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
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.
Priority recommendations are those that GAO believes warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies.
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
As of July 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had taken limited action in response to this recommendation. Although OMB published an initial inventory covering the programs of 24 federal agencies in May 2013, OMB decided to postpone further development of the inventory in order to coordinate with the implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). In December 2020, OMB announced a federal program inventory exploratory pilot that was intended to provide insights into expanding the effort into a comprehensive inventory. According to a December 3, 2020, memorandum on the Federal Program Inventory Exploratory Pilot, OMB planned to work with agencies to identify programs associated with 12 program categories and provide descriptive information with 2 years of historical spending data for each program. In January 2021, OMB launched a website that provided initial results. According to the website, the exploratory pilot was intended to identify possible gaps and inconsistencies in guidance. Also in January 2021, Congress amended and expanded requirements for the federal program inventory as part of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. The Act includes provisions for OMB to develop and submit an implementation plan to appropriate congressional committees by July 2021. Determining an approach for implementing these new requirements presents an opportunity for OMB to fully address this. We will continue to monitor progress.
Office of Management and Budget
Priority Rec.
Priority recommendations are those that GAO believes warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies.
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
As of July 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had taken limited action in response to this recommendation. Although OMB published an initial inventory covering the programs of 24 federal agencies in May 2013, OMB decided to postpone further development of the inventory in order to coordinate with the implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). In December 2020, OMB announced a federal program inventory exploratory pilot that was intended to provide insights into expanding the effort into a comprehensive inventory, while also limiting the agency reporting burden to those areas most critical to achieving the inventory's intent. According to a December 3, 2020, memorandum on the Federal Program Inventory Exploratory Pilot, OMB planned to work with agencies to identify programs associated with 12 program categories and provide descriptive information with 2 years of historical spending data for each program. In January 2021, OMB launched a website that provided initial results. According to the website, the pilot defined program using a common set of elements, as outlined in our September 2017 report on information architecture (GAO-17-739). Also in January 2021, Congress amended and expanded requirements for the federal program inventory as part of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. The Act includes provisions for OMB to develop and submit an implementation plan to appropriate congressional committees by July 2021. Determining an approach for implementing these new requirements presents an opportunity for OMB to fully address this recommendation. We will continue to monitor progress.
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)
Closed - Implemented
As of April 2021, OMB and the PIC have taken actions that addressed this recommendation. Following our September 2017 report, OMB and the PIC encouraged agencies to expand their use of data-driven reviews beyond agency priority goals in guidance provided through Circular No. A-11 and the Goal Playbook, respectively. In April 2021, OMB staff told us that the Goal Playbook was the primary resource and guide for illustrating principles, best practices, and case study examples for agencies covering the entirety of the goal cycle. One of the Goal Playbook's best practices is to hold data-driven reviews on a regular basis, and it provides agencies with resources about conducting them. This includes materials about successful data-driven reviews from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) within the Department of Health and Human Services. Those materials identify review best practices, lessons learned, and commonalities and distinctions between reviews for agency priority goals versus those for other goals and organizational levels. In addition, they identify additional resources on data-driven reviews conducted below the department-wide level by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

Full Report

Additional Data