According to a Sept. 5 report by the Government Accountability Office, the average federal agency has done little over the past 20 years to increase its use of performance data to make management decisions, or even to adopt practices to promote its use. In particular, the GAO compared a 2013 survey to the most recent (2017) survey of 24 agencies and found little change.
For the survey, managers were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, the extent to which they and others at their agency use performance data when making various decisions. Government-wide, the 2017 score was 3.39, which is statistically identical to the 2013 score of 3.41. The 2013 score, in turn, had changed little from the 2007 score.
Agencies that scored higher than average in data-driven management included NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Agency for International Development and the General Services Administration. Significantly lower-scoring agencies included the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation.
As you might expect, agencies that were subject to data-driven evaluations of their programs were more likely to use data-driven management practices, the survey found.
How will the president’s management agenda and reorganization plan affect things?
The GAO report acknowledged that the White House has recently urged greater use of performance data as part of the president’s management agenda and the recent government reorganization plan. The Performance Improvement Council, chaired by OMB, has also set up a working group on data-driven performance management and how to promote it. However, the report noted that OMB, other responsible agencies and the working group have yet to develop full action plans or to identify and share best practices with the agencies they are trying to affect.
The GAO recommended that OMB instruct the leadership of the President’s Management Agenda Cross Agency Priority Goal to provide details on how best to use data more extensively within federal agencies and to ensure updates to any action plan. It also recommended that the director of OMB prioritize the development of best practices for the use of performance data.
When it comes to how your performance is evaluated, what matters is that the evaluation is fair. Federal agencies are increasingly feeling pressure to rely on performance data. That may be for the best, as data-driven decision making could be less subject to individual bias or discriminatory effect. On the other hand, performance data often fails to measure what is truly important. If you receive a negative performance evaluation and suspect it was the result of undue reliance on data, have your situation evaluated by a federal employment law attorney right away.