National Marine Fisheries
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NMFS is one of several agencies under the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is part of the Department of Commerce.

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 hiring freezes.

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:

  1. marine fisheries,
  2. protected marine species (marine mammals and endangered/threatened species), and
  3. 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.

Strategic plan

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 program).


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.

Best Practices

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.

Lessons learned

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 capacity-building/inputs.

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.

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