Performance Plans: Selected Approaches for Verification and Validation of Agency Performance Information

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-07-30.

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

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to the Chairman, Committee on
                 Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate

July 1999
                 Selected Approaches
                 for Verification and
                 Validation of Agency

United States General Accounting Office                                                        General Government Division
Washington, D.C. 20548

                                    July 30, 1999

                                    The Honorable Fred Thompson
                                    Chairman, Committee on Governmental Affairs
                                    United States Senate

                                    Dear Mr. Chairman:

                                    The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (Results Act) seeks
                                    to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability of federal
                                    programs by requiring federal agencies to set goals for program
                                    performance and to report on annual performance compared with the
                                    goals. Annual program goals are to be set out in annual performance plans,
                                    and performance against these goals is to be reported in annual
                                    performance reports. The first performance reports are to be submitted to
                                    the President and Congress no later than March 31, 2000.

                                    In order to credibly report progress toward intended results and to use the
                                    information for program management, agencies will need to have
                                    sufficiently trustworthy performance information. The Results Act requires
                                    agency performance plans to “describe the means to be used to verify and
                                    validate measured values” of performance. Verification includes the
                                    assessment of data completeness, accuracy, and consistency and related
                                    quality control practices. Its purpose is to ensure that the data will be of
                                    sufficient quality to document performance and support decision-making.
                                    Validation is the assessment of whether the data are appropriate for the
                                    performance measure.

                                    In a December 1997 letter to the Director of the Office of Management and
                                    Budget, congressional leadership stated that performance plans based on
                                    incomplete or inaccurate data would be of little use to Congress or the
                                    executive branch. Agencies submitted annual performance plans in spring
                                    1998 and 1999, setting goals for fiscal years 1999 and 2000, respectively. In
                                    response to congressional requests, we have reviewed the fiscal year 1999
                                    and 2000 performance plans of the 24 agencies covered by the Chief
                                    Financial Officers (CFO) Act. Our analyses of the fiscal year 1999
                                    performance plans concluded that most of the plans reviewed provided
                                    limited confidence that agencies’ performance data would be credible. In

                                     Managing for Results: An Agenda to Improve the Usefulness of Agencies’ Annual Performance Plans,
                                    (GAO/GGD/AIMD-98-228, Sept. 8, 1998).

                                    Page 1                      GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data

                   the report on their assessment of the 1999 performance plans, the House
                   leadership noted that “most agencies lack the reliable data sources and
                   systems needed to develop, validate and verify performance information.”
                   The report also noted that the problems in performance data were deep-
                   seated and resolving them would take much time and effort. Our
                   assessment of the fiscal year 2000 performance plans identified a
                   continuing lack of confidence in performance information as a major
                   concern. Ultimately, performance plans will not be fully useful to
                   congressional decisionmakers unless and until this key weakness is

                   In this report, as you requested, our objective is to identify reasonable
                   approaches that agencies have proposed or adopted to verify and validate
                   performance information. This report describes these approaches in order
                   to help agency managers select appropriate techniques for assessing,
                   documenting, and improving the quality of their performance data.

                   Overall, we found examples illustrating a wide range of possible
Results in Brief   approaches for increasing the quality, validity, and credibility of
                   performance information. (See app. I for a discussion of how agencies may
                   decide on specific approaches.) These approaches included a variety of
                   senior management actions, agencywide efforts, and specific program
                   manager and technical staff activities. These approaches can be organized
                   into four general strategies, as follows.

                   Management can seek to improve the quality of performance data
                   by fostering an organizational commitment and capacity for data
                   quality (see app. II). Managers are ultimately responsible for the quality of
                   performance information. We found examples of management
                   communications and actions to encourage the needed coordination,
                   resource allocation, and attention to data quality issues. Reporting efforts
                   to build organizational commitment to obtaining, maintaining, and using
                   good information and to developing the organization’s capacity to do so
                   can help improve the credibility of performance information.

                   Verification and validation can include assessing the quality of
                   existing performance data (see app. III). Assessments might target
                   specific measures in the performance plan or more broadly assess major

                    U.S. Congress, Seeking Honest Information for Better Decisions (http://freedom.house.gov/results/
                   implement/implement4.asp, June 1998).
                    Managing for Results: Opportunities for Continued Improvements in Agencies’ Performance Plans
                   (GAO/GGD/AIMD-99-215, July 20, 1999).

                   Page 2                       GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data

data systems to identify problems that may affect the use of performance
data. In our examples, assessments were conducted internally, built into
ongoing work processes and data systems, or involved independent
verification and external feedback.

Assessments of data quality are of little value unless agencies are
responding to identified data limitations (see app. IV).
Communicating significant data limitations and their implications allows
stakeholders to judge the data’s credibility for their intended use and to
use the data in appropriate ways. In addition to examples of reporting data
limitations and their implications in performance plans or other formats,
we saw examples of efforts to improve, supplement, or replace existing

Building quality into the development of performance data may
help prevent future errors and minimize the need to continually fix
existing data (see app. V). Reporting efforts to improve existing data
systems or processes can improve the credibility of performance
information. We found examples of efforts to build in data quality,
including involving stakeholders; providing feedback on data quality
problems; and using accepted practices in planning, implementing, and
reporting performance data.

Within these general strategies are more specific approaches that agencies
may choose to adopt. These specific approaches are listed in figure 1 and
discussed in more detail in appendixes II-V of this report.

We identified a wide range of reasonable approaches that agencies can
use, where appropriate, to improve the quality, usefulness, and credibility
of performance information. How an agency approaches data verification
and validation depends on the unique characteristics of its programs,
stakeholder concerns, performance measures, and data resources. For
example, different approaches may apply to the information collected
directly by a federal agency than to that obtained from state sources.
Verifying and validating information on client satisfaction may require
different approaches than information obtained by direct measurement of
environmental conditions, for example.

We expect that agencies will choose from among the approaches
described here or will develop different ones to arrive at a systematic
strategy suitable to their own situation and performance information
sources. Appendix I discusses a number of key questions that can arise
when agencies are deciding on the effort to be devoted to verification and

Page 3               GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data

                                      validation, the specific approaches to be adopted, and how to credibly
                                      report on their verification and validation efforts.

Figure 1: Menu of Agency Approaches
for Verifying and Validating
Performance Information

                                      Page 4               GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data

                Because of the need to develop a strategy that meets the unique
                circumstances of each agency, the framework we present is not a list of
                requirements or a checklist of steps to follow. Individual agencies should
                not necessarily be expected to use all of the approaches that we describe,
                and there may be other approaches that we have not identified.

                We conducted our work in six agencies: the Departments of Education,
Scope and       Transportation, and Veterans Affairs and the Environmental Protection
Methodology     Agency, National Science Foundation, and Office of Personnel
                Management. These agencies were selected after further review of the
                verification and validation information contained in the 24 annual
                performance plans we had assessed in 1999. We selected the agencies that
                we judged would provide a wide range of examples of reasonable
                verification and validation approaches and represented a variety of
                performance measurement contexts. These six agencies differed in the
                extent to which they

              • provided internal services to government or to the public,
              • conducted and supported scientific research, or
              • administered regulatory programs.

                They also varied in the extent to which their programs were carried out
                through the states or delivered directly.

                We identified examples of specific verification and validation approaches
                based on our review of the 1999 and 2000 performance plans and
                discussions with agency officials. Some of the additional examples
                identified by agency officials pertain to verifying and validating the
                performance information used for managing agency programs—not for
                assessing progress toward performance plan goals. We reviewed agency
                documents, where available, to confirm our examples and obtain
                additional detail.

                We selected examples that appeared reasonable and useful for other
                agencies to emulate because they were consistent with accepted
                professional practice for managing data quality. We found many more
                examples than are reported here, but we restricted our choices to two or
                three examples per approach. We included examples to represent different
                aspects of the approaches being discussed and to provide for a balance
                among the agencies reviewed.

                Where possible, our selection of examples drew on our previous work on
                the adequacy of the agencies’ performance information in specific program

                Page 5               GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data

                    areas. We did not do additional work to assess the adequacy or extent of
                    agencies’ implementation of these approaches, the quality of the
                    performance information, or whether the approaches had contributed to
                    improving data quality. Although we identified several specific reasonable
                    approaches that these agencies had in place or planned to implement, our
                    separate assessment of the 24 CFO Act agencies’ fiscal year 2000 plans
                    (including the six reviewed for this report) found that none provided full
                    confidence that their performance information would be credible. The
                    performance plans for the six agencies included in this report all provided
                    at least limited confidence in their performance information--that is, they
                    all addressed to varying extents, but not completely,

                  • their efforts to verify and validate performance data,
                  • actions to compensate for unavailable or low-quality data, and
                  • the implications of data limitations for assessing performance.

                    We developed the framework depicted in figure 1 by analyzing our
                    examples and by reviewing related professional literature. We sought
                    comments on the framework from external professionals and agency
                    officials and incorporated their suggestions where appropriate.

                    We focused our review on the verification and validation of nonfinancial
                    performance information. Generally, financial performance information
                    that is derived from the same systems that produce financial statement
                    information is subject to the internal control standards, federal financial
                    systems requirements, and accounting standards applicable to federal
                    agencies’ financial statement information.

                    We conducted our work between October 1998 and April 1999 in
                    accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

                    We did not seek comments on this report because it does not provide an
Agency Comments     overall assessment of agency data verification and validation efforts.
                    However, we asked officials in each of the six agencies to verify the
                    accuracy of the information presented. We incorporated their clarifications
                    where applicable.

                    As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents
                    earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days from the
                    date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies to Senator Joseph I.
                    Lieberman, Ranking Minority Member of your Committee; Representative
                    Richard K. Armey, Majority Leader; Representative Dan Burton, Chairman,
                    and Representative Henry A. Waxman, Ranking Minority Member, House

                    Page 6                GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data

Committee on Government Reform; and Jacob Lew, Director, Office of
Management and Budget. We will also make copies available to others on

This report was prepared under the direction of Stan Divorski. Mary Ann
Scheirer was a key contributor. If you have any questions regarding this
report, please contact me or Stan Divorski at (202) 512-7997.

