Over the past 20 years, the federal government has accomplished “little change” in increasing management’s use of data in decision-making, according to a Sept. 5 Government Accountability Office Report.
“Agencies' reported use of performance information to make decisions, and leading practices that can promote such use, generally has not improved since GAO's last survey of federal managers in 2013. However, GAO's survey results continue to point to certain practices that could help agencies improve managers' use of performance information,” the report said.
GAO compared surveys taken in 2013 and 2017 of federal managers across 24 agencies designated in the Chief Financial Officer Act and found that little had changed between the two surveys in the use of data to improve management.
On a scale of one to five, managers were asked to what extent they and others at their agency used performance data to make various decisions.
The governmentwide score for 2017 was 3.39, nearly identical to the 2013 score of 3.41, which hardly changed from the score found in the 2007 survey.
The National Science Foundation, General Services Administration, Agency for International Development and NASA all scored significantly higher than the government average in data-driven management, while Homeland Security and Transportation scored significantly lower.
According to the report, agencies that received higher scores for performance data use were also more likely to be subject to data-driven reviews of their programs.
The Trump administration has recently made efforts to increase the use of performance data in agency management decisions, through prioritization in the President’s Management Agenda and the government reorganization plan.
The GAO report acknowledged these efforts but added that “the Office of Management and Budget and others responsible for this goal have yet to fully develop action plans to hold agencies accountable for achieving it.”
The Performance Improvement Council, which is chaired by OMB, has also created a working group on data-driven performance, but the report noted that the group has yet to identify and share best practices with agencies.
“As part of those initiatives, our survey results could provide a useful guide for targeting efforts. Officials at each agency could use these results to identify areas for additional analysis and potential actions that could help improve the use of performance information across the agency and at lower levels,” the report said.
GAO recommended that the director of OMB instruct the leaders of the PMA’s data-centered Cross Agency Priority Goal to ensure future updates to the action plan, and the resulting federal data strategy, provide additional details on improving the use of data more extensively within federal agencies.
In addition, the director of OMB was recommended to prioritize efforts that identify and disseminate best practices for performance data use to federal agencies.
OMB told GAO that it had no comment on the survey results and would assess the recommendations to consider how best to respond.
Jessie Bur covers the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees.