Education Department gets low marks on performance report

While the Education Department strove to meet six goals during fiscal 2000, it was hard to assess its success, if any, because its performance report was incomplete, according to the General Accounting Office. In fact, in its report "Department of Education: Status of Achieving Key Outcomes and Addressing Major Management Challenges" (GAO-01-827), GAO recommended that Education meet with its congressional oversight committees to discuss its lack of information about its performance. Although the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act requires agencies to have strategic plans and prepare annual performance plans and reports, Education issued only an interim performance report in April 2001. According to GAO, that piecemeal report did not include information for many of its goals, did not discuss why goals were not met and listed no strategies for achieving its goals. GAO found the same dearth of information in Education's fiscal 1999 performance report. "In general, given the lack of performance data, explanations and strategies to meet unmet goals in the future, it was difficult to assess the progress," the report said. The outcomes Education had hoped to accomplish in fiscal 2000 included:
  • Ensuring that all students achieved challenging academic standards that would prepare them for responsible citizenship, further learning and productive employment.
  • Making sure that all children received a solid foundation for learning.
  • Providing greater public school choice.
  • Ensuring that schools were safe, disciplined and drug-free.
  • Reducing fraud, waste and mismanagement in the Student Financial Assistance program, which has languished on GAO's governmentwide high-risk list for 10 years.
  • Enabling all students to have access to high-quality postsecondary education and lifelong learning.

Of those six goals, GAO only identified one area where Education at least partially met the goal--school choice. GAO also criticized Education for not having a 2002 performance plan in place. "We could not assess planned progress given the lack of a performance plan," the report said. However, GAO did praise Education for adding a section addressing some the government's major management challenges such as information technology and financial management. In a written response to GAO's findings, Deputy Secretary William Hansen said department officials agreed with the report. "We must ensure that these documents serve as meaningful tools to better manage the department and manage results," Hansen said. "Within this context, I think you will agree that delaying any discussion of future strategies in our interim report was a responsible course of action." Still, GAO recommended that Education officials meet with Congress and discuss how the department can be more responsive in fulfilling its annual reporting requirements. Education should also develop performance goals and measures for improving the Student Financial Assistance program and to address human capital management, GAO said. Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., asked GAO to assess the largest federal agencies' fiscal 2000 performance reports and determine how well agencies were achieving their key goals. According to Thompson, this second round of performance reports still does not provide an adequate picture of agencies' performance.

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