Managing for Results:

Leading Practices Should Guide the Continued Development of Performance.gov

GAO-13-517: Published: Jun 6, 2013. Publicly Released: Jun 6, 2013.

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What GAO Found

The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires Performance.gov to provide program and performance information accessible to the public and members and committees of Congress. GAO used leading practices from HowTo.gov, a key source of guidance for federal website development and management, to assess the website and found that although Performance.gov incorporates some leading practices, opportunities exist to further incorporate them through continued development. For example, consistent with leading practices, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), working with the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Performance Improvement Council (PIC), provided information about the purposes and audiences for the website, but they have made limited efforts to clarify how audiences can use the information provided. If the specific uses of Performance.gov are not clarified, while taking into consideration what the law requires, it could lead to varying ideas and expectations for how Performance.gov should be developed.

Leading practices also recommend that developers engage potential users through focus groups and other outreach and regularly conduct usability tests to gather insight into areas such as navigation and the organization of website content. Efforts to collect input and feedback from potential audiences of Performance.gov, however, have been limited to the collection of suggestions through the website's "Feedback" page and briefings for selected audiences. Similarly, OMB has not yet conducted any usability tests of the website, although staff said that usability testing is being planned for September 2013. Without this information, the needs of the audiences and how they are using or want to use the website cannot guide further improvements.

In addition, leading practices recommend that agencies collect, analyze, and report on a baseline set of performance, customer satisfaction, and other metrics. Of the 24 recommended metrics, 15 are currently tracked for Performance.gov. Leading practices also recommend setting goals for metrics and making sure these align with the website's objectives to help prioritize and guide design changes. These goals can be identified based on prevailing practices or the desire to improve a particular metric over time. Except for the area of customer satisfaction, OMB has not established performance metric goals, which may make it more difficult to analyze the effectiveness of the website.

OMB staff stated that, thus far, the specific legal requirements of GPRAMA have been the primary framework used to guide efforts to develop Performance.gov. They said they have been focused on compliance with these requirements by providing information on agency and cross-agency priority goals and by establishing a phased development plan for integrating additional information from agency strategic plans, performance plans, and performance reports. OMB and GSA staff members said, however, that the leading practices provided by HowTo.gov will help guide the development of Performance.gov. They also noted that as the phased development of Performance.gov unfolds, they expect to use broader outreach to a wider audience, including members of the public, to make Performance.gov more "public-facing" and "citizen-centric."

Why GAO Did This Study

Congress took steps to improve federal performance reporting through GPRAMA by requiring that OMB provide performance information via a publicly-available central website, Performance.gov. GAO is mandated to review GPRAMA's implementation at several junctures; this report is part of a series doing so. The report examines the extent to which Performance.gov incorporates leading practices for the development of federal websites. To address this objective, GAO compared the design of Performance.gov to GSA's Top 10 Best Practices for federal websites on HowTo.gov; reviewed performance reporting literature and OMB guidance; collected information from 13 national, state, and local performance reporting website practitioners; and interviewed federal and nonfederal groups most likely to use the information on the website because of their management, oversight, advocacy, or academic interests. These groups included officials from five selected agencies, staff from 13 U.S. Senate and House of Representatives congressional committees, and representatives from 10 transparency organizations and academic institutions.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that OMB should work with GSA and the PIC to (1) clarify specific ways that intended audiences could use Performance.gov and specify changes to support these uses; (2) systematically collect information on the needs of intended audiences; and (3) collect recommended performance metrics and, as appropriate, create goals for those metrics. OMB staff agreed with these recommendations.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has taken some steps to address this recommendation, but additional actions are needed, based on information provided by OMB staff in August 2015. The General Services Administration, on behalf of OMB, conducted usability testing on Performance.gov in September 2013 and found that users were unclear about the purpose of Performance.gov, its intended audiences, and what users can do on the website. OMB staff said that improving the usability of Performance.gov, and the quality of the content available through it, remains a priority. However, OMB has not yet clarified the ways that intended audiences can use the information on the website to accomplish specific tasks, or specified design changes that would be required to facilitate that use. We will continue to monitor progress.

    Recommendation: To enhance the value of Performance.gov for intended audiences and improve the ability to identify and prioritize potential improvements, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget--working with the Performance Improvement Council and the General Services Administration--should clarify the ways that intended audiences could use the information on the Performance.gov website to accomplish specific tasks and specify the design changes that would be required to facilitate that use.

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

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has taken some steps to address this recommendation, but additional actions are needed, based on information provided by OMB and Performance Improvement Council (PIC) staff in June and August 2015. According to PIC staff in June 2015, the main focus of development has been to make improvements to the internal portal used by agencies to submit information to be released on Performance.gov. While some relevant steps have been taken to collect information on the publicly-facing portion of Performance.gov, such as conducting usability testing on the website in September 2013 and creating an online survey to collect feedback, OMB and the PIC provided no information on other efforts to systematically collect information on the needs or preferences of a broader collection of audiences of the website, including congressional committees. In August 2015, OMB and PIC staff stated that they are re-competing the contract for Performance.gov, which could be used as an opportunity to address issues raised in the 2013 usability study, including the lack of clarity about the purposes, audiences, and potential uses of the site. We will continue to monitor progress.

    Recommendation: To enhance the value of Performance.gov for intended audiences and improve the ability to identify and prioritize potential improvements, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget--working with the Performance Improvement Council and the General Services Administration--should seek to more systematically collect information on the needs of a broader audience, including through the use of customer satisfaction surveys and other approaches recommended by HowTo.gov.

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

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: According to information provided by staff from the Office of Management and Budget and the Performance Improvement Council in August 2015, they are developing additional metrics for Performance.gov. However, they have not provided any time frames for finalizing these metrics. We will continue to monitor progress.

    Recommendation: To enhance the value of Performance.gov for intended audiences and improve the ability to identify and prioritize potential improvements, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget--working with the Performance Improvement Council and the General Services Administration--should seek to ensure that all performance, search, and customer satisfaction metrics, consistent with leading practices outlined in HowTo.gov, are tracked for the website, and, where appropriate, create goals for those metrics to help identify and prioritize potential improvements to Performance.gov.

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

 

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