oversight

Results Act: Observations on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Program's Draft Strategic Plan

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-10-08.

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

      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548                                          pi-P        3-3-O

      Resources, Community, and
      Economic Development Division
      B-278170

      October 8, 1997

      The Honorable Bud Shuster
      Chairman, Committee on Transportation
       and Infrastructure
      House of Representatives

      Subject:    Results Act: Observations on the U.S. Armv Corns of Engineers
                  Civil Works Program’s Draft Strategic Plan

      Dear Mr. Chairman:

      On September 5,1997, you asked us to review the draft strategic plan
      submitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of the Acting
      Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) for consultation with the
      Congress as required by the Government Performance and Results Act of
      1993 (the Results Act). This report is our response to that request
      concerning the draft strategic plan dated August 19, 1997.

      OBJECTNES. SCOPE. AND METHODOLOGY

      We agreed to review the Corps’ draft plan and assess whether (1) it fulfills
      the requirements of the Results Act and to provide our views on its overall
      quality; (2) the Corps’ key statutory authorities are reflected in the draft plan
      and, if so, how they relate to the missions and goals in the draft plan; (3) it
      reflects interagency coordination for crosscutting programs, activities, or
      functions that are similar or complementary to those of other federal
      agencies; (4) it addresses major management challenges previously identified
      by the Corps or by independent oversight entities; and (5) it addresses the
      adequacy of the Corps’ data and information systems for providing reliable
      information for measuring results.

      We reviewed the Corps’ most recent draft strategic plan-dated August 19,
      1997-that the Corps provided to congressional committees. Our overall
      assessment of the draft strategic plan was generally based on our knowledge
      of the Corps’ operations and programs developed during our various reviews


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in past years; our discussions with the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army
(Civil Works), the Corps’ Executive Officer for Civil Works, and members of
their staffs; and other existing information available at the time of our
assessment.

Specifically, the criteria we used to determine whether the Corps’draft
strategic plan complied with the requirements of the Results Act were the
Results Act itself, supplemented by the Office of Management and Budget’s
(OMB) guidance on developing the plans (Circular A-11, Part 2). To make
judgments about the overall quality of the draft plan and its components, we
used our May 1997 guidance for congressional review of the plans
 (GAO/GGD-10.1.16) as a tool. To determine whether the draft plan contained
information on interagency coordination and addressed management
problems, as well as the adequacy of systems to provide reliable information
 on performance, we relied on our general knowledge of the Corps’operations
 and programs and the results of our previous reports.

It is important to recognize that the draft plan we reviewed is not the &tal
strategic plan. The Results Act anticipated that it may take several planning
cycles to perfect the process and that the final plan would be continually
retied as future planning cycles occur. Thus, our findings reflect a snapshot
of the draft plan at a point in time. We recognize that developing a strategic
plan is a dynamic process and that the Corps has been working to revise the
draft with input from OMB, congressional staff, and other stakeholders.

Our work was performed in September and October 1997 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing stsndards.

BACKGROUND

The Army Corps of Engineers traces its history to 1775 when a Chief of
Engineers was appointed in the Continental Army. Today it has both defense
and civil components. It serves the Army with Engineering, Construction,
and Environmental divisions, the work of which is funded through the
defense budget, while its Civil Works program, which is the subject of the
draft plan addressed in this report, is funded through annual energy and
water development appropriation acts or project sponsors and clients.

 The Civil Works program involves the work of nearly 30,000 civilian
 employees constructing, managing, operating, or maintaining nearly 300 deep-
 draft harbors, over 600 shallow-draft harbors, 12,000 miles of navigation


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channels, nearly 400 lakes and reservoirs, 8,500 miles of levees, over 4,000
recreation sites, and 75 hydropower projects representing nearly a quarter of
all hydropower capacity in the nation.

The Civil Works program provides services in eight categories that the Corps
calls “business programs”:

-   flood and coastal storm damage reduction,
-   navigation,
-   environment,
-   hydropower,
-   recreation,
-   regulatory,
-   emergency preparedness and disaster response, and
-   support for others.

