National Marine Fisheries
Site Visit Report
NMFS is one of several agencies under the National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is part of the Department
NMFS has a five member Executive Board, between 2500-2800 employees, and a
$360 million/year budget. Recruitment will be a significant issue in the coming
years, since a high percentage of current personnel will be eligible for retirement
in the next 10-15 years, and few replacements are in the pipeline due to past
NMFS' original mission was to increase scientific understanding of marine
fisheries, and to promote fishing of underfished fisheries. During the 1970s,
however, increased fishing pressure and the depletion of fish stocks, as well
as the desire to protect endangered and threatened marine species, caused this
mission to shift toward regulation, management, and protection. This involves
the following three areas, which are sometimes in conflict:
- marine fisheries,
- protected marine species (marine mammals and endangered/threatened species),
- marine habitats.
In the last few years, NMFS’ mission has shifted even more heavily toward regulation
and management, away from pure knowledge and understanding. While its role has
changed, however, the agency's culture remains primarily focused on science,
due in part to the scientific background of the agency’s leadership and personnel.
By putting performance measures in place, NMFS hopes to move toward a more outcome-based
management and evaluation system in which the results of the science, rather
than the science itself, will be the yardstick against which agency performance
is measured. The hope is that science will come to be seen more as a means to
an end than an end in itself.
In 1993, NMFS first developed a set of performance measures as part of NOAA's
10-year strategic plan, which was written for the GPRA pilot program. However,
after the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization established specific goals and
timetables for the elimination of overfishing and the recovery of fisheries
(and made several other important changes to NMFS’ mandate), NMFS began work
on a new set of performance measures to better reflect its new mandates. It
was felt that the specific goals and timetables in the legislation, combined
with the outcome focus of GPRA, demanded a different, more results-oriented
set of performance measures.
Thus, in 1996 NMFS embarked on a project to convert to a 100% results-based
performance measurement system. Under this new regime, all activities would
have to be seen as contributing to a specific outcome. It was felt that, even
where results cannot be measured today, if a commitment were made up front to
measure those results, measuring methods could be devised and implemented. The
resulting strategic plan was published in May, 1997.
Revision of the NOAA strategic plan took a bit longer, as the NOAA planning
process is based on cross-line office teams (one for each of the seven NOAA
strategic goals) which develop budget initiatives and review and revise performance
measures at the start of each budget formulation cycle. Each team also decides
on targets for its measures given the level of funding requested/received. Performance
measures for two of the three goals relevant to NMFS were revised for FY 2000,
and revised measures for the third are currently pending approval by NOAA. If
accepted, they will take effect for FY 2001. The first performance data from
NMFS’ new measures will therefore be collected in FY 2000.
NMFS is now working on the next phase of implementation of the results-based
regime, a "base inventory" project which ultimately will link all of the agency's
activities to its new results-based performance measures. The hope is that grouping
activities together by the results they are intended to achieve will make explicit
the implicit strategies being pursued and will expose strategic gaps, i.e. activities
which should be pursued but are not. It is also hoped that having activity and
financial information in a results-based format will allow NMFS to be more responsive
to information requests from Congress and constituents.
The strategic plan is available on the web, since one goal is to try to
inform Congress and stakeholders what NMFS is doing. Although NMFS does strategic
planning each year, it does not issue a strategic plan each year.
The issue of who is accountable for shared goals hasn't arisen yet, since
NMFS is still in the process of aligning its measures with responsibilities.
Headquarters has been reorganized into offices by goal and seems to be moving
away from direct program responsibility toward more of an oversight role. NMFS
is still building its infrastructure and automating its reporting system.
Like most regulatory agencies NMFS cannot easily identify its customers - fishermen?
The public? Environmentalists? For this reason, NMFS prefers the term "stakeholder."
NMFS has held approximately 20 stakeholder meetings, and NOAA holds annual
stakeholder meetings as part of its budget initiative development process. NMFS
partners with other branches of NOAA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the
Dept. of Interior (they jointly won a Hammer Award for their seafood inspection
NMFS does not have employee measures in the strategic planning sense. NOAA,
however, has done extensive employee surveying and will follow this up with
facilitated internal forums for each division. NMFS offers in-house training
and rotational assignments.
Employees have found outcome measures difficult to accept. There is a widespread
feeling that, despite its mandate, NMFS cannot be held accountable for the condition
of fish stocks since so many human- and nature-related factors are beyond the
agency’s control (weather, climate, development, etc.). Traditionally, NMFS
employees have seen themselves as responsible for the scientific understanding—biology,
predictions, etc.—but not for the results.
Employees fear that results-based planning is setting them up for failure.
Overcoming this resistance has been very difficult.
None, since the agency feels that no one else does what it does.
NMFS started its planning process by defining on paper how it defines success.
NMFS also developed its measures on a clean slate, to avoid possible resistance
from any established, "ingrained" culture of measures on what should be measured.
NMFS was then able to send out a call to its field offices for new measures
which it then amalgamated into a set of performance measures.
When you revise your set of performance measures, you should ensure that
they are comprehensive, not cumulative. Some of the NOAA budget teams
in which NMFS participates kept adding on new measures every year for each new
budget initiative until the total number became unmanageable.
Keep categories of measures distinct - separate outcomes from outputs and
A decision hasn't been made until it's been challenged.
Don't underestimate the time/communication/education needed to effect
a paradigm shift to make employees realize that they are responsible for their
results, not just their efforts. You need more than just passive commitment
from the top to overcome employee resistance to measuring the value of their
work against an external, objective yardstick, particularly when you are holding
them accountable for things that they don't completely control.
As a precautionary principle, an agency should take the most conservative
action possible instead of just endorsing the status quo whenever it doesn't
have enough information.