The Results Act:

Observations on VA's June 1997 Draft Strategic Plan

HEHS-97-174R: Published: Jul 11, 1997. Publicly Released: Aug 5, 1997.

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Stephen P. Backhus
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the draft strategic plan submitted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as required by the Government Performance and Results Act, focusing on: (1) VA's compliance with the Results Act's requirements and the draft plan's overall quality; (2) how well the draft plan addresses VA's statutory responsibilities; (3) how well the plan identifies crosscutting functions and plans for coordination with other departments and agencies; (4) the extent to which the plan addresses major VA management challenges GAO has identified in its reviews of VA programs; and (5) VA's capacity to provide reliable performance and cost information to support its strategic plan.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO found VA's June 9 draft strategic plan to be incomplete in terms of the elements of a strategic plan as required under the Results Act; (2) the plan generally lacks a focus on the results of VA programs; (3) also, the draft plan is somewhat confusing and difficult to follow, mainly because it has several different levels of goals, objectives, and strategies; (4) VA officials and congressional staff have consulted extensively about VA's June 9 draft, and VA officials have acknowledged that their plan needs improvement; (5) VA has indicated that it intends to make significant changes to its draft strategic plan by mid-July to ensure that it is more results oriented and complete, and less confusing; (6) VA's draft plan represents an inconsistent and incomplete application of the six key components of a strategic plan under the Results Act; (7) while VA's draft strategic plan is generally based on VA's statutory responsibilities, GAO noted that VA states part of its mission as serving as "principal advocate" for veterans; (8) the mission is not stated in VA's statutory authority and may not be an accurate characterization of VA's role under the law; (9) the plan acknowledges that VA needs to systematically identify areas where coordination is required; (10) the plan includes a strategic goal to improve the coordination of veterans' services among multiple agencies, because some veterans receive services from agencies other than VA; (11) on the other hand, VA's draft strategic plan either does not address major management challenges for VA that GAO has previously identified or address them in little detail; (12) while VA has made progress in developing the financial and information systems needed to provide accurate and timely cost and performance data to support its strategic planning, much work remains to be done; (13) VA's draft plan reflects VA's need to develop both cost accounting systems and an information technology infrastructure that will provide the data VA needs to develop results-oriented goals and objectives, measure progress, and manage its programs; (14) however, the plan does not address such issues as correcting internal control weaknesses in VA's financial systems and developing an information technology framework based on "best practices" of leading public and private organizations; (15) strategic planning under the Results Act is a long-term challenge for federal agencies; and (16) GAO recently reported that, while agencies are likely to meet the September 30, 1997, deadline for producing initial strategic plans, these plans will not be as useful for congressional and agency decision-making as they could have been.

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