Department of Energy: Usefulness of Performance Plan Could Be Improved

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-03-24.

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

                    United States General Accounting Office

GAO                 Testimony
                    Before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment,
                    Committee on Science, House of Representatives

For Release
on Delivery
Expected at
                    DEPARTMENT OF
10 a.m. EST
Wednesday           ENERGY
March 24, 1999

                    Usefulness of Performance
                    Plan Could Be Improved
                    Statement of Susan D. Kladiva, Associate Director,
                    Energy, Resources, and Science Issues,
                    Resources, Community, and Economic
                    Development Division

                         Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

                         We are here today to discuss the Department of Energy’s (DOE) annual
                         performance plan for fiscal year 2000 which is required by the Government
                         Performance and Results Act of 1993. My statement summarizes our
                         preliminary observations on the annual plan in three key areas and is
                         based on our ongoing evaluation of the annual plan.

                         In summary, DOE’s annual performance plan for fiscal year 2000 is linked to
                         the Department’s strategic plan and to the program activities in the
                         Department’s budget request. The annual plan also recognizes the
                         importance of verifying and validating the Department’s performance.
                         However, the annual plan could be more useful if it better identified
                         planned outcomes, presented information on individual offices’ planned
                         performance and requested funds to meet the needs of congressional
                         decisionmakers during their review of the budget request, and described
                         its verification and validation procedures in more detail.

                         Under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, an annual
Background               performance plan is to systematically provide congressional
                         decisionmakers with information on the results to be achieved with a
                         proposed level of resources. Specifically, the annual plan should be clearly
                         related to the agency’s strategic plan, and its performance goals and
                         measures should be outcome oriented wherever possible. In addition, the
                         plan should link the agency’s performance goals and measures with the
                         program activities in the President’s budget request for the agency. Finally,
                         the plan should specify the procedures that will be used to verify and
                         validate information on the agency’s performance.

                         For fiscal year 2000, DOE has clearly linked the goals and measures in its
Annual Plan Is Linked    annual performance plan to the goals, objectives, and long-term strategies
to the Strategic Plan,   in its strategic plan. First, the annual plan begins with the mission
but Its Outcomes         statement from the strategic plan. Second, the annual plan, like the
                         strategic plan, is divided into five sections corresponding to DOE’s four
Could Be Better          business lines (Energy Resources, National Security, Environmental
Defined                  Quality, and Science and Technology) and Corporate Management. Within
                         these sections, the annual plan lists the strategic goals, strategic
                         objectives, and long-term strategies for achieving the strategic objectives
                         identified in the strategic plan. Finally, the annual plan links its goals and
                         measures to the strategic plan’s long-term strategies in a matrix that

                         Page 1                                                       GAO/T-RCED-99-134
covers fiscal years 1998, 1999, and 2000. This presentation allows the user
of the plan to observe the Department’s actual and intended performance
towards the strategic goals and objectives over time.

Many of the annual plan’s goals and measures are stated in quantifiable
terms, but the plan’s description of expected performance is often
incomplete because no baseline is included to determine whether goals
are reasonable and appropriate and to measure how the Department’s
annual performance compares with the strategic plan’s goals and
objectives. For example, under the National Security business line, DOE
restates a long-term strategy as “Downsizing and Modernizing the
National Security Enterprise.” It supports this strategy with three annual
goals and measures: (1) “ensure that all facilities required for successful
achievement of the Stockpile Stewardship Plan remain operational,”
(2) “meet the established schedules for downsizing and modernizing our
production facilities,” and (3) “complete the upgrade of storage facilities
at the Pantex Plant for storing surplus plutonium pits.” Although the goals
and measures are measurable, the strategy does not include a baseline that
would allow decisionmakers to evaluate DOE’s annual performance against
its strategic objectives. Similarly, under the Environmental Quality
business line, DOE restates a long-term strategy as “Reducing Worker,
Public, And Environmental Risks.” Again, it supports this strategy with
three annual goals and measures: (1) “stabilize and safely store
approximately 53 metric tons of heavy metal of spent nuclear fuel,”
(2) “stabilize approximately 38,000 kilograms bulk of plutonium residues,
approximately 160 liters of plutonium solution, and 238 containers of
plutonium metals/oxides,” and (3) “make disposition ready 910
containers of plutonium metals/oxides.” These goals and measures clearly
quantify DOE’s planned performance for fiscal year 2000; however, without
baseline information that defines the total work to be accomplished, it will
be impossible to determine how much progress DOE has made during the
year toward fulfilling its strategic objective.