Sincerely yours,

Susan S. Westin
Associate Director, Advanced Studies
  and Evaluation Methodology

Page 7               GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data

Letter                                                                                                   1

Appendix I                                                                                              12
                        What Are Verification and Validation?                                           12
Key Questions About     Why Are Verification and Validation Important?                                  12
Verification and        What Is Data Quality?                                                           13
                        How Good Do Data Need to Be?                                                    13
Validation              Does a Given Verification and Validation Approach Apply                         14
                          to All Programs?
                        Why Attend to Data Quality?                                                     15
                        How Can Verification and Validation Efforts Be Clearly                          16

Appendix II                                                                                             20
                        Communicate Support for Quality Data                                            20
Fostering               Review Organizational Capacities and Procedures for                             21
Organizational            Data Collection and Use
                        Facilitate Agencywide Coordination and Cooperation                              22
Commitment and          Assign Clear Responsibilities for Various Aspects of the                        23
Capacity for Data         Data
                        Adopt Mechanisms That Encourage Objectivity and                                 24
Quality                   Independence in Collecting and Managing Data
                        Provide Responsible Staff With Training and Guidance                            25
                          for Needed Skills and Knowledge
                        An Example of Agencywide Capacity-building at ED                                26

Appendix III                                                                                            28
                        Build Data Quality Assessment Into Normal Work                                  28
Assessing the Quality     Processes, Including Ongoing Reviews or Inspections
of Existing Data        Use Software Checks and Edits of Data on Computer                               30
                          Systems and Review Their Implementation
                        Use Feedback From Data Users and Other Stakeholders                             30
                        Compare With Other Sources of Similar Data or Program                           32
                        Obtain Verification by Independent Parties, Including the                       32
                          Office of the Inspector General
                        Consequences From Assessing the Quality of Existing                             34

                        Page 8               GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data

Appendix IV                                                                                            35
                        Report Data Limitations and Their Implications for                             35
Responding to Data        Assessing Performance
Limitations             Adjust or Supplement Problematic Data                                          37
                        Use Multiple Data Sources With Offsetting Strengths and                        37
                        Improve the Measure by Using Another Source or New                             38
                          Methods of Measurement

Appendix V                                                                                             39
                        Use Prior Research or Analysis to Identify Data Elements                       40
Building Quality Into     That Adequately Represent the Performance to Be
the Development of        Measured
                        Gain Agreement Among Internal and External                                     40
Performance Data          Stakeholders About a Set of Measures That Are Valid
                          for Their Intended Use
                        Plan, Document, and Implement the Details of the Data                          41
                          Collection and Reporting Systems
                        Provide Training and Quality Control Supervision for All                       44
                          Staff Who Collect and Enter Data, Especially at Local
                        Provide Feedback to Data Collectors on Types of Errors                         45
                          Found by Data Checks
                        Use Analytic Methods and Transformations Appropriate                           46
                          for the Data Type and Measure Being Reported
                        An Alternative Approach to Performance Assessment at                           46

Figures                 Figure 1: Menu of Agency Approaches for Verifying and                           4
                          Validating Performance Information
                        Figure I.1: Sample Presentation Format From ED’s Fiscal                        18
                          Year 2000 Performance Plan
                        Figure II.1: Approaches to Fostering Organizational                            20
                          Commitment and Capacity
                        Figure III.1: Approaches to Assessing the Quality of                           28
                          Existing Data
                        Figure IV.1: Approaches for Responding to Data                                 35
                        Figure V.1: Approaches to Building Data Quality Into the                       39
                          Development of Performance Data

                        Page 9              GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data


ANSI        American National Standards Institute
BTS         Bureau of Transportation Statistics
DOT         Department of Transportation
ED          Department of Education
EPA         Environmental Protection Agency
GPRA        Government Performance and Results Act
HEDIS       Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set
ISTEA       Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act
IPBS        Integrated Performance and Benchmarking System
NCES        National Center for Education Statistics
NCQA        National Committee for Quality Assurance
NHTSA       National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
NSF         National Science Foundation
OMB         Office of Management and Budget
OPM         Office of Personnel Management
RIS         Retirement and Insurance Service
SEA         State educational agencies
SEDCAR      Standards for Education Data Collection and Reporting
VA          Department of Veterans Affairs
VBA         Veterans Benefits Administration
VHA         Veterans Health Administration

Page 10            GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data
Page 11   GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data
Appendix I

Key Questions About Verification and

                            Many questions can arise when agencies are deciding on the effort that
                            should be devoted to verification and validation and the specific
                            approaches appropriate to their agency and program contexts. These
                            questions can include

                        • What are verification and validation?
                        • Why are verification and validation important?
                        • What is data quality?
                        • How accurate do data need to be?
                        • Does a given verification and validation approach apply to all programs?
                        • Are Results Act requirements the only reasons for attending to data
                        • How can accountability for verification and validation be clearly reported?

                            Verification and validation refer to aspects of quality control needed to
What Are Verification       ensure that users can have confidence in the reported performance
and Validation?             information. We define these terms as follows:

                        • Verification is the assessment of data completeness, accuracy,
                          consistency, timeliness, and related quality control practices.
                        • Validation is the assessment of whether data are appropriate for the
                          performance measure.

                            We are not addressing here other aspects of “validity,” such as the
                            appropriateness of the agency’s choice of performance measures in
                            relation to its goals and objectives. Other GAO products discuss issues
                            related to other aspects of validation. For example, our Results Act:
                            Evaluator’s Guide provides guidance on defining expected performance,
                            and on validly connecting missions, goals, and activities.

                            Both verification and validation help to ensure that data of sufficient
Why Are Verification        quality will be available when needed to document performance and
and Validation              support decision-making. To be useful in reporting to Congress on the
Important?                  fulfillment of Results Act requirements and in improving program results,
                            the data must also be “credible,” that is, they must be seen by potential
                            users to be of sufficient quality to be trustworthy.
                             The term “validation” can be used in many different ways, including validation of the appropriateness
                            of the agency’s overall goals and objectives, given the agency’s legislative mandates and mission;
                            performance measures as “validating” the program, e.g., to provide evidence of program results;
                            assessing whether the performance measures chosen by the agency are clearly related to the target
                            objectives; and its more limited use in this report.
                             The Results Act: An Evaluator’s Guide to Assessing Agency Annual Performance Plans (GAO/GGD-
                            10.1.2, Apr. 1998).

                            Page 12                      GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data
                          Appendix I
                          Key Questions About Verification and Validation

                          Reporting validation and verification procedures helps to ensure that data
                          will be credible to potential users. The Office of Management and Budget
                          (OMB) guidance states that “The means used should be sufficiently
                          credible and specific to support the general accuracy and reliability of the
                          performance information . . .”(OMB Circular A-11, sec. 220.13). Attention
                          to “credibility,” in addition to more technical aspects of data quality,
                          requires careful consideration of the needs of the audiences for the

                          Choices among potential verification and validation approaches involve
What Is Data Quality?     senior management’s making decisions about data quality. The approaches
                          that agencies use to verify and validate performance data should address
                          key dimensions of data quality. Specific agencies and professional sources
                          have developed data quality criteria specifically relevant to their context
                          and content area. The key dimensions of data quality suggested below
                          were developed for this report to illustrate the types of quality concerns
                          that agencies consider. These are not intended to be exhaustive of all
                          potential quality considerations, nor substituted for agency-developed
                          criteria. Examples of data quality elements are the following:

                        • Validity—the extent to which the data adequately represent actual
                        • Completeness—the extent to which enough of the required data elements
                          are collected from a sufficient portion of the target population or sample.
                        • Accuracy—the extent to which the data are free from significant error.
                        • Consistency—the extent to which data are collected using the same
                          procedures and definitions across collectors and times.
                        • Timeliness—whether data about recent performance are available when
                          needed to improve program management and report to Congress.
                        • Ease of use—how readily intended users can access data, aided by clear
                          data definitions, user-friendly software, and easily used access procedures.

                          There is no easy answer to the question of how good data need to be. No
How Good Do Data          data are perfect. In general, data need to be good enough to document
Need to Be?               performance and support decision-making. Decisions as to “how good is
                          good enough” may depend on the uses of the data and the consequences of
                          program or policy decisions based on those data. These factors may
                          involve trade-offs among the dimensions of data quality presented above.
                          On the one hand, emphasizing the completeness of a planned data
                          collection effort may reduce its timeliness when data are to be obtained
                          from a large number of independent entities (such as school districts or
                          industrial establishments). On the other hand, seeking to increase
                          timeliness by using a scientific sampling procedure to reduce the number

                          Page 13                  GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data
                              Appendix I
                              Key Questions About Verification and Validation

                              of entities providing data would reduce the completeness of coverage of
                              entities from which data are collected, but may still provide adequate data
                              for performance measurement.

Different Measures May        Different levels of accuracy may be needed in different circumstances. For
                              example, audits of financial data, assessments of the extent of air pollution
Require Different Levels of   to use in environmental performance measures, and opinion surveys may
Accuracy                      all require different levels of accuracy. Within these areas, professional
                              judgment plays a role in determining acceptable error levels. In sample
                              surveys, it is recognized that the margin of error “should be dictated by
                              how much error the investigators feel they can live with in reporting
                              survey results.”

Amount of Change Desired      The amount of desired change in performance can also influence the
                              determination of a reasonable data standard. If the amount of error is not
Affects Data Standards        sufficiently less than the amount of change targeted, it will not be possible
                              to determine whether change in the measured value is due to error or
                              actual changes in performance.

                              Agencies use different approaches to validate and verify performance
Does a Given                  measures for different types of programs. For example, service delivery
Verification and              assistance programs (e.g., of the Department of Education) or
Validation Approach           administration of earned benefits (e.g., benefits to federal employees
                              administered by the Office of Personnel Management) might use
Apply to All Programs?        performance data from a survey of beneficiaries, with data quality criteria
                              derived from appropriate procedures for sample surveys. In contrast,
                              regulatory programs, such as those of the Environmental Protection
                              Agency, may measure targeted pollutants, based on scientifically derived
                              procedures for assessing each pollutant. Determining the most appropriate
                              validation and verification approaches for each type of program is a matter
                              for individual agency diagnosis, analysis, and choice, taking into account
                              stakeholder views, the relevant professional standards, and technical

                              Useful verification and validation approaches will also vary with the data
                              source being used for the performance measure. For example, if agencies
                              have substantial direct control over data that they generate during their
                              normal operations (e.g., while processing claims for benefits due), agency
                              managers can directly supervise quality control. In contrast, if agency
                              partners, such as state or local grantees, collect the performance data,

                               Lu Ann Aday, Designing and Conducting Health Surveys: A Comprehensive Guide (San Francisco:
                              Jossey-Bass, 1989), p. 120.

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                            Appendix I
                            Key Questions About Verification and Validation

                            substantial negotiation may be needed to agree on what data elements are
                            feasible to collect and how quality is to be ensured.

