Federal Employees:

Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Performance Management Pilot

GAO-13-755: Published: Sep 12, 2013. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 2013.

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What GAO Found

GAO found that the GEAR framework generally addresses previously identified key practices for effective performance management, such as aligning individual performance expectations with organizational goals, but refinements could improve future government-wide implementation. Five federal agencies are piloting GEAR--the Departments of Energy (DOE), Homeland Security/Coast Guard (DHS/Coast Guard), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs/National Cemetery Administration (VA/NCA), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)--with the intention to expand GEAR government-wide. The Chief Human Capital Officers Council (CHCO Council) is developing a toolkit based, among other things, on the experience of the pilot agencies. The toolkit is intended to help additional agencies implement the GEAR framework; CHCO Council representatives expect the toolkit to be complete by the end of September 2013. However, beyond the toolkit, neither the CHCO Council nor OPM have identified next steps to implement GEAR government-wide, such as identifying roles and responsibilities. Further, neither OPM nor the CHCO Council has plans to regularly update the GEAR framework or toolkit to include additional lessons learned, or to make such information available more broadly to key stakeholders, such as human resource professionals who may be responsible for future implementation. Without taking these steps, agencies that have already begun implementing GEAR risk losing their momentum; in addition, it may be challenging to implement GEAR government-wide.

The five pilot agencies adopted various approaches to implementing GEAR -DOE, HUD, and OPM implemented GEAR agency-wide, while Coast Guard and NCA adopted GEAR in single units - based on agency needs, available resources, and GAO's lessons learned to date. For example, early stakeholder involvement, including engagement between those representing labor and management, resulted in greater transparency and fewer obstacles. In addition, administering employee surveys to identify the greatest needs before implementing GEAR helped establish a baseline to better track results.

Each of the pilot agencies developed a GEAR project plan that outlined specific actions. DOE's GEAR plan was the most thoroughly documented. The other four agency plans did not include all project planning best practices. Without these elements, agencies may be limited in their ability to determine what needs to be done, when it should be done, who should do it, and how to measure progress towards achieving objectives.

Why GAO Did This Study

A longstanding challenge for federal agencies has been developing credible and effective performance management systems that can serve as a strategic tool to drive internal change and achieve results. In 2011, various federal agencies, labor unions, and other organizations developed the Goals-Engagement-Accountability-Results (GEAR) framework to help improve performance management.

GAO was asked to evaluate GEAR. This report (1) analyzes how the GEAR framework addresses key practices for effective performance management and identifies opportunities to improve GEAR implementation government-wide; (2) describes the status of GEAR implementation at pilot agencies and lessons learned to date; and (3) assesses the extent to which each pilot agency's GEAR implementation plan includes selected best practices for project planning. The report is based on GAO's analysis of GEAR documents, agency project plans, and interviews with agency officials.

What GAO Recommends

As GEAR is adopted government-wide, GAO recommends that the Director of OPM, in collaboration with the CHCO Council, define roles and responsibilities for OPM, the CHCO Council, and individual agencies, in such areas as updating the toolkit (as needed) and disseminating information on GEAR more broadly. GAO also recommends that OPM, Coast Guard, HUD, and NCA update their GEAR project plans to be consistent with best practices for project planning. OPM, DHS, HUD, and VA agreed with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Robert Goldenkoff, (202) 512-6806, or goldenkoffr@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since issuing our report, OPM subsumed the Goals-Engagement-Accountability-Results (GEAR) initiative under the current Administration's Cross Agency Priority Goal related to People and Culture, with a particular emphasis on employee engagement as a means to establish goals and drive organizational results. While "GEAR" as a brand no longer exists, OPM has taken action towards meeting the principles outlined in the GEAR framework that address our recommendation. For example, OPM revised the SES onboarding Framework for CHCO agencies, convened a working group of Chief Human Capital Officers to establish next steps on the recommendations in the GEAR report, and is providing agencies with an interactive data tool to share promising practices. As a result, agencies should be better prepared to link individual performance to organizational results and, building on the original GEAR framework, develop a more engaged workforce with more results-oriented cultures.

