GAO and federal agencies' inspectors general make recommendations that could save money or improve public services. But agencies don't always implement them.
Agencies must report on unimplemented recommendations with their annual budget justification. Most of the agencies we reviewed did so, but the level of detail they provided varied—possibly because they were confused by the reporting requirements.
The Office of Management and Budget offers guidance to agencies on how to prepare their budget justifications. But it doesn't provide direction on how to report on unimplemented recommendations. This Q&A looks at our recommendations to do so.
What GAO Found
The majority of the agencies in GAO's review (20 of 24) generally included both of the selected reporting elements required by the Good Accounting Obligation in Government Act (GAO-IG Act) (Public Law 115-414)—reporting on open recommendations and providing status information on their implementation. The other four agencies reported but did not provide status information for each recommendation listed. In addition, 16 of the 24 agencies also generally followed the submission process requirements—which include publishing the report on time with their annual budget justification and sending copies of the report to GAO and their Office of Inspector General (IG).
GAO observed variations in how agencies addressed selected reporting requirements, such as:
- Level of detail in describing the status of open recommendations. For example, some agencies provided detailed information about actions taken or planned while others stated implementation was progressing without further detail.
- Timeframes agencies used to identify open recommendations. For example, one agency did not include any recommendations issued after January 2021 while another included recommendations issued as recently as January 2023.
Some agencies said that they found the requirements confusing or subject to interpretation. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provides guidance to agencies on how to prepare their budget justification. OMB staff said that OMB Circular No. A-11 contains the guidance on what agencies should include in their reporting. However, OMB Circular No. A-11 reminds agencies that the GAO-IG Act has reporting requirements; it does not provide additional guidance or clarification about those requirements. Some agencies said that additional guidance and clarification would be helpful. Such guidance and clarification would help reduce the variation across agencies and improve the reporting.
GAO also identified practices from some agencies that other agencies could benefit from adopting. To address challenges, some agencies described coordinating regularly with their IG and GAO liaisons, leveraging IT systems, and developing internal guidance and templates. In addition, certain agency practices helped to improve the usefulness of the reporting, such as:
- Publishing the report as a standalone document, which GAO found increased the visibility and accessibility of the information.
- Including high level summaries before listing the individual recommendations.
- Submitting recommendations in a downloadable spreadsheet, which allows readers to filter and sort the recommendations.
Why GAO Did This Study
GAO and the IGs make recommendations to federal agencies on an ongoing basis. While agencies continue to implement the majority of GAO's recommendations, the GAO recommendation database contained more than 4,800 unimplemented recommendations across the federal government, as of May 2023. If implemented, these recommendations could result in significant benefits, including increased savings and revenues, enhanced services to the public, and improved federal programs.
The GAO-IG Act, enacted in 2019, was designed to increase public accountability for unimplemented recommendations and to inform the budget process. It generally requires agencies to report on the status of unimplemented GAO and IG recommendations with their annual budget justification.
House Report 117-389 includes a provision for GAO to review agency compliance with GAO-IG Act reporting requirements and identify any barriers to compliance. This report examines 24 federal agencies' GAO-IG Act reporting with their fiscal year 2024 budget justifications. GAO reviewed the extent to which these agencies included selected required reporting elements and followed the submission process requirements. Additionally, GAO identified challenges to producing the reports and practices some agencies have used to improve their reporting.
GAO is recommending that OMB (1) clarify the reporting requirements and (2) instruct agencies to consider adopting practices, as appropriate, to improve their reporting. OMB told us it had no comments on the report. Of the 24 agencies in our review, three provided comments, two provided technical comments, 18 had no comments, and one did not respond.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Office of Management and Budget||The Director of OMB should clarify the reporting requirements of the GAO-IG Act in annual budget guidance. Such clarification could include, for example, the level of detail required and the date ranges for included recommendations. (Recommendation 1)||
|Office of Management and Budget||The Director of OMB should instruct agencies to consider adopting, as appropriate, the notable practices for improving GAO-IG Act reporting that were identified in this report. (Recommendation 2)||