Interagency Collaboration:

State and Army Personnel Rotation Programs Can Build on Positive Results with Additional Preparation and Evaluation

GAO-12-386: Published: Mar 9, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 9, 2012.

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What GAO Found

Effective interagency rotational assignments can achieve collaboration-related results—such as developing participants’ collaboration skills and building interagency networks—but programs must be a “win-win” for the individuals and organizations involved in order to be effective.

GAO found policies and practices that help interagency rotation programs achieve collaboration-related results as indicated in the figure below. The policies and practices addressed challenges to participation, and included incentives, preparation, and feedback.

Most participants and host supervisors of State’s Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) program, State’s other interagency rotations, and the Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) Interagency Fellowship reported that their programs were effective in contributing to improved collaboration among agencies with national security responsibilities.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal government personnel must be able to collaborate across agencies to meet complex 21st century national security challenges. GAO found in a prior report that interagency rotations are a type of professional development activity that can help improve interagency collaboration. However, government officials, policy researchers, human capital experts, and others cite many challenges to successful rotation programs.

To understand how interagency rotation programs can be designed to address these challenges, GAO was asked to (1) identify desirable collaboration-related program results; (2) identify policies and practices that help rotation programs achieve those results; and (3) determine the extent to which three rotation programs were viewed as effective and incorporated those policies and practices.

To address these objectives, GAO reviewed the literature; reviewed rotation program documents; surveyed program participants and their supervisors; and interviewed human resources experts, agency human resources practitioners, and program officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making recommendations to the Secretaries of State and Defense to direct State and Army Command and General Staff College officials to build on successful efforts by establishing program evaluation processes, among other actions. Officials from both agencies reviewed a draft of this report and generally agreed with our recommendations.

For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202) 512-6806 or mihmj@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, in March 2013, State officials reported that they piloted surveys of all detailees, including those in the POLAD program, and their current supervisors to solicit feedback on their respective experiences. As a result of this pilot, State has refined the surveys to include experiences of the host supervisor and to identify areas of strength and areas for improvement and intends to continue distributing these revised surveys on an ongoing basis.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of the POLAD program as a tool to facilitate interagency collaboration on national security, the Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of Human Resources and the Office of the Coordinator of the Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) Program to expand the scope of current efforts by routinely evaluating the effectiveness of the program to determine if desired results are being achieved for participating individuals and agencies, to identify and build on areas of strength, and to identify areas for improvement.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In September 2014, State officials reported that the Department issued a memorandum dated November 2013 directing all civil service interagency applications and potential rotations to be approved through a central office. This guidance provides a step toward a unified process, however, it does not address how rotational assignments contribute to achieving shared national security goals. Strategic workforce planning that determines current and future positions needed, including how civil service personnel participate, would address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of State's interagency rotations to other government agencies and federal learning institutes as tools to facilitate interagency collaboration on national security, the Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of Human Resources to clarify agency plans for how these assignments will contribute to achieving shared national security goals. For example, State could use strategic workforce planning to determine the current and future positions needed to accomplish its collaboration-dependent goals and that would benefit from interagency rotations. Such plans should also address the extent to which civil service personnel will participate in interagency rotations.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2012, the Department of State developed a briefing for supervisors at other agencies that are to host Foreign Policy Advisors (POLADS), intended to educate host agency supervisors about the POLAD program and clarify roles and responsiblities, among other things. A State official stated that the briefing was developed to better orient host agency supervisors and is in line with leading practices GAO identified.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of State's interagency rotations to other government agencies and federal learning institutes as tools to facilitate interagency collaboration on national security, the Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of Human Resources to work with host agency counterparts to develop orientation materials that would help both participants and host agency supervisors to maximize the benefits from the rotation. Such materials could include, for example, information on the goals of the interagency rotation, the roles and responsibilities of the host agency and the participant, administrative details, and tips and best practices for a successful rotation.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, in March 2013, State officials reported that they piloted surveys of Foreign Service and civil service detailees and their current supervisors to solicit feedback on their respective experiences. As a result of this pilot, State has refined the surveys to include experiences of the host supervisor and to identify areas of strength and areas for improvement and intends to continue distributing these revised surveys on an ongoing basis. In addition, State developed two surveys intended to measure return on investment for Civil Service details by determining the impact that participation has had on facilitating future leadership opportunities, assignments, and new jobs or promotions for those who completed the programs.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of State's interagency rotations to other government agencies and federal learning institutes as tools to facilitate interagency collaboration on national security, the Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of Human Resources to routinely evaluate the effectiveness of the program to determine if desired results are being achieved for participating individuals and agencies, to identify and build on areas of strength, and to identify areas for improvement.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In September 2014, State department officials reported that State does not currently have plans to increase Civil Service participation in interagency rotations. Officials noted that the existing Civil Service developmental program allows personnel to rotate within State to work in an interagency environment, and that the program has been well-received.

