The Results Act: Observations on GSA's April 1997 Draft Strategic Plan

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-07-07.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                     United States
GAO                  General Accounting Office
                     Washington, D.C. 20548

                     General Government Division


                     July 7, 1997

                     The Honorable Richard K. Armey
                     Majority Leader
                     House of Representatives

                     The Honorable John Kasich
                     Chairman, Committee on the Budget
                     House of Representatives

                     The Honorable Dan Burton
                     Chairman, Committee on Government
                       Reform and Oversight
                     House of Representatives

                     The Honorable Bob Livingston
                     Chairman, Committee on Appropriations
                     House of Representatives

                     Subject: The Results Act: Observations on GSA’s April 1997 Draft Strategic

                     On June 12, 1997, you asked us to review the draft strategic plans
                     submitted by the cabinet departments and selected major agencies for
                     consultation with Congress as required by the Government Performance
                     and Results Act of 1993 (the Results Act). This letter is our response to
                     that request concerning the General Services Administration (GSA).

                     Our overall objective was to review and evaluate the latest available
Objectives, Scope,   version of GSA’s draft strategic plan. Specifically, we (1) assessed the draft
and Methodology      plan’s compliance with the Act’s requirements and its overall quality,
                     (2) determined if GSA’s key statutory authorities were reflected,
                     (3) identified whether discussions about crosscutting functions and
                     interagency involvement were included, (4) determined if the draft plan
                     addressed major management problems, and (5) discussed GSA’s capacity
                     to provide reliable information about its operations and performance. We
                     obtained a copy of the April 28, 1997, strategic plan draft that GSA provided
                     to the House of Representatives staff team working with the agency. On
                     June 13, 1997, GSA provided us with a new mission statement and updated
                     goals and objectives and said that it was in the process of revising the
                     other parts of the plan. Where appropriate, we examined the updated
                     information GSA provided, but, for the most part, we based our review on

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             the April plan. As agreed, our assessment of the agency’s draft plan was
             generally based on previous work.

             Specifically, to review the GSA plan, we relied on our May 1997 guidance
             for congressional review of the plans;1 OMB guidance on developing the
             plans (Circular A-11, Part 2); our past work reviewing selected Results Act
             pilot efforts;2 our general knowledge of GSA operations; and many reports
             and testimonies on GSA we have issued over the years. A list of our major
             products related to GSA operations is on pages 26 through 28. As you
             requested, we coordinated our work on GSA’s key statutory authorities and
             GSA’s capacity to provide reliable information with the Congressional
             Research Service and the GSA Inspector General’s office, respectively. We
             did our work between June 13 and July 2. GSA officials provided oral
             comments on a draft of this correspondence, which are reflected in the
             Agency Comments section on page 20.

             As the federal government’s principal real estate and business agent, GSA’s
Background   activities and programs are diverse and have governmentwide
             implications. Its real estate portfolio, supply procurement and distribution
             activities, travel and transportation services, telecommunication and
             computer services, and property management and disposal function
             involve huge sums of money and extensive interaction with both the
             federal and private sectors. GSA, in many respects, is comparable to a large,
             diversified commercial business. If GSA were a private sector company, it
             would rank high, in terms of sales, on the Fortune 500 list of the largest U.
             S. companies.

             GSA spends billions of dollars to provide many of the facilities, goods, and
             services that federal agencies need to carry out their missions. Through
             various revolving or trust fund-type arrangements, GSA buys most of these
             goods and services from private vendors and resells them to agencies.
             Additionally, GSA arranges for federal agencies to purchase billions of
             dollars worth of goods and services directly from private vendors through
             its governmentwide supply, travel and transportation, automated data
             processing, and telecommunications contracts. Furthermore, when it was
             established in 1949, GSA was envisioned, primarily but not exclusively, as a
             policymaking body with the option of delegating its authorities while

              Agencies’ Strategic Plans Under GPRA: Key Questions to Facilitate Congressional Review
             (GAO/GGD-10.1.16, May 1997).
              GPRA Performance Reports (GAO/GGD-96-66R, Feb. 14, 1996).

             Page 2                                            GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

                   maintaining comprehensive accountability to Congress for economy and

                   GSA has been preparing strategic plans for several years and is currently in
                   the process of revising its plan to reflect the requirements of the Results
                   Act. It is important to recognize that under the Act, the final plan is not
                   due until September 1997. Furthermore, the Results Act anticipated that it
                   may take several planning cycles to perfect the process and that the final
                   plan would be continually refined as various planning cycles occur. Thus,
                   our comments reflect a snapshot status of the plan at a given point in time.
                   We recognize that developing a strategic plan is a dynamic process and
                   that GSA is continuing work to revise the draft with input from OMB,
                   congressional staff, and other stakeholders.

                   The April 28 plan that we reviewed includes the six components required
Results in Brief   by the Act. In particular, the goals in the plan reflect GSA’s major statutory
                   responsibilities, and the plan indicates that several quantitative
                   performance objectives and measures will be used. However, our analysis
                   showed that the plan could better meet the purposes of the Act by
                   providing more descriptive information on how goals and objectives will
                   be achieved, how program evaluations were used in setting goals, and
                   what the schedule will be for future evaluations; providing greater clarity
                   and context in the four remaining, required components; and, generally,
                   providing better linkages among the plan’s components. In addition, the
                   plan could be more useful if it provided a fuller discussion of key statutory
                   authorities reflected in the plan and a more explicit discussion of
                   crosscutting activities and agency stakeholder involvement, major
                   management challenges, and GSA’s capacity to provide reliable information
                   on achievement of its strategic goals.

                   More specifically, two of the required components of the plan—how the
                   goals and objectives will be achieved and program evaluations—did not
                   contain sufficient information to fully achieve the purposes of the Results
                   Act and related OMB guidance. For example, the Act requires that the
                   section on achievement of goals and objectives describe the processes and
                   resources needed to meet the goals and objectives of the plan, while OMB
                   guidance on the program evaluations section states that the plan should,
                   among other things, (1) describe how program evaluations were used to
                   prepare the plan and (2) outline the scope and methodology and key
                   issues to be addressed in future evaluations. These elements were not
                   included in the two sections.

