oversight

Results Act: Comments on Justice's August Draft Strategic Plan

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-09-30.

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

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Committee on the Judiciary
                          House of Representatives




For Release on Delivery
Expected at
9:30 a.m.
                          RESULTS ACT
on Tuesday
September 30, 1997

                          Comments on Justice’s
                          August Draft Strategic Plan

                          Statement of Norman J. Rabkin
                          Director, Administration of Justice Issues
                          General Government Division




GAO/T-GGD-97-184
Summary

Results Act: Comments on Justice’s August
Draft Strategic Plan

               Under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, executive
               agencies are to develop strategic plans in which they define their missions,
               establish results-oriented goals, and identify strategies they will use to
               achieve those goals for the period 1997 through 2002. The Act specifies
               that strategic plans should contain six elements: (1) a mission statement;
               (2) agencywide long-term goals and objectives; (3) approaches (or
               strategies) and the various resources needed to achieve the goals and
               objectives; (4) a description of the relationship between the long-term
               goals/objectives and the annual performance plans; (5) an identification of
               key external factors; and (6) a description of how program evaluations
               were used to establish and revise strategic goals.

               GAO’s July 1997 report—The Results Act: Observations on the Department
               of Justice’s February 1997 Draft Strategic Plan (GAO/GGD-97-153R, July 11,
               1997—analyzed the February 1997 version of Justice’s plan. Justice
               prepared a revised plan in August.

               Justice’s August plan discusses, to some degree, five of the six required
               elements—a mission statement, goals and objectives, key external factors,
               a program evaluation component, and strategies to achieve the goals and
               objectives. The August plan does not include a required discussion on the
               relationship between Justice’s long-term goals/objectives and its annual
               performance plans.

               The draft plan could better address how Justice plans to (1) coordinate
               with other federal, state, and local agencies that perform similar law
               enforcement functions, such as the Defense and State Departments
               regarding counter-terrorism; (2) address the many management challenges
               it faces in carrying out its mission, such as internal control and accounting
               problems; and (3) increase its capacity to provide performance
               information for assessing its progress in meeting the goals and objectives
               over the next 5 years.




               Page 1                                                       GAO/T-GGD-97-184
Statement

Results Act: Comments on Justice’s August
Draft Strategic Plan

               Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

               I am pleased to be here today to discuss our observations on the
               Department of Justice’s August draft of its strategic plan. The Government
               Performance and Results Act of 1993 (the Results Act)1 requires that all
               executive branch agencies submit their plans to Congress and the Office of
               Management and Budget (OMB) by September 30, 1997. My statement
               focuses on Justice’s August draft strategic plan, which builds on our July
               comments regarding Justice’s February draft plan.2 Specifically, my
               statement will focus on the August plan’s compliance with the Act’s
               requirements and on the extent to which it covered crosscutting program
               activities, management challenges, and Justice’s capacity to provide
               reliable performance information.3

               In summary, Justice’s February draft of its strategic plan was incomplete
               in that of the six elements required by the Act, three—the relationship
               between long-term goals/objectives and the annual performance plans, the
               key factors external to Justice that could affect Justice’s ability to meet its
               goals, and a program evaluation component—were not specifically
               identified in the draft plan. The remaining three elements—the mission
               statement, goals and objectives, and strategies to achieve the goals and
               objectives—were discussed. The August plan includes two of the three
               missing elements but the plan does not include a required discussion on a
               third element—how the long-term goals and objectives are tied to Justice’s
               annual performance plans. In addition, the revised plan would better meet
               the purposes of the Act if it provided more complete coverage of
               crosscutting programs, management challenges, and performance
               information.


               In the 1990s, Congress put in place a statutory framework to address
Background     long-standing weaknesses in federal government operations, improve
               federal management practices, and provide greater accountability for
               achieving results. This framework included as its essential elements
               financial management reform legislation, information technology reform
               legislation, and the Results Act.



               1
                P.L. 103-62.
               2
                The Results Act: Observations on the Department of Justice’s February 1997 Draft Strategic Plan
               (GAO/GGD-97-153R, July 11, 1997).
               3
                Justice also revised its February 1997 plan on July 21, 1997.