The Corps’ strategic planning process has evolved over the years. In June
1995, the Corps adopted the concept of tracking its business programs and
began developing performance measures to monitor results. In 1996, a new
Chief of Engineers directed work on a strategic vision that has come to be
referred to as the “Corps Plus Master Strategy.” Corps officials explained to
us that the process that culminated in the draft plan began in June I996 with
discussions between the offices the Assistant Secretary of the &my (Civil
Works) and the Chief of Engineers.

The Results Act requires agency strategic plans to include the following six
key elements: (1) a comprehensive mission statement covering the major
functions and operations of the agency; (2) a description of the general goals
and objectives for the major functions and operations of the agency; (3) a
discussion of how these goals and objectives will be achieved and the
resources needed; (4) a description of the relationship between the
performance goals in the’annual performance plan and the general goals and
objectives in the strategic plan; (5) a discussion of key factors external to the
agency that could affect significantly the achievement of the general goals
and objectives; and (6) a description of program evaluations used to develop
the plan and a schedule for future evaluations.

The Results Act is aimed at improving program performance. It requires that
federal agencies consult with the Congress and solicit the views of other
stakeholders in developing their strategic plans It also requires that agencies
establish long-term strategic goals as well as annual goals that are linked to


3                             GAOLRCED-98-13BCorps of Engineers Draft Strategic Plan
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them. These annual goals are to appear in a performance plan that each
agency must prepare each year and submit to the Congress beginning with
the President’s Fiscal Year 1999 budget submission, which w3ll be due in
February 1998. Age&es must then measure their performance against the
goals they have set and report publicly, in subsequent years, on how well
they are doing.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

To its credit, the Corps has been actively pursuing initiatives to improve
strategic planning over the years. However, the Corps’ draft plan for its Civil
Works program does not provide the Congress with complete information for
its consultation. For example, while addressing at least minimally the
requirements for a mission statement, goals and objectives, and an
implementing strategy, the draft plan does not describe the resources, such
as the staff skills and experiences, capital, and information, that would be
needed to achieve the plan’s objectives. Much of what it does present is
extremely general and would be d3icult to use for decision-making.
Moreover, it does not address such required matters as the key external
factors affecting the achievement of the goals it describes and the role of
program evaluation in the effort. The Congress is also missing some
information that, while not required by the Results Act, would be of
 significant benefit in the consultation process.

The draft plan refers to some key statutory authorities, but the general nature
of the discussion in the draft plan and the wide range of statutes affecting the
Corps precluded our deter-mining the comprehensiveness of the draft plan’s
coverage of the issue. The Results Act does not require agencies’strategic
plans to contain a statement of statutory authorities. However, we believe
that including such a statement along with the linkages to the objectives in
the plan may permit a better understanding of the diversity and complexity of
the Corps’overall mission and goals and objectives.

Prior to its release in August, the draft plan had not been shared with other
executive branch agencies with roles to play in areas of the Corps’ activities,
and the draft plan does not identify programs and activities that are
crosscutting or similar to those of other federal agencies. Yet the Corps’
missions clearly overlap with the activities of other agencies such as the
Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of
Energy’s Power Marketing Administrations, and the Environmental Protection
Agency.


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 Our review also found that the draft plan does not address major
management problems identified in the past or the adequacy of the systems
that are to provide needed information for monitoring implementation.
Although many of the Corps’ strategic goals rely on the effective use of
telecommunications and automated systems, the draft plan does not discuss
how the Corps intends to use its information resources to meet its goals.
Furthermore, the draft plan does not mention how the Corps will build the
staff skills needed to develop and manage its information infrastructure. Nor
does the Corps discuss how it plans to address the “year 2000” computer
problem and to improve its information security-two general issues that we
have identified as high risk across the government.