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Although the other four required components generally complied with the
intent of the Act and related OMB guidance, they could be made more
useful and informative. For example, GSA’s mission statement and general
goals and objectives could benefit from greater emphasis and clarity on
GSA’s key statutory responsibilities related to economy and efficiency, as a
reflection of the taxpayers’ interests. The key external factors section
could be clearer and more informative and does not include some key
factors, such as changes in market activities affecting real property
management, that need to be considered. The section on relating
performance goals to general goals/objectives is a good attempt at
outlining how GSA plans to link goals, objectives, and measures; however,
as GSA recognized in the draft plan, this section would benefit from
additional detail, such as making performance goals and objectives more
quantitative or specific.

We also think that the plan could be made more useful to GSA, Congress,
and other stakeholders by providing a fuller description of statutory
authorities and an explicit discussion of crosscutting functions, major
management problems, and the adequacy of data and systems. Although
the plan reflects the major pieces of legislation that establish GSA’s mission
and explains how GSA’s mission is linked to key statutes, GSA could provide
other useful information. For example, it could describe its responsibilities
under specific provisions of its key statutes and other laws that broaden
the scope of GSA’s responsibilities when its plan includes goals and
objectives based on such statutes. In addition, the plan is silent on
crosscutting issues and makes no mention of whether GSA coordinated
with related stakeholders. It does not explicitly discuss the potential for
crosscutting issues to arise or how these issues might affect successful
accomplishment of goals and objectives.

Furthermore, the plan is silent on the formidable management problems
we have identified over the years—issues that are important because they
could affect GSA’s development of, or ability to meet, its strategic goals.
Also, we and others, including GSA’s Inspector General, have identified
problems with the reliability and availability of data in GSA’s
program-related and financial management information systems. In its
Federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act Report, GSA recognized for the
past several years that it has had problems with providing management
with timely and accurate data reporting throughout the year. According to
GSA, it has developed a new system, one we have not evaluated, that has
corrected some of these deficiencies. However, GSA makes no mention of
how data limitations would affect its ability to measure performance and

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                                     ultimately manage its programs. We believe that consideration of these
                                     areas would give GSA a better framework for developing and achieving its
                                     goals and help stakeholders better understand GSA’s operating constraints
                                     and environment.

                                     Six of the seven components of GSA’s April draft plan—with the exception
Draft Plan Does Not                  of the values section that GSA voluntarily included—correspond with the
Fully Achieve the                    six components required by the Results Act. Table 1 shows the Result
Purposes of the Act’s                Act’s required components and the corresponding sections in GSA’s
                                     plan—the numbers show the order in which the components appear in the
Requirements, and the                Act and the plan.
Quality of Individual
Components Could Be

Table 1: Strategic Plan Components
Required in the Results Act and      Strategic plan components listed by             Strategic plan components in GSA April
Corresponding Components in GSA’s    Results Act                                     1997 draft plan
Draft Strategic Plan                 1.Comprehensive Mission Statement               1. Comprehensive Mission Statement
                                     Covering the Major Functions and
                                     Operations of the Agency
                                     2. General Goals and Objectives for the         3. General Goals and Objectives
                                     Major Functions and Operations of the
                                     3. Description of How the Goals and             5.How the Goals and Objectives Will Be
                                     Objectives Are to Be Achieved                   Achieved—Schedule and Resource
                                     4.Description of How the Performance Goals 4. Relating Performance Goals to General
                                     Included in the Performance Plan Shall be  Goals and Objectives
                                     Related to the General Goals and
                                     Objectives in the Strategic Plan
                                     5. Identification of Key External Factors to    6. Key External Factors
                                     the Agency and Beyond Its Control That
                                     Could Affect Achievement of General Goals
                                     and Objectives
                                     6. Description of the Program Evaluations   7. Program Evaluations
                                     Used to Establish/Revise General Goals with
                                     Schedule for Future Program Evaluations
                                     (Values section not required by the Act.)       2. Values
                                     Source: The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 and GSA’s April 1997 Draft
                                     Strategic Plan.

                                     Page 5                                         GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

    Although GSA included the six required components, our analysis showed
    that the components dealing with how the goals and objectives will be
    achieved (strategies) and program evaluations do not fully reflect the
    purpose these sections are supposed to fulfill as outlined in the Act.

•   The section on strategies to achieve the general goals and objectives
    (“How the Goals and Objectives will be Achieved: Schedule and Resource
    Implications”) focuses for the most part on several mission-critical capital
    requirements issues and briefly describes the status of GSA’s staffing
    stability and culture. It does not describe GSA’s strategy for implementing
    the plan or achieving goals. Under the Results Act, strategic plan sections
    on strategies are to briefly describe the operational processes, staff skills,
    and technologies, as well as the human, capital, information, and other
    resources, needed to meet the goals and objectives of the plan.
    Additionally, according to OMB Circular A-11, Part 2, strategies should also
    outline how GSA will communicate strategic goals throughout the
    organization and hold managers and staff accountable for achieving these
    goals. Neither of these requirements were addressed in this section of the
•   The section on program evaluations does not fully achieve the purposes of
    the Act or meet OMB’s guidance. This section of the plan is intended to
    show how program evaluations were used to establish strategic goals and
    to lay out a schedule for future program evaluations. According to OMB’s
    guidance, this section should briefly describe program evaluations that
    were used in preparing the strategic plan and should outline (1) the
    general scope and methodology for planned evaluations, (2) key issues to
    be addressed, and (3) a schedule for future evaluations. This section in
    GSA’s draft plan is quite general and brief. It says that GSA will (1) continue
    to track results against plans and review performance, (2) do general
    performance reviews to evaluate nationwide business lines and include
    required performance reviews, and (3) do quarterly reviews of selected
    activities. It does not (1) describe how program evaluations done by it or
    others, such as its Inspector General or GAO, were used to establish
    strategic goals; (2) provide much specific information on the scopes and
    methodologies of issues to be addressed in forthcoming evaluations; or
    (3) identify when various evaluations will be done, except for the
    “quarterly review of selected activities” mentioned.

