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2018 Government Innovation Awards

Auditing the auditors

The Government Accountability Office analyzes the operations of other federal agencies and points out where they are inefficient or misallocating resources. So it’s only logical that GAO would eventually turn its gaze inward.

Business Intelligence for Better Oversight

Government Accountability Office

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The core of GAO’s operational effectiveness lies in the many auditor teams the agency deploys. Approximately 80 percent of its budget is dedicated to employee salaries and benefits, making people by far the agency’s most valuable resource.

Unfortunately, GAO’s leaders had little insight into how efficiently they were putting those assets to use, said Gaurab Shrestha, a systems manager at the agency. Teams tracked their hours using different spreadsheet formats, making it difficult to compare spending across projects, predict future spending needs or identify areas for cost savings.

“There was no efficiency in terms of how we were doing things, and we were not able to provide anything in a timely manner,” Shrestha said. “We would do it, but there was a lot of struggling.”

To address the issue, the agency developed a business intelligence system that delivers insight into a broad range of key performance indicators. Shrestha said the system has transformed how GAO manages spending decisions because leaders can now track trends in employees’ travel spending, for example, and analyze where employees go, how long they stay and how much money they spend at each location.

The IT team consulted with a variety of stakeholders to address any concerns about having employee activities measured on such a granular level and to emphasize how the data would (and would not) be used.

Shrestha said GAO is not alone in facing these challenges, and he believes the system could be a model for other federal agencies. “Every agency does [its] own budgeting, work management or program management differently, but the underlying concept is the same,” he added. “You have budgets, you have staff, [and] you have some sort of succession plan.”

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