Highly effective organizations constantly reassess the environment within which they operate, including their customers, their legal mandates, available technology and economic factors. They use this information to identify areas needing improvements and then set goals and specific strategies to reach these goals. This process is generally referred to as strategic planning or strategic management. The Commission leadership has been engaged in this process since 1994 and has involved stakeholders, managers and employees in discussions of its current environment and its strategy for the future. Since that time it has made significant progress against its strategic goals. This plan adopts goals in many of the same areas, but sets new objectives, and provides specific performance measures and target values for those measures for fiscal years 1997 through 2002. By implication, the 1999 performance measure targets constitute our performance plan for that year as required by the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). The performance measures and target values shown beginning on page 11 also very clearly define the relationship between our strategic plan and our annual plan for fiscal year 1999. OSHRC will update its strategic plan in fiscal year 1999 and bi-annually thereafter.
Every strategic planning process must begin with some clarity regarding the mission the organization is called upon to perform. Comparing the demands posed by this mission with the agency's ability to perform that mission, provides insights regarding what it must do and how it wishes to change, and the goals it must set to do so.
Background on the Review Commission
The Commission is an independent, adjudicatory agency created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the Act). Its sole statutory mandate is to serve as a court providing just and expeditious resolution of disputes among the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers charged with violations of federal safety and health standards, and employees or their union representatives. The Commission was designed by Congress as an agency completely independent of the Department of Labor to provide a check on OSHA's enforcement powers and to assure that employees could appeal and receive relief from any arbitrariness in the exercise of that power. In fact it was the provision that established the Commission (the "Javits Compromise") that ended the stalemate in Congress and lead to the Act's passage. Resolution for employers, and the abatement of alleged occupational hazards do not occur until the Commission issues its final decisions and orders. For this reason the agency's ability to provide speedy adjudication is of the utmost importance in both providing prompt justice and assuring worker safety.
It has three Commissioners, appointed by the President and subject to Senate confirmation, who serve six year terms. Employers contesting citations are entitled to a hearing before the Commission's administrative law judges. The principal (national) office of the Review Commission is located in Washington, DC. There are also regional offices where some of the Review Commission's Administrative Law Judges and staff are assigned -- currently Atlanta, Boston and Denver.
OSHRC's Rules of Procedure provide for two levels of adjudication. The first level is a trial before an Administrative Law Judge. The second level is appellate review of the judge's decision by the agency's Commissioners. In the hearing phase, a Commission judge hears the evidence and issues a written decision based on findings of fact and conclusions of law. As part of the judge's decision, the citation(s) will be either affirmed, modified or vacated. The decision becomes final unless one of the parties requests that the decision of the ALJ be reviewed. If one of the three Commissioners directs that the case be reviewed, the Commission reviews the evidence, briefs, and arguments as well as the judge's decision. Thereafter, they render a decision affirming or reversing the Administrative Law Judge.
The major factors which influence the agency's workload and hence its strategy are the number of safety and health inspections carried out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration each year, the nature of those inspections and the rate at which employers choose to contest the citations issued and penalty's proposed by OSHA as a result of its enforcement activity.
In recent years, OSHA has been focusing both its enforcement and litigation strategies on more serious violations which have higher proposed penalties. Thus, while the overall number of inspections has varied, the number of significant (high penalty cases) has been growing steadily throughout the 1990's. More recently, the overall number of inspections is growing. For the Commission, this means that it must prepare to receive more large and complex cases, consistent with OSHA's emphasis on willful and egregious violators.
We estimate that the Commission will receive at least 2,700 new cases in fiscal years 1998 and 1999, with close to 300 of these cases each year in the large and complex categories, with penalties exceeding $50,000. If this estimate is correct, the workload will constitute the heaviest in the Commission's history, and will present a significant challenge.
Our plan, therefore, must target faster resolution of cases and greater productivity in general, and our judges and legal staff must prepare to deal with increasingly complex legal issues and an increasing workload, if we are to improve our service to the public.