    One way that GSA could improve the strategies component of the plan
    would be to describe the key strategies it intends to use to accomplish its
    major program goals. For example, in GSA’s revised Federal
    Telecommunications Service Program strategy and business plan analyses,

    Page 6                                  GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

                        issued prior to the draft strategic plan, it described its five key strategies
                        for achieving the program’s goals. GSA said that it generally planned to
                        achieve the two program goals of ensuring the best service and price for
                        the government and maximizing competition by

                    •   using multiple overlapping, staggered contracts;
                    •   using comprehensive and niche contracts;
                    •   awarding minimum revenue guarantees to vendors that compete and win;
                    •   leveraging the government’s large traffic volumes; and
                    •   aggressively pursuing opportunities to maximize competition.

                        By including this type of information in its proposed strategies for all of its
                        strategic goals, GSA could help stakeholders with their review of GSA’s plan.

                        We also noted that the draft plan does not contain a discussion of GSA’s
                        information technology strategy although development of this strategy is
                        under way. In developing this strategy, it may be helpful if GSA addresses
                        the “year 2000 problem” as well as any significant information security
                        weaknesses—two issues that we have identified as high risk across
                        government. In addition, the information technology strategy may benefit
                        from a discussion of how GSA plans to comply with the Clinger-Cohen Act
                        of 1996. This act calls for agencies to implement a framework of modern
                        technology management based on practices followed by leading private
                        sector and public sector organizations that have successfully used
                        technology to dramatically improve performance and meet strategic goals.

                        The four other components of GSA’s plan that correspond to the sections
                        required by the Act appear, overall, to be headed in the right direction.
                        They could, however, be made more useful and informative. These
                        sections are the comprehensive mission statement, general goals and
                        objectives, relating performance goals to general goals and objectives, and
                        key external factors.

Mission Statement       GSA’s April 28, 1997, draft plan contains both simple and formal mission
                        statements. The simple mission statement in this version of the plan is “GSA
                        is About Great Work Environments.” The formal mission statement is “To
                        improve the cost-effectiveness of the federal government while ensuring
                        quality work environments for its employees.” According to the plan, GSA
                        developed the simple mission statement so that it could be easily
                        communicated to all levels of its organization. On June 13, 1997, GSA
                        provided us with the following updated mission statement: “We provide

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                           expertly managed space, supplies, services and solutions, at the best value,
                           to enable Federal employees to accomplish their missions.”

                           GSA’s updated mission statement is an improvement over the prior version
                           because it is more specific in describing GSA’s statutory mission. It is
                           results oriented and clearly states the public need GSA fulfills—enabling
                           federal employees to accomplish their missions. We noted, however, that
                           the narrative supporting the comprehensive mission statement section in
                           the April 1997 plan explained GSA’s commitment to being “good stewards
                           of the taxpayer’s dollar” and “safeguarding the taxpayers’ resources.” But
                           the accompanying mission statement, as well as the updated mission
                           statement provided in June, makes no direct mention of GSA’s statutory
                           responsibility to ensure economy and efficiency as a reflection of the
                           taxpayers’ interests. If the reference to “best value” in the updated mission
                           statement is intended to address the issue of economy and efficiency, GSA
                           may wish to incorporate this concept more directly in the mission
                           statement or other components of its plan where it believes doing so
                           would be appropriate.

Goals and Objectives       GSA’s    April 1997 draft plan contained the following five goals:

                       •   reduce costs: reduce overall costs to the government for the goods and
                           services GSA makes available;
                       •   invest wisely: invest taxpayers’ money wisely, obtaining the best yield on
                           the expenditure of federal funds through cost-effective solutions;
                       •   manage assets: improve management of the federal government’s assets;
                       •   spread best practices: help all federal agencies reflect the best practices
                           for policies and operations; and
                       •   plan for the future: provide leadership for the future of federal work.

                           On June 13, 1997, GSA provided us with the following four revised goals:

                       •   competition: become the space/supplies/telecommunications provider of
                           choice for all federal agencies by delivering quality products and services
                           at the best value;
                       •   thrilling customers: thrill our federal customers by anticipating their needs
                           and working with them to develop creative solutions to their
                           mission-related problems;
                       •   asset management: conserve government assets in GSA’s care and provide
                           supportive policy solutions for governmentwide asset management; and

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•   innovation: design and develop future federal work environments with
    state-of-the-art technology, innovation, and “best practice” in use of
    space, furniture, equipment, telephones, contracts, and other tools.

    GSA’s general goals and objectives, from both the April plan and the update
    provided in June, reflect a positive attempt to define results that GSA
    expects from its major functions. In comparing the two sets of
    goals/objectives, it seems to us that GSA consolidated the five April goals
    into three more general goals—competition, asset management, and
    innovation—and added a new goal related to customer satisfaction. The
    first and third goals—competition and asset management—address GSA’s
    major mission-related functions—space, supplies, telecommunications,
    and overall asset management—while the others seem to represent
    concepts that go hand-in-hand with good, strategic management.

    These four goals appear to be results oriented and do address, in some
    form or another, GSA’s primary activities. Even so, we offer the following
    observations for consideration as the plan evolves. GSA seems to have
    de-emphasized economy and efficiency in the goals/objectives. Although
    GSA’s responsibilities to economy and efficiency could be implicit in the
    phrase “at the best value” in the first goal, the importance of this GSA core
    value does not seem explicit enough in the goals/objectives. By being more
    explicit about economy and efficiency GSA would, in our view, greatly
    improve the goals/objectives as a whole.

    In addition, GSA’s first goal, to become the “provider of choice” for all
    federal agencies, could be confusing because it may imply that agencies
    always have a choice when obtaining space, supplies, and
    telecommunications. Although GSA is moving toward greater competition
    in some areas such as supplies and leasing, it is still the required provider
    for most federal agencies in other areas, such as construction and major
    alteration of general purpose office space. Therefore, greater clarity on the
    result GSA is aiming to achieve vis-a-vis the services it provides to federal
    agencies would be beneficial. In addition, GSA’s updated goals/objectives
    seem to be expressed in terms that may be difficult to translate into
    quantitative or measurable analysis. We believe that it will be challenging
    for GSA to develop corresponding performance measures that will enable
    stakeholders to determine whether its goals are actually being achieved.

