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Highlights

In the early 2000s, the Forest Service, within the Department of Agriculture, centralized the operations of three major business services: (1) budget and finance, (2) human resources management, and (3) information technology. The agency's goals in centralizing these services, which were previously delivered by staff in field units throughout the country, were to streamline and improve operations and reduce costs. Congressional committees directed GAO to independently analyze whether centralization had achieved intended efficiencies and cost savings. Accordingly, this report examines the (1) types of effects centralization has had on the Forest Service and its employees, particularly in field units; (2) actions the agency has taken to assess its delivery of its centralized business services and to address identified shortcomings; and (3) extent to which the agency can demonstrate that it achieved intended cost savings. GAO examined agency reports, performance studies, cost estimates, and other documentation and interviewed and conducted focus groups with employees across the agency.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture To maintain and strengthen the Forest Service's delivery of business services and help ensure customer satisfaction and cost-effectiveness, and in conjunction with its current initiatives to redesign and reorganize the agency's approach to delivering human resources management and information technology services, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to complete a systematic examination of the tasks associated with these two business services to determine (1) which tasks can be efficiently and effectively carried out under a self-service approach and (2) which tasks may require more direct support by specialists. In doing so, officials should assess the costs and benefits associated with each approach and consider the views of field-unit employees.
Closed - Implemented
The Forest Service's human resources management and information technology offices re-examined their centralization models for service delivery, soliciting the views of field-unit staff and considering the costs and benefits of different service-delivery models in determining how best to provide services through a centralized approach. Human resources management chartered a team to examine long-term service delivery models, including the balance between centralized and distributed services and the appropriate level of self-service versus direct assistance, carried out a cost-benefit analysis of different service delivery options, and solicited the input of field-unit staff. As a result of redesign, some services were put back into the field. The information technology office examined all lines of service and developed a strategic roadmap to improve its services. As part of this process, information technology solicited comments and suggestions from its employees on the realignment.
Department of Agriculture To maintain and strengthen the Forest Service's delivery of business services and help ensure customer satisfaction and cost-effectiveness, and in conjunction with its current initiatives to redesign and reorganize the agency's approach to delivering human resources management and information technology services, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service, on the basis of the results of this systematic examination, to (1) document actions and implementation time frames for providing these business services in the most appropriate manner, and (2) ensure that the tools essential to carrying out any self-service tasks--including automated systems and help-desk support--are effective and user-friendly.
Closed - Implemented
The Forest Service's human resources management and information technology offices documented timeframes for improvement of service delivery and developed metrics for monitoring of service delivery, including collecting input from field staff, measuring help-desk performance, and establishing annual targets for improving responsiveness. These actions are designed to ensure that service delivery is satisfactory to end-users and that automated systems and help-desk support are effective and user-friendly.
Department of Agriculture To maintain and strengthen the Forest Service's delivery of business services and help ensure customer satisfaction and cost-effectiveness, and in conjunction with its current initiatives to redesign and reorganize the agency's approach to delivering human resources management and information technology services, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to prepare and maintain complete and accurate cost-estimating information to (1) thoroughly assess the potential short- and long-term agencywide costs of implementing the current redesign and reorganization initiatives, and (2) develop and document methodologically sound measures to monitor the initiatives' costeffectiveness, so that results can be conclusively determined and objectively evaluated.
Closed - Implemented
The Forest Service's human resources management and information technology offices developed methods to monitor and maintain cost information on re-design and to monitor the cost-effectiveness of re-design's initiatives. In particular, human resources management developed a cost modeling approach to maintain comprehensive cost information for redesign and to monitor the initiative's cost effectiveness. Similarly, the information technology office measures and monitors the cost-effectiveness of the realignment as well as cost trends and deviations from planned budgets so corrective actions can be taken.

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