    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more performance-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort and to ensure that the opportunity GEAR recommendations offer to improve performance management is not lost, the Acting Director of OPM, in collaboration with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, should define roles and responsibilities of OPM, the CHCO Council, and participating federal agencies going forward as the GEAR framework is implemented government-wide. In doing so, OPM, in collaboration with the CHCO Council, could define roles and responsibilities such as supplementing the GEAR report and updating the diagnostic toolkit as needed to reflect additional promising practices and lessons learned (such as those we identified) and guidance on using metrics. This should include considering whether connecting performance expectations to crosscutting goals should be part of the GEAR framework.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since issuing our report, OPM subsumed the Goals-Engagement-Accountability-Results (GEAR) initiative under the current Administration's Cross Agency Priority Goal related to People and Culture, with a particular emphasis on employee engagement as a means to establish goals and drive organizational results. While "GEAR" as a brand no longer exists, OPM has taken action towards meeting the principles outlined in the GEAR framework that address our recommendation. For example, among other actions, OPM created an SES federal coaching network database, developed an online portal of leadership development resources, and gave agencies access to the "Unlock Talent" dashboard as a vehicle for sharing promising practices. As a result, agencies should be better prepared to link individual performance to organizational results and, building on the original GEAR framework, develop a more engaged workforce with more results-oriented cultures.

