Federal Employees:

Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Performance Management Pilot

GAO-13-755: Published: Sep 12, 2013. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 2013.

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goldenkoffr@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

GAO found that the GEAR framework generally addresses previously identified key practices for effective performance management, such as aligning individual performance expectations with organizational goals, but refinements could improve future government-wide implementation. Five federal agencies are piloting GEAR--the Departments of Energy (DOE), Homeland Security/Coast Guard (DHS/Coast Guard), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs/National Cemetery Administration (VA/NCA), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)--with the intention to expand GEAR government-wide. The Chief Human Capital Officers Council (CHCO Council) is developing a toolkit based, among other things, on the experience of the pilot agencies. The toolkit is intended to help additional agencies implement the GEAR framework; CHCO Council representatives expect the toolkit to be complete by the end of September 2013. However, beyond the toolkit, neither the CHCO Council nor OPM have identified next steps to implement GEAR government-wide, such as identifying roles and responsibilities. Further, neither OPM nor the CHCO Council has plans to regularly update the GEAR framework or toolkit to include additional lessons learned, or to make such information available more broadly to key stakeholders, such as human resource professionals who may be responsible for future implementation. Without taking these steps, agencies that have already begun implementing GEAR risk losing their momentum; in addition, it may be challenging to implement GEAR government-wide.

The five pilot agencies adopted various approaches to implementing GEAR -DOE, HUD, and OPM implemented GEAR agency-wide, while Coast Guard and NCA adopted GEAR in single units - based on agency needs, available resources, and GAO's lessons learned to date. For example, early stakeholder involvement, including engagement between those representing labor and management, resulted in greater transparency and fewer obstacles. In addition, administering employee surveys to identify the greatest needs before implementing GEAR helped establish a baseline to better track results.

Each of the pilot agencies developed a GEAR project plan that outlined specific actions. DOE's GEAR plan was the most thoroughly documented. The other four agency plans did not include all project planning best practices. Without these elements, agencies may be limited in their ability to determine what needs to be done, when it should be done, who should do it, and how to measure progress towards achieving objectives.

Why GAO Did This Study

A longstanding challenge for federal agencies has been developing credible and effective performance management systems that can serve as a strategic tool to drive internal change and achieve results. In 2011, various federal agencies, labor unions, and other organizations developed the Goals-Engagement-Accountability-Results (GEAR) framework to help improve performance management.

GAO was asked to evaluate GEAR. This report (1) analyzes how the GEAR framework addresses key practices for effective performance management and identifies opportunities to improve GEAR implementation government-wide; (2) describes the status of GEAR implementation at pilot agencies and lessons learned to date; and (3) assesses the extent to which each pilot agency's GEAR implementation plan includes selected best practices for project planning. The report is based on GAO's analysis of GEAR documents, agency project plans, and interviews with agency officials.

What GAO Recommends

As GEAR is adopted government-wide, GAO recommends that the Director of OPM, in collaboration with the CHCO Council, define roles and responsibilities for OPM, the CHCO Council, and individual agencies, in such areas as updating the toolkit (as needed) and disseminating information on GEAR more broadly. GAO also recommends that OPM, Coast Guard, HUD, and NCA update their GEAR project plans to be consistent with best practices for project planning. OPM, DHS, HUD, and VA agreed with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Robert Goldenkoff, (202) 512-6806, or goldenkoffr@gao.gov.

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: Recognizing that moving toward a more performance-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort and to ensure that the opportunity GEAR recommendations offer to improve performance management is not lost, the Acting Director of OPM, in collaboration with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, should define roles and responsibilities of OPM, the CHCO Council, and participating federal agencies going forward as the GEAR framework is implemented government-wide. In doing so, OPM, in collaboration with the CHCO Council, could define roles and responsibilities such as supplementing the GEAR report and updating the diagnostic toolkit as needed to reflect additional promising practices and lessons learned (such as those we identified) and guidance on using metrics. This should include considering whether connecting performance expectations to crosscutting goals should be part of the GEAR framework.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more performance-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort and to ensure that the opportunity GEAR recommendations offer to improve performance management is not lost, the Acting Director of OPM, in collaboration with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, should define roles and responsibilities of OPM, the CHCO Council, and participating federal agencies going forward as the GEAR framework is implemented government-wide. In doing so, OPM, in collaboration with the CHCO Council, could define roles and responsibilities such as disseminating the information contained in the GEAR report and diagnostic toolkit through multiple venues and various government-wide websites, such as OMB Max, to ensure federal managers, supervisors and other stakeholders have access to promising practices and additional guidance on improving performance management.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to include performance measures that permit comparison between desired outcomes and actual results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to include additional information on schedules that are linked to specific actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to include objectives describing the goals the agency plans to achieve.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to identify roles and responsibilities for specific actions and stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs to update the National Cemetery Administration's GEAR implementation plan to include performance measures that permit comparison between desired outcomes and actual results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs to update the National Cemetery Administration's GEAR implementation plan to include additional information on roles and responsibilities for specific actions and stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs to update the National Cemetery Administration's GEAR implementation plan to include additional information on schedules that are linked to specific actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Acting Director of OPM should update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to include objectives describing the goals the agency plans to achieve.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Acting Director of OPM should update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to identify roles and responsibilities for specific actions and stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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