U.S. Commission on Civil Rights:

Management Could Benefit from Improved Strategic Planning and Increased Oversight

GAO-05-77: Published: Oct 8, 2004. Publicly Released: Oct 27, 2004.

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The Chairmen of the Senate and House Committees on the Judiciary asked GAO to determine (1) the extent of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' compliance with the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993, (2) what federal oversight is provided to the Commission, and (3) the status of the implementation of recommendations from GAO's past reviews of the Commission.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights--an independent federal agency that monitors and reports on the status of civil rights in the United States--has not fully complied with the requirements of GPRA. Under this act, agencies are required to submit strategic plans and annual performance plans that detail their long-term and annual goals as well as information on how they plan to meet these goals. GPRA also requires agencies to submit annual performance reports that provide information on their progress in meeting the goals. However, the Commission has not updated or revised its strategic plan since 1997. Without revisiting its strategic goals, the Commission lacks a firm basis on which to develop its annual goals and evaluate its performance. In addition, its most recent annual performance plan and annual performance report contain weaknesses that limit the agency's ability to effectively manage its operations and communicate its performance. For example, the performance plan does not discuss the Commission's strategies or resources for achieving its goals, does not provide budgetary information for its programs, and does not provide performance indicators for some annual goals. Similarly, the performance report does not account for the Commission's performance for many of the annual goals set forth in its performance plan and does not provide plans, schedules, or recommendations for addressing each of the Commission's unmet goals. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) have provided oversight for the Commission's budgetary and human capital operations in recent years. OMB's oversight has focused on the Commission's budget requests and GPRA plans and reports. OPM conducted two reviews of the Commission's human capital management systems in the 1990s and made recommendations for improvement, including improvements to its grievance and performance appraisal systems. Although the Commission has implemented some of OPM's earlier recommendations, it has not implemented five of six broader, systemic recommendations made in 1999 for improvement to its human capital management systems. Unlike many other executive agencies, the Commission does not have an Inspector General to provide oversight of its operations beyond OMB and OPM. GAO has conducted several reviews of the Commission's management operations in recent years. The Commission took some actions in response to the recommendations in GAO's 1994 and 1997 reports. However, the Commission has not implemented three of the four recommendations in GAO's October 2003 report for improving the agency's management and procurement practices.

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

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: To strengthen the Commission's accountability, Congress may wish to consider legislation directing the Commission to obtain the services of an existing Inspector General at another agency.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although as of August 2007, Congress has not considered legislation to direct the Commission to obtain the services of an existing Inspector General; in June 2006, the Commission contracted with an existing Inspector General from the Peace Corps in response to our recommendation. In spring 2007, the Inspector General issued a memorandum to the Commission's staff director outlining the status of all the recommendations and actions taken by the Commission.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Commission's management practices, the Commission should include the status of the Commission's efforts to implement OPM's and GAO's recommendations in its GPRA plans and reports.

    Agency Affected: Commission on Civil Rights

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Commission on Civil Rights issued its annual performance and accountability report for FY 2005 upon completion of the Commission's FY 2005 financial audit. As we had recommended, this performance and accountability report outlines the status of the Commission's efforts to implement GAO's and OPM's recommendations.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Commission's management practices, the Commission should implement all of the recommendations in OPM's and GAO's previous reports.

    Agency Affected: Commission on Civil Rights

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of August 2006, the Commission on Civil Rights has implemented many of GAO's previous recommendations, especially recommendations on financial, procurement, and project management. For example, as we had recommended previously, the Commission adopted policies in May 2005 to increase the Commissioners' involvement in project planning; has required monthly project cost data to be provided to the staff director and agency heads and others; began using the General Services Administration as the Commission's accounting services provider; obtained its first financial audit--for FY 2005--to comply with the audit requirements of the Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002; and developed a procurement and acquisition guide to help bring its practices in line with federal procurement requirements. The Commission also moved towards implementing recommendations previously made by the Office of Personnel Management in its 1999 report. For example, it has drafted a human capital strategic plan and accountability system. This plan will be made final after a new draft strategic plan is approved (planned for the fall 2006).

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Commission's management practices, the Commission should ensure that annual performance reports include all elements required under GPRA.

    Agency Affected: Commission on Civil Rights

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Commission's Fiscal Year 2008 annual performance and accountability report, issued in November 2008, is the first to reflect operation under the agency's updated 5-year strategic plan for FY 2008-2013. The Commission's annual report--available on the Commission's Web site--generally includes elements required under GPRA, as recommended. The report generally refers to performance goals established in its annual plan for FY 2008; identifies each strategic goal; identifies objectives for each goal; indicates which performance targets for those objectives were met or not met; and discusses reasons for not meeting targets, as required under GPRA. It also uses measures that can be linked to long-term strategic goals and objectives described in its 2008-2013 strategic plan, as required under GPRA and OMB guidance.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Commission's management practices, the Commission should ensure that future annual performance plans include all elements required under GPRA and OMB guidance, reflect funding levels requested in the President's Budget, and are revised if necessary to reflect actual appropriations.

    Agency Affected: Commission on Civil Rights

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since the Commission issued an updated 5-year Strategic Plan in October 2007 for the fiscal years 2008-2013, the Commission's annual performance plan can be linked appropriately to the agency's long-term strategic goals and objectives, as required under GPRA and OMB guidance. As of June 2009, the Commission's fiscal year 2008 annual performance plan--which was submitted in the fall of 2007--discusses the Commission's strategies or resources for achieving its goals, provides budgetary information for its programs, and provides performance indicators for its annual goals, as required, according to agency officials. The annual plan also sets annual performance targets by strategic goal, in accordance with GPRA. In addition, the Commission's administrative policies also now require Commission offices and divisions to comply with GPRA and OMB requirements, including reporting performance data consistent with OMB guidance.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Commission's management practices, the Commission should update its 5-year strategic plan according to GPRA's required schedule and include all elements required under GPRA and OMB guidance.

    Agency Affected: Commission on Civil Rights

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2007, the Commission issued an updated 5-year strategic plan for Fiscal Years 2008-2013, as recommended, and this updated plan is now publicly available on the Commission's Web site. As part of its efforts to update the strategic plan in accordance with GPRA and OMB guidance, the Commission participated in an OMB review and worked with OMB to develop performance measures and track improvements; trained members of the senior staff on GPRA requirements; and consulted with stakeholders more extensively in developing the plan, in response to comments on an earlier draft.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Commission's management practices, the Commission should seek the services of an existing Inspector General from another agency to help keep the Commission and the Congress informed of problems and deficiencies and to conduct and supervise necessary audits and investigations.

    Agency Affected: Commission on Civil Rights

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2006, the Commission obtained the services of an Inspector General from the Peace Corps to evaluate the Commission's policies for ensuring objectivity and accountability for its national office products and to evaluate the advisory committee re-chartering process and other issues related to the operations of the state advisory committees. The Commission previously submitted a fiscal year 2005 Inspector General Act Report to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget. This report summarizes several audits of Commission programs, activities, and functions conducted by both Federal and non-Federal auditors during FY 2005; significant findings for those audits that have been completed; and the Commission's implementation of auditors' recommendations. The Commission also obtained the services of an accounting firm to conduct its first financial audit.

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