Managing for Results:

Agencies Report Positive Effects of Data-Driven Reviews on Performance but Some Should Strengthen Practices

GAO-15-579: Published: Jul 7, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 7, 2015.

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What GAO Found

The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires that federal agencies review progress on agency priority goals (APG) at least once a quarter. GPRAMA requires that reviews be conducted by top agency leaders, involve APG goal leaders and other contributors, and be used to identify at-risk goals and strategies to improve performance. While GPRAMA requires that agencies conduct reviews, it also required the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare guidance on its implementation. Since 2011, OMB has provided guidance on how reviews should be conducted, specifying they should be held in person. Further, GAO previously identified nine leading practices for reviews.

Agencies Reported Review Practices Consistent with Requirements and Guidance. Of the 23 agencies GAO surveyed, most reported conducting data-driven reviews consistent with requirements, guidance, and leading practices. Specifically, most agencies reported:

conducting data-driven review meetings at least once a quarter, with several agencies holding them more frequently (20 agencies);

conducting Chief Operating Officer (COO)-led reviews, or reviews led jointly by the COO and Performance Improvement Officer (PIO) (19);

always or often involving PIOs (22) and APG goal leaders (21) in reviews;

always or often collecting and analyzing relevant data in advance of reviews, and incorporating these data into meeting materials (22);

always or often using review meetings to assess APG progress (20); and

always or often identifying follow-up actions to be taken after review meetings (18), an action that is positively correlated with the reported impact of reviews on agency performance improvement.

Agency Review Practices Inconsistent with Requirements and Guidance. Some agency practices were inconsistent with requirements or guidance. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that it does not hold in-person reviews, and the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that they do not hold regular, in-person reviews each quarter. The Department of State (State) reported that progress on each APG is only reviewed in an in-person review once a year, rather than each quarter, as required. The Department of Defense (DOD), USDA, and State also reported that their reviews are not led by their agency heads or COO. DOD also reported it rarely identifies follow-up actions to be taken after meetings.

Agencies Reported Positive Effects of Reviews . Most agencies reported their reviews have had positive effects on progress towards agency goals, collaboration between agency officials, the ability to hold officials accountable for progress, and efforts to improve the efficiency of operations. According to agency officials, reviews can bring together people, analytical insights, and resources to rigorously assess progress on goals or milestones, develop collaborative solutions to problems, enhance individual and collective accountability for performance, and review efforts to improve efficiency. Agencies reported that sustaining these effects requires ongoing leadership commitment, institutionalizing review processes, and demonstrating value to participants.

Why GAO Did This Study

How federal leaders manage the operations and performance of their agencies significantly affects their ability to achieve important outcomes critical to public health and safety. GAO's previous work has identified weaknesses in agencies' use of performance information that can hinder achievement of critical results.

This report is part of GAO's response to a statutory requirement to review GPRAMA implementation. It examines (1) the extent to which agencies are conducting data-driven performance reviews consistent with GPRAMA requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices; and (2) how reviews have affected performance, collaboration, accountability, and efficiency in agencies, and how positive effects can be sustained.

GAO surveyed PIOs at 23 agencies, followed up to clarify responses, and interviewed officials involved in reviews at 5 agencies. These agencies were selected based on size and the extent to which leaders use reviews, as reported on a 2013 survey. GAO also reviewed OMB guidance and relevant documentation from agencies.

