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 was not 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: In April 2016, NMB indicated that it had reviewed strategic planning material from GAO and OMB, and would produce a formal planning process to guide future strategic plan development. It anticipated that the formal planning guide would be in place by the end of fiscal year 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: In April 2016, NMB indicated it had been in contact with other federal labor agencies (Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and Federal Labor Relations Authority) to discuss measurable performance goals that may be adapted to NMB?s mission areas. It also indicated that it would review OPM guidance when developing updated performance goals. It anticipated that new performance metrics would be included in the fiscal year 2017 strategic plan update.

    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: In April 2016, NMB indicated it would develop standard procedures to address all program audits. It anticipated that the new updated and new procedures would be in place before the next round of program audits in fiscal year 2017.

    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: In April 2016, NMB indicated that it was reviewing the security certificates of the agencies with which it contacts for services and working with them to determine how to review their security audits in an efficient manner.

    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: In April 2016, NMB indicated it is conducting a review of its record management program to assess the status of agency records and documents held in its cloud-based records management program. It indicated that this review would be completed before the end of fiscal year 2016 and would be used to assess any impact on privacy and issue any appropriate notices.

    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: In April 2016, NMB indicated that it would develop a formal process to elicit stakeholder input as it updates the current strategic workforce plan.

    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: In April 2016, NMB indicated that data on rail grievance arbitration cases are being collected and that it anticipated presenting analysis of those data in the agency?s fiscal year 2016 annual report.

    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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