DRAFT PLAN DOES NOT REFLECT ALL KEY
ELEMENTS REUJIRED BY THE RESULTS ACT

The draft strategic plan for the Corps’ Civil Works program f&s far short of
meeting the requirements of the Results Act. In its draft plan, the Corps has
presented some, but by no means all, of the information required by the
Results Act. Moreover, much of what it does present is lacking in the
specifics that would be useful for decision-making.

Mission Statement Included in the Draft Plan

The draft plan does include a statement of an overall mission that touches on
the major functions and operations of the Civil Works program, although it is
very general when addressing the program’s principal area of concern-water
resources-and includes material that appears to be tangential. The mission
statement does say that the Corps “provides responsible stewardship of its
water resources in&astructure and the associated natural resources, and
provides emergency services to the Nation for disaster relief.” But it also
includes points adopted by the Corps’ parent agency, the Department of
Defense, that may cause confusion “to promote prosperity and democracy,
and to strengthen national security..” How the Civil Works program’s
contributions on those points could be measured is unclear and is not
addressed in the draft plan. The mission statement concludes with a series
of statements that are primarily descriptions of current activities.

Goals and Obiectives Defined in the Draft Plan

The draft plan does include goals and objectives. However, it presents a
confusing mix of strategic objectives, command goals, and strategic elements,


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which it later refers to as program objectives. It is often unclear how these
concepts relate to each other, and many are not stated in a way that allows
for future assessment of whether they are being achieved-a key Results Act
requirement. The program’s approach to pursuing its objectives is described
only in very general terms.

It is unclear, for instance, how the four “Civil Works Strategic Objectives” are
linked to the program’s mission. While the mission statement discusses the
Corps’work with water resources, only one of the objectives mentions
“water,” that is, to lead in the development, management, protection, and
restoration of the nation’s water resources.

Although each objective is supported by “elements,” they do not always seem
to be related. The Corps’ first objective, for example, that of serving the
nation with high-quality engineering and technical, scientific, planning, and
other expertise, speaks to skills and knowledge, but the first two elements
supporGng it deal instead with investing in and managing infrastructure.
(These elements might better have been presented to support the second
objective, which involves the development, management, protection, and
restoration of the nation’s water resources.) The third and last element
under the lirst objective deals with the program’s response to disasters and is
discussed in only one short sentence in the draft plan ‘We will maintain our
ability to provide rapid and effective emergency response and disaster
recovery.”

The third objective, to provide cost-effective and efficient engineering
services to federal agencies and other organizations is supported by a single
element that calls for increasing the program’s reimbursable support by at
least 25 percent through “proactive outreach initiatives by 2002.” The
program’s current level of reimbursable support is not given, and the ldnds of
outreach initiatives needed to increase the level by 25 percent over the next 4
years are not discussed.

The fourth objective, to “achieve world-class performance,” is supported by
elements that calI, among other things, for the implementation of a
performance measurement system, a benchmark of cost-per-unit performance
by 1999, and a 20-percent reduction in the acquisition time for the Corps’
contracts by 2003 with an accompanying cost reduction of 15 percent. In the
discussion of this objective and its elements, however, the draft plan does not
specify how the Civil Works program intends to accomplish these things.
Instead it focuses on general points such as these: “We will align for


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success.” “We must think and act as one corporate team.” “We must provide
timely and clear policy guidance to the field.”

Strategies Included in the-Draft Plan

The Corps’ draft plan sets out the role of the annual performance plan in
specifying the actions that will constitute a strategy for accomplishing the
goals. Under the Results Act, these annual plans are to be prepared and
presented in concert with the President’s budget proposal each year,
beginning next year. The draft strategic plan provides an overview of these
strategies that is detailed enough to allow an understanding of the task facing
the performance plan’s preparers but does not allow a judgment at this time
of the prospects for success. For example, OMIT Circular A-11, Part 2,
specifies that the strategic plan’s description of how the general goals and
objectives will be achieved should “outline the process for communicating the
goals and objectives throughout the agency.’ The Corps’draft plan says only
that “the program objectives will be communicated to employees”and that
the annual performance plans will “assure the full integration of the
objectives into our corporate consciousness.” How the process will work is
not described. However, given the approach of the Results Act, which
requires the development of the strategic plan as a precursor to-and a tool
for-the performance planning process, the draft plan’s coverage of strategies
provides a basis for consultation with the Congress, with other federal
entities, and with nonfederal stakeholders.