The mission of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission is to provide fair and timely adjudication of workplace safety and health disputes between the Department of Labor and employers. In doing this, the Commission plays a vital role in encouraging safe and healthy workplaces for American workers.
The Commission should be a world class judicial Commission -- one with an impeccable reputation for objectivity, even-handedness, promptness and professionalism. It should be a model federal agency with highly effective processes, a highly motivated and diverse workforce and modern information management, communications and financial management systems. Finally, the Commission should be an agency that values and develops its people and constantly strives to improve its performance and its value and service to the American people.
The Strategic Goals of the organization consist of two broad external goals to improve the agency's service to and its communication with its customers and the public and three operational goals deemed critical to the overall mission performance of the agency. In addition to these goals, we have set specific objectives which advance the agency toward its goals. We have also defined performance indicators with yearly targets which will allow us to clearly track and demonstrate progress against our strategic goals. These performance indicators and yearly performance targets are shown beginning on page 11.
Public Service Goal
Assure the ready availability of fair, user friendly, and timely adjudication of all disputes brought before the Commission and its judges and achieve a high level of readability and quality in Commission legal decisions. Specific objectives are to:
Strategy for Improving Public Service
Our strategy for achieving this goal is two-fold. First, we will work to develop methods for reducing the cost and time required of litigants before the Commission to reach resolution of their disputes. We will re-evaluate the case management practices for judicial and review level cases, and make greater use of proven methods for reducing the cycle time and expense of cases: namely E-Z Trial, settlement conferences and the appointment of settlement judges. Specifically, during 1998, we will reconvene the reengineering team that studied our procedures for processing cases under review by the Commission, establish a team to further study case processing for judicial decisions, and implement case processing guidelines for our judges.
An area of great interest to participants in our focus groups was the role of our judges in scheduling settlement and pre-hearing conferences. They believe that a greater involvement in these aspects of case management would improve the process and reduce cycle times. Consequently, we will explore ways to enhance these processes as we look at methods for reducing case cycle times.
To make our trial process more user friendly, we will (1) make information on our procedures available on the World Wide Web, (2) work toward electronic filing of legal documents and (3) strive to make our decisions and orders more readable through standardization of formats, support their production with specialized software and provide additional training for our legal and support staff.
The Commission considered and rejected the idea of setting quantitative objectives for decision quality because of measurement shortcomings. The rate at which Commission decisions were appealed or affirmed by a circuit court, while useful for tracking purposes, is not an accurate barometer of the quality of Commission decisions. If, for example, the Commission decides a case based on the precedent of the circuit court in whose jurisdiction the case originated, and the circuit court reverses the Commission to conform with the precedents of several other circuits as well as the Commission, it is hardly an example of a poor quality decision. Likewise, if a circuit court reverses a Commission majority decision in a case where the Chairman had dissented, there is nothing he could have done as manager of the agency to improve the quality of that decision, because each Commissioner acts independently in deciding cases. Finally, many very sound Commission decisions, for one reason or another, are never appealed to a circuit court.
Nonetheless, the Commission plans to begin monitoring the rates at which Administrative Law Judges and Commission cases are appealed and the rates at which appealed decisions are affirmed. These statistics could, however, alert the agency to any significant shifts in our case resolutions and trigger additional analysis.
External Communications Goal
Significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of communications between the Commission and the public, its customers and other stakeholders. Specific objectives are to:
Strategy for Enhancing Communications
The thrust of our strategy here will be to build on the improvement in the readability of our procedural guides and the professionalization of our other paper publications by making all of our decisions and publications inexpensively available in electronic format. To do so we will contract with a web-site developer and service provider to convert current publications to electronic form for inclusion on an OSHRC site and gradually add decisions and other documents as they become available.
We will begin researching the process, possible problems and utility to litigants associated with making selected docket sheet information available on open cases on-line and will add this information to the web-site in fiscal year 1999 or 2000 should it prove useful. To do so security, investment and procedural issues must be resolved. This will require some modest software investment and maintenance costs beginning in fiscal year 1999.