    As another point, OMB Circular A-11 specifies that strategic plans are to set
    forth long-term management goals as well as programmatic goals. To
    better meet the purposes of the Act and the Circular A-11 guidance, GSA

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                                could reflect in its goals the need to resolve long-standing management
                                problems. As an example, in developing strategic goals, GSA could be
                                sensitive to the need for better program-related and financial data needed
                                to oversee programs and measure performance. The problems GSA has
                                experienced in the data reliability area are discussed later in this letter.

Relating Annual                 The April plan’s section on relating annual performance goals and
Performance                     measures to general goals and objectives represents a good attempt at
Goals/Measures to General       linking goals/objectives with performance measures. This linkage is
                                important because it will allow Congress to judge whether GSA is achieving
Goals and Objectives            its goals. GSA’s use of a matrix was helpful in illustrating the linkages
                                among goals, objectives, and measures. In fairness to GSA, the text of the
                                plan we reviewed stated that this section was intended to stimulate
                                discussion within GSA and that additional details, such as baseline and
                                future year projections, would be added in the plan development process.
                                In addition, this section was based on the five goals contained in its
                                April 28, 1997, version of its draft plan and was incomplete in parts.
                                Overall, the performance goals, objectives, and measures developed thus
                                far were linked to GSA’s general goals. However, to better allow GSA and its
                                stakeholders to measure actual performance against targets, it is
                                important that GSA effectively (1) follow through on its commitment to add
                                additional detail and (2) reflect all of its major programs in its
                                performance goals and measures.

                                GSA’s draft plan includes some specific performance goals, performance
                                objectives, and measures. In reviewing them, we noted that in many
                                instances, the performance goals are fairly general; and, in some instances,
                                what the draft plan shows as a measure is really a performance objective.
                                For example:

                            •   Under the general goal of reducing overall costs to the government for the
                                goods and services GSA makes available, one of GSA’s draft performance
                                goals is to reduce overall costs to the federal government for the goods
                                and services made available through the Federal Supply Service. The
                                corresponding performance objective is to reduce costs in the interagency
                                fleet management program, and the performance measure is cost per mile.
                                Although the proposed measure is specific and quantitative, the
                                performance objective and goal are fairly general and are not quantitative
                                or time bound. Therefore, GSA, Congress, or other stakeholders would not
                                be able to easily gauge progress since there is no specific target. One way
                                GSA could improve this situation would be to set a specific, quantitative

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                           cost reduction goal covering a multiple-year period that would then
                           support specific, quantifiable, annual performance objectives, or targets.
                           To illustrate, the performance goal could be to reduce costs per mile of
                           managing the interagency fleet by a specific amount between fiscal years
                           1998 and 2001, and the performance objectives could be to achieve a
                           specifically identifiable reduction in the cost per mile annually.
                       •   Under the same general goal as the first example, another of GSA’s
                           performance goals is to effectively manage Public Building Service
                           operations to maintain costs at or below those prevailing in comparable
                           private sector activities. Although use of a private sector comparison in
                           the goal is noteworthy, stakeholders would have difficulty tracking
                           progress against the goal, because it is not quantitative or time bound.
                           Further, one of the performance objectives for the goal is to reduce costs
                           for building operations; and one of the measures reads, “In FY 98 cost per
                           sq. ft. for cleaning will be ____ vs ____ in FY 97.” As with the goal, the
                           performance objective also is not quantitative, and it appears that the
                           measure as stated is more suited to be the performance objective. One
                           way to improve this situation would be for GSA to set a specific,
                           quantitative cost per square foot reduction goal over a multiple-year
                           period, use what is now shown as the measure as the objective, and show
                           the measure as cost per square foot. GSA would also need to provide
                           context in terms of the prevailing comparable cost per square foot in the
                           private sector.

Key External Factors       OMB Circular A-11 points out that agencies’ achievement of their goals and
                           objectives can be influenced by certain external factors that exist, occur,
                           or change over the time period covered by their plans. The circular notes
                           that these factors can be economic, demographic, social, or environmental
                           and states that the strategic plan should describe each external factor,
                           indicate its link with a particular goal(s), and describe how the
                           achievement of the goal could be affected by the factor.

                           In GSA’s April plan, the key external factors section identified the following
                           factors: service to state and local governments, technology changes and
                           missed opportunities, where federal workers will work, and the size of the
                           federal workforce. However, regarding the factor about service to state
                           and local governments, the text is unclear as to how enabling state and
                           local governments to use GSA contracts would affect the goals. Although
                           GSA recognizes that there are some concerns about providing services to
                           state and local governments within the executive and legislative branches,
                           the plan would benefit from a more detailed explanation of the issues and

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                     the steps GSA plans to take to mitigate these concerns. For the factor on
                     technology changes, the narrative states that GSA may lose customers if it
                     is restrained from taking advantage of newer technologies—an
                     understandable external factor. However, the narrative is not explicit
                     about the underlying external factor or factors that could cause this to
                     happen. In addition, the plan does not address such factors as the
                     Telecommunications Act of 1996—a comprehensive rewrite of U.S.
                     communications law—which should provide both opportunities and
                     challenges for GSA in its procurement of telecommunications services.

                     The discussion on the key external factor on where federal workers will
                     work could benefit from an explanation of why greater reliance on
                     working at home will require more money than traditional approaches. It
                     seems logical that this shift would in fact be more cost effective in the long
                     run because of less reliance on expensive office space. Finally, it is
                     unclear from the narrative why the changing size of the federal workforce
                     is an external factor that would affect GSA’s ability to achieve its goals.
                     More discussion about GSA’s perspective on this factor would be helpful.

                     In addition to the factors GSA identified, we noted that this section had
                     limited or no information on some other important external factors we
                     have identified over the years. These factors pertain mostly to GSA’s real
                     property activities and include: shortfalls in the Federal Buildings Fund
                     (which were alluded to in GSA’s plan but were not explicitly identified as a
                     major external factor); the current budget process (i.e. the lack of a capital
                     budget); and the nature of the prospectus authorization process. These
                     factors, which tend to impede GSA’s ability to be more businesslike in the
                     real property area, are fully explained in our October 1991 testimony on
                     real property issues facing Congress. (See Related GAO Products on p. 20.)

Other Observations   Overall, the relationships between some of the various components could
                     be clearer and more direct. For example, the strategies, key external
                     factors, and program evaluations sections are not directly linked to the
                     general goals and objectives. Improving these linkages could make the
                     plan easier to follow and allow the reader to better understand how the
                     relationships among the various components affect GSA’s ability to meet its

                     As previously noted in table 1, the components in GSA’s plan do not appear
                     in the same order as they are outlined in the Results Act. For example, the
                     strategies section (how the goals and objectives will be achieved) in GSA’s

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                            plan appears after the section on relating performance goals to general
                            goals and objectives. It seems to us more logical that the strategies section
                            would appear before the section on relating performance goals to general
                            goals and objectives.

                            GSA’sdraft plan discusses the three major pieces of legislation that serve as
Key Statutory               the basis for the mission statements it sets forth, and the goals and
Authorities Generally       objectives identified thus far reflect GSA’s underlying statutory
Reflected in GSA’s          responsibility. The three laws cited by GSA are as follows:

Strategic Plan          •   The Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 makes GSA
                            responsible for providing an economical and efficient system for the
                            purchase of personal property and nonpersonal services for federal
                            agencies, utilizing and managing available government property, and
                            disposing of surplus government property. GSA is also responsible for the
                            assignment and reassignment of space for federal agencies in
                            government-owned and leased buildings and for the operation,
                            maintenance, and management of federal buildings;
                        •   The Public Buildings Act of 1959 authorizes GSA to construct and alter
                            public buildings for federal agencies if it is deemed to be most
                            advantageous to the United States; and,
                        •   The Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996 continues
                            GSA’s authority to manage and coordinate long-distance
                            telecommunications services for federal agencies.

                            Although GSA is authorized to provide telecommunications services to
                            federal agencies under the Federal Property and Administrative Services
                            Act of 1949, the draft strategic plan states that GSA has direct authority for
                            telecommunications under the Information Technology Management
                            Reform Act of 1996 (renamed the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 in the
                            Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997).

                            The April 1997 version of the draft plan indicates the linkages of the
                            mission, as spelled out in that version, to the key statutory authorities and
                            OMB’s designation in the information technology area. The general and
                            performance goals, objectives, and measures shown in the April draft plan
                            also relate to the mission as described in that version and to the key
                            statutes and OMB’s designation. Similarly, the goals, as revised in
                            June 1997, also relate to the key statutes and OMB’s designation.

                            Page 13                                 GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

                        However, as previously mentioned, GSA’s statutory responsibilities to
                        promote economy and efficiency are not explicitly reflected in either GSA’s
                        April or June mission statements, even though discussions in the draft plan
                        emphasize GSA’s responsibility to be a good steward of the taxpayer’s
                        dollar. Also, amendments to the original statutes governing GSA and other
                        statutes broaden the scope of GSA’s responsibilities. These include laws
                        related to homeless assistance, environmental concerns, and child care
                        centers, to name a few. Although the Results Act does not require it, a
                        listing that briefly summarizes GSA’s responsibilities under laws that are
                        reflected in various components of the plan might help stakeholders better
                        understand the diversity and complexity of GSA’s overall mission and the
                        linkages between stated goals and objectives and the underlying statutory
                        authorities on which they rest.

                        For example, under the general goal of helping all federal agencies reflect
                        the best practices for policies and operations, the draft plan lists a
                        performance goal and three performance objectives to improve child care
                        centers overseen by GSA. One of the objectives is to ensure that child care
                        centers remain economically accessible to the average federal
                        employee—the measure for this objective is the percentage of slots filled
                        by children of federal workers. It would be helpful to stakeholders to
                        know that GSA does have specific statutory responsibilities related to
                        allotting space for child care centers and for GSA to briefly describe what
                        they are so stakeholders can have a basis on which to evaluate GSA’s
                        proposed goals and objectives. In fact, Public Law 100-202 [40 U.S.C. 490b]
                        specifies that federal employees shall be given priority for available child
                        care services and it states that at least 50 percent of the children for whom
                        child care services are provided are to be children of federal employees.

                        GSA  is a central management agency that has responsibility for the
Crosscutting            performance of a wide range of policymaking and service functions. Given
Activities and Agency   this, it is involved in a number of crosscutting issues for which successful
Stakeholder             performance depends on actions by GSA and other agencies. For example,
                        in the public buildings area, GSA seeks to provide leadership to federal
Involvement Not Fully   agencies in the use and management of real property. It is responsible for
Discussed               the development, coordination, administration, and issuance of
                        governmentwide real property principles, guidelines, standards, criteria,
                        policies, and asset management principles concerning real property
                        programs. The federal government’s real property portfolio includes
                        almost 450,000 buildings and 650 million acres of land that together are
                        worth hundreds of billions of dollars. In the federal procurement area, GSA

                        Page 14                                GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

                      researches, develops, and publishes policy guidance to support the federal
                      acquisition system, through which federal agencies obligate over
                      $200 billion annually. Despite the potential for crosscutting issues that
                      affect GSA’s mission, the plan is silent on whether GSA coordinated with its
                      governmentwide stakeholders and does not discuss the potential for
                      crosscutting issues to arise as a major part of doing business and as an
                      ingredient to GSA meeting its goals and objectives.

                      An example in this area relates to one of GSA’s proposed goals that it
                      identified in its June 1997 mission and goals/objectives statement. The goal
                      relates to conserving the government’s assets in GSA’s care and providing
                      supportive policy solutions for governmentwide asset management.
                      Reducing space occupied by federal agencies that are downsizing could
                      fall under this goal. A review we are conducting on GSA’s and agencies’
                      efforts to save costs by reducing space that is no longer needed due to
                      downsizing has shown that at least in one area, GSA and the agencies must
                      depend on one another to achieve this goal. To illustrate, one obstacle
                      some agencies face in reducing space is the lack of funds to consolidate
                      space. To assist the agencies, GSA is experimenting with a program called
                      “Ponding,” which is an effort to consolidate small amounts of unneeded or
                      underutilized space, and demonstrating to Congress that by funding the
                      cost of space consolidations, long-term savings can be achieved.

