Federal Human Resources Data: OPM Should Improve the Availability and Reliability of Payroll Data to Support Accountability and Workforce Analytics

GAO-17-127 Published: Oct 07, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 07, 2016.
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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) payroll data are not fully supporting the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) strategic and open data goals. This is because OPM has not taken the steps necessary to make the data widely available for use by other agencies and researchers. EHRI payroll data are intended to provide a centralized, standardized, and comprehensive source of pay and leave related data across the federal government. In this capacity, these data have the potential to provide a more efficient, cost effective, and precise data source for federal agencies and researchers who wish to assess human resources and policy decision making across the federal government. Because these data are not widely available, federal agencies and researchers must rely on other proxy sources for payroll data, which are more limited in the scope of analysis they can provide or the level of detail needed for data-driven human capital studies.

Although some elements of the data are sufficiently reliable for general use, weaknesses in OPM's internal controls for the EHRI payroll data will need to be addressed to enhance the reliability of other data elements. As shown in the table below, GAO's assessment of key internal control activities that are critical to ensuring the reliability of the EHRI payroll data found a number of areas where there is insufficient assurance that the control objective will be achieved. These weaknesses increase the risk of data errors, incomplete data fields, and ineffective monitoring of the EHRI payroll data. Unless OPM takes steps to correct these internal control weaknesses, it will be unable to fully leverage these data to meet its mission and allow others to make full use of these data for their research needs.

Assessment of Selected Internal Control Activities for Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) Payroll Data

Internal Control Attributes

Design

Implementation

Management designs control activities over the information technology infrastructure to support the completeness, accuracy, and validity of information processing by information technology.

Management designs control activities to limit user access to information technology through authorization control activities.

Management designs appropriate types of control activities, such as for appropriate documentation of transactions and internal controls.

Management performs ongoing monitoring of the design and operating effectiveness of the internal control system as part of the normal course of operations.

Management evaluates and documents the results of ongoing monitoring and separate evaluations to identify internal control issues.

Source: GAO Analysis of OPM information | GAO-17-127

●= Reasonable assurance control objective will be achieved

○= Insufficient assurance control objective will be achieved

Why GAO Did This Study

OPM is tasked with supporting federal agencies' human capital management activities, which includes ensuring that agencies have the data needed to make staffing and resource decisions to support their missions. The EHRI system is OPM's primary data warehouse to support these efforts. The payroll database—one of the four databases in the EHRI system—became operational in 2009. Payroll data provide information on federal employees' pay and benefits and how they allocate their time, as reflected in hours charged to work activities and use of leave. EHRI data are essential to governmentwide human resource management and evaluation of federal employment policies, practices, and costs. The ability to capitalize on this information is dependent, in part, on the reliability of the collected data.

GAO undertook this review to examine the extent to which (1) EHRI payroll data have supported OPM's strategic and open data goals and (2) internal controls are in place to assure the reliability of the data. GAO reviewed literature, interviewed officials and reviewed documents from OPM and the payroll Service Centers, compared OPM's data quality processes to GAO's Standards for Internal Control , and performed electronic tests of the payroll data.

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Recommendations

GAO is making five recommendations, including that OPM improve the availability of its payroll data and implement additional internal control activities to better ensure data reliability.

OPM agreed with all of GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Personnel Management
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To support its strategic and open data goals, the Director of OPM should improve the availability of the EHRI payroll data--for example, by preparing the data for analytics, making them available through online tools such as FedScope, and including them among the EHRI data sources on the OPM website and Data.gov.
Open
OPM agreed with the recommendation. In December 2018, OPM told us it will establish a plan to make payroll data available through analytical tools such as FedScope no later than the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019. OPM told us in March 2022 that its Office of Human Capital Data Management and Modernization intends to develop a plan in the third quarter of fiscal year 2022 that will address relational edits, harmonize payroll data standards, and incrementally address data quality concerns-a step OPM believes is necessary before making the data more available. To fully address this recommendation, OPM needs to develop and implement this plan and improve the availability of payroll data.
Office of Personnel Management To improve internal controls for data quality, the Director of OPM should update EHRI payroll database documentation to be consistent with current field definitions and requirements, including the Guide to Human Resources Reporting and the Guide to Data Standards, Part B.
Closed – Implemented
In August 2019, OPM issued updates to their the Human Resources Reporting (GHRR), and related updates to their online data standards, which included added data elements and updates to the definitions of these elements to ensure consistency between these two sources. These updates included fields such as routine telework, disabled veterans leave, and weather and safety leave. This consistent documentation on EHRI payroll fields will help improve agencies' ability to provide consistent and reliable payroll data to OPM.
Office of Personnel Management
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To improve internal controls for data quality, the Director of OPM should consistently monitor system-generated error and edit check reports and ensure that timely action is taken to address identified issues.
Open
OPM agreed with the recommendation. In March 2022, OPM described some of the data quality reports it sends to providers, such as the number of rejected records and explanation of any edits that failed. However, OPM noted it does not follow up directly with providers about errors and rejected data. To fully implement this recommendation, OPM needs to consistently monitor these data quality reports and ensure timely action is taken to correct identified issues, such as by contacting providers directly about errors.
Office of Personnel Management
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To integrate the payroll data into the larger suite of EHRI databases, the Director of OPM should develop a schedule for executing these plans.
Open
OPM concurred with our recommendation. As of March 2022, OPM has not functionally integrated payroll with other EHRI databases and has not developed a schedule for implementing plans to do so. To fully implement this recommendation, OPM needs to complete the recommended plans and develop a schedule for executing these plans .
Office of Personnel Management
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To integrate the payroll data into the larger suite of EHRI databases, the Director of OPM should evaluate existing internal control activities and develop new control activities for EHRI payroll data, such as implementing transactional edit checks that leverage the information in the other EHRI datasets.
Open
OPM concurred with our recommendation. In March 2022, OPM officials said they have not updated control activities for payroll data to include transactional edit checks that draw from other EHRI databases. However, they said they have begun to implement new control activities, including nearly 250 new validation edits for EHRI payroll data. They also said that edit development is to be part of their overall improvement plan. To fully implement this recommendation, OPM needs to finish updating control activities, including evaluating opportunities to leverage other EHRI datasets to improve integration and data quality.

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