GAO: Agencies Not Making Progress on Using Performance Data

GAO government accountability office

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finds that Federal agencies have not made progress on using performance information to make decisions since GAO’s last survey in 2013.

The report, triggered by poor results on a September 2017 survey of Federal managers, found that on a scale of 1 to 5, the Federal government as a whole averaged a score of 3.39, with agency scores ranging from 3 to 3.7. However, only one agency significantly improved on its score from 2013, and two agencies significantly declined in their scores.

The report highlights the Agency for International Development (USAID), the General Services Administration (GSA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) as agencies that are embracing proven practices for using performance information, while pointing to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Transportation (DoT) as agencies where “results suggest challenges related to the use of performance information.”

The report takes note of the White House’s recent efforts to improve the use of performance information, including the President’s Management Agenda and the government-wide reform plan issued earlier this year. “GAO’s survey results continue to point to certain practices that could help agencies improve managers’ use of performance information,” the report notes. Data driven reviews were among the best practices suggested by GAO, as the 35 percent of managers who were familiar with data driven reviews had higher index scores.

GAO finds that senior leaders are more likely to use performance data in their reviews and in assessing progress towards agency goals, partly because of the guidance that OMB developed for the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA). “Our survey results suggest that limited actions have been taken to diffuse processes and practices related to the use of performance information to lower levels within federal agencies,” the report states.

The report also finds that the cross-agency priority (CAP) goal developed by OMB for using performance data has a limited action plan. “The existing action plan, released in March 2018 and updated in June 2018, does not yet include specific steps needed to improve the use of data—including performance information—more extensively within agencies,” writes GAO. The agency notes that the action plan does not include complete information for GPRAMA requirements.

GAO recommended that OMB work to “report on actions that CAP goal teams are taking, or plan to take, to develop such targets and performance measures” alongside the Performance Improvement Council (PIC), which is made up of performance improvement officers from 24 agencies dedicated with assisting OMB on the use of performance data. GAO recommended that OMB “prioritize efforts to identify and share among agencies proven practices for increasing, and challenges that hamper, the use of performance information in decision making more extensively within agencies.” The report highlights further opportunities for PIC involvement, including information sharing from high-performing agencies.

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