Performance Measures and Evaluations

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Draft GAO Strategic Plan 2004-2009                                                                                         Printable PDF Version PrintablePDF Version

Performance Measures and EvaluationsComment on this TopicQuestions and Comments

In updating this plan, GAO relied on a variety of information sources about past performance to determine priorities for the future. GAO will continue to rely on these sources and other evaluations to judge its progress on its strategic goals and objectives over the period of this plan. GAO intends to continue refining its performance indicators as part of a balanced scorecard approach to performance measurement that focuses on the agency’s clients, results achieved, and employees.

Key Performance Measures

GAO uses both quantitative and qualitative performance measures to assess progress in achieving its strategic goals and objectives. Collectively, these measures help demonstrate the degree to which GAO

  • provides timely, quality service to the Congress and the federal government so that they can respond to current and emerging challenges and
  • helps the government meet 21 st  century challenges by transforming its role and its ways of doing business.

To assess GAO’s progress toward achieving its external strategic goals (that is, goals 1, 2, and 3) and their objectives, the agency uses two types of quantitative measures. First, GAO assesses its efforts to provide support to the Congress and the federal government in terms of the number of recommendations GAO has made, the percentage of its products that contain recommendations, the percentage of recommendations implemented, the number of hearings at which GAO experts have testified before the Congress, and the timeliness of its products. Second, GAO goes beyond these measures of services it provided to assess the results or outcomes of the services it has provided. GAO does this by tabulating both the financial benefits and other improvements to government programs and services that result when action is taken in response to information and recommendations from GAO. GAO sets performance targets for all of these quantitative measures annually and compares its actual performance with the targets.

Quantitative Measures for GAO’s External Strategic Goals (Goals 1, 2, and 3)

Financial benefits that are documented as either directly attributable to, or significantly influenced by, GAO’s work. These include reductions in annual operating costs of federal programs or activities; reductions in the costs of multiyear projects or entitlements; and increased revenues from debt collection, asset sales, and changes in tax laws or user fees.

Other benefits that flow from GAO’s work but cannot be measured in dollar terms. These include instances in which GAO provided information to the Congress that resulted in statutory or regulatory changes, instances in which GAO recommended actions that caused federal agencies to improve services to the public, and instances in which GAO’s work led to improved core business processes throughout the government.

Testimonies delivered, or the number of hearings at which GAO experts testified. This serves as a measure of direct support to the Congress.

Recommendations made and those subsequently implemented to correct the underlying causes of problems that impede government efficiency and effectiveness. These are measured in terms of (1) the number of recommendations made, (2) the percentage of products containing recommendations, and (3) the percentage of recommendations implemented 4 years after they were made.

Timeliness of GAO’s products. This is measured by the extent to which products are delivered to clients by agreed-upon dates.

To complement GAO’s annual quantitative measures, the agency sets multiyear qualitative performance goals for each of its strategic objectives that help it assess whether it has done the work it planned to do for its congressional clients. These performance goals reflect the breadth and depth of GAO’s work, and each includes a set of key efforts to be undertaken during the first 2 years of this plan: fiscal years 2004 and 2005. Potential outcomes are also listed for each performance goal to highlight the improvements that may result if the Congress and the federal government use the information and recommendations GAO provides. Annual reports on GAO’s progress toward its goals and objectives and updates to its plan are also posted at

GAO will measure its success in meeting its qualitative performance goals by having senior managers assess the extent to which GAO does the work the key efforts describe for each goal. As part of their assessment, senior managers consider all of the information provided and recommendations made for each key effort and then determine whether the overall body of work produced adequately achieves or addresses the related performance goal.

For its fourth strategic goal--which calls for GAO to become a model federal agency and a world-class professional services organization--the agency also relies on qualitative measures to assess its progress in making the internal improvements necessary to achieve that goal and its objectives. As with GAO’s external strategic objectives, each objective under the internal strategic goal has a set of qualitative performance goals with key efforts that will be assessed after 2 years. Senior managers responsible for this strategic goal also judge whether the performance goals have been met based on the work done on the goals’ key efforts.

GAO is continuing to refine its measures, working toward a balanced scorecard that evaluates performance based on three key perspectives: GAO’s clients, GAO’s results, and GAO’s people. The agency plans, for instance, to establish a client feedback measure and indicators that assess its efficiency and effectiveness in supporting its staff in their efforts to serve GAO’s clients and the American people.


For the purposes of this plan, GAO used several periodic evaluations to help review and revise its strategic objectives. One of the essential steps in the planning process for goals 1, 2, and 3 was an evaluation of actions taken by federal agencies and the Congress in response to GAO’s recommendations. GAO actively monitors the status of open recommendations and uses the results of its analysis to determine the need for further work in an area. If, for example, an agency has not undertaken a recommended action that GAO considers still valid and worthwhile, GAO may decide to pursue further action with agency officials or congressional committees or to undertake additional work.

Another major evaluation GAO used to inform the update of the strategic objectives under goals 1, 2, and 3 was the January 2003 edition of GAO’s biennial Performance and Accountability Series: Major Management Challenges and Program Risks. This series addresses a range of challenges and opportunities to enhance performance and accountability governmentwide and at 21 agencies. A companion volume provides a status report on those major government operations considered high risk because of their greater vulnerabilities to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. The series is, among other things, a valuable planning tool for GAO, helping it identify those areas in which its continued efforts are needed to maintain the focus on important policy and management issues facing the nation.

GAO also used a number of studies and evaluations to help review and update the strategic objectives on improving its internal operations under strategic goal 4. These studies and evaluations include

  • an assessment of its administrative processes and ways to determine internal customers’ satisfaction;
  • a survey of employees’ views about their work environment;
  • a survey of employees’ skills and work preferences;
  • an ongoing review of GAO’s workforce and the agency’s future needs for skilled mission and support staff as well as for senior managers;
  • an evaluation of the practices and procedures analysts use to develop core products and whether these practices adhere to policies that ensure the quality of GAO’s engagements and products;
  • an extensive study of GAO’s training and curriculum strategies;
  • a comprehensive assessment of GAO’s building security and safety, especially in the event of a major disaster or national security incident; and
  • a security evaluation of GAO’s IT systems.

Finally, GAO’s Office of the Inspector General evaluates the administration of the agency, including an assessment of key performance measurements. The Inspector General’s evaluations are useful for ensuring that GAO’s operations are efficient and economical and serve as additional input for updating the objectives under strategic goal 4.

A number of planned evaluations should benefit GAO’s future strategic planning efforts. In fiscal year 2003, GAO again reported--as it will do every 2 years--on federal agencies’ major management challenges and high-risk areas, publishing analyses that, among other things, serve to identify areas for continued GAO efforts. As outlined in the discussion of strategic goal 4, GAO also plans to evaluate in fiscal years 2004 and 2005 the (1) agency’s readiness for an assessment of its engagement policies and quality control practices by a team of external peer reviewers and (2) effectiveness of a number of its core and support processes to enhance their usefulness and improve efficiency.