National Mediation Board:

Strengthening Planning and Controls Could Better Facilitate Rail and Air Labor Relations

GAO-14-5: Published: Dec 3, 2013. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 2013.

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Revae E. Moran
(202) 512-7215
moranr@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The National Mediation Board (NMB) recently updated its strategic plan but is not meeting some federal strategic planning and performance measurement requirements. NMB missed deadlines for updating its strategic plan and lacks performance measures to assess its progress in meeting its goals, even though an agency's strategic plan should form the basis for everything an agency does.

NMB also lacks some controls in key management areas that could risk its resources and its success:

Financial accountability: NMB contracts for annual financial statement audits and internal control reviews. However, it lacks a formal process for addressing identified deficiencies, a key internal control.

Information technology: NMB recently transitioned to new information technology systems but is missing key management and security controls, including an information security program that fully implements federal requirements.

Human capital: NMB has taken steps to improve its human capital program but improvements are still needed. Although all NMB senior managers are eligible for retirement, NMB has not engaged in formal workforce planning to identify gaps in staff skills, and strategies, such as training, to address them.

Procurement: NMB has established some key procurement policies and controls but weaknesses remain. For example, in a recent purchase of tablet computers for some staff, NMB did not follow its own procedures to assess the need for the devices or solicit competition.

Other management issues: NMB does not have an Inspector General (IG), and oversight by other federal agencies is limited. NMB also has a significant number of pending rail arbitration cases, and it lacks complete data on the types of cases filed to help it address the backlog and the costs.

NMB has adapted to challenges presented by large union elections resulting from airline mergers and has implemented improvements such as online voting. In 2010, NMB changed its rules for determining a majority in union elections. While this process caused disagreement among some stakeholders, NMB data suggest that the percentage of elections in which a union was certified has, thus far, remained relatively constant in the years before and after the rule change.

Why GAO Did This Study

A small federal agency, NMB facilitates labor relations in two key transportation sectors--railroads and airlines-- through mediation and arbitration of labor disputes and overseeing union elections. Established under the Railway Labor Act, NMB's primary responsibility is to prevent work stoppages in these critical industries. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 required GAO to evaluate NMB programs and activities. GAO examined NMB's (1) strategic planning and performance measurement practices; (2) controls for key management areas; and (3) challenges, if any, in overseeing elections. GAO assessed NMB's management practices using internal control standards and other GAO criteria; interviewed NMB officials, current and former board members, and key stakeholders from rail and air labor and management groups; and reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and NMB policies.

What GAO Recommends

Congress should consider authorizing an appropriate federal agency's IG to provide oversight of NMB. NMB should implement a formal strategic planning process and develop performance goals and measures to meet federal requirements, develop a process to address audit findings, implement key components of an information security and privacy program, and engage in strategic workforce planning. NMB should also collect and analyze data on the types of rail grievances filed to help improve efficiency in its arbitration process. In commenting on a draft of this report, NMB said it would address our recommendations and described actions it plans to take.

For more information, contact Revae Moran at (202) 512-7215, or moranr@gao.gov.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing in April 2014 to (1) review the processes and mechanisms by which small agencies and other federal entities without statutory inspectors general receive oversight, and (2) examine potential legislative actions to improve the oversight of small agencies. In advance of the hearing, the committee circulated draft legislation that would, among other things, assign the Inspector General of the National Labor Relations Board the responsibility of providing oversight of the National Mediation Board. However, this legislation has not yet been formally introduced.

    Matter: To provide for independent audit and investigative oversight of NMB, Congress should consider authorizing an appropriate federal agency's Office of Inspector General to provide such oversight.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The National Mediation Board published its 2014-2019 strategic plan in January 2014. According to NMB officials, the new strategic plan incorporates input from labor and management in the airlines and railroads, and the strategic planning process included review and development of priorities with the input of each NMB office. NMB officials stated that congressional committees were asked to review and comment on the draft strategic plan, and feedback from Congress and the parties were fully considered. NMB officials also noted that the strategic planning process includes yearly review of the plan's elements. NMB's Deputy Chief of Staff is now responsible for monitoring compliance with the strategic plan and developing updates to the plan. Pursuant to the mandate in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, GAO is planning to biennially evaluate NMB's programs and management practices and will review these and additional steps the agency has taken or plans to take to address this recommendation. This report is expected to be issued in February 2016.

    Recommendation: In order to improve NMB's planning and make the most effective use of its limited resources, the Chairman of the National Mediation Board should develop a formal strategic planning process to fully implement key required elements of strategic planning, including a formal process to obtain congressional and stakeholder input.

    Agency Affected: National Mediation Board

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: The National Mediation Board published its new 2014-2019 strategic plan in January 2014. According to NMB officials, the new strategic plan includes performance goals and measures appropriate to the nature of the work done with parties in the airline and railroad industries, and in accordance with requirements of the Railway Labor Act. NMB officials also noted that, as part of the Deputy Chief of Staff's regular review of the plan and its elements, the performance goals and measures will be evaluated for appropriateness and compliance. Pursuant to the mandate in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, GAO is planning to biennially evaluate NMB's programs and management practices and will review these and additional steps the agency has taken or plans to take to address this recommendation. This report is expected to be issued in February 2016.