                      Over the years, we have reported on the major management problems that
Strategic Plan Does   GSA faces in carrying out its mission. In response to our work and the work
Not Address Major     of others, including the GSA Inspector General and the National
Management            Performance Review, GSA has undertaken efforts to reorganize, reform,
                      and reengineer its overall mission-related management approaches. For
Challenges            example, in 1995, GSA attempted to identify the most cost-effective
                      methods of carrying out each of its 16 major mission support functions or
                      business lines under its Federal Operations Review Model (FORM). In
                      addition, GSA’s June 1997 revisions to its goals recognized the importance
                      of competition in providing goods and services—a concept initially
                      discussed in our 1992 Transition Report.3 Nonetheless, GSA’s draft strategic
                      plan is silent on the status of its reform efforts. In addition, the draft
                      makes no mention of how GSA has worked to address the formidable
                      management problems that have been identified over the years or the
                      status of its efforts to address them.

                       GAO/OCG-93-28TR, Dec. 1992.

                      Page 15                               GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

This type of information could help GSA and its stakeholders in at least two
ways. First, it could help in the processes of developing and reviewing the
selection of goals, strategies, and objectives. Second, major management
problems could impede GSA’s efforts to achieve its goals and objectives,
and stakeholders could benefit from knowing what GSA has done, is doing,
or plans to do to address such problems. GSA clearly recognized the
importance of considering problems identified by GAO and others in its
previously issued strategy and business plan analyses for the Federal
Telecommunications Service Program. This plan recognized that the
lessons learned and verified over the years through reviews by GAO and
others were integral to its development of a new program strategy.

We have not recently examined GSA’s efforts to address the problems we
have identified over the last several years and have made only limited
examinations of reform efforts, such as FORM. Accordingly, we are not in a
position to comment on GSA’s success in these areas. The GSA Inspector
General’s office has been involved with the FORM process and believes it
has been instrumental in improving the delivery of GSA’s services and
reducing their costs. However, the Inspector General reported that FORM
evaluations should not be relied upon because better cost data are needed
for comparing competing service delivery options. The Inspector General
also reported that the benchmarking criteria used in each FORM analysis
were either limited in number or were not necessarily comparable to other
private or public entities engaged in similar activities.

We believe our past work, as well as that of GSA’s Inspector General,
identified problem areas significant enough to warrant some discussion in
the plan. At a minimum, in problem areas where GSA has taken successful
corrective actions, some discussion of how GSA addressed the problems
and intends to prevent them from resurfacing would be more informative
and useful. If the problems resurface, they could have a negative impact on
GSA’s ability to achieve its goals and measure performance. For other
problems where GSA may have had less success, the plan could identify
these and discuss how GSA plans to resolve them, because its ability to
successfully implement the Results Act may be hampered if these
management problems persist. The challenges GSA faces to correcting
major management problems that we have reported over the years
generally fall into four categories: (1) resolving conflicting roles,
(2) making GSA more businesslike, (3) strengthening GSA’s internal
management systems, and (4) improving GSA’s governmentwide
procurement practices.

Page 16                               GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

•   Resolving Conflicting Roles. When GSA was established in 1949, it was
    envisioned, primarily but not exclusively, as a policymaking body with the
    option of delegating its authorities while maintaining comprehensive
    accountability to Congress for efficiency and economy. Since its creation,
    however, GSA has been torn between an internal dynamic that favors a
    centralized approach for directly providing services and a largely external
    expectation that its primary role should be to issue governmentwide
    policy guidance and oversee decentralized operations within the
    departments and agencies themselves. We have reported over the years
    that building delegations, staffing reductions, increasing customer
    demands, and changing work technologies and concepts collectively
    dictate that GSA recognize that its traditional predilection for direct
    operations must become secondary to strategic leadership. We have said
    that GSA should not directly operate all the support services that federal
    agencies need to accomplish their missions. Instead, it should set
    governmentwide policy, provide effective and comprehensive oversight,
    and operate activities only where it makes sense to do so and is cost
    effective to have a central agency involved. (See, for example,
    GAO/T-GGD-92-4, GAO/OCG-93-28TR, and GAO/T-GGD-95-96.)4
•   Making GSA More Businesslike. As previously mentioned, GSA is in many
    respects a large, diversified business enterprise. Its real estate portfolio,
    supply procurement and distribution activities, travel and transportation
    services, telecommunications and computer services, and property
    management and disposal functions involve a cash flow of over $13 billion
    annually. We reported in 1992 that if GSA were a private company, it would
    rank among the top 50 on the Fortune 500 list. Despite its businesslike
    mission, however, our work over the last several years showed that GSA
    had difficulty operating in a businesslike manner in such areas as depot
    operations and management of its real estate portfolio. For example, in
    1992, we reported that GSA spent millions of dollars to modernize two of its
    four large depots at a time when the private sector was reducing the need
    for depots and moving toward direct deliveries of supplies. (See, for
    example, GAO/GGD-93-32, GAO/T-GGD-95-96, GAO/T-GGD-95-149, and GAO/T-GGD-92-4.)
•   Strengthening GSA’s Internal Management Systems. It is especially critical
    that GSA’s operations be supported by reliable information systems and
    adequately protected from fraud, waste, and mismanagement. However,
    our work found that GSA’s general management and internal control
    systems and practices needed substantial improvement. Our
    September 1992 report on internal controls found that GSA’s operations
    were not adequately protected from fraud, waste, and mismanagement.

     All reports referred to by number are identified in full in the Related GAO Products section at the end
    of this letter.

