Agency Priority Goals Need Clarifying, GAO Finds

Obama’s compliance with Performance Act lacks interim measures, according to auditors. Obama’s compliance with Performance Act lacks interim measures, according to auditors. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

The Obama administration’s pursuit of mandatory agency priority goals suffers from a lack of clarity and interim milestones to gauge progress, the Government Accountability Office found.

“GAO’s work has repeatedly shown that federal agencies must coordinate better to achieve common outcomes,” the congressional watchdog said in a report released Friday requested by Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, as well as Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Auditors also pointed to insufficient outreach to external sources by agencies and a need to better factor in congressional requirements.

GAO is required under the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act to monitor agency progress toward the goals, which are coordinated by the Office of Management and Budget.

Drafted in consultation with an interagency working group, the goals include such plans as the Office of Personnel Management’s goal of “increasing access to health insurance” and the Social Security Administration’s goal of “faster hearing decisions” for handling challenges relating to eligibility for benefits.

GAO reviewed 102 agency priority goals from 24 agencies for 2012 to 2013, with a focus on OPM and the departments of Homeland Security; Housing and Urban Development; Transportation; and Veterans Affairs.

OMB guidance, the report said, often did not require agencies to measure progress on a regular schedule, such as quarterly, and generally lacked a procedure for interim milestones and regularly collecting performance data. In addition, auditors found that “agencies did not fully explain the relationship between” agency priority goals and the larger, cross-agency goals established by the administration.”

In commenting on a draft, the agencies generally declared that they would update GAO on progress as information becomes available.

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