Are We There Yet? Progress on CAP Goals

“Today the Administration is releasing detailed action plans for the fifteen CAP goals,” announced Office of Management and Budget deputy director for management, Beth Cobert, in a blog post in late June.

These four-year goals were first announced with the release of the FY 2015 budget back in March. Cobert’s announcement accompanies the first round of statutorily-required quarterly reports on the progress of the 15 Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goals.

What are CAP Goals? The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 requires OMB to designate priority goals covering “areas where increased cross-agency collaboration is needed to improve progress,” according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Each goal has two designated goal leaders responsible for progress – one Administration lead and one agency lead. The goals are to cover cross-cutting policy areas as well governmentwide management improvement initiatives.

OMB set 14 interim CAP goals in 2012 (and added a 15th , on open data, in 2013). When the law went into full effect earlier this year, it set 15 CAP goals to be implemented over the remaining course of the Obama Administration. Of these, seven address policy areas, such as reducing the federal government’s greenhouse emissions by 28 percent, and eight address management improvement initiatives, such as improving customer service.

GAO Assessment of Interim CAP Goals. In early June, GAO released a report assessing the implementation of the 2012-2013 interim CAP goals. Their report focused on “what is known about progress made towards the interim CAP goals,” and “how, if at all, quarterly progress reviews . . . contributed to improved cross-agency performance and collaboration.” GAO reviewed the various quarterly status reports prepared by the goal leaders over the two-year period.

GAO found “CAP goal leaders reported performance on goals, but many lacked key information to demonstrate progress.” It went on to observe: “OMB and CAP goal leaders did not identify interim planned levels of performance or targets for most of the interim CAP goals.” And, because CAP goal leaders did not consistently align their reported activities with the strategies they developed, they could not “support goal achievement” or track progress toward identified milestones.

In interviews with goal leaders as to whether the designation of an Administration initiative as a CAP goal was helpful in improving performance and collaboration in achieving the goal, GAO found “it was difficult to isolate the impact of the CAP goal designation, and its associated reporting and review requirements.”

GAO concludes: “CAP goals offer a unique opportunity to coordinate cross-agency efforts to drive progress in priority areas.” However, “updates for 8 of the 14 goals included data that indicated performance towards the identified overall planned level of performance, “ but “Updates for the other 6 of the 14 goals did not report on performance” because they had no quantitative target or were unable to collect data needed to track performance.

GAO recommends, among other things, that OMB ensure that in the future the quarterly CAP goal progress reports provide a consistent set of information on progress made during the most recent quarter, and to develop better criteria and documentation to assess progress.

Status of the New CAP Goals. A review of the first round of status updates on OMB’s website — in light of the GAO findings and recommendations – shows that OMB has adopted GAO’s advice. There is now a consistent reporting format being used across the various CAP goals. However, since this is the first reporting cycle, the focus of the reports is on describing proposed action plans, governance models, work plans, and milestones for assessing progress – not so much on documenting progress.

Of the 15 CAP goals announced in March, five are actually extensions of several of the prior interim goals. So, for these five, the status reports provide more detail and a sense of real progress being made. For example, the progress report for the CAP goal to expand the use of strategic sourcing across government agencies – which was also an interim CAP goal — describes an action plan with sub-goals and indicators of performance. It also describes a multi-agency Strategic Sourcing Leadership Council that has a website detailing agencies’ strategic sourcing initiatives and the various savings accrued.

For the ten goals that are new, the status descriptions are more general. For example, the status for the new CAP goal to establish benchmarks of cost and quality for common mission-support operations describes how it will set milestones to establish a governance structure, strategies, and metrics in coming months, and how it will form a range of work groups to set benchmarks in specific areas.

Do Reviews and Status Reports Matter? Is the statutory requirement to conduct and report quarterly progress reviews just a compliance exercise? The GAO report suggests that the goal leaders could not attribute much added value to the review and reporting process. So why is this important? A recent working paper by Dr. Donald Moynihan, University of Wisconsin, who is a close observer of the implementation of the GPRA law, and a colleague at Florida International University, Alexander Kroll, finds that establishing routines in bureaucracy – such as quarterly performance reviews and reports — matter.

In examining data from the GAO-conducted federal survey on managers’ use of performance information, he observes that “the Modernization act put in place a series of routines that . . . sought to establish organizational conditions for greater use of performance data.” He says that creating CAP goals “sought to break with the traditional implementation of performance systems, which have tended to maintain, or even reinforce organizational boundaries.” When comparing the GAO survey data from 2013 with prior year data, he concludes: “The three routines established by the Modernization Act consistently show significant positive relationships with the use of performance information.”

So, while the goal leaders may not find value in the process, managers elsewhere in their agencies and others with whom they collaborate in other agencies do find value in these routines. Dr. Moyihan offers “guarded optimism” about the increased use of performance information as a result of the new routines created – such as the creation of CAP goals, the designation of goal leaders, and the conduct of quarterly reviews and progress reports.

IBM Center for The Business of Government

Graphic Credit: Courtesy of Stuart Miles via FreeDigitalPhotos

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