    Recommendation: In order to improve NMB's planning and make the most effective use of its limited resources, the Chairman of the National Mediation Board should develop, and include in its performance plan, performance goals and measures that contain required elements to demonstrate results.

    Agency Affected: National Mediation Board

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The National Mediation Board developed a draft audit standard operating procedure to establish uniform procedures pertaining to the preparation for, the performance of, and the report of financial audits. However, this standard operating procedure only includes methods and procedural steps related to financial statement audits. The draft standard operating procedure does not include methods or steps for the prompt resolution of findings and recommendations resulting from other types of reviews, such as internal control reviews. Pursuant to the mandate in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, GAO is planning to biennially evaluate NMB's programs and management practices and will review these and additional steps the agency has taken or plans to take to address this recommendation. This report is expected to be issued in February 2016.

    Recommendation: In order to improve NMB's planning and make the most effective use of its limited resources, the Chairman of the National Mediation Board should develop and implement a formal mechanism to ensure the prompt resolution of findings and recommendations by independent auditors, including clearly assigning responsibility for this follow-up to agency management.

    Agency Affected: National Mediation Board

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: The National Mediation Board reported that it has conducted a Security Assessment, and has an initial Information Security Plan and Plan of Actions and Milestones (POAM). Its next step is to hire a third party auditor to assist the agency with evaluating and enhancing its POAMs. Pursuant to the mandate in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, GAO is planning to biennially evaluate NMB's programs and management practices and will review these and additional steps the agency has taken or plans to take to address this recommendation. This report is expected to be issued in February 2016.

    Recommendation: In order to improve NMB's planning and make the most effective use of its limited resources, the Chairman of the National Mediation Board should develop and fully implement key components of an information security program in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002.

    Agency Affected: National Mediation Board

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: The National Mediation Board reported that its system contains no personal identifying information (PII) outside of what might be stored in a filed document or attached to an email. NMB has a plan of action and milestone which notes that a formal privacy assessment is to be done and the Board believes that no privacy notice is required for its system. NMB also stated that a privacy assessment will be performed for the non-NMB systems which contains NMB PII, and if necessary, system of record notices will be issued for the systems. Pursuant to the mandate in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, GAO is planning to biennially evaluate NMB's programs and management practices and will review these and additional steps the agency has taken or plans to take to address this recommendation. This report is expected to be issued in February 2016.

    Recommendation: In order to improve NMB's planning and make the most effective use of its limited resources, the Chairman of the National Mediation Board should establish a privacy program that includes conducting privacy impact assessments and issuing system of record notices for systems that contain personally identifiable information.

    Agency Affected: National Mediation Board

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: The National Mediation Board developed a workforce succession plan, effective October 2014. According to NMB officials, the workforce plan was reviewed by agency managers and Board members. The plan identifies critical skills and competencies needed for senior managers, supervisors, professional staff, support staff, and contractors. The plan also addresses the risk of vacancies for each position within the agency and identifies potential sources for replacing staff from within or outside of the agency. The plan also identifies some human capital strategies, including training plans for each office within the agency and individual development plans for each office. However, the plan does not identify whether there are any gaps in competencies or skills needed to achieve current and future programmatic results, a key practice for effective workforce planning. In addition, the plan does not establish measurable goals or objectives related to workforce planning or a process for evaluating the plan. Pursuant to the mandate in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, GAO is planning to biennially evaluate NMB's programs and management practices and will review these and additional steps the agency has taken or plans to take to address this recommendation. This report is expected to be issued in February 2016.

    Recommendation: In order to improve NMB's planning and make the most effective use of its limited resources, the Chairman of the National Mediation Board should develop a strategic workforce plan that (1) involves input from top management, employees, and other stakeholders; (2) identifies critical skills and competencies needed by NMB; (3) identifies strategies, such as training, to address any gaps; and (4) provides for cost-effective evaluations of these strategic workforce planning efforts. This plan should also address succession for the significant proportion of NMB staff and senior managers who are eligible to retire in the next few years.

    Agency Affected: National Mediation Board

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: NMB reported that the agency is now keeping and tracking its caseload by the types of grievances filed. In addition, NMB reported undertaking a comprehensive review of the number of union employees at each carrier, which will allow the agency to analyze grievance activity and provide that information publicly on its website. With regard to establishing fees to improve efficiency in the arbitration process, NMB officials reported that it currently has no plans to impose fees. Pursuant to the mandate in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, GAO is planning to biennially evaluate NMB's programs and management practices and will review these and additional steps the agency has taken or plans to take to address this recommendation. This report is expected to be issued in February 2016.

    Recommendation: In order to improve NMB's planning and make the most effective use of its limited resources and to better inform its decisions about managing the rail grievance arbitration process, including addressing the backlog of cases, NMB should collect and analyze data on the types of grievances filed, and their disposition. NMB should use these data to improve the efficiency of the arbitration process and consider, as part of this effort, whether to establish fees for arbitration services. If NMB determines that the establishment of fees would improve the efficiency of the arbitration process, it should impose such fees or seek legislative authority to do so, as necessary.

    Agency Affected: National Mediation Board

 

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