Architect of the Capitol:

Midyear Status Report on Implementation of Management Review Recommendations

GAO-04-966: Published: Aug 31, 2004. Publicly Released: Aug 31, 2004.

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The Conference Report on the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003, directed GAO to monitor AOC's progress in implementing recommendations contained in GAO's management review of AOC's operations, issued in January 2003. This is the second status report in which GAO examines the actions taken by AOC to implement selected GAO recommendations. Additionally, the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003, mandated GAO to assess AOC's Chief Operating Officer's (COO) action plan. This report provides that assessment.

AOC has made progress on key management control issues, but substantial work remains to achieve sustained, long-term management improvements and organizational transformation. These key issues include (1) stakeholder involvement, (2) employee communications, (3) auditable financial statements and related internal controls, (4) financial reporting for operating units and cost accounting, (5) information security management, (6) worker safety performance measures, (7) Capitol complex master planning, and (8) strategic management of recycling. For example, AOC has not fully engaged its congressional and other stakeholders in developing a clear, transparent, and documented understanding of how AOC sets project priorities and how progress will be assessed. AOC has taken some steps to involve its stakeholders by delivering planning documents and responding to requests for information. AOC has made progress addressing employee communications issues and can maintain momentum by fully and effectively implementing its planned initiatives. AOC has made progress in preparing auditable agencywide financial statements; however, it has deferred the audit of a complete set of financial statements from fiscal year 2004 to fiscal year 2005. Also, substantial work remains before AOC can provide its managers with the meaningful financial, cost, and performance information needed to enhance their management of operating units. AOC has continued to make some progress establishing the management foundation for effective information security management, but much remains to be accomplished, such as completing system risk assessments and monitoring and evaluating its security policies and controls. Additionally, AOC has developed performance measures to track worker safety, but work remains to ensure successful implementation of these measures. In regard to project management, AOC has taken steps to develop a Capitol complex master plan and expects it to be available for stakeholder comment in February 2006. Given the importance of the master plan, stakeholder involvement early in and throughout its development is key to the plan's ultimate acceptance and value. Similarly, AOC has made progress developing a mission statement and goals for its recycling program as part of its broader Environmental Program Plan, although AOC does not expect to obtain congressional input until after the plan has been completed--an important omission. The Architect and the COO need to work with Congress to determine Congress' information needs--with a specific focus on AOC's project management--and the timing and format of delivery of that information that will best meet Congress' needs. The COO Action Plan was submitted to Congress on December 22, 2003--59 days late. Overall, the plan's high-level description of action items assumes that Congress and other users have a deep and detailed knowledge of AOC's goals, internal operations, and management functions--a level of knowledge that is not reasonable to expect.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To strengthen the relationship between AOC and its congressional and other stakeholders, the Architect of the Capitol should direct the Chief Operating Officer to actively consult with Congress on the design and implementation of meaningful outcome- and performance-based measures that are useful to both AOC and Congress and thereby enable AOC and Congress to assess AOC's progress.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported in our August 2004 review of the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) that AOC must perform its duties in an environment that requires balancing the divergent needs of congressional leadership, committees, members of Congress, congressional staffs, and the visiting public. Within this environment, AOC needs to ensure that its finite resources are efficiently targeted and that Congress and other stakeholders understand how to balance competing demands. Our review found that AOC had not fully engaged its congressional and other stakeholders in reaching an agreement on how AOC should set priorities and assess its progress. As such, we recommended that the Architect of the Capitol actively consult with Congress on the design and implementation of meaningful outcome- and performance- based measures that are useful to both AOC and Congress and thereby enable AOC and Congress to assess AOC's progress. In response to our recommendation, from 2006 to 2008, AOC has developed a sufficient mixture of outcome and output measures to allow AOC and its stakeholders to assess progress on AOC's strategic goals. Additionally, during 2006 and 2007, AOC officials consulted with several congressional stakeholders on the usefulness of AOC's performance measures and received support from these stakeholders on the appropriateness of these measures.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the relationship between AOC and its congressional and other stakeholders, the Architect of the Capitol should direct the Chief Operating Officer to expedite the release of the 2003 building services customer satisfaction survey, as a transparency and accountability mechanism and to provide Congress and other stakeholders assurance that actions are being taken in response to their feedback.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of February 2006, AOC has fulfilled our recommendation by releasing the results of the 2003 building services customer satisfaction survey in its 2004 report. The report tracked customer satisfaction between 2002 and 2004. In addition, AOC provided customers with letters detailing actions planned to address their concerns.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the relationship between AOC and its congressional and other stakeholders, the Architect of the Capitol should direct the Chief Operating Officer to work with Congress on the design and implementation of a transparent process to facilitate an understanding between AOC and its congressional stakeholders about how AOC targets its efforts and resources at the highest project priorities and how strategic and tactical decisions and trade-offs are made.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC fulfilled this recommendation by taking steps to develop and implement a transparent process for how AOC targets its efforts and resources to highest project priorities. AOC continues to meet with congressional stakeholders to discuss how it targets its resources and prioritizes projects. On the basis of its experience in evaluating projects for the fiscal year 2007 budget and input from congressional and other stakeholders, AOC revised its project prioritization process to more clearly articulate the criteria for assigning project ratings. In October 2006, AOC prepared an interim project prioritization guide to facilitate the prioritization of projects for the fiscal year 2008 budget submission. AOC issued a revised guide in February 2007. Congressional stakeholders noted that AOC has made improvements in developing a transparent process for understanding how and why projects are submitted for funding.