Three Elements Not Included in the Draft Plan

Our review of the draft plan found that several other elements are not
included. Specifically, the description of the relationship between the coming
annual performance plan and this strategic plan fails to discuss key features;
the plan is silent on the key factors external to the agency that could
significantly affect its achievement of the goals; and the plan is missing the
required description of how program evaluations were and will be used.

Although the draft plan’s overview of what the Corps intends to cover in its
annual performance plans provides some indication of the strategy the Corps
intends to follow to pursue its goals, it does not contain much information
that would be useful in making decisions about the strategy. There is no
description of the operational processes that must be effective for the Corps
to meet the draft plan’s goals and objectives or of the improvements needed
in those processes. Nor is there any description of the skills that must be


7                            GAOiRCED-9%13RCorps of Engineers Draft Strategic Plan




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applied to the tasks, any plan to identify the availability of those skills within
the organization, or how the Corps would obtain those skills not readily
available. There is also no discussion of the technology needed to utilize the
skills and abilities obtained or to compensate for shortages. In short, there is
none of the discussion required by the Results Act of the human, capital,
information, or other resources required to meet the plan’s goals and
objectives.

While the draft plan discusses the budgetary constraints the Civil Works
program faces and the impact of the aging of its physical infrastructure on
the demand for operation and maintenance funds and on the Corps’ ability to
undertake new construction, it is silent on the key factors external to the
agency and beyond its control that could significantly affect its achievement
of the strategic goals. There is no discussion of any efforts by the agency to
identify the important elements at work in the nation affecting water, energy,
transportation, construction, or environmental concerns or important trends
or events affecting these concerns, nor is there a discussion of the expected
developments in the future that may affect the Corps’ ability to meet its goals
and objectives. Thus, it is not possible to determine from the draft plan
whether the agency’s strategies for achieving its goals properly reflect these
external factors.

Also missing is the required description of how program evaluations were
used to establish or revise strategic goals and a schedule for future program
evaluations. It is impossible to determine from the text of the draft plan
what studies supported the planning effort, who conducted them, or what
their methodological suitability was for their use in the planning process.
Evaluations can be a potentially critical source of information for the
Congress and others in assessing (1) the appropriateness and reasonableness
of goals; (2) the effectiveness of strategies by supplementing performance
measurement data with impact evaluation studies; and (3) the implementation
of programs by identifying the need for corrective action, among other things.
Moreover, the draft plan does not contain a schedule for when future
program evaluations will be conducted, nor does it describe the general
methodology to be used, the timetable, or the general scope of an evaluation
or particular issues to be addressed.




 8                             GAO/RCED-9%13RCorps of Engineers Draft Strategic Plan
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DRAFT PLAN CITES SOME
KEY STATUTORY AUTHORITIES

The Corps’general responsibilities have been established in dozens of federal
statutes. In addition, specific authority for the Corps to implement certain
individual water development projects is provided in a number of
authorization acts (for example, the Water Resources Development Acts of
1994 and 1996). The Corps’draft plan mentions some of its key
responsibilities, such as navigation, flood control, and managing water
projects. The draft plan also refers to several of the Corps’ key statutory
authorities, such as the Water Resources Development Act of 1996, which
provides authority for ecosystem and watershed restoration and protection.