Focus groups held this year highlighted some misunderstandings regarding our E-Z Trial process on the part of pro se litigants. To remedy this we will (1) produce and provide respondents with an informational video and (2) make other materials available needed to prepare an OSHA contest (forms and templates) over the Internet. These actions should make it easier for small employers without attorneys to contest OSHA citations.
Other stakeholder contacts during the last 18 months identified a need for information interchange among state and federal worker safety and health adjudicators, and we plan to play a federal leadership role in improving the flow of information among these officials. Availability of state decisions (which are not readily available elsewhere) to state adjudicators may involve either our planned web-site or the decision CD-Rom that we plan to publish through GPO.
Information Technology Goal
Capitalize on recent investments in modern computer hardware and software to increase organizational effectiveness, operate more efficiently and better serve internal and external customers. Specific objectives are to:
Strategy for Utilizing Technology
Our information technology efforts during the last two and one half years have been quite successful with the (1) replacement of our outdated file server and desktop hardware and software, (2) development of a new case tracking/case management system, (3) establishment of internal e-mail, (4) installation of a wide area network and (5) automation of routine processes. Our strategy now is to consolidate upon the advances we've made and begin to fully utilize this new technology, while we work on determining longer term needs and revising our information resource management plan. To do so we will continue to enhance the case tracking system and automate additional case processing functions, develop useful management information and oversight procedures to expedite case handling, and improve electronic communications among our four geographic locations. Although most of our computer hardware is now in good shape, we must upgrade some additional desktops to current processor and memory standards and update our network to fully utilize our new capabilities. The hardware upgrades will largely be completed in fiscal year 1998.
We must also develop the capacity to support a world wide web site which features importantly in achieving three of our strategic goals and several of our performance objectives for fiscal years 1998, 1999 and 2000. Another key component of our technology strategy is to continue to train staff on job related skills as we identify areas that can enhance performance and anticipate that this will absorb 20 percent of our overall training effort for the foreseeable future. Finally in fiscal year 1998 we will complete the baseline for our financial management information system and bring that system on-line with enhancements added in fiscal year 1999. The system will automate many procurement, analytical and budget functions and reduce the amount of paper generated in the procurement cycle.
Human Resource Management Goal
Build a highly motivated diverse workforce by developing a first class human resource management system, including highly effective affirmative action, recruitment, training, award and performance management processes. Specific objectives are to:
Strategy for Investment in Human Resources
In this area, our strategy has three significant elements. The first is to continue the trend begun under our first strategic plan, in which we first addressed a long term training deficit for judges and legal staff in particular, and then began to identify training and development needs for all our employees. With the rapid change in computer technology, the many revisions in procurement, personnel and other government-wide management functions, the need to reinvent and better manage government, and the continual development of worker safety and health standards and safety technology, the Commission must provide a significant level of on-the-job and formal training each year, just to remain proficient. To satisfy this requirement, we will emphasize training needs identification and we have set goals for increasing the level of training provided to all employees.
The second human resources thrust is to link every employee's performance evaluation to accomplishment of the agency's goals. To date, we have developed an approach, revised the appraisals of several managers, and experimented with other employees appraisals to include timeframes for completion of specific objectives and added expectations linked to the timeliness of core functions and achievement of specified levels on internal performance measures. During the next year, we will complete the redesign of all performance standards and begin using the new system.
Finally, we will explore ways to use our redesigned awards and suggestions programs (the results of two objectives under our previous strategic plan) to encourage innovation and goal achievement, as well as high level individual performance. Together, we believe these efforts will buttress the agency's efforts to improve its performance.
