The five agencies we reviewed implemented key empowerment and involvement practices as part of making organizational changes intended to realign organizations and processes to improve performance. The practices were (1) demonstrating top leadership commitment; (2) engaging employee unions in making changes; (3) training employees to enhance their knowledge, skills, and abilities; (4) using employee teams to help accomplish agency missions; (5) involving employees in planning, and sharing performance information; and (6) delegating authorities to front-line employees.
Top leadership commitment is crucial in developing a vision, initiating organizational change, maintaining open communications, and creating an environment that is receptive to innovation. In earlier reports and testimonies, we observed that top leadership must play a critical role in creating and sustaining high-performing organizations. Without the clear and demonstrated commitment of agency top leadership, organizational cultures will not be transformed, and new visions and ways of doing business will not take root. 
Consistent attention to employee empowerment and involvement issues helps to ensure that changes are sustained. Agency leaders need to commit their organizations to valuing and investing in their employees by empowering, involving, and providing them the tools to do their best, and by implementing the modern performance management and incentives systems needed to focus employees' efforts on achieving agency missions and goals. Top leadership commitment entails time, energy, and persistence in providing incentives and establishing accountability. Agency leaders must commit their organizations to valuing and investing in their employees and focusing their employees' efforts on achieving stated agency missions and goals.  While top leadership commitment can be demonstrated in many ways, the following are examples employees and managers identified for the selected initiatives we reviewed at these agencies.
Think strategically about areas where innovation would make good business sense. Leaders conceptualized new approaches to improve performance and engaged employees and managers in shaping the implementation of that vision. For example, the Director at FAA's Logistics Center saw the need for operating more like a private sector business and envisioned the organizational and operational changes that would be required to do that. The Logistics Center's Director helped to ensure that all employees shared his vision by discussing proposed changes with his top-level managers and by meeting with front-line employees and union representatives to obtain their input about potential changes.
Reorganize and integrate operations. Leaders implemented their visions by realigning their organizations to improve performance and increase the coordination of mission-related activities. For example, a Branch Chief in OPM's Retirement and Insurance Service enabled a new team to improve claims processing by, among other things, providing cross-training for the team to handle both CSRS and FERS claims.
Create an environment of trust and honest communication. Leaders made themselves available to employees and unions, promoted open and constructive dialog, and were receptive to ideas and suggestions from employees at all levels. Following an approach to change management that is transparent and highly participatory is a key element in involving and empowering employees. For example, several of the agencies held town-hall meetings with employees to discuss workplace issues and provide a forum for input and feedback. IRS employees said that they felt that management used the information they provided about proposed changes.
Target investments and provide incentives to facilitate change. Leaders provided funding and created financial and other incentives to support new ways of working and to encourage employees to attain the agencies' goals and objectives. For example, the FAA Logistics Center Director committed to providing every Logistics Center employee with a $500 cash award if the Center met all of its performance targets for fiscal year 2001. At the time of our review, the Logistics Center was on track to meet or exceed its goals.
Participate in efforts to benchmark successful organizations. Some leaders visited organizations that were models for enhancing organizational flexibility and maintaining quality standards. By visiting and benchmarking model performance practices, leaders demonstrated to employees their personal commitment to making the changes needed for their offices or units to become high-performing organizations.  For example, the Director of one VBA regional office visited several private sector organizations to observe how they processed claims and ensured accuracy. The insights gained were factored into the changes made in regional office claims operations.
Use a 360-degree performance feedback system. One leader used input from team members to improve the team's performance. An OPM Branch Chief who supervises the cross-trained claims processing team implemented a 360-degree feedback system for assessing both her and her team members' performance. Under that system, team members provide her with input on her performance as a team coach as well as input on the performance of other team members. She then uses that information for self-assessment and in providing performance feedback to individual team members.
Involving employee unions, as well as involving employees directly, is crucial to achieving success. Major changes can involve redesigning work processes, changing work rules, developing new job descriptions, establishing new work hours, or making other changes to the work environment that are of particular concern to employees' unions. Obtaining union cooperation and support through effective labormanagement relations can help achieve consensus on the planned changes, avoid misunderstandings, and more expeditiously resolve problems that occur. The following are examples of how agencies engaged employee unions.
Develop and maintain an ongoing working relationship with unions. Agencies worked cooperatively with employee unions and found that an ongoing relationship enhanced communication. For example, OPM maintained a continuous dialog through weekly meetings of management and union representatives to share information and address workplace issues. Officials at OPM's Retirement Operations Center at Boyers, PA, and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) said that their excellent working relationship helped facilitate the adjustments made to incorporate new technology at the Center. They said when new technology reduced the Center's need for file clerks, union and management officials worked together to ensure that affected employees received advance notice about upcoming changes, training in new skills, and information about available job opportunities.