               Page 2                                                                          GAO/T-GGD-97-184
                         Statement
                         Results Act: Comments on Justice’s August
                         Draft Strategic Plan




                         In enacting this framework, Congress sought to create a more focused,
                         results-oriented management and decisionmaking process within both
                         Congress and the executive branch. These laws4 seek to improve federal
                         management by responding to a need for accurate, reliable information for
                         congressional and executive branch decisionmaking. This information has
                         been badly lacking in the past, as much of our work has demonstrated.
                         Implemented together, these laws provided a powerful framework for
                         developing fully integrated information about agencies’ missions and
                         strategic priorities, data to show whether or not the goals are achieved, the
                         relationship of information technology investment to the achievement of
                         those goals, and accurate and audited financial information about the
                         costs of achieving mission results.

                         The Results Act focuses on clarifying missions, setting goals, and
                         measuring performance toward achieving those goals. It emphasizes
                         managing for results and pinpointing opportunities for improved
                         performance and increased accountability. Congress intended for the Act
                         to improve the effectiveness of federal programs by fundamentally shifting
                         the focus of management and decisionmaking away from a preoccupation
                         with tasks and services to a broader focus on results of federal programs.


Requirements Under the   Under the Results Act, executive agencies are to develop strategic plans in
Results Act              which they define their missions, establish results-oriented goals, and
                         identify strategies they will use to achieve those goals for the period 1997
                         through 2002. The Act specifies that all agencies’ strategic plans should
                         have six critical components: (1) a comprehensive agency mission
                         statement; (2) agencywide long-term goals and objectives for all major
                         functions and operations; (3) approaches (or strategies) to achieve the
                         goals and objectives and the various resources needed; (4) a description of
                         the relationship between the long-term goals/objectives and the annual
                         performance plans required by the Act; (5) an identification of key factors,
                         external to the agency and beyond its control, that could significantly
                         affect achievement of the strategic goals; and (6) a description of how


                         4
                          The primary financial management reform legislation Congress enacted is the Chief Financial Officers
                         Act of 1990, as expanded by the Government Management Reform Act of 1994. These laws provide the
                         basis for identifying and correcting financial management weaknesses that have cost the federal
                         government billions of dollars and leave it vulnerable to waste, fraud, and mismanagement. They also
                         set expectations for agencies to deploy modern systems to replace existing, antiquated, often manual
                         processes; develop better performance and cost measures; and design results-oriented reports on the
                         government’s financial condition and operating performance by integrating budget, accounting, and
                         program information. Information technology reform legislation, including the Paperwork Reduction
                         Act of 1995 and the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, was based on the best practices used by leading public
                         and private organizations to more effectively manage information technology.



                         Page 3                                                                          GAO/T-GGD-97-184
                       Statement
                       Results Act: Comments on Justice’s August
                       Draft Strategic Plan




                       program evaluations were used to establish and revise strategic goals and
                       a schedule for future program evaluations.


                       Justice’s strategic plan is organized around what Justice has identified as
Justice’s Plan         its seven core functions: (1) investigation and prosecution of criminal
Contains All but One   offenses; (2) assistance to state and local governments; (3) legal
Critical Element       representation, enforcement of federal laws, and defense of federal
                       government interests; (4) immigration; (5) detention and incarceration;
                       (6) protection of the federal judiciary and improvement of the justice
                       system; and (7) management.

                       Justice’s February draft of its strategic plan was incomplete and did not
                       provide Congress with critical information for its consultations with
                       Justice. Justice’s August version added two of the three required elements
                       that were missing in the February plan. As a result, the August plan
                       includes, to some degree, a discussion on five of the six required
                       elements—a mission statement, goals and objectives, key external factors,
                       a program evaluation component, and strategies to achieve the goals and
                       objectives. The August plan does not include a required discussion of a
                       sixth element—the relationship between Justice’s long-term
                       goals/objectives and its annual performance plans.


