A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
U.S. Department of Education Strategic Plan, 1998-2002 - September 1997
Goal 4. Make ED a high-performance organization by focusing on results, service quality, and customer satisfaction.
To help students reach challenging academic standards, to help build a solid foundation for learning for all students, and to ensure access to postsecondary education and lifelong learning, the Department must be committed to world-class management, quality service, and customer satisfaction. To be a leader in educational reforms, the Department has to be a leader in organizational and internal performance reforms. To achieve these results requires breakthrough thinking and accomplishments--in customer service, support for our partners, educational research, technology both internal and external, workforce planning and development, financial integrity, and strategic planning and performance measurement.
To become a high-performance organization, the Department must become "results and accountability driven." This will happen when we:
During the past few years, we have made much progress in transforming ED into a high performance organization. But more remains to be done. The objectives in Goal 4 and objective 3.3 in Goal 3 identify critical management processes for the Department that need ongoing attention or further development.
- Identify our customers and meet or surpass their needs
- Set goals and establish or improve our performance measurement systems to track progress
- Determine how best to work with our partners to reach program goals
- Continually seek new ways to provide services more efficiently and with higher quality
- Identify effective practices in education through R&D and evaluation, and get the information out to our customers and partners
Use of Evaluations and Assessments in Developing Goal 4
- In its report Department of Education: Long Standing Management Problems Hamper Reforms (May 1993), the General Accounting Office (GAO) criticized the Department for not emphasizing good, sensible management techniques to accomplish its goals. This report further highlighted a lack of strategic planning, poor quality data, unqualified technical staff and a focus on short term fixes rather than long term solutions. This report, along with internal recognition of serious problems by new Administration officials, led to development of the Department's first strategic plan, establishment of standing committees for management reform, re-engineering of key processes including regulations and grants management, establishment of customer service standards and centralization of responses to customer inquiries, and other management reforms. Notwithstanding our having achieved significant improvements since that report, work is still needed in some of the areas it identified, including the need to improve the quality of performance data on our programs and operations.
- In 1993 and 1996, the Department surveyed all managers and staff on experiences and opinions about their work, working environment, and support. The results of the employee surveys helped to set the direction for some of the objectives in Goal 4.
- To identify ways to improve customer service, we've followed Executive Order 12862, "Setting Customer Service Standards," as well as used internal surveys of key offices and focus groups to establish strategies and measures for customer satisfaction. We tested telephone and employee responsiveness in a "mystery shopper" survey. We also reviewed several GAO reports that offered suggestions for ways to improve our service to customers.
- When our office of research and statistics (Office of Educational Research and Improvement, or OERI) was scheduled for reauthorization, the National Academy of Sciences was asked to consider how federally-supported educational research could better contribute to improving the nation's education. The Academy, through its National Research Council, convened 15 distinguished experts to conduct the study. OERI adopted many of the report's recommendations, which also influenced selection of the strategies and indicators in this plan.
- To identify priorities for research, the Department conducted over 45 discussion groups to get input on national priorities for research in education. The resulting data and recommendations appear in the report Building Knowledge for a Nation of Learners: A Framework for Education Research, 1997.
- To help introduce management innovations, the Department's principal office components (POCs) have joined in partnership to do management reviews and make recommendations on areas that can be improved through process improvement or organizational development activities.
- For our information technology systems, a recent independent verification and validation study by KMPG Peat Marwick on the Department's network infrastructure and operations provided important improvement recommendations. The recommendations were used in developing strategies for objective 4.4 and are being followed now as we improve our information systems.
- GAO's 1997 report on Challenges in Promoting Access and Excellence in Education noted the importance of having a sound integrated information technology strategy to manage a portfolio of information systems. We have included an indicator on Information Technology Investment Review Board assessments of major systems to ensure that systems are mission-driven and consistent with our information technology architecture.
Objectives, Indicators, and Strategies
Objective 4.1: Our customers receive fast, seamless service and dissemination of high-quality information and products.
- By 2001 at least 90% of customers, internal and external, will agree that ED products, services, and information, including those on the Department's web site, are of high quality, timely, and accessible.
- Department employees and front-line service centers will meet or exceed the Department's customer service standards by 2000.
- Quarterly evaluation reports for the "One-Pubs" system, based on quality assurance surveillance, will indicate that high standards of performance are achieved for dissemination of ED's information products by 2000.
People who need answers to their queries want help, not busy signals and unreturned phone messages. Customer service isn't just a slogan, it is a necessary focus of our organization. We believe that customers should have seamless access to information and services and are striving to meet the standards we have set for customer service. (See the Department's customer service standards.) The Department has sought out feedback from customers to improve our programs and services; and this feedback has led to significant improvements in the way we do business.
