Federal Management:

Addressing Management Problems at the Department of Commerce

T-GGD/AIMD-97-115: Published: May 14, 1997. Publicly Released: May 14, 1997.

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GAO discussed: (1) major challenges facing the Department of Commerce in managing its diverse set of missions; and (2) how legislative reforms, in particular the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), enacted in recent years can be used to address these challenges.

GAO noted that: (1) the missions and functions of Commerce are among the most diverse of the cabinet departments; (2) because of the diversity of its functions, Commerce historically has not been managed on the basis of a unifying mission and shared goals; (3) Congress has taken steps to change fundamentally the way federal agencies go about carrying out their missions; (4) GPRA is intended to address basic management problems and deficiencies that have been typical throughout the federal government, and notably characteristic of Commerce; (5) in anticipation of GPRA's requirement that it submit a strategic plan to Congress no later than September 30, 1997, Commerce has been working to define its mission and has drafted a strategic plan; (6) Commerce faces a challenge in defining its mission and outcomes to be achieved in that it does not have exclusive federal responsibility for any of its strategic themes; (7) GAO's work in many important program areas has suggested that the executive branch and Congress have not fully coordinated related programs, and that overlap and fragmentation are widespread; (8) the Commerce draft plan, though it devotes most of its attention to defining the contributions of each of its bureaus to the three strategic themes, has little to say about the relationships of Commerce's programs to those of other agencies; (9) isolating the federal contribution to the achievement of an intended result has been exceedingly difficult; (10) another focus of GPRA is to encourage agencies to rethink their current strategies for achieving their goals; (11) Commerce must contend with three significant obstacles, antiquated financial management information systems, weak performance measures, and the conversion of its information systems to meet year 2000 requirements; (12) GAO's assessment of GPRA implementation efforts across the government to date has shown that to effectively implement the act, agencies face a number of policy challenges that will not be quickly resolved; (13) consistent congressional interest on the status of an agency's GPRA efforts, performance measures, and use of performance information to make decisions, will send an unmistakable message to agencies that Congress expects GPRA to be thoroughly implemented; (14) the dispersion of oversight responsibility for Commerce among 18 different congressional committees presents a challenge for Commerce as well as Congress in gaining coherent agreement on virtually all aspects of performance and results; and (15) GPRA, if properly implemented, can be a useful tool for improving the management of the Department of Commerce.

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