Mission Statement      Justice’s plan contains a mission statement that is results oriented and
                       generally defines the Department’s basic purpose with emphasis on its
                       core programs and activities. Justice’s mission statement is as follows:

                       “Our mission at the United States Department of Justice is to enforce the law and defend
                       the interests of the U.S. according to the law, provide Federal leadership in preventing and
                       controlling crime, seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior, administer
                       and enforce the Nation’s immigration laws fairly and effectively and ensure fair and
                       impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”


                       Justice’s mission statement covers six of the seven core functions that
                       Justice identified but does not specify the detention and incarceration
                       function, which is one of Justice’s largest budget items. The plan does
                       incorporate the detention and incarceration function in the discussion of
                       goals and objectives and in its strategies to achieve those goals and
                       objectives. Justice officials said that it was their intent to cover the
                       detention and incarceration function by the phrases “seek just punishment
                       . . .” and “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice . . .”




                       Page 4                                                                   GAO/T-GGD-97-184
                              Statement
                              Results Act: Comments on Justice’s August
                              Draft Strategic Plan




                              While we agree that mission statements may vary in the extent to which
                              they specify particular activities, we believe that it would be helpful to
                              explicitly include the detention and incarceration function in this case.
                              Our belief is based on Justice’s decision to specify all of the other major
                              functions in its mission statement and our concern that the Department’s
                              stakeholders may not interpret the phrases cited by Justice officials as
                              indicating that the detention and incarceration component is part of its
                              mission.


Goals and Objectives          Justice’s goals and objectives cover its major functions and operations and
                              are logically related to its mission. However, they are not as results
                              oriented as they could be and some focus on activities and processes. For
                              example, one set of results-oriented goals involves reducing violent,
                              organized, and gang-related crime; drug-related crime; espionage and
                              terrorism; and white collar crime. However, goals in other areas are more
                              process oriented, such as “Represent the United States in all civil matters
                              for which the Department of Justice has jurisdiction,” “Promote the
                              participation of victims and witnesses throughout each stage of criminal
                              and juvenile justice proceedings at the Federal, State, and local levels,”
                              and “Make effective use of information technology.”

                              Another concern we have with some of the goals is that they are not
                              always expressed in as measurable a form as intended by OMB guidance.
                              For example, two of Justice’s goals in the legal representation,
                              enforcement of federal laws, and defense of U.S. interests core function
                              are to protect the civil rights of all Americans and safeguard America’s
                              environment and natural resources. It is not clear from the August plan
                              how Justice will measure its progress in achieving these goals.


Strategies to Achieve Goals   The Results Act and OMB Circular A-11 indicate that agency strategic
and Objectives                plans should describe the processes the agencies will use to achieve their
                              goals and objectives. Our review of Justice’s strategic plan, specifically the
                              strategies and performance indicators, identified areas where the plan did
                              not fully meet the Act’s requirements and OMB Circular A-11 guidance.

                              Some of the strategies did not clearly explain how and to what extent
                              Justice programs and activities will contribute to achieving the goals and
                              how Justice plans to assess progress in meeting those goals. For example,
                              because Justice has limited ability to control criminal activities, it is not
                              clear how Justice will be able to determine the degree to which its



                              Page 5                                                       GAO/T-GGD-97-184
                       Statement
                       Results Act: Comments on Justice’s August
                       Draft Strategic Plan




                       programs and activities have contributed to changes in violent crime,
                       availability and abuse of illegal drugs, espionage and terrorism, and white
                       collar crime. Similarly, in its immigration core function, Justice has a goal
                       to maximize deterrence to unlawful migration by reducing the incentives
                       of unauthorized employment and assistance. It is likewise unclear how
                       Justice will be able to determine the effect of its efforts to deter unlawful
                       migration, as differentiated from the effect of changes in the economic and
                       political conditions in countries from which illegal aliens originated. The
                       plan does not address either issue.

                       Some of Justice’s performance indicators are more output than outcome
                       related. For example, one cited strategy for achieving the goal of ensuring
                       border integrity is to prevent illegal entry by increasing the strength of the
                       Border Patrol. One of the performance indicators Justice is proposing as a
                       measure of how well the strategy is working is the percentage of time that
                       Border Patrol agents devote to actual border control operations. While this
                       measure may indicate whether agents are spending more time controlling
                       the border, it is not clear how it will help Justice assess its progress in
                       deterring unlawful migration.

                       The Act requires that agencies’ plans discuss the types of resources (e.g.,
                       human skills, capital, and information technology) that will be needed to
                       achieve the strategic and performance goals and OMB guidance suggests
                       that agencies’ plans discuss any significant changes to be made in resource
                       levels. Justice’s plan does not include either discussion. This information
                       could be beneficial to Justice and Congress in agreeing on the goals,
                       evaluating Justice’s progress in achieving the goals, and making resource
                       decisions during the budget process.


