18F, USDS lack performance and accountability measures

The U.S. Digital Service and 18F lack the ability to assess whether they have achieved their goals and hold themselves accountable, according to GAO.

Performance meter

Although agencies are generally satisfied with the services the U.S. Digital Service and 18F have provided, the two organizations lack ways to fully measure program performance, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Sept. 14.

Auditors said USDS and 18F have only "partially implemented practices to identify and help agencies address problems with IT projects," which makes it difficult to hold the programs accountable for results.

Both organizations have developed goals, but they are not all outcome-oriented, and the report also notes that 18F's stated goals don't extend beyond September 2016.

GAO pointed out that the lack of performance measures is tied to 18F's ability to recover costs and meet projections. The General Services Administration funds 18F through the revenue-based revolving Acquisition Services Fund. 18F officials projected that the organization will operate in the black in fiscal 2019, with the worst-case scenario being 2022.

Some of GAO's criticisms might be rooted in the differences in methodology between what is fundamentally an auditing organization and 18F, which is steeped in the culture of agile development. The report hints at that, saying, "To 18F's credit, several of its goals and performance measures appear to be outcome-oriented."

In reply comments, GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth pledged to update 18F's performance targets to extend beyond this month.

Auditors also examined agency CIOs' coordination with digital services teams. According to the report, USDS policy does not specify the proper relationship and responsibilities between those entities. Of the four agencies GAO reviewed -- the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State and Veterans Affairs -- only DHS had a defined reporting structure.

GAO recommended that the Office of Management and Budget update its USDS policy to clearly express the relationship and responsibilities between CIOs and digital services teams. OMB concurred with the recommendation.

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