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It’s Still Hard to Find Good Agency Performance Data in One Place

GAO calls for greater transparency on methods for gauging progress.

Six major agencies have fallen short in publishing accessible and defensible performance data on their efforts to meet the Obama administration’s agency priority goals, a watchdog found.

Too often Congress and the general public have to search multiple places for the data on, the Government Accountability Office said in a Sept. 10 report.

Under the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, agencies are required to publicly report performance information on agency priority goals in their annual performance plans. More recently, the Office of Management and Budget has directed that agencies ensure the accuracy and reliability of the means for measuring progress toward such goals as reducing the number of food-borne Salmonella illnesses or reforming the Pentagon’s weapons acquisition process.

“Insufficient progress has been made,” GAO wrote after a reviewing a sample of 23 goals by six agencies in 2014 and 2015. The agencies were the Defense, Agriculture, Interior, Labor and Homeland Security departments, along with NASA. An “overall lack of transparency means that members of Congress, citizens, journalists, and researchers seeking information about agency performance related to priority goals have to search in multiple places, and often end up finding no explanation of the quality of performance information for APGs,” the report said.

The 2010 law requires that the agencies explain how the performance information was verified and validated, its sources, the level of accuracy required for intended use, limits to the methods of obtaining the data and ways to compensate for shortcomings.

OMB and the cross-agency Performance Improvement Council established a Data Quality Cross-Agency Working Group in February 2015, which is addressing the problem, auditors noted.

GAO recommended that the six agencies work with OMB to describe on how they are ensuring the quality of their priority goal performance information, and that all agencies add this information to their annual performance plans and reports.

The Homeland Security Department, auditors noted, is the only agency already providing such descriptions, a fact that DHS celebrated in its response letter, adding that its efforts have also been recognized by the Association of Government Accountants.

All the agencies generally concurred with the recommendations. OMB did not offer comments.

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