                            Agencies identified several influences, in addition to the Results Act, that
Why Attend to Data          encourage attention to data quality. These influences can be external or
Quality?                    internal in origin, and attending to them can help improve programs.

External Factors Can        External influences include external critics, legislative mandates, and the
                            need to comply with professional standards in each program delivery area,
Encourage Data Quality      such as health care delivery. For example, Department of Transportation
                            (DOT) officials identified several sources that stimulated its efforts to
                            improve data quality. These sources included the Results Act, the National
                            Performance Review, and provisions of the Intermodal Surface
                            Transportation Efficiency Act. This legislation set out explicit data
                            requirements for DOT and created the Bureau of Transportation Statistics
                            with the mission to compile statistics and improve the quality of agency

                            External studies by the National Performance Review and the National
                            Academy of Public Administration identified a need for the Environmental
                            Protection Agency (EPA) to work to improve the quality of environmental
                            data. EPA has also been striving to increase the availability of
                            environmental data to the public and has recently established the
                            expansion of the public’s right to know about their environment as a
                            strategic goal. The increased availability of data has brought data quality
                            issues to the surface, and external stakeholders have identified
                            inaccuracies in EPA data.

Data Use Is an Internal     Agency staff cited increased use of data for program management as an
                            internal influence leading to better data quality. For example, EPA
Factor That Encourages      identified the limited operational use of some data as a root cause of errors
Data Quality                in the data, as no operational unit was using those data in managing its
                            work. The agency described a variety of potential uses for environmental
                            data, including regulatory compliance, public right-to-know, environmental
                            status and trends reporting, program management, and performance
                            accountability tracking, as called for under the Results Act. To help
                            achieve a better fit between its data and this variety of uses, the agency has
                            undertaken suitability assessments of key data systems for uses other than
                            those originally intended.

Attention to Data Quality   Agency attention to data quality can help managers increase efficiency or
                            improve operations—for example, by improving the flow of program tasks
Can Help Improve Programs   and the coordination among related programs.

                            Page 15                  GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data
                         Appendix I
                         Key Questions About Verification and Validation

                         Tracing data flow as a part of assessing the quality of existing data can also
                         lead to improvements in the “business processes” that rely on that data. In
                         examining the reasons for problems with data quality, EPA identified a
                         lack of correspondence between data systems and overall business
                         process management at the program level as one of the factors. Veterans
                         Benefits Administration (VBA) officials noted that efforts were undertaken
                         to reengineer its business processes to better meet the needs of individual
                         veterans and to improve information about VBA’s business and veterans.
                         These efforts included new procedures to credit benefit processors for
                         their work, changing their focus from an emphasis on “timeliness” to a
                         broader range of work quality criteria in order to improve services to
                         veterans and reduce the potential for distorting measures. These criteria
                         are reflected in a “balanced scorecard” for its performance measures (see
                         app. V).

                         Validation and verification are not isolated, technical concerns relevant
                         solely to the requirement of the Results Act. Use of data is part of good
                         management. Further, the production of data to inform both business
                         concerns and the public is a fundamental mission of such government
                         agencies as EPA and DOT. Therefore, fostering data quality is fundamental
                         to total agency management. Obtaining agency commitment to and
                         capacity for data that can be verified and validated is a major management
                         issue addressed in appendix II.

                         In our reports on agency fiscal year 1999 and 2000 performance plans, we
How Can Verification     concluded that they provided limited confidence that performance data
and Validation Efforts   would be credible, observing that the plans lacked specific information on
Be Clearly Reported?     verification and validation procedures and on data limitations. Our
                         assessment of the 2000 performance plans noted that most did not identify
                         actions that agencies were undertaking to compensate for the lack of
                         quality data.

                         Our report on practices that can improve performance plan usefulness to
                         congressional and other decsionmakers identified a number of ways

                          For a more detailed discussion of the relationship between data quality control and business
                         processes, see Thomas C. Redman, Data Quality for the Information Age (Norwood, MA: Artech House,
                             GAO/GGD/AIMD-98-228, Sept. 8, 1998 and GAO/GGD/AIMD-99-215, July 20, 1999.

                         Page 16                       GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data
                                 Appendix I
                                 Key Questions About Verification and Validation

                                 agencies could describe their capacity to gather and use performance
                                 information. These practices include

                             •   identifying internal and external sources for data,
                             •   describing efforts to verify and validate performance data,
                             •   identifying actions to compensate for unavailable or low-quality data, and
                             •   discussing implications of data limitations for assessing performance.

Highlight Verification and       In addition to these, our current review found examples where agencies
                                 enhanced the communication of verification and validation approaches by
Validation Procedures            highlighting them and the data source being verified and validated. We also
                                 observed opportunities for agencies to enhance the credibility of their
                                 performance plans through more emphasis on verification and validation
                                 procedures already in place.

                                 For example, the Department of Education (ED) in its fiscal year 2000 plan
                                 used a format that reflects a number of practices to help communicate
                                 verification and validation approaches. Figure 2 shows the format ED used
                                 to explicitly define each indicator and comment on its background,
                                 succinctly describe the implications of a data limitation, briefly present
                                 verification and validation information, and identify the data source. A
                                 similar format was used by DOT in an appendix to provide information on
                                 the data source, verification and validation procedures, and limitations for
                                 each measure.

                                 In addition to presenting verification and validation specific to individual
                                 measures and data sources, ED and DOT used a separate section to
                                 highlight general verification and validation procedures that applied across
                                 a number of measures or data sources.

                                  Agency Performance Plans: Examples of Practices That Can Improve Usefulness to Decisionmakers
                                 (GAO/GGD/AIMD-99-69, Feb. 26, 1999).

                                 Page 17                    GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data
                                         Appendix I
                                         Key Questions About Verification and Validation

Figure I.1: Sample Presentation Format From ED’s Fiscal Year 2000 Performance Plan

                                         Page 18                  GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data
                        Appendix I
                        Key Questions About Verification and Validation

Report Key Approaches   Some agencies’ performance plans provide descriptions of planned quality
                        control procedures, without including some ongoing procedures whose
Already in Place        description could have increased the credibility of their measures. For
                        example, ED’s fiscal year 2000 plan does not describe the extensive quality
                        control procedures already in place for its ongoing national student testing
                        program, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The
                        Department plans to use measures from this program for several key
                        indicators of major objectives, such as Indicator 2: “ Students in high
                        poverty schools will show continuous improvement in achieving
                        proficiency levels comparable to those for the nation.” This program is
                        managed by the National Center for Educational Statistics, using credible
                        procedures and expert involvement that could have been summarized in
                        ED’s plan.

                        As another example, the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) plan
                        does not mention several existing quality control procedures in place for a
                        management information system that will provide a number of indicators
                        for OPM’s Retirement and Insurance Service. The plan does briefly
                        mention that verification is undertaken by its Quality Assurance Division,
                        but does not describe approaches used by program management, such as
                        the use of a “physical inventory” to check work processing statistics and
                        accuracy checks on death claims processing.

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Appendix II

Fostering Organizational Commitment and
Capacity for Data Quality

                                       Obtaining quality performance information is an agencywide management
                                       issue, as well as one requiring special attention from technical and
                                       program staff. Management needs to create a climate that encourages the
                                       needed coordination, resource allocation, and attention to data quality
                                       issues that enable improvements in data quality. Several agencies are
                                       making efforts to stimulate such a commitment to obtaining, maintaining,
                                       and using good information and to developing the organization’s capacity
                                       to do so. The approaches that agencies are adopting to foster
                                       organizational commitment and capacity are shown in figure II.1 and
                                       discussed below.

Figure II.1: Approaches to Fostering
Organizational Commitment and

                                       Senior agency executives play an important role in fostering program
Communicate Support                    management and staff commitment to data quality. For agency staff and
for Quality Data                       mid-level managers to put priority on data quality, they need to see that
                                       senior management values and will use quality performance information
                                       for decision-making. We learned from agency officials that data quality is a
                                       higher priority when program staff and management see that data will be
                                       used for management. Senior executives can provide confidence that they
                                       value and will use good quality data by communicating its importance,
                                       making data quality an organizational goal, creating a climate of managing
                                       for results, and providing technical and financial support.

VBA Senior Management                  For example, in response to an audit by the Department of Veterans Affairs
                                       (VA), Office of the Inspector General, senior officials of the Veterans
Emphasized the Importance              Benefits Administration (VBA) have used presentations and written
of Accurate Data                       communications to emphasize to staff the importance of accurate data.
                                       The Inspector General concluded that data on the timeliness of processing
                                       veterans’ claims for benefits were not accurate enough to provide

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                             Fostering Organizational Commitment and Capacity for Data Quality

                             meaningful measures of VBA’s performance. Senior management
                             acknowledged to their staff that data were inaccurate and emphasized the
                             implications of inaccurate data. They also asked staff to undertake reviews
                             to ensure the accuracy of management reports. Management provided staff
                             with a list of unacceptable practices that influence data accuracy and were
                             instructed to stop those practices immediately. Agency officials reported
                             that the communications from senior management resulted in increased
                             attention to data quality and in improvements to data accuracy, such as
                             more accurate recording of the time taken to process compensation

                             VBA has also moved to foster an organizational commitment to data
                             quality through establishing a related organizational goal in its strategic
                             plan, which is that “VBA’s data systems will be reliable, timely, accurate,
                             integrated, honest, and flexible.”

VHA Holds Managers           Progress in managing for results also appears to have resulted in greater
                             attention to data quality at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). One
Accountable for Program      strategy employed by VHA to encourage managers to focus on results was
Performance                  the initiation of a performance contract system. In this system, the Under
                             Secretary for Health negotiates performance agreements with all senior
                             executives in VHA that hold them accountable for quantifiable
                             performance targets. Although these targets do not include ones for data
                             quality, VHA officials told us that assessing managers’ performance against
                             them has resulted in greater attention to data quality.

EPA Provides Technical and   In another example, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) management
                             created an initiative that included the provision of technical and financial
Financial Support to         support for improving data quality. EPA’s One-Stop Program is a long-term
Improve Data Quality         effort to develop a coherent overall environmental reporting system to
                             address reporting burden and lack of integrated data. EPA will provide
                             technical support and financial assistance to states for developing
                             information management infrastructure and processes, including the
                             adoption of standard data elements.