- Standards. Set, meet, and exceed the Department's customer service standards, especially on the front lines by providing employee training, regular feedback on performance, adequate resources, equipment, and incentives.
- Customer feedback. Develop a comprehensive, reliable system for receiving and acting on customer feedback, including customer complaints.
- One-stop shopping for customers. Establish a "One-Pubs" system that enables our customers to receive publications and other information products without having to track them down from several offices.
- Public outreach. Conduct outreach activities to increase awareness and support for the Secretary's priorities among key constituency groups and the general public, using regional meetings and events, teleconferences, newsletters, targeted mailings, national conferences, satellite town meetings, information services via the Internet, and contacts with state and local governments and other federal agencies.
- Full access. Ensure that customers with disabilities have access to Department services and information by expanding our TTY system capacity and establishing an alternate format center to provide both braille and audiotape.
- Employee resources. Provide ED employees with technology needed to respond effectively to customer requests.
Objective 4.2: Our partners have the support and flexibility they need without diminishing accountability for results.
- Surveys of states and school districts will increasingly rate the Department's technical assistance, including assistance from the integrated reviews, as very useful in improving their performance.
- By 2002 the number of separate ED programs will decline significantly from the current 197 programs in FY 1997. (Requires legislative action.)
- Customers will increasingly report that they have greater flexibility and better understanding of ED rules and requirements.
- New discretionary grants processed using the re-engineered grant-making process will be awarded each year on a timely basis.
- Reports from program monitoring teams and audit reports under the Single Audit Act will show a reduction in significant recurring findings.
- The number of states participating in the Cooperative Audit Resolution and Oversight Initiative (CAROI) will increase to meet the needs of our partners.
Many Department programs serve similar target populations, such as educationally disadvantaged children, although each program has a different focus and purposes. To improve teaching and learning for these children, the Department needs to be organized to promote the integration of federal programs with one another as well as with state and local programs.
Two important review processes that use cross-cutting teams to provide program monitoring and technical assistance are providing states with single contacts, coordinated guidance, and a straightforward process for conflict resolution.
- The Integrated Review Team initiative (IRT) for elementary and secondary education programs promotes joint technical assistance and monitoring activities among several offices and programs that are working with the same or greatly overlapping target populations or education providers.
- The Cooperative Audit Resolution and Oversight Initiative (CAROI) links program, auditing, and legal staffs with state program administrators to resolve financial issues.
These new processes promote cooperative, rather than adversarial, relationships between the Department and our grantees.
Further, to better support our partners and ensure that taxpayers get results for their investment, we need to continue improving our key internal processes and systems supporting federal aid to education. Some of our legislative authorities will need revision to support the Government Performance and Results Act's focus on results. To make regulations helpful to achieving program goals and accountability, they should be as flexible, performance-oriented, and unburdensome as possible. The re-engineered discretionary grants process will give the grantee community one point of contact, more time to make proposals, and more technical assistance before and after grant awards.
- Integrated program reviews.Continue to implement protocols for conducting grant program reviews that integrate program monitoring, technical assistance, and audit resolutions through a collaborative approach among program offices and with states.
- Technical assistance system.
- Create a conceptual and operational framework for delivering technical assistance through technical assistance centers, conferences, integrated reviews, ED staff, and online services.
- Link technical assistance, monitoring and auditing activities by providing the Integrated Review Teams with results of Cooperative Audit Resolutions, and other audit findings.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the Department's technical assistance.
- Build civil rights partnerships. Establish constructive and collaborative relationships with state education agencies, local education agencies, parents and community groups, and other stakeholders to achieve the shared objectives of civil rights compliance and securing timely improvements for students.
- Program streamlining and flexibility.
- During reauthorization, simplify legislation and design programs to be results-oriented.
- Use the Department's waiver authorities to provide increased flexibility in exchange for increased accountability to states, school districts, and others in order to help all students achieve to challenging academic standards.
- Support Ed-Flex partnership states as they implement their delegated waiver authority. (Ed-Flex is the Education Flexibility Demonstration Partnership Program.)
- Encourage consolidated planning at state and local levels.
- Regulatory/legislative reinvention.
- Ensure appropriate flexibility-consistent with customer recommendations, program goals, and need for accountability-in new legislation and regulations.
- Set forth clear, straightforward expectations and options through simpler regulations and more timely, effective guidance.
- In particular, develop postsecondary education reauthorization legislation that results in regulations and program operation guidelines that are straightforward and simplified for easier customer use.
- Grants re-engineering.
