Agencies identified a range of examples to demonstrate the different ways performance can be improved in implementing the practices to empower and involve employees. As we have reported before when looking at management reform efforts, it is difficult to disentangle the effects of numerous initiatives and external factors that affect each agency's environment.  For example, external factors such as legislative changes that resulted in reopening nearly 100,000 veterans' claims and the increasing complexity of these claims have affected VBA's results in addressing its claims backlog.
Officials from the five agencies attributed improved operations to the employee empowerment and involvement initiatives they had implemented, and the specific offices we visited had achieved successes in implementing the practices we reviewed in this report. Therefore, these examples are presented to illustrate how performance can improve through the contributions of empowered and involved employees.
FAA's Logistics Center Radar Product Division team addressed emergencies, as well as routine tasks, more quickly. Established in 1998, this Division is an integrated product team of experts such as engineers and electronic technicians, who perform all of the functions required to repair ground-based radar systems. In April 2000, the airport surveillance radar at Boston's Logan Airport was ripped from its mounting pedestal during severe weather conditions, severely reducing the number of flights in and out of Logan Airport. Working together, the team, along with other FAA and non-FAA organizations, made extensive repairs and restored radar service within 58 hours after the incident. In December 2000, a similar problem occurred at New York's JFK airport, and the team restored service within 56 hours.
According to Logistics Center officials, prior to working as an integrated product team, it required longer for FAA to coordinate a response to similar emergencies and fully restore service. FAA said that collocating all of the logistics functions including Engineers, Items Managers, Technicians, Equipment Specialists, etc, allowed the team to work together on priority areas. Collocation also eliminated communication barriers, such as the need to write memos or leave voice mail messages to request services and wait for responses. Forming the team also allowed FAA to reduce overlapping roles and responsibilities. Logistics Center officials said that the Radar Product Division team's coordinated operations saved time, including reducing the average number of days required to obtain research assistance from 45 days to 1 day.
FEMA's customer surveys show improved satisfaction. According to FEMA, one of its goals was to transform the public assistance program into a customer-driven and performance-based program, thereby improving the quality and delivery of service to state and local applicants. Customer surveys conducted by FEMA after each disaster where public assistance was provided showed that customer satisfaction has improved. Fiscal year 2000 survey results showed that 85.6 percent of the respondents were satisfied with the assistance FEMA provided, an increase from the 81.4 percent customer satisfaction level FEMA achieved in fiscal year 1999. FEMA's fiscal year 2001 target is to increase its customer satisfaction results up to 87 percent. FEMA officials we met with said that delegating authority to the employees in Public Assistance Coordinator positions had contributed to this improvement.
OPM's retirement claims processing team helped another Division in the Retirement and Insurance Service reduce a backlog of retirement claims. In February 2000, there was a backlog of about 12,000 FERS retirement claims, and OPM's management instituted a seven-point plan to address this problem. One of the components of the plan was to provide an existing group of CSRS benefits specialists with cross training in FERS claims adjudication. OPM said that the team's flexibility, attitude, and work ethic played a significant role in the success of this effort, which was OPM's first cross-training initiative. According to OPM, the team's contribution, along with reallocating staff, hiring, and improved automation, led to a 7,000 case reduction in the backlog by March 2001. 
IRS' Substitute for Return Authority has expedited taxpayer compliance. In some cases, IRS employees are authorized to prepare substitute tax returns for taxpayers that did not file or filed a false return. Instead of referring requests to a different office as was done in the past, IRS has delegated this authority to revenue officers. This allows one-stop case resolution, because the revenue officers now maintain complete control of the case through collection of any balance due. By streamlining IRS' processes, additional taxes are being assessed within 5 to 8 months, much faster than the 30 months it usually took before. This also benefits taxpayers, because the amount of penalties and interest added to taxpayer accounts is reduced when assessments are more timely. IRS reported that during a fiscal year 2000 pilot program, revenue officers with delegated authorities prepared 257 non-filer cases involving tax assessments of about $3.5 million.
When VBA established its decision review officer position, it first used a pilot program to test the new operational approach at 12 locations. VBA found that during the pilot phase, which ended December 31, 2000, the number of appeals resolved at the regional office level increased by 10 percent. By implementing this position nationwide, VBA projects there will be a 45 percent increase in the number of appeals resolved at the regional offices during fiscal year 2001. VBA attributes the increased number of appeals resolved at the regional office level to the efforts of its decision review officers.
NPR's Savings: Claimed Agency Savings Cannot All Be Attributed to NPR (GAO/GGD-99-120, July 23, 1999).
As reported in its fiscal year 2000 performance report, CSRS claims processing time increased to 44 days from 32 days in fiscal year 1999, and FERS processing times increased to more than 6 months from 3 months in fiscal year 1999 (see GAO-01-884). OPM has recognized the need to address lagging times in retirement claims processing. According to OPM, steps to implement its modernization plan have reduced FERS processing times, and development of a staffing plan will enable it to reduce CSRS processing times.