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Highlights

What GAO Found

The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires that federal agencies review progress on agency priority goals (APG) at least once a quarter. GPRAMA requires that reviews be conducted by top agency leaders, involve APG goal leaders and other contributors, and be used to identify at-risk goals and strategies to improve performance. While GPRAMA requires that agencies conduct reviews, it also required the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare guidance on its implementation. Since 2011, OMB has provided guidance on how reviews should be conducted, specifying they should be held in person. Further, GAO previously identified nine leading practices for reviews.

Agencies Reported Review Practices Consistent with Requirements and Guidance. Of the 23 agencies GAO surveyed, most reported conducting data-driven reviews consistent with requirements, guidance, and leading practices. Specifically, most agencies reported:

conducting data-driven review meetings at least once a quarter, with several agencies holding them more frequently (20 agencies);

conducting Chief Operating Officer (COO)-led reviews, or reviews led jointly by the COO and Performance Improvement Officer (PIO) (19);

always or often involving PIOs (22) and APG goal leaders (21) in reviews;

always or often collecting and analyzing relevant data in advance of reviews, and incorporating these data into meeting materials (22);

always or often using review meetings to assess APG progress (20); and

always or often identifying follow-up actions to be taken after review meetings (18), an action that is positively correlated with the reported impact of reviews on agency performance improvement.

Agency Review Practices Inconsistent with Requirements and Guidance. Some agency practices were inconsistent with requirements or guidance. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that it does not hold in-person reviews, and the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that they do not hold regular, in-person reviews each quarter. The Department of State (State) reported that progress on each APG is only reviewed in an in-person review once a year, rather than each quarter, as required. The Department of Defense (DOD), USDA, and State also reported that their reviews are not led by their agency heads or COO. DOD also reported it rarely identifies follow-up actions to be taken after meetings.

Agencies Reported Positive Effects of Reviews . Most agencies reported their reviews have had positive effects on progress towards agency goals, collaboration between agency officials, the ability to hold officials accountable for progress, and efforts to improve the efficiency of operations. According to agency officials, reviews can bring together people, analytical insights, and resources to rigorously assess progress on goals or milestones, develop collaborative solutions to problems, enhance individual and collective accountability for performance, and review efforts to improve efficiency. Agencies reported that sustaining these effects requires ongoing leadership commitment, institutionalizing review processes, and demonstrating value to participants.

Why GAO Did This Study

How federal leaders manage the operations and performance of their agencies significantly affects their ability to achieve important outcomes critical to public health and safety. GAO's previous work has identified weaknesses in agencies' use of performance information that can hinder achievement of critical results.

This report is part of GAO's response to a statutory requirement to review GPRAMA implementation. It examines (1) the extent to which agencies are conducting data-driven performance reviews consistent with GPRAMA requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices; and (2) how reviews have affected performance, collaboration, accountability, and efficiency in agencies, and how positive effects can be sustained.

GAO surveyed PIOs at 23 agencies, followed up to clarify responses, and interviewed officials involved in reviews at 5 agencies. These agencies were selected based on size and the extent to which leaders use reviews, as reported on a 2013 survey. GAO also reviewed OMB guidance and relevant documentation from agencies.