Document formal agreements. Agencies had formal agreements to serve as a foundation setting forth the manner in which labor and management would work together. For example, the agreement between IRS and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) was designed to ensure that employees are adequately represented and informed of proposed new policies and have input into the proposals. The agreement also provides for continuous improvement in IRS operations in part by providing employees the authority, resources, and other inputs they need to effect changes and to be accountable for performing effectively, and provides for NTEU participation in various forums, such as business process improvement teams and cross-unit committees.
Build trust over time. Some agencies have undertaken a long-term effort to create an environment of trust and openness in working cooperatively with unions. For example, both IRS and NTEU officials credited the excellent working relationship they developed over the last decade for helping to reorganize IRS. Officials at IRS stated that the reorganization has resulted in operating divisions that are focused on serving taxpayers and flatter decision-making structures with clear end-to-end accountability. The NTEU President said that the union was willing to expedite some negotiations on mission-critical issues because a trusting relationship had developed and IRS employees felt that management used the information they provided in shaping the new IRS.
Participate jointly in making decisions. Agencies involved unions and incorporated their input into proposals before finalizing decisions. For example, several unions provided suggestions about how agencies should share performance information with employees. In another instance, OPM's Operations Center and AFGE worked jointly on pre-decisional matters, such as the hiring of a new director of the Operations Center.
Both employees and managers viewed training as a critical factor in learning how to work in new and different ways. To improve customer service, employees may need new skills, such as the ability to analyze and improve work processes or the ability to work effectively together on teams. In addition to job-specific skills and work processes, training in teamwork and communications and encouragement and coaching through mentoring and networking can help employees adapt to new ways of working that involve changes in their roles and job expectations. VBA officials, for instance, told us that, along with providing various training modules, employees also need on-the-job training, coaching and mentoring to enhance their expertise through actual experience in processing claims. The following are examples of how agencies trained employees in new processes.
Provide a mix of on-the-job and formal training. Agencies used a variety of training techniques to help employees adjust to organizational and operational changes. For example, OPM provided on-the-job cross training so that a claims processing team could adjudicate both CSRS and FERS claims. According to the Branch Chief, because the team received cross-training, it was able to help another division reduce its backlog of FERS cases. OPM also provided formal training to teams in how to make decisions in setting goals, planning and assigning work, and scheduling overtime and training.
Provide training on building team relationships and new ways of working. When making significant changes to their operations, agencies provided training to help facilitate change. For example, when IRS undertook a major reorganization, its Ogden, UT, Service Center trained its employees in the new ways of conducting business. The training workshops included (1) learning how effective teams function; (2) improving working relationships among peers, managers and employees, and managers and union stewards; (3) enhancing effective communications among employees, union stewards, and managers; (4) increasing discussions about ways to improve work processes and meet customers' needs; and (5) creating a more positive workplace environment. The employees we interviewed said that training on effective working relationships was especially beneficial because they got to know their co-workers and gained an appreciation for each others' views.
Commit sufficient funding and time to training. Agencies considered training needs in budget decisions and their workforce planning. For example, as FAA's Logistics Center was being reorganized to operate in a more businesslike manner, it trained employees about the need for, as well as on how to develop, quality work processes. This enabled employees to document information that was required for the Logistics Center to receive International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9000 certification for quality work processes.  To receive this certification, an organization must show that it has standardized, high-quality processes that result in products and services that are provided in a timely manner.
Adopting a teams-based approach to operations can improve employee morale and job satisfaction by creating an environment characterized by open communication, enhanced flexibility in meeting job demands, and a sense of shared responsibility for accomplishing agency goals and objectives. Using teams can also assist in integrating different perspectives, flattening organizational structure, and streamlining operations. In a prior GAO report on best practices, we said that commercial firms began using integrated product teams in the 1980s as a way to get better results faster.  An integrated product team is a concentration of product expertise within a team of employees who, together, have the authority to design, develop, test, manufacture, and deliver a product. In examining FAA's efforts to modernize its air traffic control systems, we stated that although FAA has identified an integrated team approach as key to the agency's efforts to deploy systems that meet performance goals, major offices still tended to function in stovepipes that inhibit an integrated team approach. 
The following are examples of how teams were used in the agency initiatives we reviewed.
Create teams of employees who represent multiple organizational functions and different grade levels. Agencies flattened their organizational structures by including employees from various organizational functions and grade levels on teams. For example, VBA consolidated regional office operations by merging two divisions and creating teams with members from both functions who could process claims from beginning to end. In some cases, forming teams provided opportunities for front-line employees to assume leadership roles. FEMA's teams at the U.S. Fire Administration provided opportunities for front-line employees to lead teams whose members included a mix of employees and supervisors. Agencies also took steps to streamline their processes by using a team approach. For example, VBA streamlined its claims process by allowing one employee to handle all aspects of a claim, instead of requiring employees to write referrals and wait for responses from other divisions. VBA's team approach also enhanced accountability to veterans because team members were responsible for handling specific claims.
