Results-Oriented Management:

Strengthening Key Practices at FEMA and Interior Could Promote Greater Use of Performance Information

GAO-09-676: Published: Aug 17, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 2009.

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Since 1997, periodic GAO surveys indicate that overall, federal managers have more performance information available but have not made any greater use of this information for decision making. Based on GAO's most recent survey in 2007, GAO was asked to (1) identify agencies with relatively low use of performance information and the factors that contribute to this condition; and (2) examine practices in an agency with indications of improvement in use of performance information. GAO analyzed results from its surveys of federal managers across 29 agencies, reviewed key agency documents related to using performance information--such as Performance and Accountability Reports--and interviewed agency and selected subunit managers about their management practices. GAO also compared management practices, at selected agencies with those GAO has identified as promoting the use of performance information for decision making.

According to GAO's 2007 survey of federal managers on their use of performance information for decision making, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of the Interior (Interior), ranked 27 and 28 out of 29 agencies. Several factors contributed to this relatively low use. At both FEMA and Interior, the demonstrated commitment of agency leaders to using performance information--a key management practice--was inconsistent. While some FEMA programs and regions encouraged use of performance information to plan for and respond to unpredictable events, others expressed uncertainty as to how they could use performance information in the face of uncontrollable external factors. FEMA managers were also hampered by weak alignment among agency, program, and individual goals, as well as limited analytic capacity to make use of performance information. At Interior and the National Park Service (NPS), managers reported a proliferation of measures, including some that, while meaningful for department-level accountability, were not relevant to their day-to-day management. Managers at NPS and the Bureau of Reclamation also said that poorly integrated performance and management information systemscontributed to an environment where the costs of performance reporting--in terms of time and resources--outweighed what they described as minimal benefits. While both FEMA and Interior have taken some promising steps to make their performance information both useful and used, these initiatives have thus far been limited. The experience of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) highlights the role that strengthened management practices can play. According to GAO's 2000 and 2007 survey results, the percentage of managers at CMS reporting use of performance information for various management decisions increased by nearly 21 percentage points--one of the largest improvements among agencies over that period. CMS officials attributed this change to a combination of key management practices they had employed, including, but not limited to: leadership commitment to using performance information; alignment of strategic and performance goals; improving the usefulness of performance information; and building the analytic capacity to collect and use performance information.

Status Legend:

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  • 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: The Secretary of the Interior should direct departmental leadership and the Director of NPS to demonstrate their commitment to using performance information for decision making by reviewing performance results with subordinate managers on a regular and recurring basis and communicating decisions based on performance information to show that performance information is reviewed and acted upon.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Starting in 2010, Interior reported that the Department has been reporting quarterly progress on a set of high priority performance goals for renewable energy, water conservation, youth employment, law enforcement in Indian lands, and climate change. They also reported that this data is evaluated by OMB and posted on performance.gov. In May 2011, to better use this data to improve performance, the Deputy Secretary of the Interior began holding quarterly performance review meetings with performance goal "owners" to discuss performance data, improve collaboration, and evaluate impediments to achieving their goals. Establishing such reviews is consistent with practices GAO has identified for demonstrating leadership commitment and using performance information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should direct the Administrator of FEMA to improve linkages among agency, program, and individual performance by continuing to engage program and regional managers in efforts to develop, and where appropriate refine, intermediate, measurable performance targets that cascade from agency strategic goals; and in the absence of a DHS-wide performance-management system, developing interim guidance for FEMA's current performance-appraisal system, covering supervisors and managers, on how to align individual performance objectives with program and agency goals. Such guidance could include information on how work plans can be used to align individual and agency performance goals and objectives, examples of alignment from subunits within FEMA that are already implementing this practice, or other approaches to promoting such alignment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) transitioned its supervisors to the Department of Homeland Security's Performance Management program. In February 2013, FEMA put in place policies for its new Employee Performance Management Program (EPMP) which specifies that "a connection between an individual's performance to the DHS and FEMA strategic plans" must be provided. The EPMP includes core competencies and three to five individual performance goals written to two levels of expectations. Each performance goal aligns to the strategic plan. FEMA has also provided training to its managers and supervisors on individual performance planning, how to translate organizational and work unit goals into individual goals, and how to develop performance measures and targets. The training materials emphasize the benefits of goal alignment and the process of developing work-unit goals as part of the line of sight between agency-level and individual goals.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should direct the Administrator of FEMA to augment FEMA's analytic capacity to collect and analyze performance information by continuing to build upon recent efforts to provide training to directorate and regional managers to enhance their use of performance information, which includes topics such as strategic planning, developing robust performance measures, and analyzing what the performance data mean; and reviewing performance information systems to address users' needs for integrated, timely, and relevant performance information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA reported that starting in April 2010 they provided training to directorate and regional personnel on how to develop performance measures that are useful for decision-making. This type of training is consistent with practices we have identified for augmenting an agency's analytic capacity to collect and analyze performance information. By providing training, FEMA implemented this recommendation and we are closing it.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of DHS should direct the Administrator of FEMA to direct agency leadership to demonstrate its commitment to using performance information for decision making by reviewing performance results with subordinate managers on a regular and recurring basis and communicating decisions based on performance information to show that performance information is reviewed and acted upon.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS reported that starting in February 2010, FEMA's Performance Improvement Officer (PIO) established quarterly meetings with FEMA Assistant Administrators on behalf of the Administrator to review quarterly performance results and identify follow-up actions as needed. Establishing such meetings is consistent with practices we have identified for demonstrating leadership commitment to using performance information. By conducting these quarterly reviews, FEMA implemented this recommendation and we are closing it.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct departmental leadership, the Director of NPS, and the Commissioner of Reclamation in conjunction with OMB to review the usefulness of their performance measures and refine or discontinue performance measures that are not useful for decision making. The review should also consider options for reducing the burden of collecting and reporting performance information. This review should involve managers at all levels to take into account their differing needs for performance information.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2011, DOI reported that the Secretary signed a new FY 2011-2016 Strategic Plan on December 23, 2010, following 18 months of collaboration among the bureaus and tribes, and consultation with OMB and Congress. According to Interior officials, they worked with each of the bureaus to determine which performance measures bureau managers found most useful, with the goal of decreasing the total number of measures for the Plan. The Secretary publicly endorsed the use of the plan across the department in his all hands meeting on January 26, 2011. As a result of this review, the new strategic plan has 40 percent fewer measures. By taking these steps, DOI implemented this recommendation and we are closing it.

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