GAO: Data-driven management is stuck in neutral

The Government Accountability Office says agencies haven't really improved on data-driven decision-making since 2013.

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The government has work to do to translate data-driven management from a talking point into reality, according to a new oversight report.

In a new set of findings, Government Accountability Office reported agencies' use of performance information to make decisions "generally has not improved since GAO's last survey of federal managers in 2013."

Across government, GAO asked agency managers to rate their agencies use of performance data on a five-point scale. The 2017 governmentwide average was 3.39. The 2013 average was 3.41. The 2007 average was 3.46.

While the President's Management Agenda lists data and accountability as one of its three core drivers and outlines a federal data strategy, GAO stated that 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."

Another challenge in achieving more widespread use of data is that agencies may not know what performance improvement practices work -- or what may be holding agencies back.

Managers at the Office of Personnel Management and the Social Security Administration reported their use of performance information actually decreased. The use of performance data among the other CFO Act agencies stayed the same, with the exception of the National Science Foundation, whose respondents reported that upper management "is committed to using" performance data.  

There are some bright spots. GAO pointed out that responses from managers at the Agency for International Development, the General Services Administration and NASA "suggest proven practices" for using this data.

Responses from managers at the Departments of Homeland Security and Transportation "suggest challenges related to the use of performance information," auditors reported.

GAO made two recommendations. First, it said OMB should direct the leaders of the data cross-agency priority goal to update action plans for improving the use of data, including who will be implementing them, time frames and metrics for assessing progress.

Second, GAO recommended OMB prioritize identifying and sharing proven practices for increasing the use of performance data, as well as challenges that impede extensive use of data in decision-making.

OMB had no comments in response to GAO's findings, instead saying it would assess the recommendations and consider how best to respond.

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