    Recommendation: To improve communications with employees, the Architect of the Capitol should direct the Chief Operating Officer to fully and effectively implement the basic framework as defined in its communications plan and process manuals, and finalize its draft employee feedback manual to assure that the current progress already made is maintained.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Strong internal communication with employees is vital to any organizational transformation because it helps employees understand their contribution to overall agency goals and facilitates feedback that helps an organization develop strategies for improvement. Our August 2004 status report of AOC determined that AOC had made progress to address employee communication issues and recommended that the agency could maintain momentum in this area by fully implementing the policies and procedures that it drafted or issued as part of its employee communications efforts. In response, AOC has implemented the basic framework in its communication plan through a variety of communication methods to convey information to employees including a weekly newsletter on project updates, policy announcements, management and communication tips, and other agencywide messages. AOC has also distributed a process manual for employee feedback.

    Recommendation: To improve communications with employees, the Architect of the Capitol should direct the Chief Operating Officer to conduct an analysis of both AOC management and employee needs with respect to resolving employee concerns and issues, as well as assessing the capacity of existing offices to fulfill those needs.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although AOC has not completed an assessment of the capacity of existing offices to resolve employee concerns and issues and does not plan to do so, the agency has implemented a variety of mechanisms to resolve employee concerns and issues. According to AOC, multiple offices and programs address employee concerns and issues, including the Equal Employment Office, the Employee Assistance Programs, the standard grievance process, and the external Office of Compliance process. In addition, AOC holds monthly meetings between representatives of these offices to review and discuss employee relations data. The group makes recommendations to senior management on the basis of findings and takes action on the items. Employees in bargaining units are also represented by the union and have a process in place to resolve individual employee issues. In October 2005, AOC issued a brochure to all employees on all Equal Employment Office policies and the available programs. In addition, AOC is currently developing a proposal that would establish a mediation program as part of AOC's operational business strategy. After implementing the pilot program, AOC plans to assess its use and effectiveness and make any needed modifications before making it a permanent program and expanding the group of trained mediators. AOC should continue to monitor the effectiveness of the programs through employee feedback.