    Page 17                                              GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

                         GSA agreed with the bulk of this work and committed to implement various
                         recommendations we made to correct problems. (See, for example,
                         GAO/GGD-90-14 and GAO/GGD-92-98.)
                     •   Improving GSA’s Governmentwide Procurement Practices. GSA is
                         responsible for operating or overseeing several governmentwide
                         procurement programs. However, our past work showed that the
                         government’s procurement practices need improvement. In September
                         1992, we identified procurement of common use supplies and supply depot
                         operations as two of eight areas that were highly vulnerable to fraud,
                         waste, and mismanagement. Further, in January 1993, we found that GSA
                         continued to award competitive supply contracts to vendors who
                         repeatedly had supplied defective or poor-quality products or who were
                         late with deliveries. (See, for example, GAO/GGD-92-98, GAO/GGD-93-34, and

                         To efficiently and effectively operate, manage, and oversee its diverse
GSA’s Capacity to        array of public buildings, supply and transportation, information
Provide Reliable         technology, and telecommunications, and excess real and personal
Information on           property responsibilities, GSA needs reliable data. These data are needed so
                         that GSA can measure its progress and monitor, record, account for,
Achievement of           summarize, and interpret millions of transactions, as well as prevent,
Strategic Goals Is       detect, and combat instances of fraud, waste, abuse, or mismanagement.
Unclear                  As discussed previously, GSA relies on a number of automated management
                         information systems to carry out central management and
                         governmentwide service provider roles. However, our past work showed
                         that GSA lacks the timely, accurate, and reliable program data that it needs
                         to effectively manage and oversee its various activities and programs.
                         Several GAO and GSA Inspector General reports documented a variety of
                         operational and oversight problems at GSA that were caused by poor
                         management information.5 In the public buildings area, many of GSA’ s
                         program-related information systems have been obsolete, inaccurate,
                         and/or unreliable. Consequently, we found that the systems did not permit
                         or facilitate planning or decisionmaking. In its fiscal year 1996
                         accountability report, GSA’s auditors noted that financial management
                         practices in the Public Buildings Service continued to require

                         OMB guidance implementing the audit requirements of the Chief Financial
                         Officers Act of 1990 requires agency auditors to determine whether the

                          See, for example, GAO/T-GGD-96-19, GAO/GGD-94-145, GAO/GGD-93-34, and GAO/GGD-92-98.

                         Page 18                                       GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

agency’s internal control structure provides reasonable assurance that the
data supporting the reported performance measures exist and are
complete, so as to permit preparation of reliable and complete
performance information. Between 1994 and 1997, the GSA Inspector
General’s office made limited audits of the internal controls over the
production of reliable data to support various GSA performance measures
and found mixed results. Specifically, of the eight audits, controls over
producing reliable data to support the performance measures were
considered to be low risk for four performance measures, moderate risk
for three, and high risk for one.

Regarding financial management information systems, GSA reported for
several years in its Federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act Report that
deficiencies identified in the financial reporting area precluded managers
from having the appropriately detailed, accurate, and complete reports on
which to gauge financial performance and take appropriate actions. Also,
as GSA’s auditors noted in its fiscal year 1996 accountability report, a
number of reportable conditions are related to its financial statements,
including (1) the Public Buildings Service’s financial management
practices need improvement, (2) procedures to identify completed
construction projects are insufficient, (3) procedures for establishing
reserves for past due accounts require improvement, and (4) procedures
for establishing and evaluating the accuracy and completeness of year-end
accruals were not operating effectively. According to GSA, it has developed
a new system, one we have not evaluated, that has corrected some of
these deficiencies. On a positive note, GSA has been able to make its
year-end financial reports generally complete and has successfully
received unqualified audit opinions on its financial statements for a
number of years.

If GSA is to use data from its existing management information systems to
measure and manage program results, it needs to ensure that such data are
complete, reliable, and timely. At a minimum, GSA could discuss this issue
in its strategic plan especially with regard to (1) what it has done, is doing,
or plans to do, to address previously cited data problems; and (2) the ease
or difficulty it foresees with obtaining data to measure results, such as
private sector data that to its credit, it plans to use as a benchmark for
some goals and objectives. For example, one of its draft performance
goals is to manage public building operations at or below the prevailing
cost for comparable private sector activities.

Page 19                                 GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

                  It would also be helpful to GSA’s stakeholders to explain in the plan how
                  GSA intends to obtain data on the second general goal in its June 1997 plan
                  revision—thrilling its customers. It would seem as though at least one
                  performance goal, objective, and measure would relate to customer
                  satisfaction with GSA’s services, but getting good information from
                  customers is sometimes problematic. For example, some organizations
                  experience low response rates when they attempt to survey their
                  customers. Thus, it could be helpful if GSA were to discuss its proposed
                  approach and the ease or difficulty it anticipates with measuring how well
                  it is thrilling its customers.

                  On June 30, 1997, we provided a draft of this letter to GSA for oral
Agency Comments   comment. On July 2, 1997, we met with, and obtained comments from, the
                  two coordinators of strategic planning from the Office of Financial
                  Management and Office of Public Affairs, who are responsible for
                  preparing the strategic plan. These officials agreed with our observations
                  and said they found our comments informative and useful. They reiterated
                  that the development of the plan is an evolutionary and iterative process.
                  They added that it is especially important to recognize the need to reach
                  agreement or consensus on the mission statement and the general goals
                  and objectives before developing and then linking the other sections of the

                  As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce its contents
                  earlier, we plan no further distribution of this letter until 30 days from its
                  issue date. At that time, we will send copies of this letter to the Minority
                  Leader of the House of Representatives; Ranking Minority Members of
                  your Committees; the Chairmen and Ranking Minority Members of other
                  Committees that have jurisdiction over GSA activities; the Administrator of
                  GSA; and the Director, Office of Management and Budget. Copies will be
                  made available to others on request.

                  Page 20                                 GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

Major contributors to this letter are listed in the enclosure. Please contact
me at (202) 512-4232 if you or your staffs have any questions concerning
this letter.