Key External Factors   In its August plan, Justice added a required discussion on key external
                       factors that could affect its plan outcomes. Justice discusses eight key
                       external factors that could significantly affect achievement of its long-term
                       goals. These factors include emergencies and other unpredictable events
                       (e.g., the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building), changing statutory
                       responsibilities, changing technology, and developments overseas.
                       According to Justice, isolating the particular effects of law enforcement
                       activity from these eight factors that affect outcomes and over which
                       Justice has little control is extremely difficult. This component of the plan
                       would be more helpful to decisionmakers if it included a discussion of
                       alternatives that could reduce the potential impact of these external
                       factors.



                       Page 6                                                       GAO/T-GGD-97-184
                                Statement
                                Results Act: Comments on Justice’s August
                                Draft Strategic Plan




Program Evaluation              In its August plan, Justice added a required discussion on the role program
                                evaluation is to play in its strategic planning efforts. Justice recognizes
                                that it has done little in the way of formal evaluations of Justice programs
                                and states that it plans to examine its evaluation approach to better align
                                evaluations with strategic planning efforts. The August plan identifies
                                ongoing evaluations being performed by Justice’s components. OMB
                                guidance suggests that this component of the plan include a general
                                discussion of how evaluations were used to establish and revise strategic
                                goals, and identify future planned evaluations and their general scope and
                                time frames. Justice’s August plan does neither.


The Relationship Between        Under the Results Act, Justice’s long-term strategic goals are to be linked
Long-Term Goals and             to its annual performance plans and the day-to-day activities of its
Objectives and the Annual       managers and staff. This linkage is to provide a basis for judging whether
                                an agency is making progress toward achieving its long-term goals.
Performance Plans Is Not        However, Justice’s August plan does not provide such linkages.
Described in the Plan
                                In its August plan, Justice pointed out that its fiscal year 1999 annual
                                performance planning and budget formulation activities are to be closely
                                linked and that both are to be driven by the goals of the strategic plan. It
                                also said that the linkages would become more apparent as the fiscal year
                                1999 annual performance plan and budget request are issued.


                                Many law enforcement organizations—international and domestic (e.g.,
Plan Could Better               other federal, state, and local)—perform either similar or the same
Address Crosscutting            activities as Justice. The draft plan includes a goal to coordinate and
Program Activities              integrate law enforcement activities wherever possible and to cooperate
                                fully with other federal agencies. However, the plan could better serve the
                                purposes of the Results Act by discussing how Justice plans to coordinate
                                with external organizations’ activities and how it plans to measure and
                                asses inputs, outputs, and outcomes. For example, the plan does not
                                discuss

                            •   how Justice plans to work with the Departments of Defense and State, the
                                intelligence agencies, and foreign governments in fighting international
                                terrorism;
                            •   how Justice’s drug enforcement activities will relate to the Office of
                                National Drug Control Policy, which has government-wide planning
                                responsibilities for drug control activities;




                                Page 7                                                       GAO/T-GGD-97-184
                           Statement
                           Results Act: Comments on Justice’s August
                           Draft Strategic Plan




                       •   how Justice and the Department of the Treasury, which have similar
                           responsibilities concerning the seizure and forfeiture of assets used in
                           connection with illegal activities (e.g., money laundering) will coordinate
                           and integrate their operations;
                       •   how INS will work with the Bureau of Prisons and state prison officials to
                           identify criminal aliens; and
                       •   how INS and the Customs Service, which both inspect arriving passengers
                           at ports of entry to determine whether they are carrying contraband and
                           are authorized to enter the country, will coordinate their resources.5

                           Along these lines, certain program areas within Justice have similar or
                           complementary functions that are not addressed or could be better
                           discussed in the strategic plan. For example, both the Bureau of Prisons
                           and INS detain individuals, but the plan does not address the
                           interrelationship of their similar functions or prescribe comparable
                           measures for inputs and outcomes. As a second example, the plan does
                           not fully recognize the linkage among Justice’s investigative, prosecutorial,
                           and incarceration responsibilities.