    Recommendation: To help strengthen and sustain AOC's emerging foundation of financial accountability and control, the Architect of the Capitol, the Chief Operating Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, and other senior management should provide strong and visible support for efforts to prepare auditable financial statements and implement an effective internal control framework by monitoring the implementation and related milestones for each effort, ensuring the commitment to and support for each effort by participating AOC units, and acting to resolve any impediments that may arise.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Between fiscal year 2003 and the present, in response to our recommendation, AOC has institutionalized annual audits of its financial statements through the oversight and monitoring by AOC's Audit Committee which includes members of senior management along with outside members. The Audit Committee was established by the AOC to independently review the financial statement audit process and facilitate open disclosure and transparency. The preparation and audit of the entity-wide financial statements has also helped to identify and address material weaknesses in AOC's financial reporting controls. While AOC has not completed fully implementing an effective risk-based internal control framework including a formal and systematic assessment and evaluation of the design and operation of its controls, AOC reported progress in strengthening senior management, monitoring, and oversight of long-term efforts to institutionalize several internal control practices with the AOC's Senior Leadership Team assuming the added role of a Senior Advisory Team to provide strategic direction and oversight of AOC's Internal Control Program and through the appointment of an Internal Control Manager to assist senior management in carrying out its responsibilities to ensure the full implementation of a comprehensive AOC wide risk-based internal control framework. Additionally, the AOC reported further progress in reviewing and refining controls in an effort to increase the integrity of data used for integrated planning, reporting, and decision-making, and by revising and re-issuing its organization-wide policy for its Internal Control Program. These policy enhancements have strengthened efforts to help focus, prioritize, and monitor (via AOC's Internal Control Action Plan) the development and implementation of internal control procedures involving both operations and financial reporting. Based on AOC's progress in institutionalizing annual audits of its financial statements and its establishment of a senior management team and management position to oversee the remaining implementation an effective risk-based internal control framework in accordance with a revised policy and action plan, this recommendation is closed out as implemented.

    Recommendation: To enhance the successful development of useful financial, cost, and performance reporting for major operating units and appropriate cost accounting, the Architect of the Capitol should direct the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Financial Officer to work with operating managers to assess the usefulness of financial statement-level information, take an active role in AOC near-term efforts to develop agencywide performance measures, and review all available options to determine whether substantial work can begin, prior to fiscal year 2006, on the analyses needed to identify changes necessary to implement useful cost accounting at AOC.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC reported that it has made considerable progress since last year on efforts to develop useful cost, financial, and performance information; develop agencywide performance measures; and start implementing its cost accounting system. AOC reported that the Architect and the COO have taken an active role in developing of the revised strategic plan and related agencywide performance measures and in supporting the cost accounting/MOR initiative. As part of its efforts to implement its cost accounting/MOR initiative, AOC determined that financial-statement level information was of limited use to jurisdictional managers. As a result, AOC management focused its attention on how it could provide useful cost, financial, and performance information to its operational managers. In so doing, AOC reported that it developed potential formats for MOR information that demonstrates to operating unit managers the types of cost, financial, and performance information that can be generated when the cost accounting system is fully implemented. AOC also reported that it now generates biweekly cost accounting/MOR reports for each jurisdiction and division. AOC reported that it recently completed the development of a results-based strategic plan that includes comprehensive agencywide outcome (performance) measures. This effort started with the Architect and the COO revising AOC's Strategic Goals, which were then used to develop the revised strategic plan. The Architect and the COO monitored the plan's development and actively participated in the plan's review and finalization.