- Ensure that the re-engineered decentralization of the discretionary grant-making process is operational by tracking output, closely monitoring developments to overcome roadblocks, and by providing comprehensive desk-level procedures and training for staff.
- Ensure that formula and discretionary grants are issued to our partners in time for state and local program planning and operations, by requiring that program offices award grants by May 1 wherever beneficial to grantees.
Objective 4.3: An up-to-date knowledge base is available from education research to support education reform and equity.
- Peer reviews will increasingly show that education research and statistics supported by the Department are of high quality, are focused on critical education reform issues, and contribute significantly to educational improvement.
- Education research will increasingly meet the needs of our partners (e.g., states, schools, institutions of higher education, national associations) and our customers (teachers, parents, students, business) for reliable information on how to make schools more effective, as measured by biennial customer surveys.
- In major and selected other programs, increasing percentages of grantees will demonstrate that their programs and services are based on sound research results.
- Dissemination of research and assessment findings will increasingly reach key customers and result in educational improvement.
Investing in education research and evaluation contributes to our understanding of and efforts to improve education. Because of its potential to influence the well-being of the nation's youth, education research must meet the highest professional standards of scientific inquiry so that results are trustworthy. The Department, in collaboration with the National Educational Research Policy and Priority Board, is developing standards to assure that supported activities are of the highest professional excellence. To ensure its relevance and application, research must remain firmly rooted in the everyday experience of students and teachers and the reality of schools. The Department also supports a variety of national dissemination activities that make available to educators, parents, and policymakers--as well as ED program staff--the best research-based information on educational practice.
- Statistics. Collect and effectively disseminate statistics on critical education issues used to inform the national research agenda and provide information for policy-making and program improvement.
- National vision and priorities for research.
- Develop a comprehensive vision of the nation's needs for knowledge about education, and set clear priorities for education research to meet those needs.
- Coordinate research, development, and evaluation activities across the Department and with other federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and HHS institutes.
- Financial support for R&D. Support research on education reform and improvement through such programs as the national education research institutes and centers, regional educational laboratories, National Educational Research Policy and Priorities Board, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, IDEA Research to Practice program, National Center for Research in Vocational Education, and the International Education and Foreign Language Studies program.
- Research quality.
- Ensure that Department-supported research and development meet the professional standards of the scientific community and are applied systematically and with rigor.
- Develop and utilize knowledge about education systems and practices in other nations to stimulate educational improvement in the United States.
- Research dissemination and use.
- Develop and implement a comprehensive dissemination system of effective practices that increases the education community's access to and use of research-based products and services.
- Ensure that teachers, parents, and principals can obtain help in solving their school-related problems.
- Review and give feedback on the extent to which the Department's grantees propose programs and services that are based on sound research results.
- Ensure that research and program evaluation findings are given to program offices to improve program design and implementation.
Objective 4.4: Our information technology investments are sound and used to improve impact and efficiency.
- All major information systems needing repair will be converted to Year 2000 compliance on or before the end of 1998 (giving time for validation and testing during 1998 and 1999).
- At least 90% of all employees will assess productivity as "significantly improved" as a result of available technology, as shown by the employee survey in 2000.
- All Information Technology Investment Review Board assessments will show that major information systems are mission-driven, cost-effective, consistent with our information technology architecture, and supported by performance-based contracts.
- The data-reporting burden on the public will be reduced annually.
The Department's information systems, consisting of data, software, hardware, and telecommunications, will be integrated and promote cost effectiveness and efficiency. Employees will access the Department's reliable local and wide area network from standards-based workstations using modern, accessible, personal productivity software and hardware tools. Management of the data and systems processes will be closer to the user. Data warehousing will allow information to be shared among internal and external customers with increasing ease and with adequate security precautions to protect privacy and confidentiality.
Through the construction of an Education Enterprise Data Model, the Department will identify data requirements and use them to develop a departmental information architecture. This model and architecture will be designed so that redundancy is eliminated for new information systems, data will be captured once--where and when it is needed--and easily used by internal and external customers. Use of the Internet will enable increased public access to ED information and permit processing business transactions electronically.
- Year 2000 compliance. Implement a major Departmental effort to become "Year 2000 data compliant" to ensure that ED's data users and customers are not affected by data corruption resulting from hardware and software that cannot correctly process date-related information. This will include early completion of revisions to major systems to permit testing and use well before 2000.
- Network and personal computer infrastructure for the Department. Ensure that the Department has a cost effective, efficient, accessible, and reliable network infrastructure, with modern workplace software and hardware, to promote productivity and meet business needs.
- ED world wide web support. Provide a robust, reliable, secure Internet service that effectively presents and distributes quality educational information and processes business transactions for our internal and external customers.
