Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act:

Federal Agencies' Collaboration Generally Reflected Leading Practices, but Could Be Enhanced

GAO-18-171: Published: Feb 8, 2018. Publicly Released: Feb 8, 2018.

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What GAO Found

Federal agencies' efforts to implement Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) requirements related to regulations, program performance, and state planning aligned with most of the leading collaboration practices that GAO identified in its prior work, but could be enhanced in two areas. Officials from the Departments of Labor (DOL), Education (Education), and Health and Human Services (HHS) reported having taken actions consistent with five of seven leading collaboration practices (see table).

Table: Examples of Federal Agencies' Actions That Were Consistent with GAO's Identified Leading Collaboration Practices

Leading Collaboration Practices

Examples of Actions Taken by the Departments of Labor (DOL), Education (Education), and Health and Human Services (HHS) to Implement the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)

Defining Outcomes and Accountability

Implemented outcomes and time frames required by WIOA by establishing interim outcomes and deadlines. The agencies also identified additional outcomes and tracked their progress, for example, by developing work plans with deadlines for specific tasks.

Bridging Organizational Cultures

Shared information about differences across agencies in programs and processes. For example, identified each agency's existing process for reviewing and approving state plans before developing a joint process.

Establishing and Sustaining Leadership

Shared leadership of the collaboration by identifying a senior leader from each agency and workgroup co-chairs from each agency. These workgroup leadership roles are generally a core job responsibility.

Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities

Developed a collaboration structure, including roles and responsibilities of interagency workgroups, and a joint decision-making process involving senior leaders from each agency.

Including Relevant Participants

Involved relevant participants from DOL, Education, HHS, and other agencies as needed. Participants committed staff resources to help carry out interagency workgroup activities.

Source: GAO and analysis of information from DOL, Education, and HHS officials. | GAO-18-171

However, GAO noted that the agencies' efforts could be enhanced in two areas:

Resources. The agencies have leveraged various resources, but have not fully identified the resources needed to address technology challenges. Online collaboration tools could help address these challenges, and officials said they have used them to a limited extent based on their business needs. DOL and Education officials said the agencies are exploring options for using online tools to a greater extent, but have not fully identified their technology needs or which tools would best meet these needs. Without doing so, the agencies may be missing opportunities to collaborate more efficiently and effectively.

Written agreements. The agencies have not formally documented their agreements about how they are collaborating or sharing resources. Officials said they have not formally documented their agreements because they believed it was not necessary, and they faced time constraints. However, the agencies have experienced turnover among senior officials, and without documentation of how they are collaborating, it may take longer for newly appointed officials to become familiar with and implement collaboration efforts. In addition, without documenting decisions about how they share resources, the agencies may be missing opportunities to assess whether their approach could be enhanced.

Why GAO Did This Study

WIOA was enacted in 2014 and requires DOL, Education, and HHS to collaborate on an ongoing basis to implement the law. WIOA requirements involving interagency collaboration include issuing regulations, developing a common performance system, and overseeing state planning. In prior work, GAO identified leading practices that can enhance and sustain federal collaborative efforts. Given the ongoing collaboration required by WIOA, GAO was asked to review the collaborative approaches the agencies have used to implement the law.

This report examines the extent to which federal agencies' efforts to implement certain WIOA requirements have aligned with leading collaboration practices.

GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance. GAO also interviewed officials from DOL, Education, and HHS who led the overall collaboration effort, gathered information from interagency workgroups, and reviewed relevant documentation. In addition, GAO interviewed Office of Management and Budget staff regarding their role in this collaboration. GAO assessed the agencies' efforts against leading collaboration practices and federal internal control standards.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making 6 recommendations to DOL, Education, and HHS to better address their resource needs and document their agreements. HHS agreed with GAO's recommendations. DOL and Education neither agreed nor disagreed but planned to take actions to address the recommendations.

