GAO: Public Relations Spending: Selected Agencies' Activities Supported by Contracts and Public Affairs Staff
The federal government spends $1.5 billion a year for what is generally called "public relations." How is that money spent?
At the four agencies GAO reviewed—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, FEMA, NASA, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services—most public relations spending focused on educating the public about their specific tools, resources, and programs.
For example, CFPB used contracts to raise awareness of its tools to educate and empower consumers to make better financial decisions, and FEMA's contracts and public affairs staff focused on promoting emergency preparedness. Report.
GAO: Federal Programs: Information Architecture Offers a Potential Approach for Development of an Inventory
GAP reported in 2015 that initial efforts to develop an inventory of federal programs—something that could make government more transparent and reveal areas of duplication and overlap—had fallen short due to inconsistent definitions and information across agencies.
In this report GAO examined how the principles and practices of information architecture—a discipline focused on how information is organized, structured, and presented—could help fix that.
GAO identified key steps drawn from information architecture for developing and maintaining such an inventory, enabling decision makers to more easily find and compare program information. Report.
GAO: Federal Contracting: Additional Management Attention and Action Needed to Close Contracts and Reduce Audit Backlog
The effectiveness of management efforts to reduce the number of contracts overdue for closeout varied across five agencies GAO reviewed—the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security (DHS), Justice, and State. None of the agencies had critical elements agency-wide that would help track and oversee contract closeout processes—the number and type of contracts to be closed, where the contracts were in the process, and goals and performance measures. Having such information could help management address the causes as to why contracts remain open and reduce the contract closeout backlog.
Since 2011 the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) has reduced its inventory of contractors' incurred cost proposals awaiting audit by about half to 14,208, and DCAA has significantly reduced its backlog of older proposals—those for 2013 and prior—as of September 2016. To do so, DCAA used a risk-based approach to reduce the number of audits and began conducting multi-year audits, in which two or more incurred cost proposals are closed under a single audit. Nevertheless, DCAA did not meet its initial goal of eliminating its backlog by fiscal year 2016, and DCAA officials stated that they are unlikely to meet its revised goal by the end of fiscal year 2018. Further, GAO found that in fiscal year 2016, DCAA averaged 885 days from when a contractor submitted an adequate incurred cost proposal to when the audit was completed. The lag was due to limited availability of DCAA staff to begin audit work, as it took DCAA an average of 138 days to complete the actual audit work. Report.
GAO: Annual Agency-Wide Plans Could Enhance Leadership Support for Program Evaluations
In a 2017 government-wide survey, GAO found that most federal managers lack recent evaluations of their programs. Forty percent reported that an evaluation had been completed within the past 5 years of any program, operation, or project they were involved in. Another 39 percent of managers reported that they did not know if an evaluation had been completed, and 18 percent reported having none. Managers who reported having evaluations also reported that those evaluations contributed to a great or very great extent to improving program management or performance (54 percent) and to assessing program effectiveness or value (48 percent). Report.
GAO concludes that
- Agencies' continued lack of evaluations may be the greatest barrier to their informing managers and policy makers and constitutes a lost opportunity to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of limited government resources.
- Although only some agencies have developed agency-wide evaluation plans, evaluators who have them found that obtaining stakeholder input helped ensure evaluation relevance and facilitate use of their results.
- Congressional consultation on agency evaluation plans could increase the studies' credibility with those whose support is needed to implement program reforms.
- An agency's annual strategic review provides a good opportunity to help target its evaluation agenda to its management, budget, and policy priorities.
GAO: Budget Issues: Budget Uncertainty and Disruptions Affect Timing of Agency Spending
When Congress funds federal agencies, it includes certain conditions for when and how agencies can use this money. As funds approach the end of their period of availability (usually at the end of the fiscal year), a "use-it or lose-it" mentality can set in among agencies, creating an incentive to rush to obligate.
However, higher obligations at the end of a year do not necessarily indicate a problem with wasteful spending. GAO testified that agency officials limit their spending early in the fiscal year because funding may be less than anticipated due to budget uncertainties like continuing resolutions and sequestration. Report.