- Cost-effective major systems that deliver for ED and its customers. Assess current and proposed major information systems--such as student financial aid systems (as described in Goal 3), statistical systems (NCES), and financial systems (EDCAPS)--to ensure that they efficiently meet the business needs and mission of the Department. The Information Technology Investment Review Board will review new information technology investment proposals, conduct periodic reviews of on-going systems and expand the use of performance-based contracting.
- Data warehousing. Develop a Department-wide information collection and dissemination system using a data warehouse to provide easy access to ED data and eliminate data duplication.
Objective 4.5: The Department's employees are highly skilled and high- performing.
- By 2000, 75% of Department managers will agree that staff knowledge and skills are adequate to carry out the Department's mission.
- By 2000, 75% of employees will demonstrate the basic computer competencies identified in the Department's computer competency standards.
- By 2000, most employees will indicate satisfaction with their work environment (e.g., physical surroundings, noise level, air quality), security, and accessibility.
- By 2000, most employees and managers will express high satisfaction with assistance on resolving employee disputes, and disputes will be closed quickly and informally whenever possible.
- Expert review of the quality of Department-sponsored employee training will show that the training is among the best in the federal government and is comparable to the best in the private sector.
- By 2001 at least 70% of ED employees will agree that the multi-evaluator General Performance Appraisal System (GPAS) improves individual employee performance and development and aligns employee goals with the overall mission of the Department.
High-performing organizations are characterized by workers who understand and support the mission of the organization in which they work. Individuals are valued as contributors to the organization's mission, and the organization provides continuous learning opportunities to the extent possible. Over the next five years, the Office of Management will provide leadership in expanding the capacity of employees to perform the mission of the Department, and providing the best possible working conditions to support the Department's mission.
The results of the Department's 1996 Employee Survey highlighted the need for additional work on transforming the Department into a high-performing organization. For example, the survey found dissatisfaction with the Department's dispute resolution processes. The survey also identified a perceived inequity between services, including training and facilities, for employees in the regions versus headquarters. Low satisfaction with the physical work environment was indicated in both the 1993 and 1996 employee surveys. Strategies and performance measures have been developed to help make improvements in these areas and to assess whether recent innovations, including the multi-input performance appraisal system, have increased productivity and morale.
- High staff performance.
- Provide meaningful training and development opportunities to all employees (headquarters and regions) consistent with identified needs.
- Develop specific standards of computer competency for all staff.
- Develop and implement a comprehensive leadership development program.
- Train employees to effectively monitor programs using the integrated review approach.
- Assess whether the redesigned employee performance appraisal system is effective in promoting desired employee performance and employee development.
- A fair, efficient, and responsive workplace. Continue to re-engineer the Department's equal employment opportunity (EEO) operations and assess progress to date on the newly implemented Informal Dispute Resolution Center.
- A healthy, safe, secure and accessible workplace for all employees. Move headquarters employees back to renovated quarters and make improvements to other department offices or relocate staff to improved quarters.
Objective 4.6: Management of our programs and services ensures financial integrity.
We must ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively as intended by the Administration and Congress, and that fraud, waste and abuse are at a minimum. To obtain reliable results, systems must be in place to provide reliable and timely information. The Education Department's Central Automated Processing System--currently being developed--will satisfy that need.
- By 2000 the Education Central Automated Processing System (EDCAPS) will be fully implemented and providing assistant secretaries, the Chief Financial and Chief Information Officer, and program managers with consistent, timely, and reliable financial and program information, through an assessment by the Information Technology Investment Review Board.
- Evaluation of contracts will indicate that better than fully successful performance, including quality, cost control, timeliness, and other factors, is being received by the government and the taxpayer.
- Auditors will issue a clean opinion on the Department-wide annual financial statements every year.
For the past four years, the Department has received disclaimers of audit opinions because of our auditor's concerns with the integrity of the data supporting our cost estimates for the Federal Family Education Loan Program. We will not be satisfied with the financial management and program accountability in this department until we receive consistently unqualified audit opinions. The Department has also worked to improve management and delivery of federal student financial assistance, as described earlier in Objective 3.3.
- Centralized core data.
- Provide timely and reliable information to program offices to help them manage their programs through EDCAPS.
- Continue to convert funds control system and processes to the EDCAPS environment to prevent unlawful expenditure of funds.
- Performance-based contracting, reduced outsourcing. Control costs by implementing performance-based contracting and by repatriating work contracted out when effective and possible within staff ceilings. Improve work statements and cost estimates through continued training and independent evaluations of content and organization that provide feedback on quality.
