Performance Measurement:

Better Alignment to Strategic Goals and Data Verification Needed at the Corporation for National and Community Service

GAO-10-886: Published: Jul 28, 2010. Publicly Released: Jul 28, 2010.

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The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) promotes volunteering and civic engagement through a variety of federally funded programs, such as AmeriCorps. In 2009, Congress passed the Serve America Act (Pub. L. No. 111-13), which made substantial changes to CNCS' mission. The Act authorized an increase in the number of service opportunities administered by CNCS, from 88,000 in 2010 to 250,000 by 2017; created new programs; and directed CNCS to focus more on evaluating its programs' performance to ensure cost-effectiveness and the effective use of volunteers, among other factors. To assist the Congress in its oversight role, GAO reviewed: (1) To what extent do the corporation's current performance measures align with the corporation's strategic goals? (2) To what extent do the corporation's performance measures provide a reliable way to assess progress in achieving the corporation's strategic goals? and (3) What progress has the corporation made in developing new performance measures for each of its national service programs?

This report conveys the following findings: 1) The performance measures CNCS currently uses are poorly aligned with its three strategic goals because they do not reflect the four characteristics GAO has identified for sound sets of performance measures. Specifically, the current performance measures (1) do not demonstrate results, (2) are not limited to the vital few measures, (3) do not respond to multiple priorities, and (4) are not linked to the responsible programs. 2) Weaknesses in CNCS' processes for verifying performance data raise concerns about the reliability of the self-reported data CNCS receives from grantees. CNCS relies heavily on self-reported performance data from its grantees, but it conducts limited reviews of those data. Senior CNCS officials raised concerns with its processes for ensuring the reliability of performance data in several areas. 3) CNCS is developing a new 5 year strategic plan with performance measures that focus on measuring the results for its programs. CNCS officials are planning to finalize and approve the new strategic plan, including new performance measures, in October 2010. Although CNCS is making progress developing new performance measures as part of the new 5 year strategic plan, officials will face several challenges in developing its new 5 year plan--a period of great expansion for the corporation. For example, CNCS must develop performance measures that accommodate the differences among its programs and focus on outcomes so that they can be used to better inform strategic decision making. 1) First, given the breadth of activities undertaken by CNCS' grantees and sponsoring organizations, it will be challenging for the corporation to determine the most important areas for achievement through service and create strategic goals that effectively reflect them. 2) Second, in addition to CNCS' five major programs, the Serve America Act creates a number of new programs for the corporation to implement and oversee over the next 5 years. It will be challenging to evaluate and distill the differences among existing and those new programs into a few vital CNCS performance measures that focus on outcomes and can be used to better inform strategic decision making. 3) Third, the Serve America Act authorizes a near-tripling of new service opportunities over the period covered by the new strategic plan. It has been a challenge for the corporation to ensure it has an effective and uniform system to verify and validate data submitted by grantees with its current membership caseload, and it could have three times as many by 2017. CNCS will not be able to reliably assess its own performance in meeting its goals if the data submitted by its grantees and sponsoring organizations are not accurate.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Chief Executive Officer of CNCS should determine the most important areas for service and create strategic goals that effectively reflect them.

    Agency Affected: Corporation for National and Community Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Corporation for National and Community Service issued its 5-year strategic plan. The strategic plan was developed based on where the agency believed national service created the most value for the nation: disaster services, economic opportunity,education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families. The plan identified 4 strategic goals and outlined the associated performance measures to be used in tracking progress in achieving those goals.

    Recommendation: The Chief Executive Officer of CNCS should create an effective and uniform system to verify and validate performance data submitted by grantees.

    Agency Affected: Corporation for National and Community Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CNCS has done a significant amount of work in response to this recommendation. CNCS has created a new monitoring protocol using five key data quality elements, while also ensuring alignment with the larger CNCS effort to create and implement new performance measures in support of the 2011-2015 strategic plan. CNCS has developed supporting resources and training materials for staff and is currently rolling out materials internally and implementing the first phase of dialogues with grantees this fiscal quarter.

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