                             Fostering organizational capacity to produce and maintain good quality
Review Organizational        performance information may require assessing existing organizational
Capacities and               capacities and procedures using external or internal reviews.
Procedures for Data          Organizational capacities that might be assessed include the appropriate
                             location of responsibilities for integrating and coordinating data; sufficient
Collection and Use           staff and expertise to fulfill these responsibilities; appropriate hardware
                                  Veterans Benefits Administration, Roadmap to Excellence: Planning the Journey (May 29, 1998).

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                               Fostering Organizational Commitment and Capacity for Data Quality

                               and software; and resources for building, upgrading, and maintaining the
                               data systems.

Internal EPA Review            For example, EPA charged a task force of senior managers with
                               redesigning the agency’s internal management structure to better meet its
Proposed Restructuring of      new information demands. In carrying out its charge, the task force
Information Responsibilities   consulted with EPA employees, external stakeholders, and the states. The
                               report of the task force recommended establishing a single program
                               manager for information management and policy combined with
                               strengthening information resources management and technology
                               functions. In response to the recommendations, the agency has planned
                               the establishment of an Information Office that would bring together
                               information management functions previously housed separately. The new
                               office is to contain a new Quality and Information Council with a role that
                               includes the provision of agencywide strategic direction and advice on
                               quality and data collection. An Information Quality Staff is to support the

DOT Legislation Required       Legislation establishing the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)
                               called for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an external review
External Panel Review of       of the adequacy of data collection procedures and capabilities of the
Data Collection Capabilities   Department of Transportation (DOT). A panel of experts was subsequently
                               appointed to examine the functions that BTS could or did perform and the
                               resources and capabilities it had to carry out those functions. The study
                               report noted a number of areas for improvement, including the need to
                               build and maintain a strong statistical and technical staff, which is being
                               implemented by DOT.

                               Coordination of data quality efforts across systems or offices can be a key
Facilitate Agencywide          issue in agencies. Reporting on annual performance goals may require
Coordination and               integrating data from different systems, which requires coordination
Cooperation                    across organizational units.

                               The agencies we contacted have numerous data systems that collect the
                               data used for agency performance measures. We found that, often, these
                               systems were initially constructed to meet the management needs of
                               specific programs, sometimes in another organizational unit.
                               Consequently, they may collect different data elements or use different
                               data definitions and standards, even for the same data element. The
                               involvement of higher level administrators may be needed to facilitate the
                               necessary coordination among semi-independent organizational units and
                               to obtain agreement on the division of responsibilities. The agencies we
                               reviewed had developed a variety of mechanisms to facilitate the

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                             Fostering Organizational Commitment and Capacity for Data Quality

                             coordination and cooperation needed for good quality data in these

VHA’s Data Quality Council   For example, the Veterans Health Administration has established a Data
                             Quality Council, chaired by the Deputy Under Secretary for Health, with a
to Ensure Coordination       mandate to ensure open discussion and greater collaboration in the area of
                             data quality policy development and implementation. The Council is to
                             include representatives from headquarters as well as regional and field
                             offices. Among its specific responsibilities is ensuring the coordination and
                             communication of major national data quality issues and initiatives.

Several ED Groups to         The Department of Education (ED) is initiating several activities to foster
                             agencywide implementation of data standards. Several groups contribute
Coordinate Agencywide        to the coordination of this effort, including a strategic planning team; a
Implementation of Data       panel to review the individual performance plans submitted by each ED
Standards                    office, including a review of data sources and quality; and a work group to
                             develop data quality standards.

OPM Uses Work Group to       Coordinating the perspectives of multiple organizational stakeholders may
                             enhance the validity of data elements chosen to provide a performance
Coordinate Performance       measure. For example, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) used a
Measure Development          work group involving several organizational units in developing and
                             approving survey items for assessing OPM’s performance on federal
                             personnel policy issues.

                             Many people “touch” performance data, including suppliers and creators of
Assign Clear                 the data, those who store and process data, and those who use it. Data are
Responsibilities for         more likely to be of high quality when it is clear who is responsible for
Various Aspects of the       each step in data creation and maintenance, from the initial specification
                             and definition of data elements to correctly entering data about clients;
Data                         providing training for and supervision of those who enter data; transferring
                             data from initial to final formats; and appropriately analyzing and reporting
                             the performance measures.

                             A primary responsibility for the quality of a program’s data rests with the
                             manager of that program. Often, performance information is directly
                             collected by the operating components and may be used for managing
                             those programs. Because these data are also used for decision-making by
                             other levels of management and for reporting to Congress, managers’
                             direct responsibility for data quality has broader implications. Several
                             agencies are explicitly holding immediate program managers and their
                             divisional administrators accountable for the quality of data from their

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                             Fostering Organizational Commitment and Capacity for Data Quality

ED Is Requiring Managers     For example, the Department of Education is planning to hold managers
                             accountable by requiring them to attest to the quality of the program data
to Certify That Their Data   used for performance measures. ED has developed detailed data quality
Meet the Standards           standards and procedures for implementing this requirement. ED’s
                             evaluation office will also provide support services, such as training in the
                             application of data standards for performance measurement. If they
                             cannot certify that the data for a performance measure meet the standards,
                             the managers are to provide plans for bringing the data up to standard.

EPA Assigns Responsibility   EPA provides an example of agency efforts to clearly assign
                             responsibilities for various aspects of data quality. Headquarters’ sponsors
to Sponsors and Producers    of data in EPA’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation,
of Data                      and Liability Information System database are responsible for identifying
                             and defining needed data elements, and the regional manager who
                             produces the data is responsible for reviewing, verifying, and validating the
                             data for this system. An Information Management/Program Measurement
                             Center under EPA’s Office of Emergency and Remedial Response is
                             assigned a variety of responsibilities for the completeness, accuracy,
                             integrity, and accessibility of data.

                             An organizational capacity for objectivity and independence in key data
Adopt Mechanisms             collection, management, and assessment processes can help create a
That Encourage               climate that fosters data quality. Fostering objectivity and independence as
Objectivity and              a protection against bias is a major principle of several disciplines,
                             including auditing, scientific research, and program evaluation.
Independence in
Collecting and
Managing Data
OPM’s RIS Operates           We found instances of a deliberate management strategy to introduce
                             mechanisms for fostering independence in data collection and
Independently From           management. At the Office of Personnel Management, the Retirement and
Program Offices              Insurance Service’s (RIS) Management Information Branch operates
                             independently from the relevant program offices and reports directly to
                             the RIS Associate Director through the Assistant Director for Systems,
                             Finance, and Administration. OPM’s fiscal year 2000 performance plan
                             notes that this arrangement is part of its strategy “to ensure the integrity of
                             the performance indicators” derived from its comprehensive management
                             information system, which is used to monitor and report output (business
                             process) measures.

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                             Fostering Organizational Commitment and Capacity for Data Quality

ED Is Planning Several       At the Department of Education, in addition to holding program managers
                             responsible for their program’s data, several mechanisms are being
Mechanisms for the           planned to ensure independent review of the data submitted, including
Independent Review of Data   involvement and review by staff of the National Center for Educational
                             Statistics, Inspector General’s Office, and Planning and Evaluation Service.

                             Both external sources and our prior publications concerning results
Provide Responsible          management have emphasized the importance of training managers about
Staff With Training and      measurement issues so they can implement performance management.

Guidance for Needed          Understandably managers whose prior job roles emphasized other tasks,
                             such as awarding and managing portfolios of grants or contracts, may lack
Skills and Knowledge         skills in using performance data—that is, managing for results. Without
                             assistance, management and staff may not understand how measurement
                             is best implemented or how to correctly interpret performance
                             information, especially how to acknowledge its limitations.

                             We have previously noted that “ . . . staff at all levels of an agency must be
                             skilled in . . . performance measurement and the use of performance
                             information in decision-making. Training has proven to be an important
                             tool for agencies that want to change their cultures.”

ED Plans to Train Managers   The Department of Education’s Inspector General reported on the status
                             of ED’s implementation of the Results Act before March 1998. The
                             Inspector General found that “not having a sufficient number of staff
                             qualified in information processing, evaluation and reporting,” and “the
                             difficulty of analyzing and interpreting performance measurement data”
                             were two of the three most frequently identified barriers to successful
                             implementation of the Results Act identified by 27 key staff they
                             interviewed. ED plans to provide several types of training opportunities for
                             its managers, including conducting workshops provided by a training
                             contractor, one-on-one “coaching” with managers of the largest programs,
                             and having evaluators review managers’ self-ratings of data quality to ask
                             questions about weaknesses they may have overlooked.

                             Kathryn E. Newcome, “Comments on the Future for Performance-Based Management in the U.S.
                             Federal Government” in Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology, Office of Management and
                             Budget, Statistical Policy Working Papers (#28: Seminar on Interagency Coordination and
                             Cooperation), pp. 148-49, and Report of the Auditor General of Canada, “Moving Toward Managing for
                             Results” (Oct. 1997), pp. 11-26.
                              Executive Guide: Effectively Implementing the Government Performance and Results Act (GAO/GGD-
                             96-118, June 1996), p. 42.

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                             Fostering Organizational Commitment and Capacity for Data Quality

The VA Inspector General     Some agencies are already developing training and guidance for managers
                             to build the needed knowledge and skills. For example, the VA Office of
Has Issued a Program         the Inspector General has issued a program manager’s guide on the
Manager’s Guide on           auditor’s approach to auditable performance measures. By highlighting the
Auditable Performance        requirements for data collection and the common problems found in its
Measures                     audits, the Inspector General intends to contribute to program managers’
                             awareness and better enable them to plan for their data collection and
                             performance reporting activities.

                             The approaches we described in this section can be part of an integrated
An Example of                strategy for fostering the agency’s commitment to enhanced data quality.
Agencywide Capacity-         As discussed, the Department of Education is embarking on a major effort
building at ED               to make high-quality performance data an agencywide priority. A summary
                             of its plans illustrates an integrated strategy that incorporates multiple

                             Senior ED managers have made obtaining valid and verifiable data a
                             departmental priority. This is documented by the inclusion of the following
                             indicator in ED’s fiscal year 2000 performance plan: “By 2000, all ED
                             program managers will assert that the data used for their program’s
                             performance measurement are reliable, valid, and timely, or will have
                             plans for improvement.