Bernard L. Ungar
Director, Government Business
   Operations Issues


Page 21                                GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan

Major Contributors to This Report

                        Gerald Stankosky, Assistant Director, Government Business Operations
General Government      Issues
Division, Washington,   John F. Mortin, Senior Evaluator
D.C.                    David E. Sausville, Senior Evaluator
                        William J. Dowdal, Senior Evaluator

                        Linda D. Koontz, Associate Director
Accounting and          Joan B. Hawkins, Assistant Director
Management Division
Washington, D.C.
                        Alan L. Belkin, Acting Associate General Counsel
Office of the General   Susan Michal-Smith, Senior Attorney
Counsel, Washington,

                        Page 22                               GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan
Page 23   GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan
Page 24   GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan
Page 25   GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan
Related GAO Products

              Courthouse Construction: Better Courtroom Use Data Could Enhance
              Facility Planning and Decisionmaking (GAO/GGD-97-39, May 19, 1997).

              Courthouse Construction: Improved 5-Year Plan Could Promote More
              Informed Decisionmaking (GAO/GGD-97-27, Dec. 31, 1996).

              Federal Courthouse Construction: More Disciplined Approach Would
              Reduce Costs and Provide For Better Decisionmaking (GAO/T-GGD-96-19,
              Nov. 8, 1995).

              General Services Administration: Opportunities For Cost Savings in the
              Public Buildings Area (GAO/T-GGD-95-149, July 13, 1995).

              General Services Administration: Opportunities For Cost Savings and
              Service Improvements (GAO/T-GGD-95-96, March 29, 1995).

              Public Buildings: GSA’s Reinvention Initiatives (GAO/T-GGD-95-100, March 2,

              Federal Office Space: More Businesslike Leasing Approach Could Reduce
              Costs and Improve Performance (GAO/GGD-95-48, Feb. 27, 1995).

              Management Reform: Implementation of the National Performance
              Review’s Recommendations (GAO/OCG-95-1, Dec. 5, 1994).

              Real Property Management: Reforms in Four Countries Promote
              Competition (GAO/GGD-94-166, Sept. 30, 1994).

              Budget Issues: Budget Scorekeeping for Acquisition of Federal Buildings
              (GAO/T-AIMD-94-189, Sept. 20, 1994).

              General Services Administration: Better Data and Oversight Needed to
              Improve Construction Management (GAO/GGD-94-145, June 27, 1994).

              Supply Contract Terminations: GSA Is Missing Opportunities to Recover
              Costs From Vendor Default (GAO/GGD-94-137, June 15, 1994).

              Public-Private Mix: Extent of Contracting Out for Real Property
              Management Services in GSA (GAO/GGD-94-126BR, May 16, 1994).

              Management Reforms: Examples of Public and Private Innovations to
              Improve Service Delivery (GAO/AIMD/GGD-94-90BR, Feb. 11, 1994).

              Page 26                                GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan
Related GAO Products

Management Reform: GAO’s Comments on the National Performance
Review’s Recommendations (GAO/OCG-94-1, Dec. 3, 1993).

Public Buildings: Budget Scorekeeping Prompts Difficult Decisions
(GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-94-43, Oct. 28, 1993).

Federal Judiciary Space: Long-Range Planning Process Needs Revision
(GAO/T-GGD-94-18, Oct. 7, 1993 and GAO/GGD-93-132, Sept. 28, 1993).

Federal Real Property: National Performance Review Recommendations
(GAO/T-GGD-93-47, Sept. 21, 1993).

Multiple Award Schedule Contracting: Changes Needed in Negotiation
Objectives and Data Requirements (GAO/GGD-93-123, Aug, 25, 1993).

Federal Real Property: Key Acquisition and Management Obstacles
(GAO/T-GGD-93-42, July 27, 1993).

Federal Buildings Fund Limitations (GAO/GGD-93-34R, Apr. 5, 1993).

General Services Administration: Actions Needed to Stop Buying Supplies
From Poor-Performing Vendors (GAO/GGD-93-34, Jan. 11, 1993).

General Services Issues (GAO/OCG-93-28TR, Dec. 1992).

General Services Administration: Increased Direct Delivery of Supplies
Could Save Millions (GAO/GGD-93-32, Dec. 28, 1992).

General Services Administration: Actions Needed to Improve Protection
Against Fraud, Waste, and Mismanagement (GAO/GGD-92-98, Sept. 30, 1992).

General Services Administration: Distribution Center Modernization Was
Mismanaged (GAO/GGD-92-71, May 20, 1992).

Federal Office Space: Obstacles to Purchasing Commercial Properties
From RTC, FDIC, and Others (GAO/GGD-92-60, Mar. 31, 1992).

Real Property Management Issues Facing GSA and Congress (GAO/T-GGD-92-4,
Oct. 30, 1991).

   A Central Management Agency Needing Comprehensive
Congressional Oversight (GAO/T-GGD-92-3, Oct. 29, 1991).

Page 27                               GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan
           Related GAO Products

           Long-term Neglect of Federal Building Needs (GAO/T-GGD-91-64, Aug. 1, 1991).

           Federal Buildings: Actions Needed to Prevent Further Deterioration and
           Obsolescence (GAO/GGD-91-57, May 13, 1991).

           General Services Administration: Status of Management Improvement
           Efforts (GAO/GGD-91-59, Apr. 3, 1991).

           Facilities Location Policy: GSA Should Propose a More Consistent and
           Businesslike Approach (GAO/GGD-90-109, Sept. 28, 1990).

           General Services Administration: Delegated Buildings Adequately
           Operated But Better GSA Oversight Needed (GAO/GGD-90-76, May 15, 1990).

           The Disinvestment in Federal Office Space (GAO/T-90-24, Mar. 20, 1990).

           Federal Office Space: Increased Ownership Would Result in Significant
           Savings (GAO/GGD-90-11, Dec. 22, 1989).

           General Services Administration: Sustained Attention Required to Improve
           Performance (GAO/GGD-90-14, Nov. 6, 1989).

           Building Purchases: GSA’s Program Is Successful But Better Policies and
           Procedures Are Needed (GAO/GGD-90-5, Oct. 31, 1989).

           Public Buildings: Own or Lease? (GAO/T-GGD-89-42, Sept. 26, 1989).

(240256)   Page 28                                GAO/GGD-97-147R GSA’s Draft Strategic Plan
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