                           One purpose of the Results Act is to improve the management of federal
The August Plan Does       agencies. Therefore, it is particularly important that agencies develop
Not Address Some           strategies that address management challenges that threaten their ability
Major Management           to achieve both long-term strategic goals and this purpose of the Act.

Challenges                 Over the years, we as well as others, including the Justice Inspector
                           General and the National Performance Review (NPR), have addressed
                           many management challenges that Justice faces in carrying out its
                           mission. In addition, recent audits under the Chief Financial Officers Act
                           of 1990 (CFO Act), expanded by the Government Management Reform
                           Act,6 have revealed internal control and accounting problems. Justice’s
                           draft strategic plan is silent on these issues.

                           Justice’s February plan contained a section on “Management,” which is
                           one of its seven core functions. In addition, Justice’s August draft plan


                           5
                           We discussed this issue in our report—Customs Service and INS: Dual Management Structure for
                           Border Inspections Should Be Ended (GAO/GGD-93-111, June 30, 1993).
                           6
                            This legislation requires agencies to have their agencywide financial statements audited annually
                           beginning with the fiscal year 1996 financial statements. The first year financial audits of Justice and
                           its components focused primarily on evaluating their control structures and environments and did not
                           include auditing of their statements of operation, which include the entities’ operating costs. The fiscal
                           year 1996 audit reports are expected to be issued before the September 30, 1997, submission date for
                           strategic plans.



                           Page 8                                                                              GAO/T-GGD-97-184
                       Statement
                       Results Act: Comments on Justice’s August
                       Draft Strategic Plan




                       contains a new section on “Issues and Challenges in Achieving Our Goals,”
                       which was not in its February plan. This new section discusses Justice’s
                       process for managing its information technology investments, steps taken
                       to provide security over its information systems, and its strategy to ensure
                       that computer systems accommodate dates beyond the year 2000.
                       However, neither this new section nor the “Management” core function
                       addresses some of the specific management problems that have been
                       identified over the years and the status of Justice’s efforts to address them.

                       In its August draft plan, Justice also added a discussion on
                       “accountability,” which points out that Justice has an internal control
                       process that systematically identifies management weaknesses and
                       vulnerabilities and specifies corrective actions. This section also
                       recognizes the role of Justice’s Inspector General. However, the plan
                       would be more helpful if it included a discussion of corrective actions
                       Justice has planned for internally and externally identified management
                       weaknesses, as well as how it plans to monitor the implementation of such
                       actions. In addition, the plan does not address how Justice will correct
                       significant problems identified during the Inspector General’s fiscal year
                       1996 financial statement audits, such as inadequate safeguarding and
                       accounting for physical assets and weaknesses in the internal controls
                       over data processing operations.


                       To efficiently and effectively operate, manage, and oversee its diverse
Discussion of          array of law enforcement-related responsibilities, Justice needs reliable
Capacity to Provide    data on its results and those of other law enforcement-related
Reliable Performance   organizations. Further, Justice will need to rely on a variety of external
                       data sources (e.g., state and local law enforcement agencies) to assess the
Information Could Be   impact of its plan. These data are needed so that Justice can effectively
Improved               measure its progress and monitor, record, account for, summarize, and
                       analyze crime-related data. Justice’s August strategic plan contains little
                       discussion about its capacity to provide performance information for
                       assessing its progress toward its goals and objectives over the next 5
                       years.

                       However, in its strategic plan, under the immigration core function, Justice
                       states that one of its priorities is to improve the reliability and integrity of
                       its data systems to enforce immigration laws. Justice’s August plan added
                       a goal and corresponding strategies and performance indicators to address
                       this priority. Similarly, Justice added a new goal—achieving excellence in
                       management practices—that includes a strategy for (1) obtaining useful



                       Page 9                                                         GAO/T-GGD-97-184
           Statement
           Results Act: Comments on Justice’s August
           Draft Strategic Plan




           and reliable budget, accounting, and performance data to support
           decisionmaking, and (2) integrating the planning, reporting and
           decisionmaking processes. These strategies could assist Justice in
           producing results-oriented reports on its financial condition and operating
           performance.


           Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased
           to answer any questions.




(182046)   Page 10                                                    GAO/T-GGD-97-184
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