GAO: Telecommunications: Agencies Need to Apply Transition Planning Practices to Reduce Potential Delays and Added Costs
The General Services Administration's (GSA's) transition guidance to agencies addressed roughly half of its previously identified lessons learned. GSA identified 35 lessons learned from previous telecommunications contract transitions that identify actions that agencies should take. In transition guidance released to agencies, GSA fully addressed 17 of the 35 lessons. Two lessons from previous transitions were not appropriate for the current transition. GSA partially addressed an additional nine lessons. Seven lessons were not addressed at all (see figure). For example, GSA's guidance did not address the previous lesson that agencies should not assume that a transition to a new contract with the same vendor will be easier than a change in vendors. By not including all lessons learned in its plans and guidance to agencies, GSA limits agencies' ability to plan for actions that will need to be taken later in the transition. As a result, agencies face an increased risk that they could repeat prior mistakes, including those that could result in schedule delays or unnecessary costs. Report.
GAO: Selected Agencies' Experiences in Implementing Strategic Reviews
Federal agencies annually assess their progress towards achieving strategic objectives—the specific outcomes or impacts their various programs and efforts aim to accomplish. Report.
GAO looked at five agencies' experiences conducting these strategic reviews and identified some common themes:
- The reviews helped focus leadership attention on objectives needing the most attention
- Agencies conducted their reviews as part of their existing management and performance processes, instead of creating new procedures
- Agencies captured lessons learned from their reviews, and used them to refine and improve future strategic reviews
GAO: OMB and Agencies Should More Fully Implement the Process to Streamline Reporting Requirements
The federal government produces thousands of plans and reports each year to meet the informational needs of Congress. GPRAMA established a process to eliminate or modify reports that may be outdated or duplicative.
Since the passage of GPRAMA, OMB posted three lists of proposals (in 2012, 2014, and 2016) on Performance.gov. These lists contained a total of 523 new proposals. In 2014, Congress acted on agencies' report modification proposals by eliminating 51 reporting requirements, including 34 that were identified through this process.
As shown in the figure, GAO found that OMB did not implement the report modification process on an annual basis, as required by GPRAMA. Report.
GAO: Improper Payments: Additional Guidance Could Provide More Consistent Compliance Determinations and Reporting by Inspectors General
Five years after the implementation of the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010 (IPERA), 15 of the 24 Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 (CFO Act) agencies were reported by their inspectors general (IG) as noncompliant under IPERA for fiscal year 2015. The programs associated with these 15 agencies accounted for $132 billion (or about 96 percent) of the reported $136.7 billion government-wide improper payment estimate for fiscal year 2015. In addition, the inconsistent IG compliance determinations in the IGs' fiscal year 2015 IPERA compliance reports may present potentially misleading information. Report.
GAO: U.S. Foreign Assistance: Inventory of Strategies at Selected Agencies
The U.S. government plans to spend approximately $35 billion on foreign assistance in 2017 to improve the lives and health of millions living in poverty, support democracy, and enhance global security.
GAO found that the six federal agencies that spent the most on foreign assistance from 2011 through 2015—DOD, HHS, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the State Department, USAID, and USDA—developed more than 60 strategy documents to guide their foreign assistance efforts. Report.
GAO: Open Innovation: Executive Branch Developed Resources to Support Implementation, but Guidance Could Better Reflect Leading Practices
To address the complex and crosscutting challenges facing the federal government, agencies need to effectively engage and collaborate with those in the private, nonprofit, and academic sectors; other levels of government; and citizens. Agencies are increasingly using open innovation strategies for these purposes.
The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 requires agencies to identify strategies and resources they will use to achieve goals. The act also requires GAO to periodically review how implementation of the act's requirements is affecting agency performance. This report identifies the open innovation resources developed by GSA, OMB, OSTP, and six selected agencies, and examines the extent to which key guidance reflects practices for effective implementation. Report.
GAO: Data Center Optimization: Agencies Need to Complete Plans to Address Inconsistencies in Reported Savings
The 24 agencies participating in the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) have made progress on their data center closure efforts. As of August 2016, the agencies collectively had identified a total of 9,995 data centers, of which they reported having closed 4,388 and having plans to close a total of 5,597 through fiscal year 2019. The Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior, and Treasury accounted for 84 percent of the completed closures.
In addition, 18 of the 24 agencies reported achieving about $2.3 billion collectively in cost savings and avoidances from their data center consolidation and optimization efforts from fiscal year 2012 through August 2016. The Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, and Treasury accounted for approximately $2.0 billion (or 87 percent) of the total. Further, 23 agencies reported about $656 million collectively in planned savings for fiscal years 2016 through 2018. This is about $3.3 billion less than the estimated $4.0 billion in planned savings for fiscal years 2016 through 2018 that agencies reported to GAO in November 2015.Report.
