Performance.gov:

Long-Term Strategy Needed to Improve Website Usability

GAO-16-693: Published: Aug 30, 2016. Publicly Released: Aug 30, 2016.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

J. Christopher Mihm
(202) 512-6806
mihmj@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), General Services Administration (GSA), and the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) took several steps to improve the usefulness of Performance.gov, a website intended to serve as the public window to the federal government's goals and performance. However, their actions do not fully meet selected Digitalgov.gov requirements for federal websites (which are based on relevant statutes, regulations, and executive orders) and do not fully meet provisions of the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA):

  • In accordance with Digitalgov.gov, GSA, on behalf of OMB, issued a usability test in September 2013. The test identified issues with the website's accessibility, purpose, data visualizations, and search function. However, OMB and GSA have not addressed all of the test's findings.
  • OMB and the PIC are tracking 18 of 24 website performance measures required by Digitalgov.gov, but have not set goals for those measures. In June 2013, GAO recommended they track measures and set goals for those measures. However, those recommendations remain open.
  • OMB has not met all of the GPRAMA public reporting requirements for Performance.gov. In particular, GAO identified several areas where OMB is not fully meeting agency priority and cross-agency priority goal public reporting requirements. OMB and PIC staff told GAO they are aware that Performance.gov is not fully GPRAMA compliant, but in moving forward, are focused on ensuring its compliance.

According to OMB and PIC staff, limited resources have prevented them from taking actions to address the 2013 usability test and setting goals for measures. By not fully implementing Digitalgov.gov requirements and GAO's recommendations on GPRAMA requirements, Performance.gov will continue to have difficulty serving its intended purpose as a central website where users can easily locate government-wide performance information.

OMB does not have a strategic plan for the website that will help guide staff in the future. Specifically, OMB does not have a customer outreach strategy that incorporates, as appropriate, information about how OMB intends to (1) inform users of changes on Performance.gov, (2) use social media as a method of communication, and (3) use mobile devices and applications. OMB also lacks an archiving plan to retain data and content on Performance.gov. Agency-wide strategic planning practices required under law can serve as leading practices for planning at lower levels within federal agencies, such as individual programs or initiatives. Consistent with these practices, strategic plans should contain goals and objectives, approaches, and resources. OMB staff said they had not developed a strategic plan for Performance.gov because they wanted to allow transition time for the operations and website maintenance contractor hired in August 2015. OMB staff also said that, in February 2016, they hired a Digital Services Director to develop a strategic plan and manage the website's long-term development. Without a strategic plan, OMB will not know the resources it needs or the steps to take to meet requirements, and to ensure the site provides useful information to the public.

Why GAO Did This Study

Congress took steps to improve federal performance reporting through GPRAMA by requiring that OMB provide performance information via a publicly available central website, Performance.gov. In June 2013, GAO reported on the initial development of Performance.gov. GPRAMA includes a provision for GAO to periodically review its implementation. This report assesses OMB's (1) effort to ensure Performance.gov's usefulness, and (2) strategic plan for the website. GAO compared elements of Performance.gov to GSA's Digitalgov.gov requirements for federal websites. GAO summarized prior work on OMB's implementation of selected GPRAMA requirements. GAO also interviewed OMB, PIC, and GSA staff about recommendations GAO made on developing the website and Performance.gov's strategic plan.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making three recommendations that OMB work with GSA and the PIC to 1) ensure the information presented on Performance.gov consistently complies with GPRAMA public reporting requirements for the website's content; 2) analyze and, where appropriate, implement usability test results to improve Performance.gov; and 3) develop a strategic plan for the future of Performance.gov that includes goals, objectives, and resources needed to meet website requirements; a customer outreach plan; and a strategy to manage and archive data. OMB staff agreed with GAO's recommendations and provided technical clarifications, which GAO incorporated as appropriate.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In February 2018, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and General Services Administration launched an updated version of Performance.gov. However, our updated analysis of information presented on the site in July 2019 found that it does not yet meet all requirements. For example, it is missing the inventory of federal programs that OMB is required to publish on the website. We will continue to monitor progress.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the Performance Improvement Council and General Services Administration, should ensure the information presented on Performance.gov consistently complies with GPRAMA public reporting requirements for the website's content.

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

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In February 2018, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and General Services Administration (GSA) launched an updated version of Performance.gov, with plans to continue making enhancements to the site over time. In March 2018, GSA staff reported on their efforts to interview and test new Performance.gov prototypes with different user groups to identify ways to improve navigation, visual communication, and the accessibility of performance data in potential future versions of the site. In March 2019, OMB staff said that as they consider future changes to the website, they will continue to work with GSA to conduct usability tests and to analyze and implement their results. We will continue to monitor the status of actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the Performance Improvement Council and General Services Administration, should analyze and, where appropriate, implement usability test results to improve Performance.gov.

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

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2019, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) staff shared a proposed strategy to guide the development of Performance.gov through 2022. To address the first part of the recommendation, the strategy outlines three objectives for the website, including making performance data transparent and accessible, promoting accountability, and increasing awareness of federal management improvements. Further, it also specified the resources needed to support the data management and communications objectives of the website in fiscal year 2018, along with the source of funding needed to meet future objectives for the website. To address the second part of the recommendation, the strategy outlines how OMB plans to enhance its communication and engagement with users. To do this, the strategy says that OMB will incorporate and manage social media platforms, develop blogs and videos, and develop user-friendly webpage designs and capabilities. The strategy, however, does not directly address how OMB will manage and archive content and data on Performance.gov in accordance with National Archives and Records Administration guidance. In July 2019, we requested additional information from OMB on this issue, but as of October 2019, we had not yet received a reply. We will continue to monitor the status of actions to fully address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the Performance Improvement Council and General Services Administration, should develop a strategic plan for the future of Performance.gov. Among other things, this plan should include: (A) the goals, objectives, and resources needed to consistently meet Digitalgov.gov and GPRAMA requirements; (B) a customer outreach plan that considers how (1) OMB informs users of changes in Performance.gov, (2) OMB uses social media as a method of communication, and (3) users access Performance.gov so that OMB could, as appropriate, deploy mobile applications to communicate effectively; and (C) a strategy to manage and archive the content and data on Performance.gov in accordance with National Archives and Records Administration guidance.

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

 

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