Executive Brief: GAO Cites Effective Collaboration as a High Risk for the Government


The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) stresses the importance of effective collaboration between agencies and governments. A lack of such collaboration could pose significant complications in addressing the needs of the public and accomplishing strategic goals.

Could an Annual Government-Wide Performance Plan Be the Solution?

Collaboration—across Federal agencies, between governments (both domestic and international), between the Federal Government and contractors, and even in the private sector—is key.

Multiple agencies must be involved in many matters of public policy, such as a national plan for addressing public health concerns (e.g., influenza outbreaks). The GAO suggests an annual Government-wide performance plan could serve as an effective framework for addressing multi-faceted and broad-spectrum concerns affecting multiple agencies. In addition, such a plan could provide greater efficiency by eliminating redundancies.

The Office of Management and Budget Facilitates Inter-Agency Collaboration

In June 2009, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) asked Federal agencies to identify goals, along with the other agencies and departments with which they must collaborate or which could otherwise impact a program’s success. However, the GAO points out that there are a number of central considerations for successful, sustainable collaboration:

  • Cooperation from and among leaders
  • Mutually agreed-upon goals
  • Clearly defined responsibilities at both the agency and individual level
  • Policies and procedures aligned with the program

The Role of the Government Performance and Results Act

Introduced in 1993, the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) offered strategic planning recommendations for Government agencies. It aimed to reduce waste and inefficiency through “holding Federal agencies accountable for achieving programming results,” requiring public progress reporting and shifting the focus to results and customer satisfaction.

Roadblocks to GPRA Implementation

The GAO’s report, GAO-04-38, issued in March of 2004, points out a number of substantial roadblocks preventing the successful implementation of GPRA. These obstacles include:

  • Inconsistent commitment on behalf of agency leadership to results-oriented programming
  • Leadership difficulty setting appropriate results-oriented goals
  • Problems obtaining reliable data on results
  • Successfully inter-linking the various levels of performance measurement and reward systems (i.e., individual, department, agency and program measurements)

In light of these problems, GAO recommended stricter oversight by the OMB, the development of a Government-wide strategic plan, and a requirement that agencies update their strategic plans at least once every four years.

GAO Offers Recommendations for Federal Leadership

In 2008, the GAO’s survey found that while Federal managers do have program performance measures, most failed to use the measures in management decision-making. In light of these findings, the GAO offered a number of recommendations to aid Federal leaders in making better use of performance data, including:

  • Communicate performance information often
  • Demonstrate a commitment to collaboration and performance improvement
  • Ensure that individual, program and agency goals are cohesive
  • Develop a process to analyze performance data

GPRA Modernization Act Addresses Potential Concerns

Just two years after the disappointing survey data from 2008, the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRA Modernization Act) was introduced. The GPRA Modernization Act includes more stringent reporting requirements on behalf of Federal agencies, including reporting to the OMB and making strategic plans publicly available on the agency’s website.

In addition, the update addresses Federal Government performance planning, such as establishment of goals for the fiscal year and identifying the agencies, departments, programs and policies contributing to the attainment of each strategic goal. Reporting, under the GPRA Modernization Act, is now required quarterly instead of annually, allowing for appropriate program modifications to ensure acceptable progress towards goals.

Specifically, the law requires Federal agencies to prepare:

  • Strategic plans including long-term goals and priorities
  • Annual performance plans with detailed measurements on goal achievement
  • Performance reports outlining attainment of goals for the previous year

The overall goal and requirement of the Government is a complete strategic plan to provide a comprehensive look at the Federal Government’s performance as a whole.

Congress Must Make Strategic Changes

The IBM Center for the Business of Government suggests that for the GPRA Modernization Act to be implemented successfully, Congress must make certain changes in the way that it operates. For instance, the law aims to encourage better collaboration between agencies, yet Congress has few similar protocols in place for collaboration between its committees.

Good examples include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), each of which must report to a total of 70 committees and subcommittees. As each committee and subcommittee has its own unique set of goals and priorities, internal communication will become essential for Congress to provide meaningful input to agencies in line with overall strategic goals.

Increased Reporting, GAO Involvement Holds Promise

Under the GPRA Modernization Act, reporting and planning requirements are also far more comprehensive. The following new reporting requirements have been added in light of recommendations from the GAO:

  • Relationships between goals and between other agencies and programs
  • Other activities and programs contributing to strategic advancement
  • Plans for coordination and collaboration
  • Major challenges facing management and program leaders
  • Measures of data accuracy and reliability

The OMB prepares a comprehensive report of the goals agencies failed to meet each year, based on the targets set forth in each agency’s performance plan. The report is issued to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, the House Oversight Committee, the head of each agency included in the report for failing to meet goals, and to the GAO for recommendations on implementation improvements.

The consequences faced by agencies vary depending on how long the goal has remained unmet, up to possible program termination after three years.

The GAO remains critical of the Federal Government’s ability to achieve Government-wide objectives with agencies and departments working in complete isolation from one another. The agency continues to encourage the use of a Government-wide performance plan identifying long-term goals and views that would enable agencies to work cohesively.








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