However, because the draft plan’s objectives are general and the Corps’
requirements are spread among many general and specific laws, we could not
determine whether the draft plan reflects all of the Corps’ major legislative
requirements. While the Results Act does not require the Corps to include a
statement of its major statutory responsibilities in its plan, we believe that
including such a statement along with the linkages between the Corps’
objectives and its relevant statutory authorities may facilitate a better
understanding of the diversity and complexity of the Corps’ overall mission
and its objectives.

CROSSCUTTINGPROGRAM ACTMTIES
NOT ADDRESSED IN THE DRAFT PLAN

Prior to its submission to congressional committees for consultation, the
draft plan had not been shared with other executive branch agencies with
roles to play in the areas of the Corps’ activities. Also, the draft plan does
not identify the programs and activities that are crosscutting or similar to
those of other federal agencies. Yet the Corps’ mission clearly overlaps with
the activities of other agencies such as the Department of the Interior’s
Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Energy’s Power Marketing
Administrations, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In our testimony before the House Committee on Resources’Subcommittee
on Water and Power on the draft strategic plans of the Departments of
Energy and the Interior (GAO/T-RCED-9’7-213,July 17, 1997), we were critical
of Interior, with its Bureau of Reclamation’s water-related missions, and
Energy, with its Power Marketing Administrations’ hydropower-related
missions, for their failures to address coordination with the Corps of


9                           GAO/RCED-9%13R Corps of Engineers Draft Strategic Plan
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Engineers in their draft plans. Similarly, it is important for the Corps to
include the impact and involvement of other entities such as these in its
strategic plan&-kg.

Although no consultation or coordination occurred before the release of the
draft plan on August 19, we were encouraged to learn from Corps officials
that they have used that draft plan as the vehicle to solicit input from over
250 federal and nonfederal “stakeholders.”

DRAFT PLAN DOES NOT ADDRESS PREVIOUSLY
IDENTIFIED MANAGEMENT PROBLEMS

The draft plan does not include any detailed discussion of the results of
previous efforts to identify needed improvements in the Corps’ management
or operations, or the importance of making such improvements.

Instead, the segment of the draft plan entitled “Key Factors Affecting Program
Objectives Achievement’ is but one paragraph in length. It specifies only four
factors, one of which is a general difficulty (“reductions in resources”) and
three of which are ongoing operational issues (dredge spoils disposal,
contaminated sediment, and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund). It does
not address how the Corps would resolve even these issues.

Finally, the plan concludes that the Corps “must not dwell on the negative
but rather recommend to the Administration and the Congress initiatives to
resolve roadblocks beyond our control.” This provides decisionmakers with
little real information on the management challenges that may have been
identified in recent years.

DRAFT PLAN DOES NOT ADDRESS NEEDED
IMPROVEMENTS TO ENSURE RELIABLE
INFORMATION FOR MEASURING RESULTS

The draft plan is silent on the sources of information Corps officials and
other decisionmakers will need to monitor implementation. However, the
Corps’leadership has been made aware in the past of deficiencies in the
accounting systems supporting reports on financial transactions, assets, and
other measures of activity, and the Corps has been working since the early




 10                           GAOIRCED-9%13R Corps of Engineers Draft Strategic Plan
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  1990s to develop an effective system of performance measurement.r Corps
  officials drew our attention to these efforts and stated that the annual
  performance plan will provide the means of measuring progress toward the
  goals in the strategic plan.

  Although many of the Corps’ strategic goals rely on the effective use of
  telecommunications and automated systems, the draft plan does not discuss
  how the Corps intends to use its information resources to meet its goals. In
  particular, the draft plan does not mention how the Corps intends to
  implement the landmark reforms embodied in the Paperwork Reduction Act
  of 1995 and the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. These laws call for agencies to
  establish a framework of management practices to improve how information
  technology is used to enhance agencies’performance and help meet strategic
  goals. This includes establishing an effective investment control process to
  ensure that information technology projects are in line with the agency’s
  overall goals and priorities. The Corps’draft plan also does not mention how
  it intends to build the staff skills needed to develop and manage its
  information infrastructure. In addition, the Corps should discuss how it plans
  to address the “year 2000”computer problem and to improve its information
  security-two general issues that we have identified as high risk across the
  government.