Establish an integrated working environment with common goals. When agencies established teams, this provided an environment in which individual team members were encouraged to work together toward achieving team goals. For example, FEMA's U.S. Fire Administration teams had members from units throughout the organization. The teams met on a weekly basis and identified ways to implement over 170 Board of Visitors recommendations for improving the Fire Administration's operations. These teams facilitated communications and employee involvement by maintaining a focal point for the organization, working toward consensus, and posting performance data showing progress toward addressing these recommendations.
Assign team responsibilities and provide an environment for learning. Agencies assigned a broad range of responsibilities to teams and allowed members to help each other and learn new skills. For example, VBA's claims-processing teams were responsible for controlling claims from when first received until finally adjudicated. That required the team to conduct a full range of claims functions, including receiving and controlling the claims, contacting veterans and hospitals to obtain information, and making benefit decisions. Team members were able to assist other team members when needed, which helped develop team members' skills in functions they did not previously perform. To enable the team to efficiently meet their objectives, the teams were also responsible for setting their work schedules and managing their workload.
Hold teams accountable for results. The agencies held teams accountable for accomplishing their work, and working together in a team environment encouraged team members to share accountability. When teams made decisions about how to do their work, employees told us they felt greater accountability for the teams' overall performance. For example, members of the FAA Logistics Center's integrated product teams were accountable for all aspects of the Center's products, including maintenance, repair, storage, and shipping. The teams' performance was measured on a regular basis, providing direct feedback to the teams.
Physically collocate team members when appropriate. Agencies collocated team members when the employees had been working in the same building or facility. Although technology is being used to help bring teams that are geographically dispersed together in a virtual environment, to the extent that team members are already located nearby, moving team members to a shared location improved communication and enhanced efficiency.  For example, collocating OPM's retirement team members facilitated the sharing of information among members and led to improved work processes and customer satisfaction.
Involving employees in planning and sharing performance information can help employees understand what the organization is trying to accomplish and how it is progressing in that direction. Involving employees in the planning process helps to develop agency goals and objectives that incorporate insights about operations from a front-line perspective, as well as increases employees' understanding and acceptance of organizational goals and objectives. Involving front-line employees in the goal-setting process also helps create a clear "line of sight" throughout the organization so that everyone understands what the organization is trying to achieve and the goals it seeks to reach. Employees we met with appeared committed to working toward the goals of their agencies and to providing high quality service.
Sharing performance information can provide employees with a more meaningful perspective about how their day-to-day activities contribute toward the organization's goals and objectives. Sharing performance information also allows supervisors to provide clearer and more specific feedback to teams and front-line employees on their expectations, progress, and performance. Agencies' use of performance information can be improved. In May 2001, we reported that, based on a survey of federal managers at 28 agencies, at no more than 7 of the 28 agencies surveyed did 50 percent or more of the managers respond that they used performance information to a great or very great extent.  However, at the agencies we visited, managers used performance information and shared this information with front-line employees through various mechanisms. Some of these agencies, such as VBA and IRS, used a balanced scorecard approach, which is intended to provide a balanced perspective regarding agency results, customer satisfaction, and employee feedback. At one of VBA's regional offices, for example, computerized information is continuously displayed on video screens providing employees with current performance information.
The employees we met with were aware of their agencies' and their units' performance goals and objectives, and they said that sharing performance information had enhanced communications across all levels of the organization. Employees told us that sharing performance information provided everyone with a focus to work toward and a status report on their progress. They also said that sharing performance information generated more performance-related discussions, including at town-hall meetings, other meetings with managers, and during team meetings.
The following are examples of how agencies involved employees in planning and sharing performance information.
Create mechanisms to involve employees in the planning process. Agencies used various mechanisms to develop strategic plans, gather feedback from internal stakeholders for identifying gaps in existing strategic plans, and obtain employee input and feedback. For example, one IRS division used an employee team to help to develop its strategic plan. The team ensured that all division employees had opportunities to provide input, and the agency used that input as part of its efforts to develop a balanced set of goals and objectives for the division.
Post performance information throughout the workplace. Agencies shared performance information with employees by posting it through a variety of means, including charts, graphs, newsletters, and agency intranet postings. For example, FAA's Logistics Center posted performance charts and graphs in the entry foyers of its buildings and at the entrances to its organizational units. Such postings permitted employees to easily see how their units' performance was contributing to agency goals and objectives. The Logistics Center also had a monthly newsletter for sharing organizational performance information and providing an arena for employees to share information.
