Managing for Results:

OMB Should Strengthen Reviews of Cross-Agency Goals

GAO-14-526: Published: Jun 10, 2014. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 2014.

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J. Christopher Mihm
(202) 512-6806
mihmj@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

CAP Goal Progress. The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to coordinate with agencies to: (1) establish outcome-oriented, federal government priority goals (known as cross-agency priority, or CAP, goals) with annual and quarterly performance targets and milestones; and (2) report quarterly on a single website now known as Performance.gov the results achieved for each CAP goal compared to the targets. In February 2012, OMB identified 14 interim CAP goals and subsequently published five quarterly updates on the status of the interim CAP goals on Performance.gov. While updates for eight of the goals included data that indicated performance towards an overall planned level of performance, only three also contained annual or quarterly targets that allowed for an assessment of interim progress. Updates for the other six goals did not report on progress towards a planned level of performance because the goals lacked either a quantitative target or the data needed to track progress. The updates on Performance.gov also listed planned activities and milestones contributing to each goal, but some did not include relevant information, including time frames for the completion of specific actions and the status of ongoing efforts. The incomplete information in the updates provided a limited basis for ensuring accountability for the achievement of targets and milestones.

OMB Quarterly Progress Reviews. GPRAMA also requires that OMB—with the support of the Performance Improvement Council (PIC)—review CAP goal progress quarterly with goal leaders. OMB instituted processes for reviewing progress on the goals each quarter, which involved the collection of data from goal leaders and the development of a memorandum for the OMB Director. However, the information included in these memorandums was not fully consistent with GPRAMA requirements. For example, GPRAMA requires OMB to identify strategies for improving the performance of goals at risk of not being met, but this was not consistently done. Without this information, OMB leadership and others may not be able to adequately track whether corrective actions are being taken, thereby limiting their ability to hold officials accountable for addressing identified risks and improving performance.

Leading Practices for Reviews. At the CAP-goal level, goal leaders for two CAP goals and one sub-goal instituted in-person progress reviews with officials from contributing agencies that were broadly consistent with the full range of leading practices for reviews, such as leadership involvement in reviews of progress on identified goals and milestones, and rigorous follow-up on issues identified through these reviews. In these cases, goal managers reported there were positive effects on performance, accountability, and collaboration. In contrast, review processes used by other goal leaders did not consistently reflect the full range of leading practices. Effective review processes consistently engage leaders and agency officials in efforts to identify and address performance deficiencies, and to ensure accountability for commitments. Thus, not using them may result in missed opportunities to hold meaningful performance discussions, ensure accountability and oversight, and drive performance improvement.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government faces complex, high-risk challenges, such as protecting our nation's critical information systems. Effectively managing these challenges is essential for national and economic security and public health and safety. However, responsibility for addressing these challenges often rests with multiple agencies. To effectively address them, shared goals and cross-agency collaboration are fundamental.

This report responds to GAO's mandate to evaluate the implementation of GPRAMA. It assesses (1) what is known about progress made towards the interim CAP goals; and (2) how, if at all, quarterly progress reviews reflected GPRAMA requirements and leading practices for reviews, as well as how reviews contributed to improved cross-agency performance and collaboration. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed CAP goal status updates and other documents from OMB and CAP goal progress-review meetings, and interviewed OMB staff and CAP goal representatives. GAO compared this information to GPRAMA requirements and to leading practices for performance reviews previously reported on by GAO.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making seven recommendations to OMB to improve the reporting of performance information for CAP goals and ensure that CAP goal progress reviews meet GPRAMA requirements and reflect leading practices. OMB staff generally agreed to consider GAO's 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 early 2015, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) released an updated template for cross-agency priority (CAP) goal quarterly progress updates, and updated guidance. The template and guidance directed CAP goal teams to report consistently on their key indicators, including the target, the frequency of reporting, the latest data, and the overall performance trend. The template and guidance also directed goal teams to report on risks, barriers, or challenges to the achievement of goals and milestones; areas where targets have been missed or progress has been slower than expected; major actions being taken to achieve a goal; and opportunities for performance improvement.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should include the following in the quarterly reviews of CAP goal progress, as required by GPRAMA: a consistent set of information on progress made during the most recent quarter, overall trends, and the likelihood of meeting the planned level of performance; goals at risk of not achieving the planned level of performance; and the strategies being employed to improve performance.

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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, in January 2015, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) released updated guidance that outlines the role of OMB leadership, the PIC, and others in assessing CAP goal progress. The guidance specifies that CAP goal teams must submit quarterly updates to OMB. The guidance specifies that these updates will also be reviewed by the PIC to verify that they are in clear language, include all public-facing milestones and indicators, and meet all GPRA Modernization Act reporting requirements for CAP goals. The guidance also outlines the role that OMB senior leadership plays in reviewing CAP goal progress, including reviewing progress on the implementation of CAP goals every quarter and chairing regular, implementation-focused "deep dive" meetings. Specifically, the guidance states that the OMB Deputy Director for Management will chair deep dive meetings for the management-focused CAP goals approximately 3 times a year while the Deputy Director for Budget will chair deep dive meetings for the mission-focused CAP goals as necessary. Each deep dive meeting is designed to be data-driven and used to bring together CAP goal leaders and their teams to review progress on a particular goal, identify challenges, and agree on potential solutions. For each management-focused CAP goal deep dive meeting, goal teams are expected to share with the PIC, prior to the meeting, their latest action plan, along with a single slide dashboard summarizing progress. The PIC then provides advice and support on materials and preparation for the meeting. Each meeting is designed to result in an agreed list of actions, which OMB staff will track and follow-up.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should work with the PIC to establish and document procedures and criteria to assess CAP goal implementation efforts and the status of goal execution, to ensure that the PIC can conduct these assessments consistently across all goals and over time.

