “Recommended” means that the comment has some or all of the qualities of an effective comment. The Planning Room Team does not take a position on any of the issues in a proposal: our goal is helping people participate as effectively as possible, whatever position or views they have. We encourage diverse points of view, and we respect the diversity of values expressed by users. So, comments are Recommended not for what they say, but for how they say it: they give reasons, bring in information, consider alternatives, show that the writer is trying to consider the issue from all sides, etc. close


How does this SITE work?

The goal of Planning Room is not just more public participation in planning, but better participation. The site is designed to make it easier for this to happen. The problems agencies try to solve are usually difficult and complicated, so the best participation often comes from commenters who take the time to get below the surface and learn more about the plan. Planning Room helps users do that in several ways. more

The important issues (topics) in each rule are divided into “Issue Posts.” These let you focus on the particular topics most important to you. Each post has a set of subtopics. These review the problem the agency is trying to solve, lay out the solutions it is proposing, and identify specific information or ideas the agency hopes the public can provide. If you’re unsure what a term or abbreviation means, you can mouse over it and a definition will pop up. (If we’ve missed something you think should be defined, drop us a note at Contact Us.) Each post also contains links to important documents, including background materials, any current or previous plans, as well as other outside sources that might be useful. . You can watch this short video to see a step-by-step guide on how to use Planning Room to participate.The other important aspect of how the site works is the moderator team. Our moderators are students trained in law and group facilitation techniques. A moderator will read every comment within a few hours of when it is posted. Moderators may point commenters to other relevant material on the site, encourage them to discuss a point raised by another commenter, or ask them to supply reasons, information, data, etc. to make their comment more effective. Moderators are trained to have a neutral, objective approach to the discussion: We are advocates of an effective discussion process, not of any particular viewpoint. You can learn more about the Planning Room team here.

A note on site policy: Planning Room does not pre-screen comments before they are posted. As much as possible, moderators allow users to engage each other in conversation without intervention by us. But we are committed to maintaining an environment in which productive discussion about important issues can happen. We will take action towards any content that we believe undermines such an environment. See Terms and Conditions. Our action may range from a gentle reminder about the ground rules for discussion, to redacting (removing a portion of) comments, to removing the entire comment, to disabling a user account in extreme cases. We will always indicate when and why we have redacted or removed a comment. Comments that have been removed can be viewed on the Quarantine page. close