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Recommendations

To ensure that agency reviews are consistent with requirements, guidance, and leading practices, GAO is making recommendations to five agencies. DHS, HHS, and USDA concurred with the recommendations. DOD and State concurred with all but one recommendation—to ensure the COO leads the reviews—with which they partially concurred. GAO believes these recommendations are valid, as discussed in the report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Agriculture should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings are held at least quarterly.
Closed - Implemented
In response to this recommendation, in October 2015, the Department of Agriculture updated its review processes to include in-person quarterly review meetings. The first of these meetings was held on October 28, 2015.
Department of Agriculture To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Agriculture should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings are led by the agency head or COO.
Closed - Implemented
In response to this recommendation, in October 2015, the Department of Agriculture updated its review processes so that they are now led by the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, who is also the Chief Operating Officer, and the Performance Improvement Officer. The first of these quarterly review meetings was held on October 28, 2015.
Department of Agriculture To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Agriculture should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings involve APG leaders.
Closed - Implemented
In response to this recommendation, in October 2015, the Department of Agriculture updated its review processes to include agency priority goal leaders in quarterly review meetings. The first of these quarterly review meetings was held on October 28, 2015.
Department of Agriculture To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Agriculture should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings involve, as appropriate, agency officials with functional management responsibilities.
Closed - Implemented
In response to this recommendation, in October 2015, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated it review processes to include officials with functional management responsibilities are now being included in the review meetings. For example, USDA officials told us that that the department's General Counsel, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, and Assistant Secretary for Administration, attended the first of these quarterly meetings, held on October 28, 2015.
Department of Defense To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Defense should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings are led by the agency head or COO.
Open
As of May 2021, DOD informed us of plans that would address this recommendation, but it has not yet fully implemented those plans. In its comments on this report, the Department of Defense (DOD) partially concurred with this recommendation. DOD officials previously told us that they interpreted relevant guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide them with flexibility to delegate responsibility for conducting these reviews. However, as of July 2021, OMB's guidance continues to state that the agency head and/or Chief Operating Officer (COO), with support of the Performance Improvement Officer (PIO), are responsible for leading agency reviews. In May 2021, DOD officials informed us that the Secretary of Defense will direct the COO and PIO to institutionalize processes that ensure the Secretary or COO leads review meetings consistent with requirements and guidance. DOD officials told us they expect these processes to be in place by April 2022. We will continue to monitor DOD's actions to fully address this recommendation.
Department of Defense To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Defense should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings are used to review progress on all APGs at least once a quarter, discuss at-risk goals and improvement strategies, and assess whether specific program activities, policies, or other activities are contributing to goals as planned.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation and, as of June 2020, took actions to implement it. In May and June 2020, DOD officials described to us revisions they made to meetings the agency uses to review progress toward its priority goals. Those changes ensure that the review meetings are consistent with relevant requirements, guidance, and leading practices. For example, DOD officials provided documentation confirming that officials regularly reviewed progress in in-person meetings held each quarter, and that these meetings were used to discuss the status of contributing activities, potential risks, and improvement strategies. Together, these actions better position DOD to hold officials accountable for progress toward identified goals and milestones, and take timely and better informed action to address identified challenges.
Department of Defense To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Defense should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that review meetings are used by participants to identify, agree upon, document and track follow-up actions.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation and, as of June 2020, took actions to implement it. In May and June 2020, DOD officials described to us revisions they made to meetings the agency uses to review progress toward its priority goals. Those changes ensure that the review meetings cover follow-up actions. For example, DOD officials provided documentation confirming that officials used the review meetings to identify, agree upon, document, and track necessary follow-up actions. These actions help ensure DOD is focused on continuous improvements in its performance and operations.
Department of Health and Human Services To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review process to ensure that progress on each APG is reviewed in an in-person review meeting at least quarterly.
Closed - Implemented
In response to this recommendation, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) updated procedures for reviewing its agency priority goals (APG) during the fiscal year 2016-2017 cycle. HHS is now holding quarterly in-person review meetings that involve the Deputy Secretary, Performance Improvement Officer, individual priority goal leaders, and senior HHS leadership to discuss progress on APGs. HHS held the first of these meetings on March 28, 2016.
Department of Homeland Security To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of Homeland Security should work with the COO and PIO to reestablish regular, in-person, data-driven review meetings conducted in a manner consistent with the requirements of GPRAMA, OMB guidance, and leading practices outlined in this report.
Closed - Implemented
In response to this recommendation, in October 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Under Secretary for Management distributed a memorandum reestablishing quarterly performance review meetings for agency priority goals (APGs). The memorandum stated that these meetings will be conducted by the Deputy Secretary, or the Under Secretary for Management if the Deputy Secretary is unavailable, and provide goal leaders with an opportunity to review progress achieved during the most recent quarter, analyze overall trend data, and determine the likelihood of meeting the planned level of performance. The first in-person quarterly performance review meeting, led by DHS's Undersecretary for Management, was held on December 18, 2015, to review final progress on fiscal year 2014-2015 APGs, and discuss implementation of the new fiscal year 2016-2017 APGs. The meeting involved APG goal leaders, as well as other officials with functional management responsibilities. DHS also developed a process for tracking follow-up actions stemming from these meetings, using a spreadsheet to identify action items and responsible parties, as well as the status of their implementation.
Department of State To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of State should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that progress on each APG is reviewed in an in-person review meeting at least quarterly.
Closed - Implemented
The State Department concurred with this recommendation and, as of January 2021, took actions to implement it. According to documentation provided by State Department officials in November 2020 and January 2021, the agency began holding meetings in line with our recommendation in February 2020. Among other things, the agency used these quarterly meetings to review progress toward its priority goals. These meetings better position the State Department to take timely action to drive progress toward achieving its goals.
Department of State To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of State should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure that the reviews are led by the agency head or COO.
Closed - Implemented
The State Department did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. However, as of January 2021, the agency has taken actions to implement it. In November 2020 and January 2021, State Department officials provided documentation that showed the agency's Chief Operating Officer began leading quarterly review meetings in February 2020. This involvement helps ensure agency top leadership has regular opportunities to review, and hold officials accountable for, progress toward goals and milestones. In turn, this encourages continuous improvements in agency performance and operations.
Department of State To help ensure that agency review processes provide frequent, regular opportunities to assess progress on agency priority goals (APG), and are conducted in a manner consistent with GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requirements, OMB guidance, and leading practices, the Secretary of State should work with the COO and PIO to modify the Department's review processes to ensure and involve, as appropriate, agency officials with functional management responsibilities.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2016, State Department staff told us that officials with functional management responsibilities are now being included in the agency?s in-person review meetings. For instance, the list of attendees for the State Department's April 2016 review meeting, which focused on the Excellence in Consular Service agency priority goal, included officials from the Bureau of Budget and Planning, Bureau of Administration, and Bureau of Human Resources, in addition to staff from the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Full Report