Federal Management: Selected Reforms Could Be Strengthened By Following Additional Planning, Communication, and Leadership Practices

GAO-20-322 Published: Apr 23, 2020. Publicly Released: Apr 23, 2020.
Jump To:
Fast Facts

In 2018, the administration released its government-wide reform plan aimed at making the federal government more efficient and effective. The Office of Management and Budget oversees the proposals with support from other lead agencies.

We reviewed 5 reform proposals, including addressing the cybersecurity workforce shortage and establishing a Government Effectiveness Advanced Research Center. Planning and implementation have progressed since 2018, but some reform proposals are still missing key details.

We recommended that OMB and lead agencies follow reform practices related to planning, communicating, and leading major reforms.

Government-Wide Reform Plan

Cover of reform plan

Cover of reform plan

Skip to Highlights
Highlights

What GAO Found

In working to implement three selected government-wide reforms that GAO reviewed, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and lead agencies followed some, but not all, of the key practices associated with effective reforms. Following key practices, such as those reflected in the questions below, would better position OMB and lead agencies to effectively implement such major change initiatives and achieve their intended objectives.

Fig Highlights_7-v5-102794-alw

Moving background investigations from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to the Department of Defense (DOD) : As required, the transfer of background investigations took place by September 30, 2019. OMB, OPM, and DOD generally addressed most key reform practices in this transfer, including involving employees and stakeholders, establishing an implementation team, and developing implementation plans. With the transfer complete, DOD officials told GAO they are shifting focus toward addressing GAO's high-risk area on the government-wide personnel security clearance process.

Solving the cybersecurity workforce shortage : OMB and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) partially addressed most leading practices through their efforts to implement several projects, such as reskilling employees to fill vacant cybersecurity positions, and streamlining hiring processes. However, GAO found that OMB and DHS have not established a dedicated implementation team, or a government-wide implementation plan, among other practices. Without these practices in place, OMB and DHS may not be able to monitor implementation activities and determine whether progress is being made toward solving the cybersecurity workforce shortage.

Establishing the Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center : According to OMB, the GEAR Center will bring together researchers from private and public sectors to inform and develop ways to improve government services and operations. OMB is working toward establishing the GEAR Center by collecting input from the public, academia, and industry for how the Center could be structured and ideas for possible research projects. However, OMB has not yet developed an implementation plan with key milestones and deliverables to track its progress. Developing and communicating an implementation plan will help OMB track the GEAR Center's progress and communicate its results.

Why GAO Did This Study

In June 2018, the administration released its government-wide reform plan, which included 32 proposals aimed at achieving management improvements and organizational efficiencies, among other things. OMB has a central role in overseeing these reform proposals, with support from various lead agencies. In July 2018, GAO reported on key questions to consider when developing and implementing reforms.

GAO was asked to examine reform implementation. This report discusses three selected reforms that the administration prioritized: (1) moving background investigations from OPM to DOD, (2) solving the cybersecurity workforce shortage, and (3) establishing the GEAR Center. For each selected reform, GAO determined the extent to which OMB and the lead agencies addressed key practices for effectively implementing reforms, among other issues.

GAO reviewed relevant documentation and interviewed OMB staff and agency officials. GAO assessed OMB's and lead agencies' efforts against relevant key practices for effective reforms.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

GAO is making 7 recommendations to OMB to follow certain key practices to help solve the cybersecurity workforce shortage and to establish the GEAR Center. OMB did not comment on the report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Director The Director of OMB, working with DHS, should develop a government-wide communications strategy to inform and, as appropriate, involve Congress, employees, and other stakeholders in implementation of the reform proposal to solve the cybersecurity workforce shortage. (Recommendation 1)
Open
In June 2021, OMB informed us it had not yet developed a public communications strategy to address this recommendation. We continue to believe that our recommendation is valid and will monitor the actions OMB may take to address the recommendation.
Office of the Director The Director of OMB, working with DHS, should establish a dedicated government-wide leadership team with responsibility for implementing the reform proposal to solve the cybersecurity workforce shortage. (Recommendation 2)
Open
In June 2021, OMB informed us it had not established a dedicated government-wide leadership team for implementing the reform proposal to solve the cybersecurity workforce shortage. However, OMB informed us that it does provide support to government-wide efforts to address the cybersecurity workforce shortage. We continue to believe that our recommendation is valid and will monitor the actions OMB may take to address the recommendation.
Office of the Director The Director of OMB, working with DHS, should develop a government-wide implementation plan with goals, timelines, key milestones, and deliverables to track and communicate implementation progress of the reform proposal to solve the cybersecurity workforce shortage. (Recommendation 3)
Open
In June 2021, OMB informed us it had not yet developed a public implementation plan to address this recommendation. We continue to believe that our recommendation is valid and will monitor the actions OMB may take to address the recommendation.
Office of the Director The Director of OMB, working with DHS, should provide additional information to describe how the projects and activities associated with the reform proposal to solve the cybersecurity workforce shortage will address our high-risk issues related to ensuring the cybersecurity of the nation. (Recommendation 4)
Open
In June 2021, OMB informed us that senior officials at OMB, including the former Deputy Director for Management, Federal Chief Information Officer, and Deputy Federal Chief Information Officer, had spoken publicly about how the projects and activities associated with the reform proposal would address high-risk issues pertaining to cybersecurity, especially with respect to our concern with cybersecurity capacity. While these public statements provide some information on how the reform will address cybersecurity capacity needs, more information is needed to demonstrate how the reform will ensure the cybersecurity of the nation by taking actions to implement a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, perform effective oversight, secure federal systems, and protect cyber critical infrastructure, privacy, and sensitive data.
Office of the Director
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Director of OMB, working with DHS, should develop a government-wide workforce plan that assesses the effects of the reform proposal to solve the cybersecurity workforce shortage on the current and future federal workforce. (Recommendation 5)
Open
OMB did not comment on this recommendation. In April 2022, OMB relayed that it had placed efforts to implement this recommendation on hold because the National Cyber Director is planning to take the lead on cybersecurity workforce issues going forward. To fully implement this recommendation, OMB, working with DHS and the National Cyber Director, will need to develop a government-wide cybersecurity workforce plan to address the cybersecurity workforce shortage. Without this workforce plan, OMB will not be able to determine if the government is making progress, or when the government's cybersecurity workforce shortage has been addressed.
Office of the Director The Director of OMB should assess the costs and benefits of options for operating the GEAR Center. (Recommendation 6)
Closed – Not Implemented
Subsequent to our recommendation, in June 2021, OMB informed us that the current administration has discontinued the GEAR Center effort. Since OMB has discontinued the GEAR Center, an assessment of cost and benefits for the Center is no longer relevant.
Office of the Director The Director of OMB should develop an implementation plan that includes outcome-oriented goals, timelines, key milestones, and deliverables to track and communicate implementation progress of the reform proposal to establish the GEAR Center. (Recommendation 7)
Closed – Not Implemented
Subsequent to our recommendation, in June 2021, OMB informed us that the current administration has discontinued the GEAR Center effort. Since OMB has discontinued the GEAR Center, developing an implementation plan for the Center is no longer relevant.

Full Report

GAO Contacts