GAO: Federal performance platform leaves room for improvement

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According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, a key online resource for federal performance reporting is not fully incorporating leading best practices, and opportunities exist to further integrate them through continued development.

The June 6 report examined the degree to which Performance.gov employs leading practices for the development of federal websites by comparing the design of Performance.gov to HowTo.gov’s Top 10 Best Practices for federal website development. In addition, GAO reviewed performance-reporting literature and Office of Management and Budget guidance, collected information from national, state and local performance-reporting website practitioners and interviewed potential federal and nonfederal website users.

Using these leading indicators, GAO’s found Performance.gov can improve operability by clarifying how the website’s information can be used, gathering wider user feedback, tracking more metrics and setting performance goals for all given metrics.

Though OMB, the General Services Administration and the Performance Improvement Council made available the purpose and audience for Performance.gov, they have not yet clarified how audiences can use the information. Without a clear explanation of how Performance.gov can be used, audiences will have differing ideas and expectations for its development.

Leading practices recommend Performance.gov developers engage potential users through focus groups and public outreach as well as conduct regular usability tests to gain insight into website navigation and content organization. Feedback efforts have been restricted to the collection of suggestions from the website’s feedback page and specific briefings, limiting wider audience input.

Though OMB is planning a usability test in September this year, no such tests have been conducted previously, which is detrimental because information garnered from usability tests is critical for developers to determine the needs of potential users and improve the site’s operability.

Leading practices further suggest agencies gather, analyze and report on a set of 24 baseline performance, user satisfaction and other metrics, including setting goals for metrics and making sure they align with the website’s objectives. Performance.gov currently tracks only 15 of the recommended 24 metrics. Similarly, OMB has only established performance metric goals for customer satisfaction, making it difficult for developers to determine the effectiveness of the website based on other metrics.

Performance.gov was created via the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 to improve federal performance and program reporting through a publicly available central website. GPRAMA charged OMB with making the information available, and GAO with reviewing GPRAMA’s implementation at several stages.

According to OMB staff, efforts to develop Performance.gov thus far have focused on the specific legal requirements of GPRAMA. OMB prioritized compliance with legal requirements by providing information on leading agency and cross-agency objectives and establishing a phased development plan for incorporating additional data from agency strategic plans, performance plans and reports.

OMB and GSA staff members have said they plan to use leading practices from HowTo.gov to guide future development of Performance.gov, noting as phased development of Performance.gov occurs, they expect to use broader outreach strategies to make the website more citizen-centric.

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Agencies, Departments, General Services Administration (GSA), Government IT News, Management & Budget, Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
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