- Financial integrity. Enhance the Department's credibility by obtaining a clean audit opinion on annual financial statements.
- Staff skills. Provide training and incentives for both financial and program staff to acquire core financial management competencies.
Objective 4.7: All levels of the agency are fully performance-driven.
- Employees will recognize the strategic plan as meaningful and understand how their work supports achieving the plan's goals and objectives.
- Senior leadership and managers' reviews of performance indicator data will result in appropriate follow-up actions.
- Independent assessments will verify that all large and selected other ED programs have comprehensive, high-quality performance measurement systems that are used for program improvement and accountability by 2000.
- By 2000 all ED program managers will assert that the data used for their program's performance measurement are reliable and valid or will have plans for improvement.
- Managers will agree that policy, budget, and resource allocation decisions are aligned with the strategic priorities of the Department.
The Government Performance and Results Act ("the Results Act") provides the Department with strong support and guidance for new ways of operating and improving our programs. Its focus on results affects all aspects of an organization and its operations-drafting legislation and regulations, ensuring program quality and financial integrity, conducting employee appraisals and assessment, measuring program performance, and more. Two critical elements in this process are:
When orienting our program management to focus on results, it is important to consider the specific context in which we carry out our mission. When carrying out its programs and policy initiatives, the Department operates in a broad, multi-level system of education providers and community interests. Program outcomes for education are almost always the joint results of state, local, institutional, and federal efforts, rather than of federal programs acting in isolation.
- Developing strategic plans--agency-wide and for individual programs--to set forth our understanding of what we are to accomplish and how we know that we've succeeded.
- Establishing or improving performance measurement systems and evaluations that provide high- quality performance information on the results of our efforts and what is needed to improve.
- Agency performance on strategic plan and program indicator plans.
- Track and give feedback on implementation of plans.
- Provide a report card on overall agency performance as well as that of individual offices.
- Collaboration with partners. Actively involve our education partners in development and implementation of the strategic plan and program performance plans.
- Performance measurement and evaluation.
- Ensure that key program activities are subject to periodic, high-quality performance measurement, ranging from meaningful, accurate grantee performance reports to independent evaluations and customer surveys.
- Align program evaluations and national assessments to support the strategic plan and program performance plans.
- Improve local grantee performance measurement systems through disseminating models, technical assistance, and legislative and regulatory changes.
- Develop standards of successful performance for key processes and programs by 1999.
- Revise managers' performance agreements so that they are rated on the quality of their program's or service's performance measures and, if needed, plans for improvement.
- Analytic agenda. Launch an analytic agenda for the Department's seven priority initiatives to improve the underlying knowledge base in support of the initiatives.
- Budget priorities and allocations reflect strategic plan and annual performance plans.
- Establish annual budget priorities linked to federal and Department priorities.
- Align resources to support the Department's strategic and annual plans.
U.S. Department of Education's
Customer Service Standards
(Issued June 1996)
If you contact us with an inquiry about the Department of Education or ask for other information:
- We will answer your written inquiry within 15 working days.
- If you telephone us, you will speak to a knowledgeable person who will answer your question or refer it properly. You will receive no more than two referrals.
- We will answer phone calls promptly, within three rings, and return all voice-mail messages within 48 hours.
- We will respond to your e-mail messages within 48 hours.
- If you have a personal appointment with a Department employee, you will not be kept waiting.
If you request one of our publications or documents:
- Requests for single copies of publications by telephone will be sent within 48 hours.
- Request for single copies by mail and all bulk orders will be filled within 72 hours.
- Publications and documents will be made available in alternative formats on request.
- We will give you the option to receive information in electronic form where possible.
If you contact us about a complaint:
If you are a prospective grant applicant or existing grantee, or if you are a prospective or current recipient of student financial assistance:
- We will respond to written complaints within 15 working days.
- If you telephone us with a complaint, we will advise you on the telephone or refer your complaint to the proper source.
- We will disseminate timely and accurate information on grant opportunities and provide clear guidelines for grant proposals and criteria for selection.
- We will disseminate timely and accurate information on student financial aid application procedures and program provisions.
- We will acknowledge receipt of requests for administrative actions and other inquiries within 48 hours.
- Final response on administrative actions will be completed in 30 calendar days.
- Grant award documents will clearly identify which requests should be referred to the grant specialist or program specialist and which grantee actions do not require approval.
- We will provide timely, accurate, and dependable technical assistance.
- We will provide information that explains the final funding decision.
- We will institute sensible reporting requirements and, when conducting monitoring and site visits, perform exit interviews and make final monitoring reports available within 30 days.
[Goal 3. Ensure access to postsecondary education and lifelong learning.]