    Recommendation: To enhance the successful development of useful financial, cost, and performance reporting for major operating units and appropriate cost accounting, the Architect of the Capitol should direct the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Financial Officer to have senior management visibly demonstrate its continuing commitment to and support for making AOC-wide system, procedural, and cultural changes necessary to provide managers with timely financial, cost, and performance information by monitoring the efforts' implementation and related milestones, ensuring the commitment to and support for the efforts by participating AOC units, and acting to resolve any impediments that may arise.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As noted in GAO-04-966, August 2004, because of a delay in AOC implementing their cost accounting system, GAO found that the AOC's senior management needed to provide greater commitment and support for efforts to implement a new AOC-wide cost accounting and reporting system. To this end, the AOC reported in February 2009, several recurring leadership activities which were intended to evidence commitment and support for the important initiative including Monthly Senior Leadership Team status reports, Monthly Architect Briefings, in which the status of the agency-wide Cost Accounting and Management Operations Reporting (MOR) system implementation was discussed. In June 2009, the AOC reported that in late 2008 it implemented its cost accounting and MOR system institutionalizing the use of cost accounting and MOR through routine tracking of cost and performance measures. Specifically, the AOC now provides managers with various cost and utilization report and selected jurisdictions are being provided reports on costs associated with services rendered. Jurisdictional and office managers and executives are also provided periodic reports on labor usage, overtime, and expenditures. In addition, AOC reported in June 2009, that all indirect costs are now being measured, accumulated, and assigned to strategic objectives and that a draft allocation methodology has been developed for indirect costs. Managers have utilized the cost information from these reports to more effectively and efficiently carry out their operations. During 2009, AOC reported it further refined and consolidated its cost activity codes to facilitate compliance and normalize the data being collected across the organization. The AOC also reported it improved its web-based time and attendance (T&A) system in FY 2009, which according to the AOC, helped provide greater accuracy in collecting AOC-wide direct labor costs which represent a critical metric used throughout AOC's cost accounting system. With this progress, the AOC has substantially implemented its organization-wide cost accounting and MOR system-one of its long term key financial management improvement strategies. In addition, the AOC acknowledges that its system is still evolving and plans are in place for continued future improvement. As such, the AOC noted that it plans to assess areas needing improvement and implement actions to further strengthen its performance. Based on the AOC progress in implementing its cost accounting system and institutionalizing the use of cost and performance information, this recommendation is closed out as implemented.

    Recommendation: To enhance worker safety performance measures at AOC, the Architect of the Capitol should direct the Chief Operating Officer to expand upon its safety perception survey by developing a more rigorous methodological approach and collecting such information on a more regular basis.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: AOC plans to conduct focus groups in 2008 as part of the agency's biennial assessment of the work environment, with worker safety as a focus group topic. The agency contends that its current strategies to receive employee feedback, such as the focus groups, provide sufficient opportunities to gather necessary information. Other approaches the agency continues to employ include anonymous hotlines and regular meetings between managers and employees. Without minimizing the value of the information that can be gathered from such approaches, GAO does not consider them to be rigorous, confidential and proactive methods for collecting employee perceptions of AOC's safety climate. Specifically, focus groups are not confidential and although AOC originally planned to conduct the focus groups in 2007, it has been four years since the last focus group regarding worker safety was conducted. While the anonymous hotlines offer confidentiality, this method does not offer a rigorous, proactive approach for gathering information on employee concerns. AOC officials stated that the agency does not intend to collect employee feedback regarding worker safety issues through any other methods than the ones it currently employs. Accordingly,we are closing this recommendation without implementation.

    Recommendation: In order to improve Capitol complex master planning efforts, the Architect of the Capitol, with support from the Chief Operating Officer, should lead efforts to ensure that congressional and other stakeholders are engaged early and throughout the development of the Capitol complex master plan.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our August 2004 review of the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), we noted that developing a Capitol complex master plan is critical to AOC's strategic project management because it would help facilitate consistent management and oversight of projects and establish long-term priorities. Given the importance and sensitivity of the master plan, as well as the difficult trade-offs that the budget environment demands, congressional and other stakeholder involvement in the development of the master plan is key to its ultimate acceptance and value. As such, we recommended that AOC, with support from the Chief Operating Officer, lead efforts to ensure that congressional and other stakeholders are engaged early and throughout the development of the Capitol complex master plan. In February 2008, in response to our recommendation, AOC developed a strategy to maintain proactive communication with congressional and other stakeholders regarding the development of the Capitol complex master plan. Specifically, the Acting Architect maintained regular communication with appropriate Congressional committees via meetings, briefings and personal interaction such as phone calls and e-mails. He also received positive feedback at the 2007 Budget Summit regarding AOC's efforts to engage Congress in planning efforts of the master plan.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the process for prioritizing projects, the Architect of the Capitol, with support from the Chief Operating Officer, should lead efforts to ensure that AOC informs and obtains agreement from congressional and other stakeholders on how and why specific projects are submitted for funding.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC fulfilled this recommendation by taking steps to inform congressional stakeholders on how and why specific projects are submitted for funding. For example, AOC has held and continues to hold regular briefings with congressional staff on AOC's funding requests and project prioritization process. In August and September 2006, AOC briefed congressional stakeholders on the status and results of facility condition assessments, its project prioritization process, and the future direction of AOC's facility programs. Congressional stakeholders noted that AOC has made improvements in developing a transparent process for understanding how and why projects are submitted for funding.

