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Highlights

What GAO Found

For 102 agency priority goals (APGs) for 2012 to 2013 that GAO reviewed, agencies implemented three GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (the act) requirements. Agencies identified (1) a target level of performance within a 2-year time frame; (2) how their APGs contribute to their strategic goals; and (3) an agency official responsible for achieving each APG. These represent important accomplishments, but information about other requirements is incomplete:

Agencies did not fully explain the relationship between APGs and crosscutting efforts. The act directs agencies to identify federal organizations, programs, and activities that contribute to each APG. Agencies identified internal contributors to their APGs, but did not identify external contributors for 34 of 102 APGs. In some cases the APGs appeared to be internally focused; however, in others GAO's work has shown there are external contributors, but none were listed. In addition, the act requires agencies to identify how, if at all, an APG contributes to any cross-agency priority (CAP) goals set by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Although 29 of 102 APGs appeared to support a CAP goal, only two described the link. When agencies do not identify external contributors or links to crosscutting efforts, it is unclear whether agencies are coordinating to limit overlap and duplication.

Most APGs had performance measures, but many lacked interim targets. The act requires agencies to develop quarterly targets for APGs if they provide data of significant value at a reasonable level of burden. However, OMB's guidance does not fully address this. Without interim targets when appropriate, agencies cannot demonstrate that they are comparing actual results against planned performance on a sufficiently frequent basis to address performance issues as they arise.

Agencies did not identify milestones with completion dates for many APGs. The act requires agencies to develop and publish milestones--scheduled events for completing planned actions--for their APGs. However, OMB's guidance does not direct agencies to provide specific completion dates for their milestones. For 39 of 102 APGs, agencies did not provide milestones with clear completion dates for the next quarter or the remainder of the goal period. Without milestones, agencies are unable to demonstrate that they have properly planned for the actions needed to accomplish their goals and are tracking progress.

Most agencies did not describe how APGs reflect congressional input. The act directs agencies to describe for each APG how input from consultations with Congress was incorporated. However, only one agency provided a description. Without transparency regarding congressional input, there is less assurance that meaningful consultations with Congress are occurring.

GAO commented on all 21 of the APGs from the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Transportation (DOT), and Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), based on past GAO and inspectors general (IG) work. The most frequent theme in the comments is that agencies continue to face the long-standing challenge of measuring performance and collecting accurate performance data.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO’s work has repeatedly shown that federal agencies must coordinate better to achieve common outcomes. The act established a more crosscutting and integrated approach to achieving results and improving performance, including a requirement that agencies identified by OMB establish APGs. The act directs GAO to review its implementation at several junctures; this report is part of a series doing so. This report (1) examines the extent to which 24 agencies identified by OMB implemented selected requirements related to 102 APGs, and (2) comments on the 21 APGs of five selected agencies, based on prior GAO and IG work, including the status of relevant open recommendations. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed the act’s requirements for APGs, OMB guidance, APG information from Performance.gov and related agency documents; and interviewed OMB officials. GAO selected DHS, HUD, DOT, VA, and OPM for their variety of APG program types and linkage to CAP goals. For each agency, GAO reviewed its past work, as well as that of IGs, related to the APGs and updated the status of open recommendations.

