More Problems at Commission on Civil Rights

The Commission on Civil Rights continues to defend its management practices in the face of criticism from OPM and GAO.

The US Commission on Civil Rights is a very small federal agency.

Some would call the agency leadership feisty. Others may look at the way it is managed and wonder how a federal agency can still exist and operate without regard to criticism from oversight agencies.

Whichever way one looks at the agency’s approach to dealing with public criticism, it certainly stands out for getting headlines for events and problems most agencies would not want and for acting in a way that would get most agency heads fired.

But the Commission on Civil Rights isn’t backing down. It has ignored the Office of Personnel Management and the Government Accountability Office when previous critical reports were issued. From its response to the latest GAO criticism, it does not appear the small agency intends to change or to try to improve its management of agency resources.

The latest problem: GAO says the agency isn’t complying with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). Under this act, agencies are required to send their strategic plans and annual performance plans that detail their long-term and annual goals as well as information on how they plan to meet these goals. GPRA also requires agencies to submit annual performance reports that provide information on their progress in meeting the goals.

The Commission hasn’t gotten around to revising its strategic plan since 1997.

How bad is it? GAO says that the agency’s most recent performance plan and report inherently limit the agency’s ability to manage its operations and communicate its performance.

For example, the performance plan does not discuss the Commission’s strategies or resources for achieving its goals, does not provide budgetary information for its programs, and does not provide performance indicators.

And what about it’s past performance? They were often ignored also. It’s performance report does not provide plans, schedules, or recommendations for addressing the Commission’s unmet goals.

This isn’t the first time that GAO has slammed the agency for poor management practices. GAO notes that the Commission has not implemented three of the four recommendations in GAO’s October 2003 report for improving the agency’s management and procurement practices. The Commission also ignored recommendations from the Office of Personnel Management when OPM reviewed the agency’s human resources system.

While most agencies try to respond to correct problems from oversight organizations, the Commission on Civil Rights has taken a different approach.

In response to criticism from OPM and GAO, the agency essentially says that it’s not at fault and that the agency is too small to implement the recommendations necessary to become more efficient.

The GAO doesn’t agree that size is a good excuse. “It says that “Size does not mitigate the need for the Commission to address longstanding management and human capital problems identified in previous OPM and GAO reports. Furthermore, instead of implying that it is acceptable for the Commission as a small agency to operate under diminished expectations for GPRA compliance, the Commission could make use of GPRA’s planning and reporting framework to strengthen itself as an agency.”

The Commission also attacked the GAO for its investigative approach. In its report, the GAO defends the report and asserts the Commission is making false accusations to defend itself.

You can download the latest GAO report from the link on the left hand side of this page which includes the Commission’s response to the report.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47