Share performance information in meetings. Agencies frequently held town-hall and other meetings to discuss program performance and organizational issues. Agencies used town-hall meetings to help employees better understand how their work efforts contributed to overall organizational success. The town-hall meetings also provided a forum in which employees and managers could discuss organizational changes and suggest operational improvements. For example, IRS' Ogden, UT, Service Center employees we interviewed said that for the first time regular and effective communications between Center managers and employees was occurring. They said that, in addition to listening, managers were taking action on employees' suggestions, which made the employees see that their input was valued. Frequent team meetings provided employees an opportunity to obtain feedback about agency performance. For example, VBA teams shared performance information at weekly meetings, information that helped the teams assess their progress in meeting performance goals.
Survey employees on their views regarding organizational direction. Agencies used surveys to obtain employees' views, such as input regarding the direction of organizational changes. IRS' Wage and Investment Operating Division surveyed employees on the strengths, opportunities, and priorities for each of the division's branches, shared survey results with employees, and implemented changes as a result.
Delegating authorities to front-line employees involves the transfer of authorities from managers to those employees who are closer to citizens and provide services and information as part of their day-to-day activities. Providing delegated authorities can enable employees to control their own work processes and schedules. Delegating authorities also gives employees the opportunity to look at customer needs in an integrated way and effectively respond to those needs. Delegating authorities can benefit agency operations by streamlining processes. Furthermore, delegating authorities to front-line employees gives managers greater opportunities to concentrate on problems or policy-level issues. If employees believe they have the authority to tackle goals and objectives beyond their formal job descriptions and assigned units, then when customers have legitimate complaints, empowered front-line employees can "make it right" immediately rather than having to wait for management to get involved.
The following are examples of how agencies delegated authorities to front-line employees.
Empower on-site staff with authority to make decisions. Agencies delegated authorities and empowered front-line employees to exercise responsibilities to more fully address customer needs. For example, FEMA public assistance coordinators are on-site at the disaster or emergency to observe the conditions and to coordinate public assistance. They were delegated the authority to determine applicants' eligibility, to approve up to $100,000 in public financial assistance, and to help to ensure that applicants are kept fully informed throughout the public assistance process.
Eliminate layers of review. Agencies reduced the number of approvals needed for various activities and delegated greater authority to front-line employees to make decisions. For example, FAA's Aeronautical Center delegated authorities to its audiovisual teams to make decisions while on location, such as the need to visit locations in addition to those originally planned and approved. This allowed the audiovisual teams to more efficiently meet customer needs. At FEMA, delegating authority to the Public Assistance Coordinators eliminated two additional state reviews of applications for assistance and two other reviews by FEMA.
Provide more time for managers to focus on problem areas or policy matters. Agencies targeted managers' skills on more difficult problems or policy areas by delegating some authorities to front-line employees. For example, VBA managers said they were able to use their time more efficiently after delegating day-to-day claims-processing authorities to the teams. They said that by delegating these authorities, they could concentrate on policy matters and more difficult problems that the teams were unable to handle.
Establish a new position with appropriate authority. Some agencies identified situations in which new positions of authority could help benefit operations. For example, VBA, as part of its efforts to reengineer its claims processing, established a new decision review officer position and provided employees in those positions the authority to review and change claims decisions that veterans appealed. Prior to this, veterans' appeals were addressed under a formal hearing process. Because decision review officers have more flexibility to address appeals informally, creating this new position provided the opportunity to streamline the process and save time.
Managing for Results: Federal Managers' Views Show Need for Ensuring Top Leadership Skills (GAO-01-127, Oct. 20, 2000); Management Reform: Using the Results Act and Quality Management to Improve Federal Performance (GAO/T-GGD-99-151, July 29, 1999); and Management Reform: Elements of Successful Improvement Initiatives (GAO/TGGD-00-26, Oct. 15, 1999).
Benchmarking is a critical part of an effective improvement program because it helps an organization identify outstanding levels of performance that have actually been achieved. Benchmarking therefore helps define specific reference points for setting goals for improving performance. See Managing for Results: Critical Actions for Measuring Performance (GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-95-187, June 20, 1995).
ISO is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies representing 140 countries. ISO 9000 certification recognizes standardized quality processes established by organizations to produce consistently high-quality products or services.
Best Practices: DOD Teaming Practices Not Achieving Potential Results (GAO-01-510, Apr. 10, 2001).
Air Traffic Control: Role of FAA's Modernization Program in Reducing Delays and Congestion (GAO-01-725T, May 10, 2001).
Advances in the use of information technology and the Internet are continuing to change the way federal agencies communicate, use, and disseminate information, deliver services, and conduct business. See Electronic Government: Challenges Must Be Addressed With Effective Leadership and Management (GAO-01-959T, July 11, 2001).
Managing for Results: Federal Managers' Views on Key Management Issues Vary Widely Across Agencies (GAO-01-592, May 25, 2001).