Results-Oriented Government:

Practices That Can Help Enhance and Sustain Collaboration among Federal Agencies

GAO-06-15: Published: Oct 21, 2005. Publicly Released: Oct 21, 2005.

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Bernice Steinhardt
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The federal government faces a series of challenges in the 21st century that will be difficult, if not impossible, for any single agency to address alone. Many issues cut across more than one agency and their actions are not well coordinated. Moreover, agencies face a range of barriers when they attempt to work collaboratively. This report identifies key practices that can help enhance and sustain agency collaboration. GAO also considered how the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) address collaboration among agencies. To illustrate these practices, we selected the Healthy People, wildland fire management, and Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense's health resource sharing collaborations.

Collaboration can be broadly defined as any joint activity that is intended to produce more public value than could be produced when the organizations act alone. Agencies can enhance and sustain their collaborative efforts by engaging in the eight practices identified below. Running throughout these practices are a number of factors such as leadership, trust, and organizational culture that are necessary elements for a collaborative working relationship: define and articulate a common outcome; establish mutually reinforcing or joint strategies; identify and address needs by leveraging resources; agree on roles and responsibilities; establish compatible policies, procedures, and other means to operate across agency boundaries; develop mechanisms to monitor, evaluate, and report on results; reinforce agency accountability for collaborative efforts through agency plans and reports; and reinforce individual accountability for collaborative efforts through performance management systems. GAO has previously reported that GPRA, with its focus on strategic planning, the development of long-term goals, and accountability for results, provides a framework Congress, OMB, and executive branch agencies can use to consider the appropriate mix of long-term strategic goals and strategies needed to identify and address issues that cut across agency boundaries. In addition, to provide a broader perspective on the federal government's goals and strategies to address issues that cut across agencies, we previously recommended that (1) OMB develop a governmentwide performance plan as required by GPRA and (2) Congress consider amending GPRA to require a governmentwide strategic plan. OMB, through the President's Management Agenda (PMA), has emphasized improving government performance through governmentwide and agency-specific initiatives. One of these focuses specifically on improving coordination, but only between the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense for health programs and systems. However, many other areas that cut across agency boundaries would benefit from greater OMB focus and attention, including information sharing for homeland security, which GAO recently designated as a high-risk area. OMB has also used its Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) diagnostic tool to determine, among other things, whether individual programs duplicate other efforts and if agencies coordinate and collaborate effectively with related programs. The PART tool provides general guidance for assessing effective program coordination and collaboration, but does not discuss practices for enhancing and sustaining collaboration, such as those described and illustrated in this report.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During 2007, consistent with our recommendation, OMB took several actions to improve coordination and collaboration across federal agency lines. First, OMB established two new coordination initiatives for the President's Management Agenda--federal credit and health quality information. In addition, OMB and relevant federal agencies issued a joint strategic plan to improve the safety of imported products.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should continue to encourage interagency collaboration by focusing attention on additional areas in need of greater collaboration to achieve common outcomes and promoting the collaboration practices identified in this report. Options for doing this could involve: expanding the PMA initiatives and standards to include either an additional governmentwide initiative focused on improving collaboration across federal agencies or additional agency initiatives focused on specific areas in need of improved collaboration; expanding the standards for the PMA's strategic management of human capital initiative to reflect the need for agencies to hold individuals accountable, through their performance management systems, for coordinating and collaborating within and across organizational boundaries in order to help the agencies achieve their mission, goals, and outcomes; and supplementing the PART guidance on interagency coordination with information about the collaboration practices in this report.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget


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