GAO: Service Contracts: Agencies Should Take Steps to More Effectively Use Independent Government Cost Estimates
The federal government is on a long-term, unsustainable fiscal path—it is spending more money than it is collecting. GAO has made hundreds of recommendations through GAO's High Risk list and GAO's work on duplicative, overlapping, and fragmented federal programs that could help the government save tens of billions of dollars.
In this testimony, GAO discussed some of these recommendations, including reducing improper payments (particularly in the areas of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit), improving IT management and cybersecurity of federal IT systems, and better managing federal real property. Report.
GAO: Service Contracts: Agencies Should Take Steps to More Effectively Use Independent Government Cost Estimates
Independent government cost estimates help the government understand the potential cost of a contract. They're an important planning tool, especially for service contracts.
Some of the agencies that spend the most on service contracts may not be taking advantage of this tool: GAO found uneven guidance on when to use estimates.
GAO also found different levels of detail in the estimates themselves, which can affect how useful they are to contracting officers. The details help officers determine, for example, how reasonable a contractor's price is. Report.
GAO: Federally Owned Vehicles: Agencies Should Improve Processes to Identify Underutilized Vehicles
Federal agencies spent more than $1.6 billion to purchase approximately 64,500 passenger vehicles and light trucks through the General Services Administration (GSA) from fiscal years 2011 through 2015. Five departments—Defense (DOD), Homeland Security (DHS), Agriculture (USDA), Justice, and Interior—purchased 90 percent of these vehicles, and spent a comparable percentage of the associated funds. The vehicles cost an average of approximately $25,600 each.
GAO determined that the three agencies reviewed—Navy within DOD, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within DHS, and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) within USDA—varied in efforts to determine if vehicles were utilized in fiscal year 2015. Navy determined that all of the 3,652 vehicles GAO selected for review were utilized by applying DOD and Navy criteria such as for mileage and individually justifying vehicles. CBP did not determine if 1,862 (81 percent) of its 2,300 selected vehicles were utilized in fiscal year 2015 even though the vehicles did not meet DHS's minimum mileage criteria. NRCS did not determine if 579 (9 percent) of its 6,223 selected vehicles were utilized in fiscal year 2015. Report.
GAO: DATA Act: Office of Inspector General Reports Help Identify Agencies’ Implementation Challenges
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) staff make limited use of the OIGs’ readiness review reports, and Treasury officials do not use them to monitor agencies’ implementation of the DATA Act. Instead, OMB staff and Treasury officials stated that they monitor agency progress through other means, such as meetings with senior accountable officials and agency self-reporting. However, the OIG readiness reviews represent an important independent resource that could be used to validate agencies’ self-reported progress, identify government- wide systemic issues, and identify and communicate good practices. By not making greater use of the OIG readiness review results, OMB and Treasury may be missing additional opportunities to identify implementation issues and review information that could help inform their monitoring of agencies’ implementation of the DATA Act requirements. Report.
GAO: Performance Partnerships: Agencies Need to Better Identify Resource Contributions to Sustain Disconnected Youth Pilot Programs and Data to Assess Pilot Results
Performance partnership initiatives allow federal agencies to give their grant recipients flexibility (such as in how they use funding) in exchange for assessing if outcomes improve. There are currently two such initiatives—one involves EPA's environmental grant programs and the other helps youth who are disconnected from school and work.
GAO found that both initiatives reduce administrative burdens and allow for flexibility in using grant funding. Report.
GAO: Identity Theft Services: Services Offer Some Benefits but Are Limited in Preventing Fraud
Private-sector and government entities that experience data breaches often provide affected consumers with identity theft services, which typically include credit monitoring, identity monitoring, identity restoration, and identity theft insurance. In response to data breaches in 2015, OPM awarded two contracts obligating about $240 million for identity theft services.
OPM provided duplicative identity theft services for about 3.6 million people affected by both of its 2015 breaches, and OMB has not explored options to help federal agencies avoid potentially wasteful duplication. Report.
GAO: Contracting Data Analysis: Assessment of Government-wide Trends
Federal agencies spent over $430 billion on contracts for goods and services in 2015—almost 40 percent of all discretionary spending. To strengthen contracting practices and increase oversight of government spending, GAO analyzed contract data and identified overall trends in spending, competition, and contract type.
From 2011 to 2015, GAO found that spending at defense agencies decreased by almost 32 percent, while spending at civilian agencies remained fairly steady. GAO also found that contracts awarded through competition stayed steady at about 64 percent, and the use of fixed price contracts stayed steady at over 63 percent. Report.