                             Several groups provide related coordination. These include a strategic
                             planning team; a panel to review all performance plans, including a review
                             of data sources and quality; and a work group to develop data quality

                             In carrying out this priority, the Department of Education

                           • has developed an explicit set of “Standards for Evaluating the Quality of
                             Performance Indicators/Measures,” which includes definitions, examples
                             of meeting or failing to meet each standard, and possible methods for data
                             checking, for each of six standards;
                           • is requiring program managers to certify the data quality for each
                             performance indicator, using a standard rating system, or to provide plans
                             for bringing data quality up to the standards;
                           • has developed an explicit plan for implementing the data standards, which
                             documents the detailed steps to be followed;
                           • is providing several types of training for program managers on the data
                             standards and their implementation;
                           • is using independent oversight by the evaluation office and the Inspector
                             General to provide concurrence with program managers’ assessment of the

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  Appendix II
  Fostering Organizational Commitment and Capacity for Data Quality

  quality of their data and to issue a Program Data Quality Report Card
  summarizing data status;
• is developing new integrated data systems for elementary and secondary
  data to coordinate data definitions, collection, and reporting among ED’s
  programs and state and local education agencies; and
• is communicating with Congress on statutory changes needed to support
  the Department’s reporting for the Results Act; for example, making
  recommendations for the reauthorization of the Elementary and
  Secondary Education Act to limit data required from states to the data
  elements essential for Results Act reporting.

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Appendix III

Assessing the Quality of Existing Data

                                        One strategy for verifying and validating proposed performance data is to
                                        assess the quality of current data to identify problems that may affect their
                                        use. Assessments might target specific measures in the performance plan
                                        or more broadly assess major data systems and their problems. Examples
                                        of both broad and narrow data assessments are presented below. If an
                                        assessment shows adequate data quality, the agency will need to reassess
                                        performance data periodically to verify that data quality is maintained.
                                        Such quality assessments can examine each measure along the relevant
                                        dimensions of data quality, such as those described in appendix I, for
                                        example. In assessing data quality, the agency may first need to establish
                                        the appropriate quality dimensions for its data because these may differ for
                                        various types of programs and data sources.

                                        Several approaches for assesing existing performance information are
                                        shown in figure III.1 and discussed below. These are intended as an initial
                                        “menu of approaches,” not a checklist of requirements. Each agency needs
                                        to choose approaches that fit the intended uses of its performance
                                        information, nature of its data and data systems, resources available for
                                        assessing the data, and initial diagnosis of the extent of problems in
                                        current data systems.

Figure III.1: Approaches to Assessing
the Quality of Existing Data

                                        For some types of performance measures, quality assurance procedures
Build Data Quality                      can be built into the agency’s normal workflow and managerial oversight.
Assessment Into                         These may be appropriate, for example, when the performance data are
Normal Work                             derived from information systems used to manage the workflow, such as
                                        benefits or claims determination. This approach is consistent with advice
Processes, Including                    from the business world to design quality into data systems for managing
Ongoing Reviews or                      business processes by using methods that make data error detection and
Inspections                             correction a normal part of agency operations.

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                               Assessing the Quality of Existing Data

OPM’s RIS Routinely            For example, the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Retirement
                               and Insurance Service (RIS) routinely verifies the accuracy of federal
Verifies the Accuracy of Its   retiree benefit calculations. Several times each year, its Quality Assurance
Calculations and Provides      Division reviews a statistically representative sample of completed
Feedback to Managers           calculations and draws conclusions as to whether each claim was merited
                               or not. Division staff provide feedback from this verification to help
                               managers maintain quality control over the accuracy of benefits awarded.
                               OPM staff stated that they now have a 95-percent accuracy rate from this
                               process. The aggregate data from these accuracy checks are also now used
                               as a performance measure to meet the requirements of the Results Act.

VBA Annually Reviews           A major role of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Compensation
                               and Pension programs is to process disability claims from veterans. This
Cases Selected Randomly        program has built accuracy checks into its normal work processes since
From Regional Offices          1992. Under a new quality review system, the Systematic Technical
                               Accuracy Review (STAR), VBA headquarters will annually review about
                               7,400 cases selected from regional offices. In addition, VBA will require
                               each regional office to review samples of its own work products using
                               STAR procedures. The purpose of STAR is “to improve the accuracy of
                               compensation and pension claims by providing current and diagnostic
                               information about the accuracy of work being produced at the field
                               stations.” Data from the STAR system will also be used for the program’s
                               performance reporting.

EPA’s Science Advisory         The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board
                               was established to provide independent scientific and engineering advice
Board Conducts Peer            to the EPA Administrator on the technical basis for EPA regulations. Its
Reviews                        members include scientists, engineers, and economists from academia,
                               industry, and the environmental community. The board conducts scientific
                               peer reviews to assess the technical merit of agency positions. These
                               reviews include whether data are of sufficient quality to support
                               environmental measures and whether proposed measurement models and
                               methods are appropriate.

                               Department of Veterans Affairs, Fiscal Year 2000 Budget Submission, Departmental Performance Plan,
                               p. 49.

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                            Assessing the Quality of Existing Data

                            Use of electronic data management and processing systems normally
Use Software Checks         includes a variety of automated checks on data values and integrity. These
and Edits of Data on        can include built-in “range checks,” which notify the data manager if an
Computer Systems and        entered value falls outside of the expected range for that data element;
                            consistency checks among several data elements that should be
Review Their                consistent, such as age and current enrollment in school; procedures for
Implementation              ensuring the integrity of data files and their links to other files; and overall
                            system controls for data security and integrity.

                            Assessing the quality of existing data in such computerized systems
                            involves reviewing the implementation of these procedures. Such a review
                            would start with the detailed documentation for each data system to
                            assess the completeness of the intended software checks and edits. The
                            actual procedures would then be reviewed to ensure that they are being
                            carried out consistently. Finally, the results from the data checks would be
                            examined. The assessment would include such things as the percent of the
                            data initially entered that fall outside the range and consistency checks
                            and the implementation of procedures for correcting the data.

                            Our publication, Assessing the Reliability of Computer-Processed Data
                            (GAO/OP-8.1.3, Sept. 1990), discusses the issues concerned with this
                            approach, and provides several checklists of useful types of data tests and
                            computer system controls in its appendixes I and II.

Contractors Must Apply      The Department of Education’s (ED) publication on Standards for
                            Education Data Collection and Reporting contains a major section on data
ED’s Standards on Data      preparation and reporting, with nine detailed sets of standards for these
Preparation and Reporting   processes, including designing data processing systems, testing data
                            processing systems, and documenting data processing activities. ED staff
                            indicated that the contractors who conduct the projects used to provide
                            data for performance measures must apply these standards.

                            Current users of data systems and their results may have valuable
Use Feedback From           experience with the strengths and weaknesses of existing data and can
Data Users and Other        provide insights into the data’s credibility with external audiences. These
Stakeholders                users and stakeholders can include agency staff members in program or
                            statistical offices; providers of data, such as state agencies or local
                            grantees; academics or “think tank” staff who use the data for policy
                            analysis; and industry representatives who base plans or decisions on
                            comparative or trend statistics from the data.

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                           Assessing the Quality of Existing Data

EPA Has Several Methods    For example, the Environmental Protection Agency seeks stakeholder
                           feedback on the quality and usefulness of its performance data in several
for Obtaining Data User    ways: customer consultations, posting feedback forms on its Internet site,
Feedback                   and sending data to users and providers for verification.

                           To obtain “customer” feedback, the Center for Environmental Information
                           and Statistics conducted meetings with national, regional, state, and local
                           environmental data users to ask what information they need and how they
                           would like to access it. In addition, the participants expressed concerns
                           with the accuracy of data entry, transmittal, and agency reporting.

                           EPA posts a wide variety of environmental information on its Internet Web
                           site. In particular, the site’s Envirofacts Warehouse provides a single point
                           of access to environmental data maintained by EPA. The site and each data
                           source link to a feedback form that invites questions or comments about
                           Envirofacts databases.

                           EPA also verifies some data by sending it back to its originators for
                           comment. The agency’s pilot Sector Facility Indexing Project includes
                           information on inspections of regulated facilities and noncompliance with
                           regulations. As part of its process for verifying the data, EPA sent each
                           facility a copy of its compliance and enforcement data for review and
                           comment to make sure mistakes were caught before the information was

VHA Convened a Data        Using stakeholders to provide feedback on data collection and
                           management problems, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
Quality Summit to Elicit   convened a 3-day Data Quality Summit in December 1998 to bring together
Feedback From              staff from its network of veterans hospitals, information systems, and
Stakeholders               central office staff. Prior to the summit, participants were asked to prepare
                           papers on data quality issues that they believed affected the organization.
                           Examples of issues identified by participants included coding problems,
                           data definitions, and data correction and consistency. The Data Quality
                           Summit obtained input on potential solutions that would meet the needs of
                           the multiple users of the data systems. Follow-up work groups are to
                           develop action plans for needed improvements.

NSF Uses a Contractor to   For one of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) science education
                           programs, a contractor was used to obtain feedback on the validity of data
Check Validity of Data     reported annually by each project. To confirm that these data elements
Reported by Projects       incorporated the intended meaning, a contractor conducted an informal
                           telephone survey of 15 projects, asking project evaluators about their
                           understanding of the questions used in reporting the data items. The

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                            Assessing the Quality of Existing Data

                            contractor also collected more detailed information about the procedures
                            used in collecting the data locally and identified problems that projects
                            were having with individual items. The contractor reported that
                            respondents generally understood the data definitions, concepts, and time
                            frames that had been established to govern responses to individual items.

                            A fourth approach to assessing the quality of existing data is to compare
Compare With Other          the performance information with data from other sources. Comparisons
Sources of Similar          can serve several different purposes. One purpose is to assess the validity
Data or Program             of the performance measure by comparing the data elements or source to
                            be used with related data elements from another source. Another purpose
Evaluations                 is to test the accuracy of data from an ongoing system with data from a
                            more rigorously collected source that may be available only periodically,
                            such as a one-time evaluation.

OPM’s RIS Compares          One example is provided by the Office of Personnel Management’s
                            Retirement and Insurance Service, which processes about 4 million paper
Management Information      items each year to manage the federal retirement system. To cross-check
System Data With Periodic   the accuracy of the performance statistics in their management
“Physical Inventories” of   information system, the central office staff reports that they periodically
Paper Documents             request a “physical inventory” of pending work in each local office at the
                            end of a week. They compare actual counts of hard-copy documents on
                            hand at that point with that office’s statistics generated by the
                            management information system for that week. If there are discrepancies,
                            the central staff works with local managers to avoid duplicate counting
                            and other errors.