    Recommendation: Depending on whether State determines that it will increase civil service participation in other interagency rotations as a means to achieve goals set forth in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of Human Resources to improve incentives for civil service personnel to participate in interagency rotations by providing guidance to supervisors on how to consider interagency experience and collaboration abilities when assessing civil service personnel with national security responsibilities for performance ratings and awards. Guidance could also include suggestions for how to publicly recognize returning participants' interagency experience through presentations, briefings, or other high-profile opportunities.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In September 2014, State department officials reported that State does not currently have plans to increase Civil Service participation in interagency rotations. Officials noted that the existing Civil Service developmental program allows personnel to rotate within State to work in an interagency environment, and that the program has been well-received.

    Recommendation: Further, depending on whether State determines that it will increase civil service participation in other interagency rotations as a means to achieve goals set forth in the QDDR, the Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of Human Resources to improve incentives for supervisors to support civil service personnel's participation in interagency rotations, if such participation would help State meet national security and workforce development goals, by establishing performance expectations that supervisors share human resources, as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In September 2014, State department officials reported that State does not currently have plans to increase Civil Service participation in interagency rotations. Officials noted that the existing Civil Service developmental program allows personnel to rotate within State to work in an interagency environment, and that the program has been well-received.

    Recommendation: Further, depending on whether State determines that it will increase civil service participation in other interagency rotations as a means to achieve goals set forth in the QDDR, the Secretary of State should direct the Bureau of Human Resources to develop guidance for State supervisors of civil servants who are assigned to an interagency rotation on how to ensure that the knowledge, skills, and networks gained during the rotation are used to the extent possible upon their return.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of January 2014, officials from Army Command and General Staff College had taken several steps to implement this recommendation. As one example, in August, 2013, they added language to their Memorandum of Understandings (MOU) with the Office of Management and Budget and Department of State that will require partner agencies to conduct a detailed, in-depth orientation program that highlights the host agency's processes and procedures for their Fellows. They also added language that includes specific requirements for appraisals of all assigned Fellows. For example, the MOU states the Fellow and rater will establish mutually agreed upon goals and objectives and the rater will also be responsible for completing an Officer Evaluation Report at the end of the Fellowship.

    Recommendation: Building on existing Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) requirements, and to improve the effectiveness of the Army's CGSC Interagency Fellowship Program as a tool to facilitate interagency collaboration on national security, the Secretary of Defense should direct Fellowship program officials to work with host agency counterparts to develop orientation materials that would help host supervisors to maximize the benefits from the rotation for both the participant and the host agency. Such materials could include, for example, information on the goals of the interagency rotation, the roles and responsibilities of the host agency and the participant, administrative details, and tips and best practices for a successful rotation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2014, officials from Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) reported a personnel change they had implemented allowing for automatic personnel record tracking of all officers who completed the CGSC Fellowship program. According to officials, those who complete the Fellowship are coded with a unique identifier that can be electronically scanned. That database will be used to send out 3 and 5 year anniversary surveys to the Fellows and their future supervisors to capture the long-term results of participation in the Fellowship. In February 2015, CGSC officials reported to us they developed an exit survey for the Fellowship program. According to officials, the survey is designed to build on areas of strength and to identify areas of improvement for future Fellows. Officials reported they submitted the surveys to the Army Research Institute (ARI) in December, 2014 for approval. However, as of March 2015, the ARI has not yet approved the survey; until they do, the CSGC Fellowship program cannot distribute the survey. Once it is approved and sent out to the Fellows and responses are received and analyzed, they will have some data points to evaluate their program.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of the Army's CGSC Interagency Fellowship Program as a tool to facilitate interagency collaboration on national security, the Secretary of Defense should direct Fellowship program officials to routinely evaluate the effectiveness of the program to determine if desired results are being achieved for participating individuals and agencies, to identify and build on areas of strength, and to identify areas for improvement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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