    Recommendation: To further assist AOC in developing a more strategic approach for its recycling programs and to ensure that congressional input is obtained when it would be most useful, the Architect of the Capitol should direct the Chief Operating Officer to obtain preliminary input from congressional stakeholders on its environmental program plan--particularly as the plan relates to the mission and goals of AOC's recycling programs--prior to the completion of the plan.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO recommended that to further assist the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) in developing a more strategic approach for its recycling programs and to ensure that congressional input is obtained when it would be most useful, the AOC should direct its Chief Operating Officer to obtain preliminary input from congressional stakeholders on its environmental program plan--particularly as the plan relates to the mission and goals of AOC's recycling programs--prior to the completion of the plan. AOC fulfilled this recommendation in February 2006. Specifically, it relied on input from congressional stakeholders to assist in the development of the mission, goals, and performance measures as part of its recycling program.

    Recommendation: To enhance the usefulness of the COO action plan, t he Architect of the Capitol and the Chief Operating Officer should consult with members of Congress and key committees on the specific information regarding AOC's plans, policies, procedures, actions, and proposed organizational changes. As part of this effort, the Architect and the COO should work with Congress to determine Congress' information needs and the timing and format of delivery of that information that will best meet Congress' needs. Consistent with our findings and recommendations with respect to congressional and other stakeholder involvement in general and the Capitol complex master plan in particular, as well as our original January 2003 management review, specific emphasis should be placed on AOC's project management. Particular issues to be discussed could include how (1) AOC's projects' priorities are determined, (2) AOC monitors and controls project cost, quality, and timeliness, (3) AOC uses lessons learned from projects and seeks to incorporate best practices, (4) project management accountability is assigned and managed, and (5) AOC determines the best mix of in-house and contractor support when designing projects. Subsequent COO action plans and status reports will likely be most helpful to Congress to the extent that they are rigorously specific as to the problem or issue that needs to be addressed, the actions that are being taken in response, the progress to-date, and milestones for additional actions.

    Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC fulfilled this recommendation by taking several actions. In March 2006, AOC hired a permanent COO. In August 2006, the COO issued an action plan, including actions related to project management. For example, the action plan includes establishing technical expertise in project scheduling to improve AOC's estimating process and enhancing project delivery services through continued use of an effective project process and monitoring of all projects to ensure completion of projects on time and within budget. To ensure project priorities are determined, AOC continues to meet with congressional stakeholders to discuss how AOC targets its resources and prioritizes projects and revised its project prioritization process to more clearly articulate the criteria for assigning project ratings. To monitor projects, AOC continues to issue quarterly reports to Congress on the cost and schedule of active projects. To benefit from lessons learned, AOC developed and implemented design services and construction services surveys. Also, AOC developed and implemented an acquisition strategy process with an acquisition strategy board that meets on a regular basis to discuss, among other things, lessons learned from previous projects. AOC's acquisition strategy board also discusses the best mix of in-house and contractor support as part of their regular meetings. To improve accountability, AOC established a project management organization with a project manager dedicated to each project from start to finish. Also, AOC uses its dashboard to monitor project management performance and discuss performance issues with AOC senior management each month. AOC officials, including the COO and the Director of Planning and Project Management, also regularly brief congressional stakeholders on a variety of issues, including AOC's budget submission, status of projects, and project priorities.

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