VHA Compared Data From      Useful comparison among data sources can include analysts’ judgments.
                            Staff at the Veterans Health Administration reported that they compare
Program Offices With        data from program offices with more aggregated data from their central
Centrally Aggregated Data   systems for assessing health care “capacity” indicators. If the comparison
                            reveals inconsistencies in these sources, they reconcile differences by
                            contacting the relevant program managers to learn reasons for the
                            differences and to reach consensus on the most accurate numbers for the
                            intended presentation.

                            For data elements drawn from data systems in regular use, a key
Obtain Verification by      assessment step could be the verification of the accuracy of results by an
Independent Parties,        external, independent examiner, such as a professional body or the
Including the Office of     agency’s Inspector General. A reported result can be checked for
                            completeness, consistency, and accuracy by tracing the data, or a
the Inspector General       representative sample of data, back to their original source. Verification
                            can involve analyzing whether the end data match the initial data source. It

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                               Assessing the Quality of Existing Data

                               can also involve assessing whether data collection and transformation
                               procedures are fully documented and followed consistently.

ED’s Inspector General         For example, several measures for the Department of Education’s
                               elementary and secondary education assistance programs will be provided
Traced Data Flow and           by state educational agencies (SEAs). To assess the accuracy,
Control in Several State       completeness, methods of calculation, and presentation of targeted
Educational Agencies           educational data elements for example states, ED’s Inspector General
                               conducted field assessments in four SEAs in early 1999. The Inspector
                               General’s staff conducted interviews with state officials and attempted to
                               trace the data flow and data control processes in place in each state.

                               This exploratory work toward data verification is intended to identify
                               processes used by SEAs to accumulate and report performance data to
                               ED, to identify limitations in the data submitted, and to describe any
                               barriers to improving data quality. This assessment also provides
                               background for a major redevelopment of joint data collection efforts
                               between ED and its state and local partners.

VA’s Inspector General Is      The Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs has focused
                               on audits of key performance measures. With input from management, the
Assessing Critical Data        Inspector General identified a subset of 11 performance measures
Elements                       considered most critical for measuring the agency’s performance. The
                               initial audit focused on data for three measures relating to the timeliness
                               achieved by the Veterans Benefits Administration in processing claims
                               from veterans for disability compensation and pension benefits. The audit
                               assessed the data for validity, reliability, and integrity (the extent to which
                               the data could not be “gamed” or manipulated), in accordance with
                               guidance contained in our report, Assessing the Reliability of Computer
                               Processed Data (GAO/OP-8.1.3, Sept. 1990).

                               The Inspector General compared source documents with information on
                               automated systems for three random samples of claims completed in fiscal
                               year 1997. The audit found that “more than 30 percent of the records in
                               each of the three samples contained inaccurate or misleading data.” VBA
                               administrators have cited the findings as an impetus for rigorous data
                               improvement efforts.

OPM Uses External              Use of data that are “certified” by an external, professional body is another
                               means for independent verification. For example, the Office of Personnel
Certification of Health Care   Management, which administers the federal employees’ health insurance
Data                           program, works closely with the professional organization for improving
                               quality in managed health care, the National Committee for Quality

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                        Appendix III
                        Assessing the Quality of Existing Data

                        Assurance (NCQA). OPM requires its health insurance carriers to submit
                        scores for the Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set (HEDIS),
                        which is managed by NCQA. HEDIS is a set of standardized health care
                        quality measures used to compare managed care health plans.

                        To ensure that HEDIS quality specifications are met, NCQA has developed
                        a data auditing procedure using licensed organizations and certified
                        auditors for assessing carriers’ nonfinancial data elements. The audit
                        includes verifying a sample of HEDIS measures to confirm that HEDIS
                        results are based on accurate source information. The process results in a
                        certification rating of “Report,” “Not report,” or “Not applicable” for each
                        measure reviewed.

                        As a result of using the approaches outlined above, or from other data
Consequences From       assessment procedures, the agency will be able to identify data of
Assessing the Quality   adequate quality for some measures, as well as gaps and limitations in
of Existing Data        some data elements planned for use as performance measures. For some
                        of the limitations, the approaches identified in appendix IV can be
                        undertaken to provide more credible data. In other circumstances, the
                        agency may decide that it needs to substantially change its data acquisition
                        process or create a new data system to “build quality” into performance
                        data, which is addressed in appendix V.

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Appendix IV

Responding to Data Limitations

                                 Agencies have undertaken a variety of approaches to assessing the quality
                                 of existing data, as discussed in appendix III. Assessments of data quality
                                 do not lead to improved data for accountability and program management
                                 unless steps are taken to respond to the data limitations that are identified.
                                 Guidance for assessing agencies’ performance plans calls for them to
                                 identify significant data limitations and to discuss the steps being taken or
                                 proposed to address those limitations. In the report summarizing
                                 observations on 1999 agency performance plans, we found that “in general,
                                 agencies’ annual performance plans did not include discussions of known
                                 data limitations and strategies to address them.” Our assessment of the
                                 fiscal year 2000 plans found that agencies generally do not identify actions
                                 they are taking to compensate for the lack of quality data, nor do they
                                 discuss implications for decision-making.

                                 Improving future performance information, as outlined in appendix V, is
                                 one important response to findings concerning data limitations.
                                 Appropriate agency responses to directly address the data limitations,
                                 shown in figure IV.1, are discussed below.

Figure IV.1: Approaches for
Responding to Data Limitations

                                 Making stakeholders aware of significant data limitations allows them to
Report Data                      judge the data’s credibility for their intended use and to use the data in
Limitations and Their            appropriate ways. All data have limitations that may hinder their use for
Implications for                 certain purposes but still allow other uses. Stakeholders may not have
                                 enough familiarity with the data to recognize the significance of their
Assessing Performance            shortcomings. Therefore, appropriate use of performance data may be
                                 fostered by clearly communicating how and to what extent data limitations
                                     The Results Act: An Evaluator’s Guide to Assessing Agency Plans (GAO/GGD-10.1.20, Apr. 1998), p. 45.
                                     GAO/GGD/AIMD-98-228,Sept. 8, 1998.
                                     GAO/GGD/AIMD-99-215, July 20, 1999.

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                               Appendix IV
                               Responding to Data Limitations

                               impact on assessments of performance. Communicating the implications
                               of data limitations can involve specifically identifying appropriate and
                               inappropriate interpretations of the data.

DOT’s BTS Reports on Data      In response to a legislative requirement that the Department of
                               Transportation’s (DOT) Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) identify
Sources, Gaps, and             information needs on an ongoing basis, the Bureau published a report that
Weakness                       identified initial gaps in transportation statistics and proposed strategic
                               responses. The report identifies data gaps and weaknesses in a variety of
                               areas, such as transportation safety; energy use; and the flow of people,
                               goods, and vehicles. For example, the report notes that transportation
                               injuries are underreported and that there are inconsistencies in how
                               injuries are reported, complicating the assessment of transportation safety.

ED Provides a Section on       The Department of Education (ED) includes a section on “Limitations of
                               the Data” when presenting each indicator in its performance plan. (See fig.
Data Limitations for Each      I.1 in app. I for ED’s presentation format.) For some objectives, ED also
Indicator in Its Annual Plan   discusses the reasons for and implications of these limitations as they
                               affect the verification and validation of the measure. In addition, as part of
                               their review and certification that data for performance measures meet
                               ED’s data quality standards, program managers are to identify any
                               standards that are not met and steps for correcting these limitations.

DOT’s Performance Plan         An appendix in DOT’s performance plan for fiscal year 2000 contains a
                               section on limitations in the data sources for each performance measure in
Explains How Limited Data      the plan. The discussions of limitations for some performance measures
May Still Be Useful            also include the implications of the limitations for performance
                               measurement. For example, the plan notes that because of the judgment
                               involved in assessing whether mariners are in distress, the reported rate
                               may overestimate the number of lives saved. However, the plan argues that
                               the reporting from year to year is likely to be consistent, providing a
                               reasonable estimate of changes over time.

ED Describes Challenges        In addition to describing some of its data limitations, ED’s performance
                               plan provided a context for its efforts to address limitations by describing
Involved in Obtaining High-    the challenges that they faced. A detailed section on “measurement
Quality Performance Data       challenges” describes data limitations derived from the decentralized
                               system of elementary and secondary education, in which many national
                               goals and objectives are under limited federal control. Further, it discusses
                               the need to measure programs with overlapping goals but disjointed
                               information systems as well as identify knowledge gaps where the
                               Department is attempting to “measure the hard-to-measure.”

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                                Appendix IV
                                Responding to Data Limitations

                                Sometimes, data limitations can be overcome by conducting accepted
Adjust or Supplement            statistical adjustments, such as statistical modeling or estimating values
Problematic Data                for missing data elements. However, statistical adjustments are sometimes
                                controversial and can be hard for nonspecialists to understand.
                                Appropriate use depends on a number of assumptions underlying each
                                adjustment procedure, whose application requires considerable
                                specialized expertise.

DOT Uses Statistical            One common data limitation is the inability to get information on all cases
                                of interest. DOT reports the use of statistical adjustments to compensate
Adjustments to Compensate       for this problem. Blood alcohol consumption test results are not available
for Missing Data                for all drivers and nonoccupants involved in fatal crashes. Using important
                                crash characteristics, such as crash vehicle and person factors, the DOT’s
                                National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) seeks to avoid
                                an undercounting of these fatalities by employing a statistical model to
                                adjust for missing data. Without this correction, the percentage of alcohol-
                                related highway fatalities would appear to be lower than they actually are.

ED Analyzes Nonresponses        The Schools and Staffing Survey, used by ED for several performance
                                measures, collects data from a variety of educational staff, such as
and Statistically Adjusts the   teachers, administrators, and librarians and for public and private schools.
Reported Data                   Even after rigorous survey administration procedures and telephone
                                follow-up, response rates differ among these components. To reduce bias
                                in reported results, the National Center for Educational Statistics conducts
                                analysis of the sources of nonresponse, then uses statistical procedures to
                                adjust the data reported.

                                Comparing information derived from data sources with different strengths
Use Multiple Data               and weaknesses adds confidence to judgments about performance.
Sources With                    Agencies may have access to two or more data sources that can provide
Offsetting Strengths            information on a given area of performance. Although each data source
                                may have serious limitations, confidence in results may be increased when
and Limitations                 each source provides the same overall picture of performance. Combining
                                data sources may also provide a more complete picture of performance
                                than can be obtained from a single source.

OPM Is Identifying              The Office of Personnel Management is comparing results from three
                                different surveys to identify consistencies and to stimulate discussion of
Consistencies and               reasons for any differences. The surveys examine federal employee and
Discussing Differences in       human resource personnel satisfaction or perceptions with regard to
the Results of Three            human resource operations and OPM initiatives. They expect to report on
Surveys                         these analyses in next year’s performance plan.

