Streamlining Government:

Key Practices from Select Efficiency Initiatives Should Be Shared Governmentwide

GAO-11-908: Published: Sep 30, 2011. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2011.

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Given continuing budget pressures combined with the focus on performance envisioned in the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010, federal agencies need to identify ways to operate more efficiently. GAO was asked to (1) describe selected initiatives that federal departments are implementing to achieve efficiencies; and (2) identify key practices associated with implementing these initiatives, as well as selected state initiatives, that can be applied more broadly in the federal government. GAO reviewed agency documents and interviewed officials from the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Veterans Affairs (VA), Defense (DOD), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as well as officials from five states--Virginia, Iowa, Texas, Washington, and Georgia.

Federal departments in our review used different approaches to improve efficiency. Their efficiency initiatives generally fell within two categories--(1) reexamining programs, structures, and functions to determine whether they effectively and efficiently achieved their mission; and (2) streamlining and consolidating operations to make them more cost effective. For example, the Secretary of Defense's Efficiency Initiative, HUD's Transformation Initiative (including HUDStat), and VA's Operational Management Reviews implemented broad examinations of their programs, structures, and related processes. DHS's Efficiency Review, VA's Project Management Accountability System, and DOD's Continuous Process Improvement/Lean Six Sigma Program employed targeted methods to streamline and consolidate processes and systems. Most of the federal initiatives were relatively new; consequently, their overall impact has yet to be determined. However, each of these initiatives, as well as select state initiatives--such as the Virginia Productivity Investment Fund--demonstrated key practices from which federal agencies could learn. GAO recommends that OMB share the key practices for implementing efficiency initiatives identified in this report, and develop proposals for funding mechanisms to support upfront investment costs of longer-term efficiency projects that could result in greater cost savings or other efficiencies in the future. OMB staff stated that the report does not give sufficient weight to its sharing of information consistent with the key practices GAO has identified. While the report recognizes a number of OMB's initiatives, GAO is unaware of the extent of OMB's efforts to share the practices identified in this report. DHS, DOD, VA and HUD had no comments on the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In order to increase agencies' awareness of key practices for implementing efficiency initiatives, as we recommended, on March 5, 2014, OMB staff provided a link to our report on select efficiency initiatives (GAO-11-908) to members of the Performance Improvement Council (PIC). The PIC is one of the governmentwide management councils, and is made up of Performance Improvement Officers from federal agencies and chaired by OMB, collaborates to improve federal performance, including sharing information on best practices.

    Recommendation: In order to assist federal agencies' efforts to improve their efficiency, the Director of the OMB, through the Deputy Director for Management/Federal Chief Performance Officer, building on our prior recommendation to use governmentwide management councils and other venues to share lessons learned from efforts to improve efficiency, should work with these councils to share the specific key efficiency practices that we have identified in this report by building on our prior recommendation to use governmentwide management councils and other venues to share lessons learned from efforts to improve efficiency.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with our findings and recommendation in GAO-11-908, OMB developed programs and proposals for funding mechanisms that can assist federal agencies with the up-front costs associated with some efficiency improvement projects that are expected to result in significant cost savings or other efficiencies in the future. In 2012, OMB funded the Pay for Success Program, which is a partnership with a financing organization where private investors provide up-front funding to help achieve a specific result for a target population to measurably improve individuals' lives. The government only pays if the agreed-upon goal is achieved. The budget allows for $100 million in government funds to support initiatives across seven program areas including workforce development, education, juvenile justice and care of children with disabilities. These funds are part of innovation funds within the Department of Education, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the Corporation for National and Community Service. In the Analytical Perspectives section of the President's 2014 budget, it stated that this program is a subset of cost-effective interventions that produce government savings, since those savings can be used to pay for results. The President's 2015 budget proposed expanding the Pay for Success program. In addition, as we suggested in our report, The President's 2014 budget also proposed to fund additional projects under the Partnership Fund for Program Integrity Innovation, a similar dedicated fund for efficiency-related projects.

    Recommendation: In order to assist federal agencies' efforts to improve their efficiency, the Director of the OMB, through the Deputy Director for Management/ Federal Chief Performance Officer should work with Congress and federal agencies to develop proposals for funding mechanisms that assist federal agencies with the up-front costs associated with some longer-term efficiency improvement projects that are expected to result in more significant cost savings or other efficiencies in the future. If such proposals are implemented, collectively, the projects should return more than or at least the amount of the assistance provided.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

 

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