What GAO Recommends

To ensure that agency reviews are consistent with requirements, guidance, and leading practices, GAO is making recommendations to five agencies. DHS, HHS, and USDA concurred with the recommendations. DOD and State concurred with all but one recommendation—to ensure the COO leads the reviews—with which they partially concurred. GAO believes these recommendations are valid, as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202) 512-6806 or mihmj@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, in October 2015, the Department of Agriculture updated its review processes to include in-person quarterly review meetings. The first of these meetings was held on October 28, 2015.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Agriculture should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings are held at least quarterly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, in October 2015, the Department of Agriculture updated its review processes so that they are now led by the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, who is also the Chief Operating Officer, and the Performance Improvement Officer. The first of these quarterly review meetings was held on October 28, 2015.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Agriculture should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings are led by the agency head or COO.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, in October 2015, the Department of Agriculture updated its review processes to include agency priority goal leaders in quarterly review meetings. The first of these quarterly review meetings was held on October 28, 2015.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Agriculture should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings involve APG leaders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, in October 2015, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated it review processes to include officials with functional management responsibilities are now being included in the review meetings. For example, USDA officials told us that that the department's General Counsel, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, and Assistant Secretary for Administration, attended the first of these quarterly meetings, held on October 28, 2015.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Agriculture should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings involve, as appropriate, agency officials with functional management responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, Department of Defense (DOD) staff informed us that the department's quarterly performance reviews, which had been reinstituted in late 2016, have been put on hold while the department's new strategic plan is under development. According to DOD staff, the quarterly reviews will not resume until after the department's new strategic plan is approved and released. We will continue to monitor the status of actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Defense should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings are led by the agency head or COO.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, Department of Defense (DOD) staff informed us that the department's quarterly performance reviews, which had been reinstituted in late 2016, have been put on hold while the department's new strategic plan is under development. According to DOD staff, the quarterly reviews will not resume until after the department's new strategic plan is approved and released. We will continue to monitor the status of actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Defense should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings are used to review progress on all APGs at least once a quarter, discuss at-risk goals and improvement strategies, and assess whether specific program activities, policies, or other activities are contributing to goals as planned.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, Department of Defense (DOD) staff informed us that the department's quarterly performance reviews, which had been reinstituted in late 2016, have been put on hold while the department's new strategic plan is under development. According to DOD staff, the quarterly reviews will not resume until after the department's new strategic plan is approved and released. We will continue to monitor the status of actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Defense should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings are used by participants to identify, agree upon, document and track follow-up actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) updated procedures for reviewing its agency priority goals (APG) during the fiscal year 2016-2017 cycle. HHS is now holding quarterly in-person review meetings that involve the Deputy Secretary, Performance Improvement Officer, individual priority goal leaders, and senior HHS leadership to discuss progress on APGs. HHS held the first of these meetings on March 28, 2016.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review process to ensure that progress on each APG is reviewed in an in-person review meeting at least quarterly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, in October 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Under Secretary for Management distributed a memorandum reestablishing quarterly performance review meetings for agency priority goals (APGs). The memorandum stated that these meetings will be conducted by the Deputy Secretary, or the Under Secretary for Management if the Deputy Secretary is unavailable, and provide goal leaders with an opportunity to review progress achieved during the most recent quarter, analyze overall trend data, and determine the likelihood of meeting the planned level of performance. The first in-person quarterly performance review meeting, led by DHS's Undersecretary for Management, was held on December 18, 2015, to review final progress on fiscal year 2014-2015 APGs, and discuss implementation of the new fiscal year 2016-2017 APGs. The meeting involved APG goal leaders, as well as other officials with functional management responsibilities. DHS also developed a process for tracking follow-up actions stemming from these meetings, using a spreadsheet to identify action items and responsible parties, as well as the status of their implementation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Homeland Security should work with the COO and PIO to reestablish regular, in-person, data-driven review meetings conducted in a manner consistent with the requirements of GPRAMA, OMB guidance, and leading practices outlined in this report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: According to information provided by State Department staff in June 2017, efforts to address this recommendation are currently on hold until a new Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the department has been appointed. Once a new COO is in place the department plans to move forward with in-person quarterly reviews based on the COO's guidance. We will continue to monitor the status of actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of State should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that progress on each APG is reviewed in an in-person review meeting at least quarterly.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: According to information provided by State Department staff in June 2017, efforts to address this recommendation are currently on hold until a new Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the department has been appointed. Once a new COO is in place the department plans to move forward with in-person quarterly reviews based on the COO's guidance. We will continue to monitor the status of actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of State should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that the reviews are led by the agency head or COO.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2016, State Department staff told us that officials with functional management responsibilities are now being included in the agency?s in-person review meetings. For instance, the list of attendees for the State Department's April 2016 review meeting, which focused on the Excellence in Consular Service agency priority goal, included officials from the Bureau of Budget and Planning, Bureau of Administration, and Bureau of Human Resources, in addition to staff from the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of State should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure and involve, as appropriate, agency officials with functional management responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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