Quality Improvement Goal
Develop and institutionalize a process for continuous quality improvement. Specific objectives are to:
Quality Improvement Strategy
Our strategy here is to institutionalize process reengineering and constantly look for ways in which a new approach or technology can improve our processes and service to the public. To do this, we have set a long term schedule for the analysis of key business processes by teams appointed by the Chairman and Executive Director. To facilitate this, we will provide needed training on quality management, process improvement methodology and leading process teams to a large proportion of our staff, over a period of years, with a goal of gradually making quality improvement a part of the culture of the organization. We will start with familiarization training for all staff and more in-depth training for our managers and process team leaders, and then systematically train additional staff in needed skills as their job functions receive priority attention for redesign. Integral to success will be stakeholder and customer input during each business process redesign effort.
Planning Process and Program Evaluation
In developing this plan, we relied upon the results of focus groups with employers, unions and Department of Labor litigators during fiscal years 1996 and 1997, an internal controls review from 1996, extensive analysis of case processing statistics from our case tracking system, progress reports against our 1995 strategic plan, and discussions with agency managers and internal customers. In addition, the Chairman hosted a meeting with the heads of other independent adjudicative agencies (FLRA, ITC, FMSHRC and STB) to discuss their goals and objectives relative to measuring the quality of judicial and appellate level decisions.
We also reviewed draft plans from FMSHRC, NLRB and many other agencies during the drafting stage of our plan, asked for public comments in the Federal Register and provided the draft plan for comment to Congressional committees with safety and health jurisdiction.
This strategic plan establishes goals whose attainment over a number of years can be explicitly measured or observed. This is clearly true for the majority of objectives for which OSHRC has established quantitative performance measures, which can be assessed using information in OSHRC's case management/tracking system, or which have concrete and clearly observable outcomes such as redesigned formats for decisions, and the number of training hours per employee. The achievement of a few objectives such as several of the external communications objectives and quality improvement objectives, will depend not only upon the progress made against quantitative measures, but also upon the reaction of stakeholders and the public to OSHRC's performance and its initiatives. Reaching conclusions on these qualitative objectives will be somewhat more difficult, but we plan to utilize surveys and/or focus groups to help reach judgments on the level of success in achieving our goals.
Our evaluation approach includes the following components. We will:
Although much of the planning cycle was formalized under GPRA, we believe that it is critical to focus attention on this process and set planning and evaluation milestones which are clearly communicated to the entire organization. Our strategy is to integrate the plan, its development process and progress evaluation into the normal operating procedures of the organization by (1) making customer input a continuing function, (2) making performance measurement and tracking routine, with data on performance and internal indicators readily available to the entire organization and (3) by requiring periodic evaluation of progress against the plan by the agency leadership. In addition to the performance indicators envisioned in GPRA and which are included in this plan, we will also create sub-level indicators for each functional unit. These internal indicators are operational tools to encourage a high level of internal customer service and to buttress effort to achieve our external objectives. For example, we will set interim milestones and track cycle times for Commission review case processing steps on individual cases, which if achieved should assure the achievement of the one year goal for Commission review. Such indicators will also be used in measuring individual employee performance.
OSHRC Performance Indicators and Annual Performance Goals
Public Service Performance Indicators
For each strategic goal and its related objectives, the Commission has also formulated performance measures and annual numerical targets for these measures whenever possible. A few measures are necessarily qualitative in nature.
P1. Public Service Indicator #1: Average cycle time for conventionally tried cases.
Definition: We plan to reduce the cycle time for conventionally heard ALJ cases measured as the number of days from assignment to a judge to judge's decision filed with the Executive Secretary. Cycle time data is kept in the Case Management system. Because some very complex cases will necessarily take more than 1 year the goal is being set for 90 percent of heard cases closed each year.
P2. Public Service Indicator #2: Cycle time for conventional case settlements.
Definition: We plan to maintain the average cycle time for conventional ALJ cases disposed of without a hearing to less than 180 days to resolve. Cycle time is the interval from notice of docketing to decision filed on cases closed during the fiscal year.
P3. Public Service Indicator #3: Percent of settlements exceeding one year cycle time.
Definition: We plan to virtually eliminate cases that take more than one year to settle. Cycle time is measured from notice of docketing to decision filed. We will track the percentage of cases closed without a hearing for which cycle time exceeds one year.