  AGENCY COMMENTS AND OUR EVALUATION

  We provided copies of a draft of this report to the Corps of Engineers for
  review and comment. The Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil
  Works) provided the enclosed comments stating that “the Army will be
  making extensive revisions to the Strategic Plan” and that it will consider our
  comments as the plan is revised. The revised strategic plan is to be
  completed and ready for submission by December 15, 1997.




‘See Armv Corns of Engineers Civil Functions: Chief Financial Officer Annual
Financial Statement. FY 1996 (Mar. 1, 1997); Financial Audit: Examination of
the Armv’s Financial Statements for Fiscal Years 1992 and 1991 (GAO/AIMD-
93-1, June 30, 1993); Financial Audit: Examination of the Armv’s F’inancial
Statement for Fiscal Year 1991 (GAO/AFMD-92-83,Aug. 7, 1992); and -Financial
Management: Immediate Actions Needed to Imnrove Armv F’inancial Oaerations
and Controls (GAO/AFMD-92-82, Aug. 7, 1992).


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     We will send copies of this letter to the Majority and Minority Leaders of the
     House of Representatives; the Ranking Minority Member of your Committee;
     the Chscirmen and Ranking Minority Members of other Committees that have
     jurisdiction over the Corps’activities; the Assistant Secretary of the &my
      (Civil Works); the Chief of Engineers; and the Director, Office of Management
     and Budget. Copies will be made available to others on request.

     Please call me at (202) 5123841 if you or any of your staff have any
     questions concerning this letter. Major contributors to this report were Brad
     Hathaway, Assistant Director; Leslie Albin, Reports Analyst; and Doreen S.
     Feldrnan, Assistant General Counsel.

     Sincerely yours,




     Susan D. Kladiva
     Acting Associate Director, Energy, Resources,
      and Science Issues

     Enclosure




12                                GAO/RCED-98-13RCorps of Engineers Draft Strategic Plan
ENCLOSURE .I                                                                                 ENCLOSURE I



                          COMMENTS FROM THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF
                                   THE ARMY (CIVIL WORI(S]
                                          DEI’ARTMEW    OF THE ARMY
                                        r%FrcEoFTNEAsssarrS#T(MFCI
                                                  aw wofae
                                                  108AFMYPPirPIiON
                                               W*S(QNGTON 00 2~Ho.OtQs

                                                    3   OCTI397

           Ms. Susan I>. KlddLVa
           Acting Associate. Director,  Energy,
             Resources  and Science Issues
           General Accounting Office
           Washington,   D-C. 20548
           Dear     MS- Kladiva:
                  Thank you for your October 1, 1997, letter   to Colonel
           Robert BurWlardt,   the Executive Director of Civil Works,
           Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, regarding the draft
           Strategic  Plan for the Civil Works Pro&am   of the Army Corps of
           Engineers - We appreciate the comments you have provided and will
           consider these comments as we revise the draft Strategic    Plan.
                 ks a result of the comments received     from Congress, the
           Office of Manageruent and Budget, and your agency, the Axmy will
           be making extensive revisions    to the Strategic   Plan.
           Consequently, we anticipate   that the revised Strategic     Plan will
           be completed and ready for subtission      to Congress by no later
           t+an December    15, 1997.

                   By letter dated September 30, 1997, we advised Congress and
           the Office of Management and Budget of our intent-     Copies of the
           letters    sent to the Speaker of the.House and the President pro
           Tempore of the Senate are enclosed.
                   Again,     I; appreciate and thank you             for   your careful   review   of
           the    Civil     Works draft Strategic  Plan,
                                                         Sincerely,



                                                      John H. Zirschky
                                      Acting     Assistant Secretary of the Arnty
                                                        (Civil Works)
(141112)


13                                                 GAOIRCED-9%13R Corps of Engineers Draft Strategic Plan
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