Fast Facts

The GPRA Modernization Act was designed to help the federal government address longstanding performance and management problems. Among other things, it requires agency leaders to set goals and use data to review progress toward them.

We surveyed more than 4,000 federal managers and found overall use of performance data in decision making has dropped since 2007. However, the survey shows that data-driven reviews agencies conducted for a subset of goals did improve program performance.

We recommended that OMB work with agencies to identify and share practices for conducting performance reviews for additional goals.

 

Photo of three people sitting at a table reviewing performance information

Photo of three people sitting at a table reviewing performance information

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and agencies have made some progress in more fully implementing the GPRA Modernization Act (GPRAMA), but GAO's work and 2017 survey of federal managers highlight numerous areas where improvements are needed.

Cross-cutting issues: Various GPRAMA provisions are aimed at addressing cross-cutting issues, such as cross-agency and agency priority goals and related data-driven reviews of progress towards those goals. To ensure alignment with the current administration's priorities, OMB's 2017 guidance removed the priority status of those goals, which stopped quarterly data-driven reviews and related public progress reports until new goals are published. OMB plans to resume implementation of these provisions in February 2018. GPRAMA also requires OMB and agencies to implement an inventory of federal programs, which could help decision makers better identify and manage fragmentation, overlap, and duplication. OMB and agencies implemented the inventory once, in May 2013. In October 2014, GAO found several issues limited the usefulness of that inventory. Since then, OMB has postponed updating the inventory, citing among other reasons the passage of subsequent laws. OMB has yet to develop a systematic approach for resuming implementation of the inventory and specific time frames for doing so. A systematic approach to developing the inventory could help ensure it provides useful information for decision makers and the public.

Performance information: Survey results show federal managers generally reported no improvements in their use of performance information in decision making for various management activities, or practices that can enhance such use, since GAO's 2013 survey. For example, the use of performance information to streamline programs to reduce duplicative activities (an estimated 33 percent in 2017) is statistically significantly lower relative to 2013 (44 percent). In contrast, managers who were familiar with and whose programs were subject to quarterly data-driven reviews reported that those reviews were used to make progress toward agency priority goals. Identifying and sharing practices to expand the use of such reviews—for other performance goals and at lower levels within agencies—could lead to increased use of performance information.

Daily operations: Agencies have made progress in developing results-oriented cultures but need to take additional actions. GAO's past work found that high-performing organizations use performance management systems to help individuals connect their daily activities to organizational goals. In 2017, about half of federal managers reported using performance information when setting expectations with employees (no change from GAO's last survey in 2013).

Transparent and open government: GAO's past work identified a number of needed improvements to Performance.gov, the central government-wide website required by GPRAMA. The site is to provide quarterly updates on priority goals in effect through September 2017, but those updates stopped in December 2016. According to OMB, the existing information for cross-agency priority goals is the final update, and agencies should publish final updates on their priority goals in annual performance reports. Performance.gov does not provide users with this information, thereby limiting the transparency and accessibility of those results.

Why GAO Did This Study

Full implementation of GPRAMA could facilitate efforts to reform the federal government and make it more effective. GPRAMA includes a provision for GAO to review the act's implementation. This report assesses how GPRAMA implementation has affected the federal government's progress in resolving key governance challenges in (1) addressing cross-cutting issues, (2) ensuring performance information is useful and used, (3) aligning daily operations with results, and (4) building a more transparent and open government.

To address these objectives, GAO reviewed statutory requirements, OMB guidance, and GAO's recent work related to GPRAMA implementation and the key governance challenges. GAO also interviewed OMB staff and surveyed a stratified random sample of 4,395 federal managers from 24 agencies on various performance and management topics. With a 67 percent response rate, the survey results are generalizable to the government-wide population of managers.

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Recommendations

In addition to following through on plans to resume implementation of key GPRAMA provisions, GAO recommends that OMB (1) consider a systematic approach to developing the program inventory, (2) revise guidance to provide specific time frames for inventory implementation, (3) identify and share practices for expanding the use of data-driven reviews, and (4) update Performance.gov to explain that reporting on priority goals was suspended and provide the location of final progress updates. OMB staff agreed with these recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Management and Budget The Director of OMB should update Performance.gov to explain that quarterly reporting on the fiscal year 2014 through 2017 cross-agency priority goals and fiscal year 2016 and 2017 agency priority goals (APGs) was suspended, and provide the location of final progress updates for these goals. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

In December 2018, OMB updated Performance.gov to provide information to the website's visitors on where they could find performance information from previous years. The "Get Started" page of Performance.gov now includes a link to an archived version of the website with past performance information, including final progress updates for previous cross-agency priority goals. The page also explains that visitors can find information on agency priority goals that overlapped the transition of administrations in agency Annual Performance Reports for 2017.
Office of Management and Budget
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Director of OMB should revise and publicly issue OMB guidance--through an update to its Circular No. A-11, a memorandum, or other means--to provide time frames and associated milestones for implementing the federal program inventory. (Recommendation 2)
Open

Recommendation status is Open.

As of June 2019, OMB has taken some actions toward addressing this recommendation. In its June 2019 update to Circular No. A-11, OMB provided a time frame for implementing some of the federal program inventory requirements. In that guidance, OMB states that beginning with the 2021 budget cycle, agencies' program activities will be used for the inventory's program-level reporting requirements. This will allow OMB and agencies to leverage federal spending data reported on USASpending.gov as required by the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. Those data can be presented at the program activity level, and therefore could meet the inventory requirements to present program-level spending data. However, OMB's guidance does not yet present any time frames or milestones for meeting other inventory requirements, such as describing the purpose of each program or how it contributes to the agency's mission and goals. We will continue to monitor OMB's actions to address this recommendation.
Office of Management and Budget
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Director of OMB should consider--as OMB determines its strategy for resumed implementation of the federal program inventory--using a systematic approach, such as the information architecture framework, to help ensure that GPRAMA requirements and our past recommendations for the inventory are addressed. (Recommendation 3)
Open

Recommendation status is Open.

As of July 2019, OMB has taken some actions toward addressing this recommendation. In its June 2019 update to Circular No. A-11, OMB states that it and agencies will meet some of the federal inventory requirements by leveraging the spending data reported on USASpending.gov. The guidance notes that this information is provided in a structured information architecture format on USASpending.gov. In July 2019, OMB staff told us that they considered an information architecture approach in response to our past reports on the topic. However, OMB staff told us they were not yet sure how the information architecture format of USASpending.gov-which is currently focused on spending data-could be used to meet additional information reporting requirements and our past recommendations related to the inventory. We will continue to monitor OMB's actions to address this recommendation.
Office of Management and Budget The Director of OMB should work with the Performance Improvement Council to identify and share among agencies practices for expanding the use of data-driven performance reviews beyond agency priority goals, such as for other performance goals and at lower levels within agencies, that have led to performance improvements. (Recommendation 4)
Open

Recommendation status is Open.

As of June 2019, OMB and the PIC have taken some actions toward addressing this recommendation. OMB and the PIC, in guidance provided through Circular No. A-11 and the Goal Playbook respectively, have encouraged agencies to expand their use of data-driven reviews beyond agency priority goals. However, OMB and the PIC have not yet identified and shared practices related to expanding the use of those reviews as we recommended. In March 2019, OMB staff told us that they would work with the PIC to provide agencies with case studies and other resources that could help expand their use of data-driven reviews, should agencies choose to do so. We will continue to monitor OMB's actions to address this recommendation.

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