While many of DOE’s annual goals and measures are output oriented and
quantifiable, others are vague. As a result, they may not provide clear
standards for evaluating DOE’s performance. For example, to accomplish
one of its long-term strategies—“Improve Existing Nuclear Power
Plants”—DOE plans to “Implement a cooperative R&D program to address
technical questions that could prevent continued operation of current
nuclear power plants by working with industry, universities, and national
laboratories.” The word “Implement” could mean “plan,” “organize,”
“conduct,” or “initiate.” It does not clearly indicate what DOE is to

Page 2                                                     GAO/T-RCED-99-134
                                      accomplish in fiscal year 2000. The term “could prevent” is also undefined
                                      and unclear as a measure of performance.

                                      DOE’s annual plan provides performance goals and measures for three
                                      fiscal years—1998, 1999, and 2000—allowing users of the plan to see what
                                      the Department has done or is planning to do over several years to achieve
                                      its strategic goals, objectives, and long-term strategies. Although not
                                      required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, for
                                      fiscal year 1998, DOE measured its accomplishments in the annual plan
                                      using four levels of performance—fully successful, successful, partially
                                      successful, and unsuccessful. Fully successful equates to meeting or
                                      exceeding the goal; successful equates to meeting 80 to 100 percent of the
                                      goal, partially successful equates to meeting 50 to 80 percent of the goal,
                                      and unsuccessful equates to meeting less than 50 percent of the goal. This
                                      measuring system is flawed, we believe, because it allows DOE to rate
                                      incomplete performance as “successful.” For example, if DOE completes
                                      80 percent of the work defined under one measure, it can claim that it has
                                      been “successful” even though 20 percent of the work was not done.
                                      Table 1 summarizes the results of DOE’s scoring for fiscal year 1998.

Table 1: DOE’s Measurement of the
Fiscal Year 1998 Annual Performance   Category                                             Number Percent of Total (percent)a
                                      Fully successful                                         113                        59
                                      Successful                                                57                        30
                                      Partially successful                                      19                        10
                                      Unsuccessful                                               3                         2
                                      Column does not equal 100 percent due to rounding.

                                      In our view, DOE could report its performance more accurately if it
                                      presented baseline information with its long-term strategies so that users
                                      could compare the Department’s accomplishments for a given fiscal year
                                      with the tasks needed to complete the long-term strategies.

                                      Page 3                                                               GAO/T-RCED-99-134
                        DOE uses two matrixes to link its annual performance to the program
Annual Plan Is Linked   activities in the President’s budget request. First, for each of its four
to Program Activities   business lines and corporate management, it uses a matrix to link its
in DOE’s Budget         offices and programs to the program activities and the amounts requested
                        in the budget. Second, DOE uses a matrix to show which office is to carry
Request but This        out each annual goal and measure. Although this linkage meets the
Linkage May Not Meet    requirements of the Results Act, the total number of individual goals and
                        measures for a specific DOE office may be located in various parts of the
Congressional           annual plan. As a result, it is difficult to associate this office’s total planned
Decisionmakers’         performance with the funds requested—an association that congressional
Needs                   decisionmakers may wish to make during their deliberations on the budget
                        request. For example, we identified 18 annual goals and measures for the
                        Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology. However, they were
                        included under three different business lines in different sections of the
                        annual plan. To weigh the planned performance with the budget request of
                        the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, it is necessary to
                        review each goal and measure in the annual plan to see if the goal and
                        measure is associated with that office. If DOE were to supplement its
                        annual plan with information showing performance measures by office, all
                        of an office’s annual goals and measures could be provided in one matrix
                        and associated with a specific resource level.

                        In its annual plan, DOE recognizes the importance of valid and reliable data
DOE Recognizes the      and reporting systems for assessing its annual performance. The
Importance of           “validation and verification” and “demonstrating credible performance”
Verification and        sections of the plan provide an overview of the information sources
                        (program offices, national laboratories, and contractors), the primary
Validation but the      information system, and the general procedures followed to ensure that
Plan Provides Few       performance data and reports are reliable and accurate. DOE states that it
                        provides periodic guidance and training to information providers, requires
Detailed Procedures     the heads of organizational elements to certify the accuracy of data and
                        reports, and conducts its own reviews of the reporting system and
                        management controls. DOE’s Inspector General also independently
                        evaluates the Department’s financial statement and the performance data
                        reported in the statement. Finally, the annual plan recognizes the need to
                        assess and improve procedures for collecting and validating the data that
                        will be used to evaluate DOE’s performance.

                        Although DOE recognizes the importance of validation and verification, the
                        annual plan does not translate that general recognition into specific plans
                        for assessing DOE’s performance. More specifically, the plan does not

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           (1) describe credible procedures to verify and validate the performance
           measures and information systems required to assess DOE’s
           accomplishments for fiscal year 2000, nor does it (2) identify any
           significant data and/or information system limitations, discuss their
           implications for assessing progress toward performance goals, or identify
           any actions needed to correct recognized problems.

           This concludes my statement based upon the work that we have
           completed. We will complete our review of DOE’s annual plan in the near
           future. I would be happy to answer any questions you or other Members of
           the Subcommittee may have.

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