    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more performance-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort and to ensure that the opportunity GEAR recommendations offer to improve performance management is not lost, the Acting Director of OPM, in collaboration with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, should define roles and responsibilities of OPM, the CHCO Council, and participating federal agencies going forward as the GEAR framework is implemented government-wide. In doing so, OPM, in collaboration with the CHCO Council, could define roles and responsibilities such as disseminating the information contained in the GEAR report and diagnostic toolkit through multiple venues and various government-wide websites, such as OMB Max, to ensure federal managers, supervisors and other stakeholders have access to promising practices and additional guidance on improving performance management.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2014, we reported that Goals-Engagement-Accountability-Results (GEAR) principles developed by the National Council on Labor-Management Relations offered a solid foundation on which to improve employee engagement and achieve stronger organizational results within the federal government. In reviewing the five agencies that volunteered to participate in the GEAR pilot effort, we found that the U.S. Coast Guard's implementation plan included information on objectives, but lacked detail in defining performance measures and schedules that included clearly stated performance targets aligned to the plan's objectives or outlined milestones for making progress. Accordingly, we recommended that the Coast Guard update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to include performance measures that permit comparison between desired outcomes and actual results within defined timeframes. Since issuing our report, the Office of Personnel Management subsumed the GEAR initiative under the current Administration's Cross Agency Priority Goal related to People and Culture, with a particular emphasis on employee engagement as a key element that drives organizational results. While "GEAR" as a brand no longer exists, the Coast Guard has taken action and made progress towards meeting the principles outlined in the GEAR framework that address our recommendation. For example, the Coast Guard has strongly encouraged the use of work plans for new employees, developmental employees, and employees with performance problems to enhance employee engagement, understanding, and clear performance expectations. As a result, the Coast Guard is now better positioned to enhance the performance management process and link individual performance to organizational results.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to include performance measures that permit comparison between desired outcomes and actual results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since issuing our report, the Office of Personnel Management subsumed the Goals-Engagement-Accountability-Results (GEAR) initiative under the current Administration's Cross Agency Priority Goal related to People and Culture, with a particular emphasis on employee engagement as a key element that drives organizational results. While "GEAR" as a brand no longer exists, the Coast Guard has taken action to address our recommendation. For example, the Coast Guard has strongly encouraged the timely use of work plans for new employees, developmental employees, and employees with performance problems to enhance employee engagement, understanding, and clear performance expectations. As a result, the Coast Guard is now better positioned to enhance the performance management process and link individual performance to organizational results.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to include additional information on schedules that are linked to specific actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HUD officials stated that they are committed to a cultural transformation and will ensure continued momentum on the GEAR implementation. HUD updated its GEAR plan to include stakeholders, goals, specific actions, and roles and responsibilities as recommended. In addition, HUD implemented all of the activities in its GEAR implementation plan, save for its award policy which is currently in negotiations with the union.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to include objectives describing the goals the agency plans to achieve.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HUD officials stated that they are committed to a cultural transformation and will ensure continued momentum on the GEAR implementation. HUD updated its GEAR implementation plan to include stakeholders, goals, specific actions, and roles and responsibilities as recommended. In addition, HUD implemented all of the activities in its GEAR implementation plan, save for its award policy which is currently in negotiations with the union.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to identify roles and responsibilities for specific actions and stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NCA's GEAR Plan has been updated to include defined performance measures and performance goals related to both the mission of the organization (i.e., business metrics) as well as the employees who enable NCA to fulfill that mission (i.e., people metrics). The eight business metrics included are among those addressed in NCA's Strategic Plan, which includes: (1) percent of cemetery graves marked within 60 days of interment; (2) percent of cemetery headstone/markers that are clean; (3) percent of cemetery headstone/markers at the proper height and alignment; and (4) percent of client satisfaction survey respondents who rate the national cemeteries' appearance as excellent. These and other metrics are monitored to assess organizational performance. Monitoring these performance measures, in light of the baselines and performance goals established, should enable NCA to track performance over time and assess results. Where appropriate, NCA plans to reset performance targets and measure future performance against the new targets, with an ongoing focus on performance outcomes.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs to update the National Cemetery Administration's GEAR implementation plan to include performance measures that permit comparison between desired outcomes and actual results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NCA's GEAR Plan has been updated to include the GEAR Program Manager, a senior staff member in NCA's Office of Human Capital Management, who is responsible for actions included in the GEAR Implementation Plan and for managing the project's performance. The GEAR Plan also identifies NCA's executives, leaders, and internal partners who have and will continue to play a critical role in performing and/or supporting critical activities addressed in the GEAR Plan. NCA plans to hold these officials accountable for actions included in the GEAR Plan and for managing project performance.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs to update the National Cemetery Administration's GEAR implementation plan to include additional information on roles and responsibilities for specific actions and stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NCA's GEAR Plan has been updated to include a schedule of activities and appropriate linkage between schedules and actions. The GEAR Plan includes: (1) specific actions required; (2) timeframes during which the actions should be completed; (3) target dates for completion of these required activities; and (4) a summary of accomplishments. This action should enhance NCA's ability to effectively identify and resolve problems and foster accountbaility. This update to NCA's GEAR Plan should provide NCA with greater opportunities to monitor and assess progress.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs to update the National Cemetery Administration's GEAR implementation plan to include additional information on schedules that are linked to specific actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has incorporated the Goals-Engagement-Accountability-Results (GEAR) principles into its ongoing agency management and operation, rather than having GEAR continue as a stand-alone initiative. As such, rather than revising and updating separate GEAR implementation plans, OPM incorporated its workforce goals and associated strategies into its recently issued Strategic Plan.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Acting Director of OPM should update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to include objectives describing the goals the agency plans to achieve.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM has incorporated the Goals-Engagement-Accountability-Results (GEAR) principles into its ongoing agency management and operation, rather than having GEAR continue as a stand-alone initiative. As such, rather than revising and updating separate GEAR implementation plans, OPM's recently issued Strategic Plan and Congressional Budget Justification for fiscal year 2015 specifically address actions and roles and responsibilities.

    Recommendation: To improve agencies' GEAR implementation plans, the Acting Director of OPM should update the agency's GEAR implementation plan to identify roles and responsibilities for specific actions and stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

 

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