P4. Public Service Indicator #4: Commission review cycle time.
Definition: The Commission plans to reduce the cycle time to less than a year for most cases reviewed, measured as the number of days from direction for review by a Commissioner to decision issued. Because a few cases involve extremely complex issues and staff effort beyond what is reasonable to expect in a one year period, the goals below are set for 95 percent of all cases closed in each fiscal year.
P5. Public Service Indicator #5: Cycle time for E-Z Trial cases.
Definition: The Commission wants to maintain the recently improved cycle times for less complex cases processed under the E-Z Trial program, as measured as the average time elapsed from docketing of the case to decision filed by a judge for all heard E-Z Trial cases closed during the fiscal year. To achieve this will become increasingly difficult as our work load increases.
P6. Public Service Indicator #6: Percentage of total cases received which are designated E-Z Trial.
Definition: The Commission hopes to expand the use of the E-Z Trial process to a higher proportion of the Commission's cases. It has changed its rules to make more cases eligible, completed a successful pilot program, and the chief judge will begin increasing the percentage designated gradually so that any transition problems can be avoided.
P7. Public Service Indicator #7: Number of significant cases where settlement judges are appointed and the percentage where settlement conferences are held.
Definition: The agency will make procedural changes in fiscal year 1998 if necessary to allow our Chief Judge to appoint settlement judges where he deems it desirable. This measure is defined as the number and percentage of cases closed during the year with proposed penalties over $50,000, for which a settlement judge was appointed or a conference was held, respectively. It is understood that some cases settle before a conference can be held and that statistics will be adjusted to take into account such cases by removing those which settle shortly after pleadings are received. The Commission will establish procedures to require that in cases with over $50,000 in penalties proposed and/or which are expected to have lengthy trials, Commission judges initiate settlement conferences in which they attempt to narrow the issues in dispute and/or reach settlement agreements.
P8. Public Service Indicator #8: Number of major changes implemented in structure and format standards for decisions and other legal documents.
Definition: Three major sets of documents are to be redesigned: (1) Commission decisions, (2) Judges' decisions, and (3) legal documents such as notices, orders and other legal documents. The redesign of one set of documents is planned for each fiscal year.
External Communications Indicators
P9. External Communications Indicator #1: The extent to which Commission decisions and other publications and case information are made available electronically through the agency's world wide web site.
Definition: This effort will involve three distinct phases in which (1) the web site is established and recent and new decisions and procedural guides and publications are made available, (2) a more complete listing and copies of earlier decisions are added and (3) docket information on open cases is made available. The percentages of effort for the three phases are estimated at 50 percent, 20 percent and 30 percent respectively.
P10. External Communications Indicator #2: E-Z Trial video developed.
Definition: The Commission plans to complete this project in fiscal year 1998.
P11. External Communications Indicator #3: Number of issuances (and updates) of CD-ROM's providing Commission decisions made available to the public through the Superintendent of Documents.
Definition: The first edition will be published in 1998 and updated versions will be issued each year thereafter.
P12. External Communications Indicator #4: Extent to which communication enhancing activities are completed to aid state adjudicators.
Definition: The Commission will facilitate a national conference of adjudicators in fiscal year 1998 and hopes to hold such conferences periodically thereafter. We will also attempt to create a mechanism by which officials from one jurisdiction can get safety and health decisions and other useful information from all other jurisdictions.
The bulk of this effort will occur in fiscal year 1998, but the availability of state decision and procedural data in electronic media would occur in fiscal year 1999, with continuing activities in subsequent years.
P13. External Communications Indicator #5: Biennial report for the Commission issued as planned.
Definition: The Commission plans to produce a highly professional bi-annual report for fiscal years 1996 and 1997 and for every two year period thereafter as an element of the Commission's evaluation strategy. These reports will include the results of financial statement audits for even numbered fiscal years.
