Are agencies meeting cross-agency goals? OMB reviews make it hard to tell

Wednesday - 6/11/2014, 10:41am EDT

The Office of Management and Budget's assessment of cross-agency priority (CAP) goals could use improvement, according to a Government Accountability Office report published Tuesday.

Under the GRPA Modernization Act of 2010, OMB coordinates with other agencies to develop CAP goals, with specified quarterly and annual targets. OMB then reviews agencies' progress on a quarterly basis and reports it on Performance.gov.

GAO found many of the reviews lacked relevant information, such as time frames for particular goals and the status of ongoing efforts.

For example, OMB's review of a CAP goal focused on exports included quarterly data on the total amount of U.S. exports, but it did not include the target performance levels for the quarter. The lack of target levels made it "unclear whether the goal's overall planned level of performance of doubling U.S. exports by the end of 2014 is on track to be met," the report said.

Of the 14 CAP goal reviews that GAO studied, six of the reviews did not have the quantitative data necessary to measure progress.

"Without this information, OMB leadership and others may not be able to adequately track whether corrective actions are being taken, thereby limiting their ability to hold officials accountable for addressing identified risks and improving performance," the report said.

Only three CAP goals — cybersecurity, energy efficiency and strategic sourcing — included quarterly targets "that allowed for an assessment of interim progress," the report said.

OMB's reviews are not solely to blame, as many CAP goals themselves lack quantitative targets, GAO found.

The entrepreneurship and small-business CAP goal did not have a quantitative performance target, but rather 10 sub-goals. These goals, however, also lacked quantitative targets.

"Some of the sub-goals did not have quantitative targets by design, as goal managers thought it more appropriate to use qualitative milestones to track progress towards them," GAO said in the report.

OMB said it gave goal leaders flexibility in their approaches, because it wanted to encourage agencies to take ownership of the goals.

"Collaboration across agencies is fundamental to effectively addressing many complex, high-risk challenges facing the federal government, including protecting the nation's critical information systems, reducing billions of dollars lost through improper payments and better managing the risks of climate change," the report said.

In the fiscal 2015 budget, OMB included 15 CAP goals, seven of which are mission-oriented and eight, which are management-focused.

GAO recommended that OMB work with the Performance Improvement Council to establish specific guidance and criteria for assessing CAP goals, including quarterly performance targets for each goal.

GAO also recommended that reviews include time frames to complete milestones, along with how those milestones support the goal.

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