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                            Appendix IV
                            Responding to Data Limitations

OPM Customer Satisfaction   OPM’s Employment Service operates an automated Employment
                            Information Service, containing postings of federal job openings. The
Data Validated by Web       system automatically collects several kinds of data, including use statistics
Master                      and customer satisfaction feedback. The results concerning customer
                            satisfaction are validated qualitatively by the system Web master from
                            complaints received and any technical problems identified with regard to
                            recent system enhancements.

                            Some data limitations can be addressed by replacing the data source. In
Improve the Measure         some cases, improving data collection and management procedures, as
by Using Another            described in appendix V, may correct the problem. Comparing data with its
Source or New               original source and correcting the errors in existing data may also be
                            possible, for example, if the limitations occur because of inaccurate data
Methods of                  coding and entry. However, fixing existing data can be expensive, and
Measurement                 unless stakeholders require the historical data as a baseline, the resources
                            may be better used to find new information or new methods of

NHTSA Uses Data From        The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uses private industry
                            data on vehicle registration rather than federal estimates, believing that the
Private Industry            former more closely reflect the actual mix of vehicles on highways.
                            Federal statistics are obtained from state information systems, which may
                            overcount certain vehicles if they have been transferred from one state to
                            another and show up in both states’ files.

VBA Has Changed Its         The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has recently changed its
                            method for estimating the accuracy rate for the processing of veterans’
Method for Estimating the   compensation and pension claims. This rate is one of its performance
Accuracy Rate for Claims    measures. VBA’s system for measuring accuracy had indicated an
Processing                  estimated 95-percent accuracy rate for the claims processing activity.
                            However, questions arose because the processing of veterans’ appeals of
                            these initial decisions reversed about 19 percent of the appealed decisions
                            and remanded about 47 percent back for further development and

                            The Systematic Technical Accuracy Review (STAR) was implemented to
                            improve the accuracy of the work of compensation and benefits officers
                            and to provide information for measuring annual performance goals
                            concerning accuracy. Pilot tests of the new STAR system found only a 64-
                            percent accuracy rate in claims processing decisions. Compared to the
                            earlier system, the STAR system focuses more on decisions that are likely
                            to contain processing errors and uses a stricter standard for computing
                            accuracy rates.

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Appendix V

Building Quality Into the Development of
Performance Data

                                       Improving data quality by detecting and correcting errors with existing
                                       data will not necessarily prevent future errors. Assessments of existing
                                       data elements or systems to be used for performance measures may reveal
                                       that improvements are needed in current data systems or that new systems
                                       are needed. Agency performance plans are expected to indicate any
                                       changes or improvements being made to modify, improve, or expand the
                                       capability of existing data systems or processes, according to the Office of
                                       Management and Budget’s (OMB) Circular A-11 guidance for performance

                                       Reporting data design and collection procedures may be particularly useful
                                       when data are collected episodically, rather than on an ongoing basis. In
                                       these circumstances, it may not be feasible to verify the data by comparing
                                       them to an original source or alternative data sources, such as in a
                                       nonrecurring survey.

                                       Figure V.1 lists approaches that agencies can take to build quality into their
                                       performance data.

Figure V.1: Approaches to Building
Data Quality Into the Development of
Performance Data

                                       Page 39               GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data
                          Appendix V
                          Building Quality Into the Development of Performance Data

                          Several agencies use findings from basic research to assess the validity of
Use Prior Research or     potential data elements for measuring intended performance. Research
Analysis to Identify      may illuminate the relationships between the agency’s strategies and
Data Elements That        outcomes in the content area of the performance measure. Or, appropriate
                          measuring tools and data collection procedures may be drawn from this
Adequately Represent      literature or adapted to become more compatible with the agency’s needs.
the Performance to Be
EPA Uses Research on      For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Drinking
                          Water Program uses research on the health risks associated with specific
Health Risk in Drinking   levels of exposure to set standards for maximum contaminant levels. The
Water                     agency measures its annual progress in ensuring that Americans will have
                          clean and safe drinking water by estimating and reporting the percentage
                          of the population served by water systems that meet all health-based

OPM Used Research on      The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) uses several sample surveys
                          to assess federal agency human resources staff satisfaction, for example,
Customer Satisfaction     with OPM technical assistance and guidance materials. To develop valid
                          items for its survey instruments, OPM’s Personnel Resources and
                          Development Center reviewed extensive research on “customer
                          satisfaction” in the fields of organizational psychology, management, and
                          marketing. From this literature, OPM identified nine underlying service
                          dimensions of customer satisfaction, including the courtesy, knowledge,
                          and timeliness of the service staff as well as the extent of choice and
                          quality for the specific service. OPM developed a set of survey scales with
                          30 core items for these nine dimensions, along with four general items
                          about overall quality and satisfaction. The core items were pretested with
                          staff in three agencies before the measures were included in OPM’s
                          customer satisfaction surveys, used to provide measures in OPM’s
                          performance plan.

                          Selecting or developing valid data elements can also be enhanced by
Gain Agreement            involving others who collect or use the resulting data (stakeholders). This
Among Internal and        step is particularly useful when staff outside the agency will be the primary
External Stakeholders     data collectors, such as staff in state or local agencies or grantees. Such
                          consultation helps to establish consensus on the data elements that are
About a Set of            valid measures of the underlying concept and that take into account the
Measures That Are         varied local circumstances and resource availability affecting the
Valid for Their           consistency of data collection.
Intended Use

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                            Appendix V
                            Building Quality Into the Development of Performance Data

An ED Panel Is Developing   For example, the Department of Education (ED) is facilitating the
                            development of an Integrated Performance and Benchmarking System
an Integrated System for    (IPBS) for its elementary and secondary education programs. Currently,
State Reporting             most ED programs have separate reporting systems, with considerable
                            overlap in the types of information collected, but not always common
                            definitions of key terms, such as “student.” Most states also collect similar
                            types of data, but often not in ways that allow them to compare with other
                            states. The IPBS initiative will seek agreement among states and ED
                            program managers for a common core of data elements. It is currently in
                            an exploratory phase, with representatives from two states cochairing a
                            panel in conjunction with staff from ED to develop a system plan. Full
                            national implementation is intended by 2004. ED also expects to award
                            financial grants to states for implementing the needed improvements.

                            Further, such consultation may be desirable even within an agency, to
                            avoid overemphasis on any single measure. Collecting data on only a
                            limited aspect of total performance may encourage management and staff
                            to look for ways to make performance appear better than it actually is.
                            Obtaining within-agency agreement on a more balanced set of
                            performance measures may help to minimize distortions that can result
                            from overemphasis on a single measure.

VBA Is Developing an        For example, Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) officials told us that
                            improved data quality was an anticipated benefit of their adopting a
Expanded, More Balanced     “balanced scorecard” approach to performance measurement. For this
Set of Performance          approach, VBA staff are developing an array of measures that capture the
Measures                    various elements of VBA’s strategic vision, including measures of
                            timeliness, accuracy, unit cost, employee development, and customer
                            satisfaction. The new set of measures expands VBA’s previous emphasis
                            on timeliness and productivity. Although improved data quality is not the
                            primary purpose for adopting a more balanced set of measures, the
                            officials we talked to believed that this would be one benefit of the

                            Agencies find that developing new or revised data systems involves a
Plan, Document, and         number of aspects that need to be carefully planned and carried out for the
Implement the Details       resulting data to be valid and verifiable. These aspects can include the
of the Data Collection      exact specifications of the data elements to be collected, the population or
                            sample of entities from which to collect data in each location, the detailed
and Reporting Systems       steps for data collection and manipulation in each location, training for
                            local data collectors, oversight procedures for local supervision of data
                            collection, and quality standards to be employed in that oversight. After
                            these efforts, the subsequent reporting of validation and verification

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                               Appendix V
                               Building Quality Into the Development of Performance Data

                               methods in the performance plan could focus on the methods employed to
                               build in data quality, for example, by documenting the steps undertaken in
                               developing and implementing the data collection system.

ED’s Even Start Family         To obtain consistent data from different locales, detailed plans for the data
                               definitions and data collection procedures are needed. This planning may
Literacy Program Illustrates   involve local partners, if they will be responsible for data collection. For
Planning for Data              example, ED’s Even Start Family Literacy Program provides a
Definitions and Data           multicomponent program for low-income families in more than 600
Collection                     locations across the nation. ED staff report they have involved the
                               grantees in developing data definitions and changes in the data collection
                               procedures as they have evolved since 1989. ED uses a contractor to work
                               with the local projects in developing its reporting system, which has five
                               data reporting forms for various population groups in the program. The
                               data collection system is documented in a detailed user’s manual, which
                               contains an explanation of every question in every form, as well as
                               instructions for using the automated data entry system. The contractor
                               maintains a toll-free telephone line for answering questions about the data
                               forms and communicates immediately with a grantee if its data submission
                               appears to contain errors.

                               Plans for data processing at a central level also need to be developed and
                               documented to ensure consistency among multiple staff and over time, as
                               turnover occurs among staff. These plans include how the data will be
                               transferred from the individual collection sites, how it will be stored and
                               processed, and how it will be aggregated into the needed performance
                               measures. These developmental steps involve the technical staff and data
                               processing specialists from the several organizational levels that will
                               collect and manage the data. Implementing the plans will also involve
                               using the software checks and edits for data on computer systems that are
                               discussed in appendix III.

EPA’s Toxic Release            For example, EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory is a database containing
                               industry-reported data or estimates about releases of listed chemicals that
Inventory Illustrates          exceed certain amounts. EPA’s Center for Environmental Information and
Planning and Control of        Statistics indicates that every facility uses the same forms for reports and
Data Processing at the         that input forms are checked centrally for completeness, valid formats,
Central Level                  chemical identification numbers, and internal consistency. The agency
                               runs computer checks against the reported data. When potential errors are
                               identified, facilities are notified to allow for correction.