Information Technology Indicators
Definition: We will measure the completion of the following components which constitute specific percentages of needed effort (1) enhanced internal communications of case information (20%), (2) better management and evaluation reports (20%), (3) links to electronically stored legal documents (20%) and automation of business processes (30% spread over three years).
P15. Information Technology Indicator #2: Complete wide area network and improve communications with regional offices.
Definition: The Commission will upgrade its wide area network to include file servers in each region and strengthen data transfer. A portion of this effort will be completed in fiscal year 1997 and the remainder in fiscal year 1998, and we will assess our needs again in fiscal year 1999.
P16. Information Technology Indicator #3: Extent to which memory and processors for desk top computers are upgraded based on need.
Definition: During 1997, we will complete the needs assessment for this equipment and complete the installation of the majority of equipment requiring upgrading (70%), and complete the installation effort in fiscal year 1998 (30%). We will reassess our needs in fiscal year 1999.
P17. Information Technology Indicator #4: Level of completion of integrated financial management information system.
Definition: This measure is defined as the percentage of total effort completed in a given fiscal year. The broad design and input screen for this system were completed in fiscal year 1997. We estimate that this comprises 25 percent of the effort. Programming will be completed and the baseline system will become operational in 1998 (65% of effort). The system will record all transactions, and automate paperwork and approvals for procurement and payment processes. The links to budgeting and financial planning and additional enhancements will be added in fiscal year 1999 and these segments comprise 10 percent of total effort. In 2000 we will assess how well the system is working.
Human Resource Management Indicators
P18. Human Resource Management Indicator #1: Delivery of needed training measured in hours.
Definition: The Commission will identify annual and long term training priorities and development needs for each employee and meet these needs by providing a target number of hours of formal or on the job training annually as shown below. Achievement of training goals will be included in both employee's and supervisor's performance appraisals (see HRM Measure #2).
P19. Human Resource Management Indicator #2: Percentage of employee appraisals redesigned to include strategic plan objectives and annual performance goals.
Definition: Appraisals will be revised for all employees rated, by linking employee performance standards to the strategic plan goals and objectives, and to internal performance indicators linked to our annual performance objectives. Percentages of employees in the table below are cumulative. Revisions will be made as needed.
Quality Improvement Goal Indicators
P20. Quality Improvement Indicator #1: Percentage of staff provided quality management and quality team leader training.
Definition: Definition: The agency hopes to facilitate process redesign and improved service to the public by reevaluating key processes using the concepts of quality management. To do this it must have a trained cadre of staff who are familiar with QM and customer service concepts. We believe that we must train at least 20 percent of the staff each year initially to enable them to lead and participate in quality improvement teams.
P21. Quality Improvement Indicator #2: Number of key business processes evaluated and reengineered to achieve improved performance.
Definition: The agency needs to reevaluate all key business processes in order to streamline operations, and improve quality and performance. To do this it will appoint process improvement teams. This measure counts the number of teams that complete work each year with significant process improvements adopted.
Planning and Evaluation Indicators
PE1. Planning and Evaluation Indicator #1: Number of Strategic Plans and updated plans published.
Definition: An updated strategic plan is to be produced in fiscal year 1999 and in odd numbered years thereafter as shown below.
PE2. Planning and Evaluation Indicator #2: The number of functional areas for which quantitative performance indicators and performance targets are established.
Definition: For the purpose of this plan, the functional areas are judicial operations, General Counsel decision support, case docketing, administration, public information, and computer support. Internal performance indicators and targets will be established for four areas in 1998 and two (public information and computer support) in 1999. All six areas will be revised in fiscal year 2000. These indicators are operational tools to use in managing toward improved performance and the achievement of plan objectives. For example, we will set interim milestones and track cycle times for Commission review case processing steps on individual cases, which if achieved should assure the achievement of the one year goal for Commission review. Such indicators will also be used in measuring individual employee performance.
PE3. Planning and Evaluation Indicator #3: Prepare an annual program performance report.
Definition: Success will be measured based upon whether an annual evaluation report is completed in each year beginning in fiscal year 1998.