For more information, contact Cindy Brown Barnes, at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: ETA acknowledged that there is more work to be done in this area, stating that it will continue to work with its partners to facilitate collaboration, including through technology-based solutions. In April 2018, ETA commented that it would work with ED and HHS to continue to work together to explore how online collaboration tools can further facilitate the partner agencies' extensive collaboration. As ETA and its partners identify a need for technology solutions, they will work to identify specific business requirements including those related to security, determine which online tools meet those needs, and leverage its resources to use them. They are beginning this work to improve the mechanism for online submission of WIOA Unified State Plans, for which Education has issued a request for information. They are also reviewing how agencies share documents during the WIOA Unified State Plan review process.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of DOL's Employment and Training Administration should work with Education and HHS to fully identify and address their technology resource needs by (1) jointly identifying and prioritizing requirements for online collaboration tools, including those related to security, (2) determining which online tools would best meet their needs, and (3) leveraging their resources to support greater use of those tools. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: Education acknowledged that there is more work to be done in this area. The agency noted that, since our review, it has made progress in identifying and prioritizing technology needs and conducting related market research. Education also stated that, together with its WIOA federal agency partners, it plans to issue a Request for Information in January 2018 to identify options for a new online system for submitting state plans. In addition, Education stated that the agencies have made progress in identifying existing internal tools that they can use to share documents.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretaries of Education's Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services should work with DOL and HHS to fully identify and address their technology resource needs by (1) jointly identifying and prioritizing requirements for online collaboration tools, including those related to security, (2) determining which online tools would best meet their needs, and (3) leveraging their resources to support greater use of those tools. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: HHS agreed with this recommendation. In March 2018, HHS reported that it would work with DOL and Education to determine the need to expand online collaboration tools and in what way. However, because HHS does not administer any of the core WIOA programs, they will defer to their sister agencies in this area. If unmet need for online collaboration tools is identified, HHS will help to assess the best methods to meet that need. HHS, Labor and Education have also began to identify a successor tool to the state plan portal that Education is currently supporting for all three departments. They are also looking at better ways to share documents across departments for state plan reviews.

    Recommendation: The Director of HHS's Office of Family Assistance should work with DOL and Education to fully identify and address their technology resource needs by (1) jointly identifying and prioritizing requirements for online collaboration tools, including those related to security, (2) determining which online tools would best meet their needs, and (3) leveraging their resources to support greater use of those tools. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: ETA noted that written agreements are important to ensure continuity and would explore developing such agreements. In April 2018, ETA commented that it will work with Education and HHS to document processes for shared decision-making, including for the inter-agency review and approval process of WIOA Unified State Plans, and for any activities that require joint funding. They anticipate completing the work by September 30, 2018. In addition, should the need for a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) be required, particularly if there is a need for a funding agreement for shared resources, ETA said it would work with Education and HHS to execute an MOU accordingly. They will continue to work with their partners to facilitate clear direction from principals and communications to staff.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of DOL's Employment and Training Administration should formally document agreements with Education and HHS about how the collaboration operates and how the agencies share resources. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: Education said it would explore developing collaboration agreements but is not convinced that a formal agreement is necessary, given that the WIOA collaboration has been institutionalized. Education also stated that the lack of a formal agreement has not negatively affected the agencies' commitment to working together or the quality of their work. We continue to believe that formally documenting their collaboration agreements would help ETA, Education, and HHS ensure continuity in their efforts to fully implement WIOA, particularly given current vacancies in key leadership positions at two of the three agencies. Documenting collaboration agreements could help support a smooth transition of leadership when these positions are filled, and could also help the agencies assess and enhance their approach to sharing resources.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretaries of Education's Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services should formally document agreements with DOL and HHS about how the collaboration operates and how the agencies share resources. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: HHS agreed with this recommendation. In March 2018, HHS reported that it they would work with DOL and Education to document decision-making and consider whether more formal agreements are needed as issues arise. Because HHS does not administer any of the core WIOA programs, it defers to its sister agencies to determine where formal agreements may be needed. HHS does not believe that its work has suffered to date without formal written agreements.

    Recommendation: The Director of HHS's Office of Family Assistance should formally document agreements with DOL and Education about how the collaboration operates and how the agencies share resources. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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