Agencies' performance plans get mixed reviews

By Katy Saldarini

August 3, 2000

ksaldarini@govexec.com

In their third year of preparing annual performance plans, most federal agencies have yet to establish plans that link all of their performance measures to strategic goals, according to a new series of General Accounting Office reports.

GAO this year took on the task of evaluating the 24 major agencies' performance plans at the request of Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. The fiscal 2001 performance plans lay out agencies' goals for next year. The senators received GAO's feedback in late June, but the reports were not released to the public until this week.

Under the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, agencies must prepare annual performance plans. Two years ago, a massive grading effort spearheaded by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, resulted in failing grades for most agencies.

This time around, GAO had mixed responses to the reports, concluding that many agencies do a good job of setting goals and measures for some, but not all, of their management challenges. For example, GAO applauded the Agriculture Department for clearly spelling out how it plans to reduce farm loan delinquencies, but noted that the agency did not mention how it plans to address the information technology challenges associated with its service center modernization project.

GAO also found that some agencies are using the information they turn in to Congress each year to improve their goals and plans. The Veterans Affairs Department, for example, overhauled its performance plan for 2001 to make its goals more realistic. Since the agency missed its 1999 goal of processing veterans' benefits claims in 99 days by about 65 days on average, the 2001 plan contains a more realistic goal of 142 days.

On the other hand, GAO's analysis turned up many weaknesses in agencies' plans. The General Services Administration was chastised for failing to adequately address security issues with federal buildings. GSA replaced a 1999 goal that used cost measurements of security services with one that measures customer satisfaction.

GAO's report on GSA said the agency needs to develop better security goals and measures quickly, "in light of the recent problems GSA has had with its security program and the potentially hostile environment in which we live," GAO said.

GAO officials wouldn't comment on how the 2001 plans compare to previous years, but are planning to release a report summarizing their findings later this year. The Governmental Affairs Committee is also analyzing the reports and plans to release a summary of their findings at a later date.

Below is a look at some of the comments GAO made about the 24 largest federal agencies' reports.

GAO's Evaluations of Agencies' Fiscal 2001 Performance Plans

Agency and Report (in PDF format) Comments from GAO
Agency for International Development
Full report
Some improvement over previous years, but goals are still too broad.
Agriculture
Full report
Contains applicable goals and measures for some, but not all management challenges. Doesn't address IT challenges for service center modernization.
Commerce
Full report
Although most of the management challenges did not have specific goals and measures, Commerce has made some progress toward addressing them.
Defense
Full report
Lacking in qualitative and quantitative information. No mention of erroneous payments to contractors.
Education
Full report
Does not include goals or measures related to the student financial assistance program, which is on GAO's high-risk list. Plan also does not address capital assets, management systems and human capital.
Energy
Full report
Direct measures only included for six of nine major management challenges.
Environmental Protection Agency
Full report
Addresses 3 of 11 major management challenges comprehensively. Some strategies to improve the remaining 8 challenges are included in a special analysis section.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Full report
Goals and measures for 10 of FEMA's 12 major management challenges were addressed in the plan.
General Services Administration
Full report
Federal building security measures not adequately addressed. Does not respond to major management challenges effectively.
Health and Human Services
Full report
New performance measures related to helping disadvantaged families are helpful, but lack of adequate data on child support enforcement still a problem.
Housing and Urban Development
Full report
Major management challenges addressed indirectly, but includes a separate section on progress towards meeting those challenges.
Interior
Full report
Includes a new goal to resolve most GAO and Inspector General recommendations in a timely manner. The agency's Mineral Management Service did not clearly define its terms, thus making the plan difficult to assess.
Justice
Full report
Addresses most management challenges, but leaves out internal control weaknesses at the Drug Enforcement Administration and problems with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Labor
Full report
Discussion of major management challenges is limited in scope. Goals address broad, but not specific concerns.
NASA
Full report
Information technology strategies and dollars are not clearly linked to goals. GAO expressed concerns about how NASA plans to use performance indicators.
National Science Foundation
Full report
Criteria for success is too general, performance information isn't reliable, doesn't address 8 of 10 major management challenges effectively.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Full report
Performance goals and measures do not address specific management challenges.
Office of Personnel Management
Full report
Revised format is an improvement over past plans, but there continues to be a lack of connection between actions and outcomes.
Small Business Administration
Full report
Some 2000 weaknesses were addressed, but focus is on measures of output rather than outcome.
Social Security Administration
Full report
Does a better job of measuring customer service related goals. Goals for five of nine management challenges are targeted, but measurement could be improved.
State
Full report
Contains more detail than previous years, but significant problems not addressed, such as data limitations and ability to coordinate with many bureaus.
Transportation
Full report
Addressed most major management challenges. Some challenges addressed only indirectly.
Treasury
Full report
New section discusses agency's 21 management challenges. Only three challenges did not have associated goals or measures.
Veterans Affairs
Full report
Revised goals are more realistic than in the past. Goals are objective, measurable, and quantifiable.

Source: General Accounting Office

By Katy Saldarini

August 3, 2000

http://www.govexec.com/management/2000/08/agencies-performance-plans-get-mixed-reviews/6904/