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

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2014, the Office of Management and Budget released updated guidance on the management of cross-agency priority (CAP) goals. This guidance more clearly defined the roles of CAP goal leaders, who will be held accountable for leading implementation efforts, and for running regular performance reviews to drive progress towards achieving the CAP goal. The updated guidance also included information on the purpose of these CAP goal reviews, which should be used to bring teams together to analyze data and experiences, diagnose problems, identify opportunities, and decide on next steps to increase performance and productivity. The new guidance also referred CAP goal leaders to more detailed guidance and leading practices for conducting successful performance reviews.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should develop guidance similar to what exists for agency priority goal and strategic objective reviews, outlining the purposes of CAP goal progress reviews, expectations for how the reviews should be carried out, and the roles and responsibilities of CAP goal leaders, agency officials, and OMB and PIC staff in the review process.

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

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, in early 2015, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) released an updated template for cross-agency priority (CAP) goal quarterly progress updates that added a slide for CAP goal teams to list "Contributing Programs." In January 2015, OMB and the PIC also released updated guidance that specifically directs CAP goal teams to report all agencies, organizations, programs, activities, regulations, tax expenditures, policies, and other activities that contribute to the goal.

    Recommendation: To ensure that OMB and CAP goal leaders include all key contributors and can track and report fully on progress being made towards CAP goals overall and each quarter, the Director of OMB should direct CAP goal leaders to identify all key contributors to the achievement of their goals.

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

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) released an updated template for cross-agency priority (CAP) goal quarterly progress updates, that directs CAP goal teams to list targets for the key indicators that they are using to track progress. January 2015 guidance provided by OMB and the PIC also specifically stated that the GPRA Modernization Act requires that CAP goal teams report on performance against targets. It also states that the quarterly progress updates should identify areas where progress has exceeded expectations or been slower than expected, or where targets for performance measures have been missed.

    Recommendation: To ensure that OMB and CAP goal leaders include all key contributors and can track and report fully on progress being made towards CAP goals overall and each quarter, the Director of OMB should direct CAP goal leaders to identify annual planned levels of performance and quarterly targets for each CAP goal.

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

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: During the development of action plans for the cross-agency priority (CAP) goals established in March 2014, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) provided guidance that emphasized CAP goal teams should seek to select or develop measures of progress for their goals that are relevant, well-defined, timely, reliable, and capable of being influenced by the actions of contributing organizations. In the guidance they also acknowledged that in many cases the development of a useful and robust indicator set can be challenging, and where indicators are still in development they can be presented by goal teams as proposals. To facilitate this, the CAP goal reporting template provided by OMB and the PIC included a specific section for goal teams to include information on indicators or measures of CAP goal progress that are under development. However, neither the template, nor the associated guidance, specifically directs CAP goal teams to develop plans for how they will collect data for indicators that are under development, or the elements these plans should include, such as specific actions that will be taken to collect necessary data and timeframes for completing these actions. While many CAP goal teams have identified potential indicators that are "under development" on Performance.gov, they have not consistently provided information on specific actions that will be taken to collect the data or timeframes. Given the importance of ensuring that CAP goal leaders, OMB, and other contributors can track the progress of actions being taken to develop new indicators, OMB should direct goal leaders to develop plans that outline specific actions that will be taken to collect necessary data and the timeframes within which they should be completed.

    Recommendation: To ensure that OMB and CAP goal leaders include all key contributors and can track and report fully on progress being made towards CAP goals overall and each quarter, the Director of OMB should direct CAP goal leaders to develop plans to identify, collect, and report data necessary to demonstrate progress being made towards each CAP goal or develop an alternative approach for tracking and reporting on progress quarterly.

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

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During the development of action plans for the cross-agency priority (CAP) goals established in March 2014, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Performance Improvement Council provided a template to guide the creation of CAP goal action plans and status updates. Among other things, this template directed CAP goal teams to establish milestones and include information on milestone due dates and status. Virtually all of the CAP goal action plans released on June 26, 2014, included milestone due dates and information on the status of milestones. The template also indicated that goal teams can organize milestones by each identified sub-goal, aligning specific activities with the objectives to which they contribute. Many of the CAP goal action plans released on June 26, 2014, included lists of milestones aligned with specific sub-goals.

    Recommendation: To ensure that OMB and CAP goal leaders include all key contributors and can track and report fully on progress being made towards CAP goals overall and each quarter, the Director of OMB should direct CAP goal leaders to report the time frames for the completion of milestones; the status of milestones; and how milestones are aligned with strategies or initiatives that support the achievement of the goal.

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

 

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