GAO: Agencies face collaboration barriers

Agencies face several barriers to collaboration, such as competing missions, incompatible systems and concerns over turf and resources.

GAO report

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Agencies face several barriers to collaboration, such as competing missions, incompatible systems and concerns over turf and resources, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

“Instead, federal agencies carry out programs in a fragmented, uncoordinated way, resulting in a patchwork of programs that can waste scarce funds, confuse and frustrate program customers, and limit the overall effectiveness of the federal effort,” GAO officials wrote in a report last week.

GAO outlined eight practices that would improve coordination among federal agencies. The practices evolved from the agency’s review of a few federal programs that require coordination. GAO provides examples of those practices, which are:

• Defining and articulating a common outcome.

• Establishing joint strategies that would align activities and resources to reach a common goal.

• Addressing needs by using resources to support this common outcome.

• Agreeing on roles and responsibilities.

• Establishing compatible policies and procedures to operate across agency boundaries, such as interoperable data systems.

• Developing ways to monitor and report results, such as clear objectives and progress reviews.

• Reinforcing agency accountability by using strategic plans to establish and account for goals.

• Reinforcing individual accountability through performance management systems.

The report was provided for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia Subcommittee.

GAO officials examined three federal programs that rely on several agencies: Healthy People 2010, a set of public health initiatives led by the Department of Health and Human Services; Wildland Fire Management, which relies on a few agencies to coordinate wildfire response and management; and health resources sharing between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department.

Each of those initiatives provided examples of essential procedures for successful cross-agency coordination. For example, to monitor and report program results, HHS conducts periodic progress reviews of Healthy People 2010 and posts the results online, according to the GAO.

As agencies increase collaboration, the Government Performance and Review Act (GPRA) offers guidance through annual and strategic performance planning to address common goals across agencies, the report states.

“GPRA, with its focus on strategic planning, the development of long-term goals and accountability for results, provides a framework that Congress, [the Office of Management and Budget] and executive branch agencies can use to consider the appropriate mix of long-term strategic goals and strategies needed to identify and address federal goals that cut across agency boundaries,” the report states.

GAO has previously recommended that OMB provide stronger guidance on cross-government goals and projects by enforcing the GPRA requirement to create a governmentwide performance plan, the report states. And GAO said Congress should require this plan.

Although OMB addresses performance improvement through the President’s Management Agenda, only one initiative focuses specifically on cross-agency coordination: the management of VA and DOD systems, according to the GAO.

“However, many other areas that cut across agency boundaries would benefit from greater OMB focus and attention, including information sharing for homeland security which we recently designated as a high-risk area,” GAO officials wrote in the report.

GAO officials recommended that OMB promote collaboration by expanding the President’s Management Agenda initiatives to include a separate initiative focused on improving interagency coordination. OMB could also expand the strategic workforce initiative to better hold managers accountable for working across agency lines. GAO also suggested supplementing the guidance given for use in the Program Assessment Rating Tool to include the major points of this GAO report.

OMB officials agreed with the findings, according to the GAO report.

Michael is a freelance writer based in Chicago

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