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Recommendations

GAO makes recommendations to OMB to improve APG implementation by revising its guidance to better reflect interim target, milestone, and CAP goal alignment requirements; and ensure that agencies provide complete information about external contributors to their APGs and describe congressional input on APG development. OMB staff agreed with these recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Management and Budget To ensure that agencies fully develop their APGs, and to ensure that agencies can (1) compare actual results to planned performance on a more frequent basis, as appropriate, and (2) demonstrate how they plan to accomplish their goals as well as contribute to the accomplishment of broader federal efforts, the Director of OMB should revise relevant guidance documents to provide a definition of what constitutes "data of significant value".
Closed - Implemented
In its July 2013 update to guidance(Circular No. A-11, Part 6) for implementing the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act, OMB defined "data of significant value" as those that are sufficiently accurate, timely, and relevant to affect a decision, behavior, or outcome by those who have authority to take action.
Office of Management and Budget To ensure that agencies fully develop their APGs, and to ensure that agencies can (1) compare actual results to planned performance on a more frequent basis, as appropriate, and (2) demonstrate how they plan to accomplish their goals as well as contribute to the accomplishment of broader federal efforts, the Director of OMB should direct agencies to develop and publish on Performance.gov interim quarterly performance targets for their APG performance measures when the above definition applies.
Closed - Implemented
In its July 2013 update to guidance(Circular No. A-11, Part 6) for implementing the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act, OMB states that agencies will meet the act's requirement for more frequent updates on indicators that provide data of signficant value, in part, through quarterly progress reports on their priority goals on Performance.gov. In addition, the guidance directs agencies to publish targets and results related to their priority goals each quarter.
Office of Management and Budget To ensure that agencies fully develop their APGs, and to ensure that agencies can (1) compare actual results to planned performance on a more frequent basis, as appropriate, and (2) demonstrate how they plan to accomplish their goals as well as contribute to the accomplishment of broader federal efforts, the Director of OMB should direct agencies to provide and publish on Performance.gov completion dates, both in the near term and longer term, for their milestones.
Closed - Implemented
In its July 2013 update to guidance(Circular No. A-11, Part 6) for implementing the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act, OMB directs agencies to include, in their quarterly performance updates on priority goals, key milestones with planned completion dates for the remainder of the goal period.
Office of Management and Budget To ensure that agencies fully develop their APGs, and to ensure that agencies can (1) compare actual results to planned performance on a more frequent basis, as appropriate, and (2) demonstrate how they plan to accomplish their goals as well as contribute to the accomplishment of broader federal efforts, the Director of OMB should direct agencies to describe in their performance plans how the agency's performance goals--including APGs--contribute to any of the CAP goals.
Closed - Implemented
In its July 2013 update to guidance(Circular No. A-11, Part 6) for implementing the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act, OMB directs agencies to include a list of the cross-agency priority (CAP) goals to which the agency contributes and explain the agency's contribution to them in their strategic plans, performance plans, and performance reports. In addition, in those documents the agencies are to direct the public to information about the CAP goals on Performance.gov. According to the guidance, the Goal Leader, Performance Improvement Council, and OMB will coordinate quarterly updates to the website, which will reflect the overall action plan and will describe how the agency's goals and objectives contribute to the CAP goal.
Office of Management and Budget When such revisions are made, the Director of OMB should work with the Performance Improvement Council to test and implement these provisions.
Open
As of April 2021, OMB has not yet taken action to address this recommendation. According to information provided by OMB and PIC staff in June 2015, although OMB revised its guidance as we recommended, it did not work with the PIC to test implementation of these provisions. Instead, they told us that both PIC and OMB staff ensure agencies are implementing these provisions of their guidance when reviewing agency priority goal (APG) quarterly update submissions. However, our analyses of agencies' APG updates since that time has continued to find that implementation of these provisions is mixed. We will continue to monitor progress.
Office of Management and Budget In addition, as OMB works with agencies to enhance Performance.gov to include additional information about APGs, the Director of OMB should ensure that agencies adhere to OMB's guidance for website updates by providing complete information about the organizations, program activities, regulations, tax expenditures, policies, and other activities--both within and external to the agency--that contribute to each APG.
Closed - Implemented
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has taken action to help ensure that agencies provide more complete information about the various organizations and activities that contribute to their agency priority goals (APG), as GAO recommended in April 2013. According to information provided by OMB staff in April 2015, agencies were asked to identify organizations, program activities, regulations, policies, tax expenditures, and other activities contributing to their 2014-2015 APGs. This process began as part of the September 2014 update to Performance.gov, with opportunities for revisions in subsequent quarterly updates. Based on an analysis of the final quarterly updates for those APGs, published in December 2015, GAO found that agencies made progress in identifying external organizations and programs for their APGs. This shows that agencies have taken steps to address performance that spans multiple organizations, which can help manage the risk of duplication, overlap, and fragmentation, and enhance the overall effectiveness of federal efforts.
Office of Management and Budget In addition, as OMB works with agencies to enhance Performance.gov to include additional information about APGs, the Director of OMB should ensure that agencies adhere to OMB's guidance for website updates by providing a description of how input from congressional consultations was incorporated into each APG.
Open
As of April 2021, OMB has taken limited actions to address this recommendation. In July 2017, OMB staff said that they planned on highlighting the requirement for congressional consultation as they updated the 2018-2019 APGs, which were first published in February 2018 and were updated quarterly. However, our periodic analyses of Performance.gov showed that neither the updated version of the site, nor the reporting templates for individual APGs, contained a space for providing a description of input from Congress. In its July 2020 guidance, OMB directed agencies to highlight congressional input, if such input was relevant to setting a specific goal, in the APG overview section of the template. We will continue to monitor progress.

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