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                             Appendix V
                             Building Quality Into the Development of Performance Data

ED Developed Quality         The development of new or revised data systems can be aided by utilizing
                             relevant expertise and professional standards to advise on both the
Standards for Performance    content of the measures and the technical aspects of information systems.
Measures Using Relevant      For example, ED developed a brief set of draft “Standards for Evaluating
Expertise and Professional   the Quality of Performance Indicator Measures” that all the Department’s
Standards                    programs will be required to follow when reporting their performance
                             data. To develop these standards, ED drew on internal expertise from
                             several disciplines, including both educational statistics and auditing; used
                             a contractor to collect examples of quality standards; and had draft
                             standards reviewed intensively by the Department’s Evaluation Review
                             Panel, a group of external evaluation experts from academia and state

EPA Environmental Data       EPA requires all its environmental programs to be supported by quality
                             systems that comply fully with standards for environmental data collection
Collection Must              developed by the American Society for Quality and authorized by the
Demonstrate Conformity                                                     1
                             American National Standards Institute (ANSI). EPA’s policy requires the
With ANSI Standards          development of Quality Management Plans for programs and Project
                             Assurance Project Plans for individual projects, as recommended in the

ED’s NCES Has Detailed       The ED’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has detailed
                             standards and specifications for designing, conducting, and analyzing
Survey Standards and         educational surveys, including those collecting data used for performance
Specifications                          2
                             measures. These standards are built into new contracts for data
                             collection, and quality control procedures are monitored by each
                             contract’s technical officer, then documented in technical reports for each
                             survey. Each project also has a technical review panel, which reviews the
                             details of survey design and quality control during data collection.

NSF Is Using an Electronic   Some agencies are trying to minimize data entry and transmittal errors by
                             using or planning for electronic data systems, rather than using paper-
Web-Based Process to         based data collection forms, for initial data entry and transmittal to a
Obtain Final Reports From    central location. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is
Grantees                     implementing an electronic, Web-based process for the submission of final
                             reports from its research grants. The on-line report format includes a
                             number of features to ensure appropriate data entry, including hypertext
                             American Society for Quality Control, American National Standard: Specifications and Guidelines for
                             Quality Systems for Environmental Data Collection and Environmental Technology Programs (ANSI/
                             ASQC E4-1994, Jan. 3, 1995).
                             National Center for Education Statistics, NCES Statistical Standards (Washington, D.C.: Department of
                             Education (NCES 92-021r)), 1992; Westat, Inc., and NCES, SEDCAR: Standards for Education Data
                             Collection and Reporting (Washington, DC: Department of Education (NCES 92-022r)), 1991.

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                             Appendix V
                             Building Quality Into the Development of Performance Data

                             explanations and definitions as to what is needed in each entry, automatic
                             range checks to flag improper entries, and immediate feedback to the
                             grantee regarding invalid entries.

                             The electronically submitted reports are then reviewed by NSF’s content
                             area project officers, who check whether entries are reasonable and
                             consistent with other information about that project. NSF staff believe that
                             this electronic report submission leads to quicker turnaround time for data
                             submission; simplified and more accurate data entry; data more relevant
                             for program management; and therefore, more use of the data by program

                             The quality of any information system, and of the performance measures
Provide Training and         derived from it, depends on the quality of the data being entered. To obtain
Quality Control              the necessary consistency and accuracy in data collection and entry,
Supervision for All          several agencies are providing training and supervision of data collectors
                             as a part of their data quality procedures. Such training helps to ensure
Staff Who Collect and        that those collecting and entering the data have a common understanding
Enter Data, Especially       of the meaning of each data element, the conventions for using each
at Local Levels              categorization or coding rule, the frequency with which data are to be
                             entered, and so on. If data collection will use electronic forms, hands-on
                             experience with sample cases to code and enter during the training is

ED’s Even Start Program      For example, the ED’s Even Start program provides annual training on
                             data collection issues for new grantees and new data management staff
Provides Annual Training     who supervise local data collection and entry. As an example of the
on Data Collection           training activities covered, Even Start’s training agenda for spring 1998

                           • orientation to the roles of various staff members and contractors involved
                             with the data collection used for performance measures,
                           • discussion of the use and findings from similar data in prior evaluation
                             reports to illustrate the importance of accurate data collection,
                           • directions and answers to frequently asked questions about six types of
                             data collection forms,
                           • tips about local data entry methods and schedules, and
                           • demonstration sessions and opportunities for hands-on practice in using
                             electronic data entry forms.

                             In addition to this annual training, evaluation and data collection concerns
                             are discussed in meetings of grantees.

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                              Appendix V
                              Building Quality Into the Development of Performance Data

VHA Has Produced a            To engage staff across the country in data quality issues, the Department
                              of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) produced
Professional Training Video   a training video called “I am Joe’s Data” for initial use at its Data Quality
                              Summit. The video shows the “travel” of data from a typical patient in a VA
                              hospital through various processing steps and illustrates the diverse ways
                              in which the data are used. This video is being distributed to staff in VA
                              hospitals to help them understand the importance of their roles in the
                              accuracy of data that is ultimately presented to Congress.

                              When data quality checks are performed on information systems with
Provide Feedback to           ongoing data collection, agencies may provide feedback about the types
Data Collectors on            and frequencies of errors found to those collecting and entering data. The
Types of Errors Found         feedback might list errors found in the data submitted by the specific data
                              collection unit and provide comparison with error rates from other units or
by Data Checks                from all units. Sometimes the specific data entries with errors can be
                              corrected; in other cases, obtaining accurate data in the future may be the
                              objective. Feedback about data problems is sometimes combined with
                              feedback showing the actual aggregated data results from that unit, so
                              operating organizations see their concrete results along with any data

ED’s Even Start Contractor    For example, the ED’s Even Start contractor provides immediate
                              telephone feedback about any data submission errors. Each project also
Provides Immediate            receives a “project profile” that summarizes the data for its own project,
Telephone Feedback on         compared with other similar projects, state averages, and national
Errors                        averages. The ED evaluation officer reported that such feedback
                              contributes to data quality by encouraging projects to get their data in on
                              time, with less data cleaning needed, and to be more involved in properly
                              implementing any changes needed in the data collection procedures.

OPM Uses Agency Data to       Another example of the use of feedback comes from the Office of
                              Personnel Management, which oversees the life insurance program for
Verify Contractor Claims      federal employees. According to OPM staff, initial death claims processing
Processing Data               is done by a contracted life insurance company, but OPM does a
                              computerized “paid claims match,” using agency records to verify the
                              contractor’s claims processing data. The results of these reviews are sent
                              back to the contractor for investigation of any discrepancies, and results
                              are fed back to the relevant managers within OPM. These data are also
                              used in training new staff on the types of cases that may lead to errors in
                              the adjudication of claims.

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                               Appendix V
                               Building Quality Into the Development of Performance Data

                               Before reporting data as performance measures, it is often necessary to
Use Analytic Methods           aggregate data from multiple locations, to transform the raw data into a
and Transformations            ratio or percentage, or otherwise process the data.
Appropriate for the
Data Type and Measure
Being Reported

DOT Measures the Rate of       For example, when reporting its performance measure for highway
                               fatalities, the Department of Transportation (DOT) uses the rate of
Fatalities per Vehicle Miles   highway-related fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled rather than
                               the “raw” number of fatalities. This ratio adjusts for a greater risk of
                               fatalities each year due to an expected approximately 2.2-percent annual
                               increase in miles driven.

VHA Plans to Use Indexes       An example of aggregating multiple data elements comes from the
                               Veterans Health Administration, which plans to use several indexes,
to Report on the Quality of    including the Chronic Disease Care Index and the Prevention Index, to
VA Health Care Delivery        report on the quality of its health care delivery. An index that includes
                               information on a number of health areas allows the agency to provide an
                               overall assessment of performance. VA’s fiscal year 2000 performance plan
                               indicates that both indexes measure how well VA follows nationally
                               recognized guidelines and recommendations for delivering clinical care to
                               veterans with chronic diseases and for primary prevention and early
                               detection. For each index, data about multiple relevant conditions are
                               extracted from a sample of individual patient charts. The data are
                               aggregated to form the indexes and statistically evaluated for validity and

                               Not all agencies are depending entirely on using or building new
An Alternative                 quantitative data systems. The National Science Foundation is developing
Approach to                    an alternative format for performance reporting that relies on qualitative
Performance                    assessments by external reviewers, as permitted under OMB’s Circular A–
                               11 guidance. NSF’s procedures for these assessments illustrate some
Assessment at NSF              issues in verifying and validating qualitative methods to build quality into
                               this alternative practice.

                               NSF is a federal agency that supports basic scientific research and science
                               education. It operates primarily by awarding grants and cooperative
                               agreements to individuals and groups in research institutions. For its
                               alternative assessment approach, which is used for four major outcome
                               goals on the advancement of science, NSF developed descriptive standards
                               to characterize “successful” and “minimally effective” performance. For

                               Page 46                  GAO/GGD-99-139 Verification and Validation of Performance Data
                                Appendix V
                                Building Quality Into the Development of Performance Data

                                example, for Outcome Goal 1: “Discoveries at and across the frontier of
                                science and engineering,” the standards state the program is

                              • “successful when NSF awards lead to important discoveries; new
                                knowledge and techniques, both expected and unexpected, within and
                                across traditional disciplinary boundaries; and high-potential links across
                                these boundaries” and
                              • “minimally effective when there is a steady stream of outputs of good
                                scientific quality.”

Committees of External          A committee of external reviewers for each scientific program will assess
                                the program’s research grant results by applying these standards, using as
Reviewers to Assess NSF         evidence summary reports and examples of results prepared by program
Research Grant Results          staff. Each committee’s report will be reviewed by several higher level
                                entities: the Directorate’s chartered Advisory Committee of external
                                scientists, the Directorate’s senior management, and the Office of the
                                Director. These procedures build on similar prior peer review that focused
                                primarily on improving the processes of grantmaking, which has been very
                                useful as a management tool, according to an NSF official.

Validation and Verification     NSF has built into its alternative assessment procedures several methods
                                to increase the credibility of reports of program performance. First, NSF
Built in for NSF’s              issued explicit guidelines on how the review committees will be convened
Alternative Assessment          and managed to help make the process systematic. Second, the guidelines
                                require that the reviewers be “credible, independent experts who are able
                                to provide balanced and impartial assessments,” with diversity among
                                scientific, institutional, geographic, and demographic characteristics.
                                Finally, the sequential layers of review for scientific programs help to
                                validate the judgments made in the initial steps.

                                The external review assessments ultimately depend, however, on the
                                selection of final project reports and other materials provided by the
                                program staff to reviewers. NSF guidance does not require that the review
                                include a balanced sample of projects closed out during the years being
                                reviewed; instead, “examples may be selected to reflect the most
                                significant accomplishments in a program’s portfolio of support.” Agency
                                officials report that the reviewers will have access to all information
                                systems and will be encouraged to make their own choice of examples.
                                NSF intends to review this process and make changes.

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