Since 1997, periodic GAO surveys indicate that overall, federal managers have more performance information available but have not made any greater use of this information for decision making. Based on GAO's most recent survey in 2007, GAO was asked to (1) identify agencies with relatively low use of performance information and the factors that contribute to this condition; and (2) examine practices in an agency with indications of improvement in use of performance information. GAO analyzed results from its surveys of federal managers across 29 agencies, reviewed key agency documents related to using performance information--such as Performance and Accountability Reports--and interviewed agency and selected subunit managers about their management practices. GAO also compared management practices, at selected agencies with those GAO has identified as promoting the use of performance information for decision making.
According to GAO's 2007 survey of federal managers on their use of performance information for decision making, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of the Interior (Interior), ranked 27 and 28 out of 29 agencies. Several factors contributed to this relatively low use. At both FEMA and Interior, the demonstrated commitment of agency leaders to using performance information--a key management practice--was inconsistent. While some FEMA programs and regions encouraged use of performance information to plan for and respond to unpredictable events, others expressed uncertainty as to how they could use performance information in the face of uncontrollable external factors. FEMA managers were also hampered by weak alignment among agency, program, and individual goals, as well as limited analytic capacity to make use of performance information. At Interior and the National Park Service (NPS), managers reported a proliferation of measures, including some that, while meaningful for department-level accountability, were not relevant to their day-to-day management. Managers at NPS and the Bureau of Reclamation also said that poorly integrated performance and management information systemscontributed to an environment where the costs of performance reporting--in terms of time and resources--outweighed what they described as minimal benefits. While both FEMA and Interior have taken some promising steps to make their performance information both useful and used, these initiatives have thus far been limited. The experience of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) highlights the role that strengthened management practices can play. According to GAO's 2000 and 2007 survey results, the percentage of managers at CMS reporting use of performance information for various management decisions increased by nearly 21 percentage points--one of the largest improvements among agencies over that period. CMS officials attributed this change to a combination of key management practices they had employed, including, but not limited to: leadership commitment to using performance information; alignment of strategic and performance goals; improving the usefulness of performance information; and building the analytic capacity to collect and use performance information.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of the Interior||1. The Secretary of DHS should direct the Administrator of FEMA to direct agency leadership to demonstrate its commitment to using performance information for decision making by reviewing performance results with subordinate managers on a regular and recurring basis and communicating decisions based on performance information to show that performance information is reviewed and acted upon.|
|Department of Homeland Security||2. The Secretary of DHS should direct the Administrator of FEMA to augment FEMA's analytic capacity to collect and analyze performance information by continuing to build upon recent efforts to provide training to directorate and regional managers to enhance their use of performance information, which includes topics such as strategic planning, developing robust performance measures, and analyzing what the performance data mean; and reviewing performance information systems to address users' needs for integrated, timely, and relevant performance information.|
|Department of Homeland Security||3. The Secretary of DHS should direct the Administrator of FEMA to improve linkages among agency, program, and individual performance by continuing to engage program and regional managers in efforts to develop, and where appropriate refine, intermediate, measurable performance targets that cascade from agency strategic goals; and in the absence of a DHS-wide performance-management system, developing interim guidance for FEMA's current performance-appraisal system, covering supervisors and managers, on how to align individual performance objectives with program and agency goals. Such guidance could include information on how work plans can be used to align individual and agency performance goals and objectives, examples of alignment from subunits within FEMA that are already implementing this practice, or other approaches to promoting such alignment.|
|Department of the Interior||4. The Secretary of the Interior should direct departmental leadership and the Director of NPS to demonstrate their commitment to using performance information for decision making by reviewing performance results with subordinate managers on a regular and recurring basis and communicating decisions based on performance information to show that performance information is reviewed and acted upon.|
|Department of the Interior||5. The Secretary of the Interior should direct departmental leadership, the Director of NPS, and the Commissioner of Reclamation in conjunction with OMB to review the usefulness of their performance measures and refine or discontinue performance measures that are not useful for decision making. The review should also consider options for reducing the burden of collecting and reporting performance information. This review should involve managers at all levels to take into account their differing needs for performance information.|